I Don’t Need Cs

I have been told that I need Cs. I’ve been told that, as a graduate student in rhetoric and composition/writing studies, that the 4Cs is the threshold of access to a job after graduate school. I’ve been told that Cs is the only way to network successfully, demonstrate or continue one’s professionalization, and that Cs is where the most engaging conversations about research are happening in the field.

I am sure that those voices that told me this did so out of concern. Sitting across from me as I told them how I was planning on not attending, different faculty from different universities—friends and mentors alike—all said nearly the same thing: you need Cs. They say this all nearly in the same breath as they would say how graduate students are the discipline, shape the discipline, and determine the discipline’s future.

Here are the things that I need: I need an organization that is willing to own and act on their own problems, I need the people within an organization to hold themselves responsible for the actions of that organization and the bodies that the organization represents, I need an organization that concerns itself more with the well-being of those that it serves than the organization itself.

I don’t need Cs.

Here are more things that I need: I need a field that recognizes more ways of accessing and participating in its enterprise, I need a discipline that encourages and values multiple venues as much as it purports valuing multiple ways of knowing, I need a field that is willing to engage in inter/transdisciplinary work and is willing to find and create venues to do that.

I don’t need Cs.

Here are other things that I need: I need faculty that are mindful of how they are positioning graduate students, faculty that are willing to engage in collective action with their students and with each other, faculty that are willing to call out complicity more than they are willing to believe that problems cannot change or are too large for them.

I don’t need Cs.

When engaging a situation or an organization is toxic and violent, it comes time to leave.

I’m a graduate student who has only attended twice. My leaving will not be noticed, it will not create some grad avalanche, and it is not something that I wish to valorize. But as someone who bought into the only narrative I had access to (that I ‘needed’ Cs), I want to create another option and another story. And, as there are tactics in place to dismantle collective action, I want to call attention to the violences that have led to this decision.

To better address even fragments of the complexity surrounding recent events at the 4Cs, I’m including copies of the emails sent out to their members. Even if you are already familiar with these documents, I would encourage you to reread them with me. Further, what I’m assembling here is just a fragment of the institutional work happening at Cs. If this feels like it under-represents the work of the organization, perhaps we, as rhetoricians can engage the questions and problems of how this was communicated to the organization’s membership.

Text One: “Update on CCCC at Kansas City,” 8/28/2017 at 6:00pm. An email.

The Costs of Staying

If an organization wishes to demean legislation of being dehumanizing, it ought to look at the choices it is making as possibly guilty of the same. What we have presented in the first email is a simple equation: We might lose a chunk of the discretionary fund, have to cut back for a conference cycle, and lose possible revenue versus the risk of violence against members and possible member boycotts. But, as presented here, there are no costs of staying, only risks. The costs of staying, the trauma, the precarity, the violence against brown and black bodies is not a cost here—it is framed as a personal risk that members might choose to undertake (which also doesn’t necessarily account for the institutional pressures surrounding attending CCCC, the narrative of “needing CCCC.”).

We are asking members to pay for the conference both with their finances and with their lives.

Now, it might be easy to say “brown and black bodies are precariously located across the country—this is not a Missouri-isolated condition.”

Sure, but what if it’s not even about that? What if it’s about acknowledging the collective action made by persons whose bodies and lives this effects? What if this is about valuing the voices of people of color who have created a travel advisory?

Staying isn’t just “conferencing as usual” but it is white supremacy as usual. When we as an organized body with a mostly white EC and officer community—and a largely white field—decide that the financial costs, that would not situate our organization in a way that the threat of dissolving would be considered is greater than the cost of violence against its members, then let us make no mistake that this is white privilege and our collective benefiting from white supremacy.

Oh, and while we’re here, let’s talk about this representative from the NAACP. Which, before I begin, if you haven’t read Sara Ahmed’s On Being Included or Living a Feminist Life, you should. Mr. Pruitt has been very vocal in the state of Missouri and his work there instrumental to the national conversation surrounding the NAACP travel advisory. And his comments that are included addressed to the EC are valuable comments. But that is not what is being done here. It is an all too familiar tactic of hearing and including the voices that assent, to include the voices of people of color insofar as they do not disrupt the institution from which they are being ‘included.’

So, inasmuch as the NAACP is invoked here to look like color to appease a membership that may not have access to the complexities of the events or what dissenting voices are saying, this exercise is only another violence.

Text Two: “Decision on the 2018 CCCC Convention,” 9/11/2017 at 4:00pm. An email.

The Value of Color and Other Institutional Tactics

As part of  this year’s ‘transforming’ of the conference, the conference has expanded the Scholars for the Dream, which was designed to provide money for first time presenters of color to pay for travel and the cost of attendance. This is the first year that the scholarship has been expanded: doubling the number of recipients, raising the amount received to $1,000 per awardee, and allowing returning presenters to apply for the award.

This misguided, attempted band-aid, like the single narrative of “you need Cs,” is part of the way that institutions can destabilize ability to engage in collective action. And even the scarcest scrutiny, when weighed against the cost of leaving Cs shows how much the institution values its members of color.

Now of course, this minor expansion is not guaranteed to happen in future years and its money can come out of the discretionary fund.

To be clear, I am not against expanding the scholarship. Please do. But in the wake of attempts of scholars of color to organize boycotts, this tactic undermines collective action for those that may not have access to the information surrounding the organization’s activities.

Please tell me how this purchases security for brown and black bodies. Please tell me how this confronts the institutional racism that creates these conditions. Please tell me how this does not say that your color is worth $1,000 to us. Please tell me how you would spend $10,000 to not confront your own racism.

This is “conferencing as usual,” but with the airs of progress: a triumph of the white institution’s ‘turning to action’ in the face of racist legislation at the expense of its members of color. This conference will continue to be invested in its own interests and benefiting from white privilege. This conference will continue to project a field that is largely white and not challenge structurally the ways in which whiteness and race are embedded in our meetings or our practice.

What’s more is that the Executive Committee is now under nondisclosure agreements, after a measure made by Joyce Locke Carter, limiting the already scarce access that certain members have to the conversations that determine futures for our bodies and our discipline. As graduate students, newcomers to the field, or even long-time members of the field that are not privy to members of the EC, NDAs further disallow access to other narratives that allow us to challenge institutional practices.

Now, as someone less privy to these conversations, the best I can figure is that these nondisclosure agreements were instituted after the EC’s battle over a position statement on sexual conduct that started in its 2016 Houston conference, but before the current conversation surrounding its decision to stay in Kansas City, MO for its 2018 conference.

Nondisclosure agreements only attempt to define a barrier between the organization’s actions and the statements and discourse used by those whom it protects. After people said sexist, violent things in the EC committee over the sexual conduct statement, which could easily be traced back and affiliated with them, I can only imagine why there might be an impulse to institute nondisclosure agreements.

But let there be no mistake,  I am not disgusted with the fiction of an organization, I am disgusted with the members who have done this. We cannot hide behind the invisible wall of an organization: you. did. this.

The theme of the 2016 4Cs was activism, but as the EC and officer’s, like Joyce Locke Carter and Linda Adler-Kassner, demonstrated, that activism was only meant to be the convenient, low-stakes, low-cost, white liberalism variety whose investment in the incremental change of their own institution is threatened by disruption of those institutions from which they benefit. As we continue to hear that this conference will make activism its priority as an after-the-fact addition to the conference, I can only think it is the same ineffectual and self-congratulatory nod the organization’s members have been getting for years.

I cannot attend Cs. And I will not attend Cs for the foreseeable future. And I will continue to withdraw any affiliations with CCCC, NCTE, and its affiliate organizations from myself. The talk I was slated to give, “Safe Spaces, Queer Places, and the Labor of Sustained Attention,” was on the ways in which our students’ bodies and our own bodies are situated precariously and subject to institutional violence. I had hoped to encourage, through my talk, instructors to consider mobilizing our collective vulnerabilities to levy change. I will continue to make that claim—and I will do so in other venues, through my absence, and by attempting here to create another story than “You need Cs.”

I hope to meet and work with many of you in the future, and I hope we can strive together to create spaces of activism for this field and for productive change.

Thank you,

 

Notes: Rhea Estelle Lathan, Freedom Writing: African American Civil Rights Literacy Activism, 1955-1967

Lathan, Rhea E. (2015). Freedom writing: African American civil rights literacy activism 1955-1967. Urbana-Champagne, IL: Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Summary:

Logan considers the pedagogical and literacy acquisition strategies of African Americans of the Civil Rights Movement, locating histories in interviews both personally conducted and archive-located.

Keywords: social histories, literacy, rhetoric

Quotations:

“Finding redemption, for my purposes, is a means of explaining how deep cultural resources that develop in the church and spiritual life transfer to a secular context as intellectual and spiritual strategies that enhance literacy activism” (p. 24).

“Finding redemption is the overarching theme of gospel literacy. It’s a theoretical interpretive concept centered on recovery, a means of dispelling the myth of grassroots literacy acquisition and use as basic, simple, or mechanical” (p. 106).

Questions:

One of the things that I’m struck by in this book is the “Memory itself can be considered composition” (p. 109). For Lathan (2015), memory can give “special attention to illogical, supernatural, spiritual, or otherwise unexplainable events” and “puts the unexpected, unpredictable incidents and directions of our lives into perspective” (p. 109). This allows for “making intuitive connections to articulate truth that cannot be directly spoken” (p. 109).

This made me think of Castiglia and Reed’s (2012) If Memory Serves about gay culture and the AIDS Crisis in which they discuss cultural imperatives to forget the ‘crisis’ and to cast the past in the light of sexual irresponsibility. Instead, they argue, a queer counter-memory would allow for the radical sexual potentialities without painting the past as utopian: rather, queer counter-memories allow for productive disruptions and imaginations within dominant cultures. This makes me think, too, of “the refusal to submit to the burdens of history” (Lathan, 2015 p. 25).

These two texts seem to tend to the ways in which memory can be a productive way to conceive of histories in that they encounter the rhetorical constraints and material conditions that surround ideas of remembering and forgetting—which is making me think of Enoch’s (2013) idea of feminist memory studies approaches as attending to scholarly inattentions and also the rhetorical act of forgetting.

We’ve read a lot this semester about encountering forgetting or recovery projects, but I’m not sure that we’ve talked so much about negotiating forgetting with power, which is something that I see this text trying to do by both highlighting how the subjects themselves were writing those negotiations within their daily lives but also how larger culture forgets these figures due to elements of power.

Notes: Lauren M. Bowen, “The Limits of Hacking Composition Pedagogy”

Bowen, Lauren M. (2017). The limits of hacking composition pedagogy. Computers and Composition, 43, 2017, 1-14.

Summary:

Bowen traces and analyzes hacking as a concept and as a metaphor adopted by compositionists, critiquing the use of hacking as a pedagogical metaphor for writing.

Keywords: composition, hacking, pedagogy, rhetoric, writing studies

Sources:

Richardson, Timothy. (2014). The authenticity of what’s next. Enculturation, 17.

Yergeau, Melanie, Elizabeth Brewer, Stephanie Kirschbaum, Sushil K. Oswal, Margaret Price, Cynthia L. Self, et al. (2013). Multimodality in motion: Disability and kairotic spaces. Kairos, 18(1).

Quotations:

“An analogous pedagogical model would also be built on the unsubstantiated assumptions that classrooms—and hackerspaces—already host diverse populations and that adopting a merit-based system ensures that learning happens outside of institutionalized systems of oppression” (p. 9).

 

Notes: Elizabeth Wingrove, “blah blah WOMEN blah blah EQUALITY blah blah DIFFERENCE”

Wingrove, Elizabeth. (2016). blah Blah WOMEN Blah Blah EQUALITY Blah Blah DIFFERENCE. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 49(4), 408-419.

Summary:

Wingrove argues, within a Rancièrean perspective, that women’s ‘dissensus’ or assertions of injustice are tied and muted by a grammatical and historical police order.

Keywords: feminism, feminist rhetorics, feminist theory, rhetoric, writing studies

Quotations:

“[W]omen’s enactments of equality might remain so encased in the “blah blah blahs” of the gender order that their ability to disrupt the dogged certainties of patriarchal ideology remains forever diminished” (p. 409).

“The consequence, ultimately, is that within the Rancièrean framework, feminist ‘dissensus’ must remain muted, not by the unintelligibility (always potentially productive) of women’s ‘noise’ but by the challenge of ‘putting two worlds in one and the same world’… when both worlds are already lived, signed, and fabricated through the stuff of gender and the differences it presumes and reproduces. It is precisely this intertwining of worlds that risks emasculating feminist assertions of wrong, because we’ve already heard it all before: we’ve always lived in that world” (p. 417).

Notes: Nathan Stormer & Bridie McGeavy, “Thinking Ecologically About Rhetoric’s Ontology: Capacity, Vulnerability, and Resilience”

Stormer, Nathan, & Bridie McGreavy. (2017). Thinking ecologically about rhetoric’s ontology: Capacity, vulnerability, and resilience. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 50(1), 1-25.

Summary:

Stormer and McGeavy address three commonplaces in rhetoric (agency, violence, and recalcitrance) and argue for more ecologically enmeshed perspectives of these commonplaces (capacity, vulnerability, and resilience).

Keywords: materiality, ontology, rhetoric, rhetorical theory, writing studies

Quotations:

“Rhetoric’s ontology, approached ecologically, considers qualities of relations between entities, not just among humans, that enable different modes of rhetoric to emerge, flourish, and dissipate” (p. 3).

“Discourse as the performance of addressivity rather than as signification better acknowledges diverse, nonhuman qualities of relation within rhetoric…. As capacity, arrangements of addressivity establish ranges of action, meaning the limits of what or who may be affected by the discourses in question” (p. 8).

“Violence as forceful relation tells us little of how rhetorical capacities emerge because it obscures the environment that conditions violence by focusing on an eruptive moment” (p. 11).

“Vulnerability is not a state of being at risk but of being entangled, which requires being at risk in varying passive-active relations…. Action can ever and only be acting with the world, not simply acting on it” (p. 13).

“Different materialities set the field of potential and condition diverse rhetorics’ emergence from the broader environment. If that environment changes, so too does rhetorical capacity” (p. 19).

Notes: Katja Thieme & Shurli Makmillen, “A Principled Uncertainty: Writing Studies Methods in Contexts of Indigeneity”

Thieme, Katja, & Shurli Makmillen. (2017). A principled uncertainty: Writing studies methods in contexts of indigeneity. College Composition and Communication, 68(3), 466-493.

Summary:

Thieme & Makmillen situate research methods as reproducing disciplinary epistemologies and trouble assumptions of validity and universality by situating research methods as a principled response, drawing on indigenous rhetorics and genre theory.

Keywords: cultural rhetorics, disciplinarity, genre, indigenous rhetorics, methodology, research methods, rhetoric, writing studies

Sources:

Bhattacharya, Kakali. (2007). Consenting to the consent form: What are the fixed and fluid understandings between the researcher and the researched? Qualitative Inquiry, 13(8), 1095–115.

Cole, Daniel. (2011). Writing removal and resistance: Native American rhetoric in the composition classroom. College Composition and Communication, 63(1), 122–44.

Quotations:

“At the heart of critical questions on a method’s transparency and reproducibility are concerns about what it is that is being reproduced if research follows the path of established forms of inquiry” (p. 468).

“References to methods are a shorthand that is similarly indicative of community practices and allegiances. Like genre names, method references focus on central but isolated aspects of a process that involves rich and varying sets of steps and interactions. These shorthands can create a sense of stability and naturalization” (p. 469).

Notes: Paul Walker, “Let’s Disagree (to Agree): Queering the Rhetoric of Agreement in Writing Assessment”

Walker, Paul. (2017). Let’s disagree (to agree): Queering the rhetoric of agreement in writing assessment. Composition Forum, 35. Web. http://compositionforum.com/issue/35/agreement.php

Summary:

Walker uses queer theory perspectives on failure to challenge assumptions of agreement or validity.

Keywords: composition, failure, queer, queer rhetorics, rhetoric, writing assessment, writing studies

Sources:

Heard, Matthew. (2013). Tonality and ethos. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 46(1), 44-64.

Scott, Tony and Lil Brannon. (2013). Democracy, struggle, and the praxis of assessment. College Composition and Communication, 65(2), 273-298.

Walker, Paul. (2013). Composition’s akrasia: The devaluing of intuitive expertise in writing assessment. enculturation, 15. http://enculturation.net/compositions-akrasia.

Quotations:

“In such an ‘uncontained’ sense, here I adopt a queer positionality from which perspective I consider the “disorienting excess” emerging from an assessment study relegated to the margins as a result of its failure to meet empirical measures of significance—statistical reliability standards—that orient and are “contained” by writing assessment scholarship”.

“[F]ailure becomes instead a path to nowhere, a space wherein we cannot predict, and by doing so, generate alternative ways of sustaining”.

“I am in no way suggesting agreement, confirmation, or reliability are wrong intrinsically; rather, I propose that agreement as the subsumption of difference can, through institutional mandates and what D. Diane Davis calls the “rhetoric of totality” (12), marginalize queerness by reifying masculinized and capitalistic traditions, including the persistent upward trajectory of merit or value-added results and the assumption that answers to difficult questions about learning and performance and identity are waiting to be found by acting subjects”.

“Constantly moving towards the center, towards explicit harmony and sameness via expected standards of social-scientific statistical measurement to determine the “success” of assessment, reinforces for those outside our discipline the primacy of a correct methodology over complexly and ecologically hermeneutic meaning and validity, thus maintaining enough legitimacy for administrators to continue to coopt a reductive and possibly irresponsible holistic methodology”.

“Intuition, of course, is scientifically queer, for it resists the requirement of outside or empirical verification; indeed, it resists replicated verity as validation, proposing instead that extensive experience affords individually nuanced interpretations by multiple individuals that is more valuable in their ecological complexity than multiple individuals arriving at one clear determinate interpretation”.

“Our aim as teachers is to facilitate learning, which stubbornly resists accuracy, consistency, generalizability, fairness, efficiency, or any other term that is usually applied to calibrated assessment”.