"Enough With the Theory, Already?"

By Rita Malenczyk, Eastern Connecticut State University

In their call for blog posts, Joe and Tim offered a number of suggestions for writing, one of which was to write about what struck us in Craig’s and Perryman-Clark’s article. Two things, then, in response to that “prompt,” both of which have to do with bodies. I was struck by how often we as WPAs encounter each other through texts, and how problematic those encounters can be simply because they elide the presence of the body—which is so extremely present in both Craig’s and Perryman-Clark’s narratives. (I haven’t been able to get the image of Craig sitting alone in his hotel room out of my mind.) This encountering-through-texts makes some sense, given that we’re scholars. We read, we write, that’s what we do.

But then there’s this, at the beginning of the essay, on pages 37-38:

As first time attendees of one of the CWPA conferences, we noticed the limited representation of people of color, and were left to wonder why. When and where do we enter this conversation and how might we be more visibly represented in CWPA?

This essay forefronts how looking at WPA work from both a gendered and racial perspective extends the implicative roles of identity politics in navigating administrative work within the context of university writing programs.

Wait a second. What happened between those two paragraphs? What I want to know is: Why do we see so few bodies of color at the conference? Why are faculty of color so underrepresented, and how might CWPA change that? We’ve been tiptoeing around this issue for a long time. Now I’m chairing a task force on diversity that I hope will address it head-on. At this summer’s CWPA conference in Albuquerque, there will be a number of relevant panels and presentations (e.g., one about writing programs in tribal colleges, another on HBCUs, another on faculty of color) and I plan to be there and ask a lot of questions, one of which might be: can we (assuming you are a WPA or faculty member of color or you work with a lot of students of color and I am, well, me, the white CWPA Vice President) have a face-to-face, body-to-body conversation about this? I’m sick of hiding behind texts. Let’s dance.

 

Hey, Joe

Hello Joe,

 

This is a wonderful  venue for conversation. I do like Rita's focus on bodies, bodies visible, intelligible, present, held up in hotel rooms, valued or not. Another way of asking this question might be, "Whose bodies do appear and are appreciated within the forum?"  Within the mentoring report, I listened to voices articulating insider and outsider material relations within our good CWPA company.

Rita asks us to think about why specific peers of color do not attend; we might ask why others do attend and are seen within and among.  Which bodies abound and are valued within the org?  For me, I point to the antipathy toward WPA work in general  that I find current in our greater field of English studies, despite the market, as well as an often tightly held organizational culture.

Tim posits the question: What resounds / resonates in the reading?  For me, it is Staci and Collin's  material presence, yet absence from the CWPA organization's experience and community as experienced within the conference itself.  When I read the passages that Rita uses for her blog piece earlier in my role as editor, I could then and yet can connect with that  location, clearly for other reasons, variables, but I connect.  For me this remains a consubstantial moment, one that motivated me to do what I could to support their work in press. 

Best,

Deb

Fine points, Deb

Hello Deb,

You make great points about Rita's fine use of "bodies" as noticed and unnoticed. Your use of the "appear" is so interesting. When and where to these "bodies" choose and/or get to appear? At our summer conference, our CCCC breakfast, on the List? Also how do "they" appear and to whom? That brings us back to Collin and Staci's article.

 

Deb, can you say a bit more about the antipathy toward wpa work you see? It's an important topic, and your use of the word community is also very evocative.

Thank you for acting on a cosubstantial moment in order to help us learn from from Staci and Collin.

 

Best,

Joe

Joe's questions

Some thoughts on antipathy for now...

Though WPA expertise or WPA as identity category has gained some ground due to CWPA's advocacy, the highly regarded intellectual work of many of our WPA leaders, an increase of WPA seminars within our graduate curricula and sheer market demand, we still work within the suspect administrative space, now more suspect and dangerous because of the labor crisis. As much as I appreciate and follow, even admire the intellectual force of the ongoing labor critiques that target WPAs ( I am now churning out one of my own around class conflicts and the labor crisis between TT and NTT),  they also make our work tougher for  their force and diminish the WPA identity. 

 

To choose to be a WPA by schooling, by intellectual skill set, by desire, risks a lose-lose professional choice, one that is not respected by many within the greater field. one that has so many political, ideological, material and cultural constraints that you would have to be a dupe to sign up for it--the view from the English Studies central, in my experience.  

 

Sometimes, one just wants a break, especially when former WPAs are the ones delivering shrill critiques of the location as unethical, always managerial, always exploitive. This is the position that I occupy every single day I show up for work. Not much comfort in slogging up the hill.  Why would our newest colleagues choose to slog up that hill when all the benefits of not administering are often marketed to them throughout grad school, and the position is interrogated non stop?  A greater measure of our intellectual force of the field is expended on critiques of the WPA standpoint than is expended in support of the work we do. Rather than help with the FYC labor problem, we target WPAs who are foolish enough to keep "managing" the job. 

 

Again, I am not saying that we do not benefit from critique.  I have learned a good deal from these critiques. That said, they do not help the local WPA  stay upright and fight the good fight--no such thing as a good fight. If anything, they punctuate the degree to which WPAs often stand alone locally--professionally and culturally. 

Below are just a few of the counter currents that come our way, not new news either.

Recurring themes~~

If we publish WPA studies, we are falsely advancing the work product as that of the WPA and not the "people."  We should eschew all that the CWPA Intellectual Work statement advances. Bad WPAs subsribe to its principles and as such, WPA work cannot be good work,

If we publish WPA studies, we accrue TT status on the backs of the "people,"  no matter the number of English peers whose work gets done on the backs of the entire FYC program and the WPA included. Structural anlyses habitually eclipse the greater departmental structure.

If we choose to be WPAs, it is by default because we have lesser potential as scholars--actually had this calmly declared to me by a peer who was doing his obligatory tour through the WPA location.

 

WPA work is just applied work and not intellectual.

 

Everyone can do this work and will do this work at some point, so why would anyone choose it as a career?

 

These claims are also circulated by RC faculty overseeing our PhD education.  PhD students have plenty areas to choose from.  The current market may move them to the work at the point of need, but I do not think we are succeeding in some fundamental attempts to define the work as honorable, intellectual and worthy among our very selves. 

 

My point is--WPA work is not at the top of the list for best career choices for newly minted PhDs even as the market is there.  An exception was there for Staci and Collin, who both appreciated and aspired to be WPAs due to mentoring within their program. 

 

I  imagine many will read my post as unecessarily dark and gloomy, but I stand by my claim that labor critiques and noitons of WPA work as lesser work are forceful deterrants.

 

Best

Deb

Deb's ideas

Deb,

 

Your ideas are fascinating and challenging. The tensions between acruing status, labor expliotation and the concept of "applied work" has as you indicate daily consequence and generational import as we welcome and prepare the generations of those who do wpa work.

You ideas invite me to consider people and their work in two-year college and writing center conferences. It would be terrific to hear what our colleagues think.

Andrew Jeter just hosted the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing this weekend. Colin Sato gave a splendid keynote address exploring tutor idenity within and beyond notions of pratice, preparation and theory. I hope Colin and Andrew will join this conversation.

Deb,many thanks for explaining things so well.

 

Best,

Joe

Thanks,Tim

Wonderful!

Nice to have these helpful background details articulated within the blog space for all who enter via the WPA-L invite. 

All best,

Deb

Diversity and the CWPA, an Invitation?

Tim and Rita

 

Thanks for prompting our thinking in so many productive ways right from the start, Tim for your questions, Rita for directly engaging or inviting us to talk about diversity and the CWPA.

 

I am wondering if we could invite Collin and Staci into our blog space for the conversation, perhaps let them know the where and the what of our conversation. 

 

I supported their article through to press at our journal and very much benefited from our editorial work together.

 

Deb 

Fine idea, Deb

Deb,

 

Many, many thanks to you, Alice and Glenn for making Collin ans Staci's terrific work available to all of us.

Collin and Staci will be joining the conversation, for sure, in January with a response and perhaps before then. Meanwhile, we invite readers to contribute to these conversations and use them in your work and classes.

Thanks again!

Best,

Joe

This is a great idea, Deb!

This is a great idea, Deb! Thanks for joining in here!

Both Collin and Staci have been part of the planning for this blog from its start last year. Even better, both have agreed to write a response post for the blog once all the invited posts have been uploaded and a robust conversation has gotten going! They're thinking early January, to kick off the semester with extra energy in order to take things to the next level!

My apologies if we didn't make that clear.

Peace,

Tim

Sample Prompt Questions for Invited Responses

In Rita's post, (which she indeed followed up on at this past summer's WPA Conference, and I hope folks present at those conversations will join in here!), she mentions that Joe and I offered some prompts for composing a response to Collin and Staci's essay. In the spirit of transparency, and as an aid to further invention, I offer them here so everyone can see what they originally were. Maybe I'll post them as a comment in the introductory post, too.

Sample Prompts

1. In reading this article, what ideas or questions resound with you personally and/or professionally?

2. How might the authors’ ideas affect and influence WPA work?

3. What action steps can be taken to make WPA work and CWPA more inviting, inclusive, and more responsive to our differences?

4. How might these ideas transform graduate student preparation and leadership? For example, how can teachers use this blog in WPA graduate courses (e.g. as discussion points) and other graduate preparation venues? How can Writing Center Directors and other campus leaders use this blog in scholarship and tutor preparation?

5. How does “troubling the boundaries” relate to human, cultural, and institutional diversity, e.g. two-year colleges, liberal arts colleges, state schools, and faith-based institutions?

6. How does this article contribute to knowledge-making in Composition, and what research and scholarship ideas does this article inspire for you?

7. What are the implications for the work of mentoring in Composition and WPA work, and who are our allies in this work?

8. What are the implications for multilingual writers and those who tutor and teach them?

9. How might we use digital forums to make WPA work more inclusive and responsive to our differences?

Peace, Tim