Logging On: Inclusivity Action Items

Cheryl Ball, Editor

This summer, y'all. I mean good grief. Or how about *just* grief. No one will disagree that 2020 has been a shitshow for so many reasons, with COVID just the tip of the iceberg. I hope each and every one of you are staying safe and healthy during this global pandemic. There is so much more to say about the way we are living these days (and check out the PanMeMic group's manifesto about communicating and meaning-making during a pandemic, spearheaded by Kairos editorial board member Elisabetta Adami!), but instead of delving into the particulars of how we are coping during this massive health crisis, I want to frame all this tragedy within the larger one of a white body supremacy. Since the murder of Trayvon Martin to the righteous boiling point this summer with the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the hundreds (thousands) of other Black lives lost due to police brutality, a collective (and selective) white consciousness has started paying attention (some, again) to these atrocities against BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) bodies. So, so much should be said to acknowledge the racism, particularly in the United States, against BIPOC, both in scholarly and popular ways. So it surely feels like I am leaping through so much history and depth in order to pinpoint a location within this conversation that I and Kairos can immediately take action. But that is where I'd like to take you now, if I may.

Kairos has long considered itself a place where everyone is welcome to work and publish. We started requesting authors attend to a diversity of gender representations and print vs. online resources in their citation practices nearly a decade ago. We created inclusive copyediting practices that allowed authors to retain their own language structures and choices when it reflected their arguments and/or designs. We have attempted to recruit authors from multiple genders for decades, and we began informally noting the racial and ethnic make-up of our author pool a few years ago, but we weren't sure how to move forward in this area or, frankly, whether we needed to or what it meant to "do better." We have hired and promoted BIPOC scholars whenever possible and have tried to internationalize our editorial board, which seemed difficult considering the US-centric and North American nature of rhet/comp as a discipline, historically. But all of these check-list items began to feel like a bare minimum that we needed to improve on, and which came to a head over the last few months when I realized we desperately needed more cultural rhetorics scholars on our editorial board to review the kinds of submissions we were receiving that delved into race rhetorics and similar identity-oriented content. When we take an earnest assessment of our profile in the scholarly community, we recognize we have much more learning and improvement to do in terms of publishing as inclusively as possible. As one of our section editors repeatedly recently, "BIPOC is not a special issue." Indeed.

Over the summer, we began our work to deeply assess and create an action list for dismantling the white supremacist power structures of academic publishing that still hold at Kairos. We started on #ShutDownStem/#ShutDownAcademia day, on June 10, which was an academic strike for Black lives. As that website says, "Our research papers turn into media releases, books and legislation that reinforce anti-Black narratives," so our goal for the day was to stop doing our academic work and take action to promote anti-racist publishing practices at Kairos. We continued this work on Juneteenth, spending most of both days working on research DEI statements from other publications and publication organizations and realizing that we wanted not to just put out a Black Lives Matter or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statement, because so many of them lack action and fall flat (often badly/hysterically so, thanks McSweeney's), but to create an action list with deadlines we hoped to meet. We created 15–20 pages of notes in a shared Google doc, and are still working on it. In a moment of anger at the world, I wrote in that draft:

  • Fuck white supremacy
  • White power is embedded in academia and academic publishing, and fuck that too
  • We want to (continue) publishing underrepresented voices as our mission has always called for, but we will aim to create more concrete opportunities to mentor and publish more voices from our scholarly colleagues of indigeneity and color.

One editor said, "Just publish this and add the details." As we were revising our list over the summer, Reviews Co-Editor Ashanka Kumari pointed us to the CCCC's "This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice!" as an excellent example of an action-oriented statement. If you haven't seen that detailed document, here's a key excerpt:

We DEMAND that:
  • teachers stop using academic language and standard English as the accepted communicative norm, which reflects White Mainstream English!
  • teachers stop teaching Black students to code-switch! Instead, we must teach Black students about anti-Black linguistic racism and white linguistic supremacy!
  • political discussions and praxis center Black Language as teacher-researcher activism for classrooms and communities!
  • teachers develop and teach Black Linguistic Consciousness that works to decolonize the mind (and/or) language, unlearn white supremacy, and unravel anti-Black linguistic racism!
  • Black dispositions are centered in the research and teaching of Black Language!

We support this demand for Black linguistic justice and will strive to enact it in our peer-review and copyediting processes at Kairos. Where editorial work has historically, in white supremacist fashion, attempted to "make perfect" the written English in its publications, we have come to recognize that perfection is a white supremacist agenda, just as we have learned in our discipline's own linguistic research that white cultural language structures should not be priveleged over non-white languages. Our copyediting will continue to attend to typos but our understanding and recognition of stylistic varieties should be pluralistic, and we welcome that in submissions.

But we recognize that our editorial board is very white, and we cannot make excuses for that anymore. The senior editorial team at Kairos, along with the section editors, have begun creating a comprehensive list of scholars, primarily BIPOC ones who have authored in the journal and/or have some scholarly and pedagogical interest in the mission of Kairos, in terms of its digital work and disciplinary scope. We are in the process of inviting this new generation of scholars to our board, to broaden the perspective of readership on top of the collaborative and generous review process we already employ. We acknowledge that this move is long overdue, and we hope to report on a modicum of success with this action item in the January issue—acknowledging at the same time that BIPOC scholars are always overburdened with service commitments, so our hope in expanding the numbers on the board to well over our average of 50 board members will help us spread the work out more equitably. (In the process of this internal work, we also discovered that of the board members who agree to review for us on a regular basis, we have approximately a 90% completion rate, with many board members pro-actively reviewing as many as eight webtexts over a four-year period. We had NO IDEA how productive they were, and now we do and are immensely impressed with their service to the discipline, and hope to lighten everyone's labor load by adding more scholars with more methodoligical and disciplinary approaches in the coming months.) We welcome scholars from underrepresented backgrounds and research areas to approach us to become a board member, if you are interested.

As part of our staff discussion about the board make-up, we also discussed the list of suggested questions our Managing Editors propose to the group of 4–5 board members who review each webtext. We've only used these questions in the last few years, and they've unintentionally been drawn from typical review questions that have the inhereted focus of being white supremacist in nature. So we've begun to reframe what questions we ask the board to consider with each submission, to include the following DRAFTY list:

  • Does the webtext add new ideas/concepts to the field? These can be small or major, praxis-oriented or theoretically inclined, contemporary or historical...
  • Does it have major holes (in form or content) that need to be fixed?
  • Is the overall approach clear in the rhetoric and/or design (whether or not there's a specific methodology, experimental design, or anti-racist method employed)?
  • Does the author cite inclusively? That is, does the scholarly review (if appropriate) draw from a range of relevant feminist and cultural rhetorical traditions, include scholars from multiple identities (gender, race, disability) if known, or include research in multiple forms (open v. closed-access)?
  • Does the rhetoric, design, and code cohere in ways that forward the argument? Does the webtext include media assets that forward its goals/claims?

We are currently testing these questions out with a group of board members and welcome feedback on them. We don't require reviewers to answer each, or any, of these questions, but to use them as a guide to consider if they find themselves needing a prompt. But we wanted to make sure we added in a prompt about being inclusive in terms of language, methodology, and design to ensure we were always thinking about what we are including and excluding from our "pages" and why that might be the case. Kairos has never been about gatekeeping, but about helping as many scholars as possible publish within its venue. And this set of heuristics will, perhaps, help us move forward on that goal.

So, given that these goals will always be under advisement and, we hope, continually updated as the journal becomes a more inclusive place to work and publish and we continue to learn how to be more pro-active anti-racists in academic and publishing circles (as well as our own lives), we invite conversation and feedback on these items. Working with a group of (admittedly and problematically predominantly white) technical communication editors, brought together by Derek Ross, Kairos will be part of an inclusivity listening tour for journal editors this fall, which is one method folx can reach us to provide feedback and ask questions about our inclusion efforts (or lack thereof). You can also always reach us by email at kairosrtp@gmail.com or our individual emails, and the listening tour will be providing anonymous ways of providing feedback as well.

Finally, we announced briefly in the last Logging On column that we had hoped to run a KairosCamp for BIPOC scholars this past summer at Wayne State. While COVID prevented that, we had turned our attention to offering scholarships for BIPOC scholars working on digital projects and who wanted mentoring from Kairos staff and Wayne State digital publishing librarians, all of whom supported this informal mentoring program. Unfortunately, the vagaries of academic financial regulations have meant that I cannot spend the money I wanted to in this way, and, yes, I am shaking my fist at the sky in anger. I literally cannot give money away (in the timeframe I have to do it) to BIPOC scholars because of rules and regulations meant to provide financial oversight with certain kinds of accounts. I and everyone I've been working with at Wayne to make this happen is disappointed by this outcome. But we will keep trying to find a way to support more BIPOC scholars in their publishing endeavors, and if you have suggestions, I am always happy to hear them.