Statement on Racism and (g)WPA


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“Statement Affirming the Need to Address Racism in Graduate Education”

written by WPA-GO Graduate Committee (2015-16) for CWPA 2016

This summer, we have seen and experienced horrific violence--from the shooting in Orlando that targeted the Latinx LGBTQIA+ community to the killings of Black and Brown folks by police across the country, including Louisiana, Minnesota, and California. All the while, aspirants to national office, former and current politicians, and media pundits continue to circulate hateful rhetoric towards Muslims, immigrants, and refugees. For many WPA-GO members, particularly members of color, these events are especially traumatic and serve as reminders that the spaces we occupy in our daily lives can be dangerous. Indeed, graduate students have shared stories of racism, bias, and silencing in their departments.

Therefore, WPA-GO is using this space to reach out to graduate students and workers from these communities and declare our solidarity. We see you, we value you, and we are thankful you are here. WPA-GO aims to be an advocacy group to hold space for anger, grief, and frustration.  

To the attendees of #CWPA2016 and our faculty colleagues, we express our gratitude for all you have already done to ensure equity in our professional organizations and departments. We watched CWPA leadership work tirelessly to ensure that our queer and trans members felt supported and safe at this conference, and your advocacy gives us hope. 

But we can go further. We must. We have asked WPA-GO members what faculty can do to support graduate students and workers at their institutions, and here is a short list we’d like to share with you. Hopefully, this conversation continues during and after the conference. 

  • Leverage your institutional privilege to amplify graduate worker voices and demonstrate your support for their organizing efforts.
  • Ensure that there is a clear, fair process that allows graduate students to safely file complaints about bias and harassment in your department.
  • Provide space for open, honest, and ongoing discussions about the impact of institutional racism and model ways TAs might approach issues of equity and diversity in their composition classrooms.
  • Challenge racist, (cis)sexist, queerphobic, and xenophobic language in the graduate seminar.
  • Seek out graduate students of color, LGBTQIA+ graduate students, and graduate students from other targeted and underrepresented groups to ask how you can be an advocate for them. 

Graduate students in GO are vulnerable for many and different reasons. However, we feel compelled to encourage everyone in our field to be self-reflective and take action. We can be the kind of WPAs who push back on racism, bias, and silence in our departments and institutions, and we can encourage others to do so, too. Thank you for all you have already done to fight for equity and safety and for what you will do back home. 

Highly recommended for the gWPA and WPA bookshelf: 

  • “Troubling the Boundaries: (De)Constructing WPA Identities at the Intersections of Race and Gender” by Collin Lamont Craig and Staci Perryman-Clark 
  • “The Risky Business of Engaging Racial Equity in Writing Instruction: A Tragedy in Five Acts” by Taiyon J. Coleman, Renee DeLong, Kathleen Sheerin DeVore, Shannon Gibney, and Michael C. Kuhne

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