“Expanding the Boundaries of WPA research: A response to Craig and Perryman Clark’s “Troubling the Boundaries”

By Kendall Leon, Purdue University

In “Troubling the Boundaries,” Craig and Perryman Clark conclude their article with recommendations for “proactive” measures that the CWPA can take to encourage diversity within CWPA. As a scholar of color and a WPA in training, I welcome the opportunity to respond with an extension—or maybe a step back?—to understanding how this problem the authors identified came to be. So, why is this? A good question to ask is: How do we come to these positions?

I can tell you why I initially did not pursue being a WPA—and this fundamentally came down to feeling like the scholarship that I had to do—namely, scholarship that recovered the rhetorical work of Chican@s--was not relevant to the WPA field. The very fact that we (Chican@s) have historically been denied access to administrative positions within institutions—including academic administration—means that I could not identify myself, or the people who I intentionally chose to cite, with the WPA field. The issue as I see it, then, is how we demarcate the boundaries of WPA, and where we turn to learn about how to be administrators.

Given that there are few avenues in CWPA for formalized mentoring or scholarship relevant to the specific concerns for WPAs of color, and that there are statistically speaking, far less WPA scholars who identify as such, it would behoove us to look toward other case studies of people doing administrative work. Rather than just look at case studies of writing programs as a way to learn about administration and change, we can also look to community-based organizations as models. In other words, we can expand the texts we draw on to learn about how to become an administrator by diversifying the histories of institutional actors to draw upon.

For a model of how to do this work, we can look to feminist rhetoric scholars who have done an impressive job at making visible the rhetorical presence of women rhetors/rhetorics in a way that has altered the scholarly landscape of our field broadly. Similar arguments have been made specifically in WPA to turn to archives to make visible the experiences of women WPAs (see for example L’ Eplattenier). In addition to an argument about recovery and recognition, what I am proposing is an argument of translation—to see the work of institutional change that has happened in spaces outside of the university as relevant models to learn about how to be, do and act in institutions—particularly from a position of disempowerment.

So, if we want WPAs of color to feel welcome, show us that our histories of people working with and outside of institutions matter. Valuing “diversity” means not just reaching a quota for “minority” numbers but also valuing other histories and sites for administrative education, and by association, expanding what counts as relevant scholarship in the WPA field.