Facing the issues of racial erasure, white privilege, and the implicit (or explicit) institutionalization of kyriarchy in basic writing is an uphill battle. Coleman et al.’s article “The Risky Business of Engaging Racial Equity in Writing Instruction: A Tragedy in Five Acts” unpacks many of these tensions in case studies and confessional writing from inside Minneapolis Community and Technical College. The article provides first-person perspectives from several authors in “Five Acts,” allowing for the creation of an internal discourse, while engaging with research from writing studies at large.
Many of these authors express anxiety over “doing equity work,” or more precisely, figuring out exactly how to negotiate their own embodied privilege and expectations in classrooms with diverse subaltern students. Kathleen Sheerin DeVore’s section tears back the curtain of colonial trauma, various language cultures, and ongoing subjugation of subaltern students in remedial writing classrooms. DeVore also presents a scathing indictment of MCTC’s response to calls for increased racial equity in “A Tale in 10 Parts: A Racial Equity Story From 2005 to 2015 at MCTC.” The English department attempted to resolve predominance of white faculty by explicitly integrating CRT language into job postings; however, this language proved to be not enough to reconcile the supremacist ideologies writ into the department’s culture.
DeVore explicates the moves that followed: harassment and discrimination charges filed against the hiring committee by a white cis male colleague, followed by a year-long, institution-wide legal inquiry; dismissal of the charges; and finally, implementation of a stipulation that the English hiring committee remove CRT language from job listings “as it might exclude candidates ‘unfamiliar with this particular theory'” (355). The implicit assumption is, of course, that critical theory focused on race and ethnicity is somehow peripheral to writing studies, which should focus on approved academic topics such as
1) constructing arguments agreeing with white men,
2) reading only books written by white men,
3) correctly citing the aforementioned white men.
Meanwhile, despite the hostile environment, a new faculty member of color implemented a discussion group focused on white privilege and race in the English department grounded in critical whiteness studies. This demand for white faculty accountability may have created the largest rift to date: white faculty members were defensive, uninformed, and resentful in large-group meetings, attitudes that were “taxing for faculty of color” (356). DeVore closes her section with this chilling line: “Even writing of it here, my stomach freezes with the memory. We broke. We are still broken” (357).
Professor Shannon Gibney’s section speaks to her experiences as an active member of the English department, including the laundry list of complaints and institutional disciplinary actions thrown at her: “Very simply, the reason why I became an institutional target for moderating a discussion on structural racism and representation in a mass communications class was that I was a black woman faculty member who dared to demand that I be treated the same way as any other (read: white) faculty member” (360).
In the market-driven and extremely competitive higher ed landscape, in which “diversity” is seen as capital, we are expected to be “grateful” to be even granted entrance into the rarified, predominantly white, older, middle-class world of faculty, administration, and higher ed governance. The presence of our bodies themselves is supposed to be “evidence” of the institution’s “commitment to diversity.” Our bodies are not supposed to act, speak, or, god forbid, contradict this narrative of sanitized “progress” in this sphere, and if we do, we are instantly labeled as unprofessional, not collegial, angry, aggressive, racist, or any other host of pejorative adjectives routinely used to keep women of color in our place. (358)
All five of these authors provide us with different perspectives on how white supremacy functions in higher education, at conferences, in department meetings, in writing classrooms, and in ideology. As a white instructor, I work to remember how my racial identity is centered and respected in academic spaces, and these authors’ commitment to honesty, vulnerability, and critical writing remind me of the importance of continually engaging in critical self-reflection as a writing instructor.