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Social Justice WPAing: Talking the Talk AND Walking the Walk

Conference: Sunday July 16 – Tuesday July 18, 2023

Institutes: Wednesday July 19, 2023

Workshop: Wednesday July 19 – Saturday July 22, 2023

“Social justice is a communal effort dedicated to creating and sustaining a fair and equal society in which each person and all groups are valued and affirmed …. Social justice imperatives also push us to create a civic space defined by universal education and reason and dedicated to increasing democratic participation.” The John Lewis Institute for Social Justice

After four turbulent years that split us apart on many issues and brought us together on others, we will meet again. We will get together to ponder and contemplate the imprints these four years have left on us as individuals, on our writing programs, and on our organization.

I’ll start from the last point: our organization. For the past year and a half, the organization, as represented by its Executive Board and Officers, has engaged in rigorous “communal effort” to become a more “civic space” for ALL writing program administrators. We suspended our operations and events and sought professional guidance to become a more equitable and inclusive professional organization, as reflected in our documents, regulations, activities, and practices. We took the numerous calls for social justice seriously, and we started with ourselves. We know we were not alone, and that so many WPAs have been walking the social justice walk whether they talked the talk or preferred to work on the ground silently and reflectively.

As we launch our call for proposals for our first in-person conference in four years, our hope is to meet to acknowledge, discuss, critique, and inspire the “communal effort dedicated to creating and sustaining a fair and equitable” classroom, program, and organization. We will meet again in Reno where we hope to create a “civic space” of “increasing democratic participation” from all WPAs from all institutional types and at all academic ranks.

The conference theme, “Social Justice WPAing: Talking the Talk AND Walking the Walk” invites and challenges all WPAs from all types of institutions to think of all the ways we have done social justice work in all aspects of our administration and leadership roles. It asks about our commitment to social justice of all individuals and groups in our programs, especially those whose voice has never been heard or whose presence hasn’t mattered in our programs in the past. It encourages us to critique, plan, transform, and reflect.

Below are some thoughts and questions for both reflection and consideration as you think about your proposal.

Rasha Diab, Thomas Ferrel, Beth Godbee, and Neil Sompkins remind us that critique is “an essential condition to making change” (1). They note that critique should always include “an action plan” that inspires and initiates the change that critique aims for. Perhaps you’re still at the critique stage of social justice WPAing.

  • What recent changes in social justice scholarship have inspired you to critique your WPA work the most? How? In which aspects of your administrative work?
  • What did you choose to critique in your WPA work?
  • What methods have you used to initiate that critique?
  • What areas have you found to be needing the most change and thus the most critique?
  • What strategies did you use to entice and invite others to engage in that critique?
  • What discomforts did you and others involved in that critique experience throughout the process?
  • What are the next steps following that critique?
  • Were you able to move to creating “an action plan” for change?

One possible action plan may be curriculum development, revision, and updates that “make room for nontraditional and/or disadvantaged minority students in the writing classroom” (Sanchez and Branson, 50).

  • What curricular changes have you made or proposed to make in your program?
  • How did you negotiate those changes?
  • What obstacles have you encountered to make those changes possible?
  • How do you envision these changes will nurture equity and inclusion of minority and disadvantaged students in the writing classroom in your program?
  • Have these changes mandated adopting different and more equitable assessment practices? What conversations have you had around these issues?

Successful and meaningful social justice work is transformative. It contributes meaningfully to the community members or the individuals with whom we work: students, full- and part-time faculty, graduate students, community members. This is the ultimate goal of the “action plan” Diab et al. challenge us to pursue. They acknowledge that change “requires new stories, new ways of collaborating, and new ways of living” because critique doesn’t have the power to change much at our institutions or communities (2).

  • What new ways of doing your WPA work were inspired by your social justice WPAing? Curriculum revisions and updates? Different professional development approaches and programs? Collaborations with other members of the program/department? Collaborations with other units across your campus? Collaborations with community partners?
  • How did your social justice WPAing transform the lives of stakeholders in your program: students, faculty, graduate students?
  • What new stories have emerged from your social justice WPAing?
  • How did you amplify and celebrate those stories?
  • Who was featured in those stories?

Successful and meaningful social-justice work does not rely on labor from minority and marginalized colleagues or community members. Any contribution from those individuals or communities should be “recognized, valued, and compensated” (Jones, Gonzales, and Haas 33).

  • Who did you recognize and value in your social justice WPAing work?
  • How did you demonstrate your recognition of them?
  • How did they respond to that recognition?
  • Have graduate programs changed their training of gWPAs to be more equitable and inclusive and less exploitative? How?
  • How have gWPAs responded to those changes?
  • Have mentoring practices of graduate students changed to include traditionally under-served and under-recognized graduate students (BIPOC, queer, neurodiverse, differently abled, older, parents, care-givers)?
  • What other ways can WPAs recognize and value minority individuals and/or communities in their work?

Natasha Jones, Laura Gonzales, and Angela Haas invite us to think of community and care as key concepts in building any anti-racist initiatives that “centralize the desires and experiences of those most oppressed” (31).

  • How has the concept of community (broadly defined) shaped your programmatic work to be more inclusive and equitable?
  • How did you (re)configure professional development offerings and programming opportunities to include traditionally excluded or marginalized groups: part-time adjuncts, faculty who are caregivers, faculty who are (single) parents?
  • How did you extend care to both individuals and communities as you engaged in social justice WPAing?
  • Who and what became centralized in your social justice WPAing initiatives?
  • Conversely, who and what was pushed to the periphery of your work? How did you negotiate these decisions?

Finally, successful and meaningful social-justice work is reflective.

  • What are your reflections on the work you have done or have attempted to do at your program?
  • What insights have you gleaned from those reflections? What opportunities do you see possible based on your reflections?
  • What’s the path forward based on those insights?
  • Which changes are you planning to continue now that the pandemic is no longer a force that shapes and influences our practices and policies?
  • What can other WPAs transfer from your reflections to their local programs and contexts?

On behalf of CWPA

Lilian Mina, Ph.D.
CWPA Vice President
Associate Professor and Director of Composition
The University of Alabama at Birmingham

For Inquiries

If you have any questions, please contact one of the following members of the Executive Board:

For registration issues, contact Kelly Blewett, CWPA Secretary:

For website issues, contact Amanda Presswood, CWPA Website and Social Media Coordinator: 

For scholarship enquiries or any other general queries about the conference or CWPA, contact Susan Thomas, CWPA President: 

Works Cited and Consulted

Diab, Rasha et al. "Making Commitments to Racial Justice Actionable." Across the Disciplines: A Journal of Language, Learning and Academic Writing, vol. 10, no. 3, 2013.

Grayson, Mara Lee. "Racial Literacy Is Literacy: Locating Racial Literacy in the College Composition Classroom." The Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning, vol. 24, no. 4, 2019, pp. 17-46.

Jones, Natasha N. et al. "So You Think You’re Ready to Build New Social Justice Initiatives?: Intentional and Coalitional Pro-Black Programmatic and Organizational Leadership in Writing Studies." WPA: Writing Program Administration, vol. 44, no. 3, 2021, pp. 29-35.

Kynard, Carmen. "“Troubling the Boundaries” of Anti-Racism: The Clarity of Black Radical Visions Amid Racial Erasure." WPA: Writing Program Administration, vol. 44, no. 3, 2021, pp. 185-92.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. "When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own." College Composition and Communication, vol. 47, no. 1, 1996, pp. 29-40.

Sanchez, James Chase and Tyler S. Branson. "The Role of Composition Programs in De-Normalizing Whiteness in the University: Programmatic Approaches to Anti-Racist Pedagogies." WPA: Writing Program Administration, vol. 39, no. 2, 2016, pp. 47-52

Important Dates

None at this time.