Minority WPAs and the Role(s) of Identity: A Review of Sessions B.16, G.13, and K.35
Reviewed by Somaily Nieves, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL (firstname.lastname@example.org)
B.16: Motherhood and Other Challenges: Joys and Difficulties of Being on the Tenure Track
Chair: Michele Ninacs, State University of New York College at Buffalo, NY
Speakers: Robin Gallaher, Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, MO, “On Being an Island: The Risks and Rewards of Being the Only Composition Scholar and WPA”
Nicole Williams, Bridgewater State University, MA, “Career Suicide: Is Having Children too High a Risk in Academia?”
Krystia Nora, California University of Pennsylvania, PA, “The Mommy Track: The Joys and Difficulties of Choosing Motherhood on the Tenure Track Re-Examined”
G.13: Risk or Reward?: Rhetorical Agency and the Administrative Call for Faculty of Color
Chair: Staci Perryman-Clark, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI
Speakers: Collin Craig, St. John’s University, New York, NY, “The WPA as Collective Identity: Finding Cross-Cultural Spaces of Possibility through Collaboration”
Aja Martinez, State University of New York College at Binghamton, NY, "‘You remind me of my tia/nina/prima/sister’: Administrating, Teaching, and Mentoring Underrepresented Students as the Untenured Chicana WPA”
Respondents: Staci Perryman-Clark, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI
David Green, Howard University, Washington, DC
K35: WPA and the Cs Regime: Queering Leadership (sponsored by the Queer Caucus)
Co-Chairs: Margaret Price, Spelman College, Atlanta, GA
Kimberly Drake, Scripps College, Claremont, CA
Speakers: Karen Kopelson, University of Louisville, KY, “Queer Leadership: An Oxymoron?”
Tara Pauliny, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, NY, “The Queer Potential of Assistant Professor Administration”
Aneil Rallin, Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, CA, “Rejecting Quietism”
During the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication, I decided to attend three sessions on minority Writing Program Administrators (WPAs) and the roles their identities played in their work. Specifically, I attended B.16 (“Motherhood and Other Challenges: Joys and Difficulties of Being on the Tenure Track”), G.13 (“Risk or Reward?: Rhetorical Agency and the Administrative Call for Faculty of Color”), and K.35 (“WPA and the Cs Regime: Queering Leadership (sponsored by the Queer Caucus)”). Whether the speakers held positions as WPAs, held tenure, or neither, the sessions I attended regarding the unfair treatment and marginalization of faculty who identified as mothers, queer, or people of color revealed several perplexing issues. All of the speakers in these sessions felt that their identities as members of one of the mentioned groups caused friction within their own departments and within the field of rhetoric and composition studies. As a woman of color, I am unnerved by the possibility that my identity may result in unfair treatment.
A prevalent issue that was discussed continuously in these panels was that of being an untenured WPA or faculty member while identifying as a minority within academia. Those in WPA positions felt it was difficult, if not impossible, to implement change and complete required tasks due to their untenured positions. It was instability and fear of losing their livelihood that caused them to remain silent as WPAs.
As both a queer and untenured faculty member, Tara Pauliny (K.35) illustrated how her identity further problematized an already difficult position as an untenured WPA. She spoke of her own issues holding a position as an administrator for her department’s Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program where she felt both authorized and unauthorized as her ethos shifted due to her position as a queer untenured WPA. She called not for a marriage, but a “kairotic booty call” between queer theory and WPA work as a solution for her shifting ethos and that of other WPAs who identify as queer and hold positions of shifting power. It is through this relationship that she can upset the binary revealing the instability of the institution, becoming an agent of change. Through such illicit and clandestine relationships, rather than through perceptible revolutionary work, disruption of the normative can occur.
In another panel, Collin Craig (G.13) recounted the ways in which clandestine work can empower faculty and students of color. In his presentation, he described the ways in which he had to advocate for himself and others after a WPA of color left his university. He believed the former WPA resigned due to microaggressions caused by her efforts to create an inclusive pedagogy that valued the narrative voice of writers, which many in her department did not support. Craig’s former WPA reframed multilingualism in assessment in order to allow students to receive credit for their innovative writing. She advocated for the acknowledgement of race and gender in student writing while dealing with her own intersectionality as a WPA of color. Once the WPA resigned her position, Craig and his colleagues organized a faculty collective in an effort to enfranchise themselves in a department where they felt they held little power. It was through that collective that Craig was able to prevent himself from feeling he had to tiptoe around the office so not to upset the new WPA who was undoing the work of his predecessor. Rather than communicating their needs to the WPA directly, the faculty chose nontraditional ways to establish their own authority in order to make the institutional changes they sought.
Lack of appreciation and understanding was another prevalent theme across the sessions. Aja Martinez (G.13) is an untenured Chicana WPA leading the Binghamton Enrichment Program. The program is a free four-week summer course focused on writing. Its goal is to bring a cohort of approximately 150 underrepresented students to live on campus and immerse themselves in the college campus. Martinez argued that the department saw her work with the program as something she should do for no additional pay because, as a woman of color, she should want to volunteer her time to help underrepresented students without compensation. Staci Perryman-Clark (G.13) argued that the issue of underrepresentation is not only visible in the inequity of institutional positions, but within the field of rhetoric and composition as well. She argued that even when minority writing is included within curricula or the canon, it is as supplemental work and not integral work that informs the study of rhetoric because the White elite do not want to be novices once more. In the same regard, Krystia Nora’s (B.13) research on 77 women found that the lack of protective policies, daycare options, and other accommodations within their institutions implied a disregard for mothers. Those institutions that are unsupportive, Nora argued, are working out of the ideal worker model in which the worker works without any breaks for 40 years while their spouse looks after their children. Nora’s argument shed light on the indifference certain institutions feel towards mothers and their needs—the same disregard other underrepresented groups feel in their respective institutions.
Overall, mentorship was offered as a solution to these overarching issues of disempowerment and underrepresentation. Krystia Nora’s research on issues of motherhood in academia found those who had positive experiences tended to have a supportive mentor in their departments. Nora’s own experiences support these findings. She is now in her second year of unpaid leave due to the informed help of a mentor who let her know that was an option; otherwise she would have left her position as a tenure-track faculty member. Likewise, in the discussion after the G.13 panel, the speakers agreed that finding allies in administrative power was necessary in order to protect themselves from microaggressions and implement institutional changes that place these groups in more equitable positions.