Growing Pains: Intergenerational Mentoring and Sustainability of the Coalition’s Mission

Growing Pains: Intergenerational Mentoring and Sustainability of the Coalition’s Mission

Peitho Volume 24 Issue 4, Summer 2022

Author(s): Lynée Lewis Gaillet

Lynée Lewis Gaillet: Distinguished University Professor of English at Georgia State University, is author/editor of numerous articles and books addressing feminist history and pedagogy, Scottish rhetoric, composition studies, publishing matters, and archival research methods. Gaillet is a former department chair, WPA, and Writing Center Director—as well as a Past President of The Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition. 

Abstract: This brief retrospective essay, penned by a former President of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars, recounts complicated moments in the organization’s history and ways in which intergenerational mentoring helped to transcend moments of stagnation and dissension.

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As a member of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (CFSHRC) since its early days and President of the organization from 2006-2008, I’ve been an active participant in and witness to the organization’s formation and growth—its awkward stages as well as its notable successes. I’ve grown up in CFSHRC, been mentored by the organization since my time as a graduate student in the late 1980s (a story often echoed by so many other members), and over the years formed my academic identity through membership and service to this group. Like any family story, however, that history is never as neat and succinct as commemorative narratives might suggest. My retrospective contribution to the 2022 Cluster traces ways in which the CFSHRC, long recognized and cited as a model of networked and multidirectional mentoring (Eble and Gaillet), experienced struggles and overcame challenges along the way, including failed attempts to transform Peitho from newsletter to scholarly journal. At every turn, the path forward occurred at the nexus of intergenerational mentoring and listening. 

The 2000s represent a pivotal time in the Coalition’s history, one that set in motion revitalized membership rosters, legislative and governing bylaws, transformation of Peitho from newsletter to journal, creation of awards and prizes, and formal sponsorship of the Fems/Rhets conference. These accomplishments weren’t seamless and required the members’ dedication to collaboration atypical of most professional organizations, especially ones with no hired staff. The answer to the Coalition’s plateau in membership numbers and stagnant coffers came from feminist cooperation and problem solving. Subsequently, the organization witnessed a reconceptualized and reignited commitment to diverse feminist scholar-teachers and their interdisciplinary work, reflected in the 2016 name change. CFSHRC regained its financial footing and grew the membership by tapping into the mutually-beneficial mentoring network that represented the very foundation of the group’s work and raison d’etre (“History”), and in the process began to free itself from creeping perceptions of the Coalition as an “old girls club.” 

The Journal: Peitho’s transformation path from 1996 newsletter to the robust, vetted, online journal of today experienced a rocky start, particularly in the initial shift from print to digital delivery. I served as President of CFSHRC during one of the earlier failed attempts in the process of this important pivot. The organization marshalled resources, interviewed interested editorial teams, and engaged in year-long conversations and negotiations with finalists. We came tantalizingly close to brokering a partnership for moving the journal online but ultimately failed to come to an agreement over issues of editorial control. From this failed experience and as the organization crystalized sponsorship of the expanding Fems/Rhets conference, the need to rewrite by-laws, raise funds, and formalize operational procedures became apparent. Up to this point, the organization had financially limped along with limited resources, relying upon modest membership fees and donations from founding members to cover minimal expenses.  A small team of volunteers rolled up their sleeves, gathered input from vested groups, and began the process of creating a transparent business blueprint for expanding, funding, and sustaining the slate of events, awards, and publications. Desired results included a comprehensive plan for broadening the scope of the organization and journal, establishing new (compensated) service positions, and developing an outreach plan to invite and include new members. 

Stagnation: The Coalition’s strength has always stemmed from the position of filling mentoring gaps in the lives of members—striving to provide information (navigating one’s institution, publishing opportunities, balancing home life and work), support (writing letters of recommendation, research and writing mentoring, networking), and opportunities and rewards for disseminating research (establishment of Peitho as a vetted journal, expanded sponsorship of Fems/Rhets, creation of a growing slate of awards and prizes). The founding mothers sought to mentor emerging scholars by sharing their experiences (failures and successes) but more importantly by bringing together new generations of teacher-researchers from across institutions. Historically and still now in some cases, rhetoric scholars often experienced isolation within departments where their academic specializations, methodologies, writing and teaching practices, and even bodies defied expectations. For many feminist scholars in the 1990s, particularly those who received little mentoring and found few peers at their home institutions, the Coalition provided a rare and much-needed safe space, a community where they could relax and learn from one another at a time when collaboration was not a hallmark of English departments. However, the Coalition’s initial appeal for women working in the history of rhetoric and composition began to lose cachet as fields expanded, as emerging feminist scholars took up broader areas of inquiry and adopted hybrid and varied interdisciplinary research methodologies.  The advisory board recognized this stagnation and responded on multiple fronts by 

  • seeking 501(c) non-profit status for the organization under the leadership of Lisa Mastrangelo and Nancy Myers, resulting in renewed funds to support the efficacy and expansion of CFSHRC’s aims, and to compensate new service positions  
  • strengthening and formalizing the bonds between the initially independent organization, conference, and journal—enlarging the original membership of the Coalition 
  • expanding platforms, opportunities, and mentoring initiatives (including online longitudinal partnerships, face-to-face individual meetings at conferences, and Peitho manuscript mentoring) to encourage graduate students and junior faculty to disseminate research and serve on governing boards and task forces 
  • adding new awards and prizes in addition to the original book and journal awards, including graduate travel grants, research grants, a mentoring award, dissertation prizes, and diversity scholarship 
  • and revisiting the hallmark Wednesday night event at CCCC to include a broader range of programming and conversations led by intergenerational table leaders and paired facilitators.   

Intergenerational and Multidirectional Mentoring: The spring 2021 (49.1) issue of Composition Studies included a feature titled “Intergenerational Exchanges,” which concretized ways in which collaborating across rank and age can facilitate reinterpreting and recalibrating existing scholarly conversations. Journal editors Kara Taczak and Matt Davis explain how this chorus of scholarly voices from “early, mid, late, and emeritus stages of their academic lifecycles” offer “a particular way of knowing in our current moment that offers a more complex understanding of who we are as a field and how we might move productively forward together” past our present moment (13). The Coalition wisely recognized the value of this kind of multi-directional, networked mentoring years ago, tapping into members’ different experiences, knowledge, and skillsets to work together on multiple fronts, including a shift from traditional feminist and historical concerns to include an ever-expanding broader range of conversations, interactions, and interventions. 

John Brereton and Cinthia Gannett adopt the term “accompaniment” to describe the ways intergenerational scholars might address a given cultural moment, suggesting that this renewed view of collaboration ensures “that our stories reflect and honor our diverse literacy histories” and that new and “diverse generations of scholars” are necessary to “undertake this critical recovery work” (122). Existing institutional and organizational narratives can be disrupted when an organization’s members partner across divides to examine silences, absences, and erasures in extant operations; this collaboration serves to highlight and create new community-driven initiatives. Embracing intergenerational editing and vetting, issuing topical and innovative CFPs (distributed via social media), and seeking research that falls outside narrowly defined repositories traditionally associated with the history of rhetoric and composition provided heuristics for reshaping Peitho’s scholarly discussions through a feminist lens. The value of this work may be obvious, but it certainly isn’t easy, not recently—as the Coalition took several breaks (some forced, others elective) to reexamine our mission, to do some tough talking and listening, to establish inclusive and diverse programs and initiatives—and not at earlier junctures when the organization similarly addressed growing pains and threats of stagnation. Yet, at moments of change, the result of listening and responding (as in most relationships) is worth the effort, creating a professional home where members come to know they are valued and integral to ongoing initiatives, and where the organization’s ability to meet central goals is optimistic and sustainable. Establishing new programs and positions, raising and reallocating funds, expanding committee and membership makeup, and renewing participation within every facet of the organization occurred as a result of thoughtful responses to growing pains and listening to members working across academic ranks, then and now.  

The Coalition is adaptable, endures because from its inception the primary goal and strategic plan always focuses on the needs of members, and because collaborative ethics of care practices work best when regularly reexamined and enlarged. The CFSHRC, its revisited rotating governing body, and its publication and programs are built upon the understanding that “the ethics of care starts from the premise that as humans we are inherently relational, responsive beings and the human condition is one of connectedness or interdependence” (Gilligan). At various points in my career, I’ve enjoyed membership in sponsoring organizations of like-minded colleagues, groups associated with my shifting administrative duties, research interests, and pedagogical concerns. However, the continuous camaraderie and scope of CFSHRC’s support of research, teaching, service, and institutional/personal concerns is unsurpassed and adapts to welcome new members and address shifting needs as they progress through their careers; recent governance changes in the organization help to ensure a forum where scholars from varying positions and points of view can be heard. This group has sustained countless members over the last thirty years, fulfilling broadly-defined professional needs (for graduate students to late-career professors) through the organization’s platform to promote intergenerational conversation, willingness to adapt and evolve, and perhaps most importantly by bringing us all together in conversation during times of cultural and professional trial and adversity. On the tenth anniversary of Peitho, I welcome the opportunity to reflect upon and applaud the recurring growth and efficacy of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition—an organizational history encapsulated and reflected in the expanded readership, mission, new features, and scope of the journal. I am excited for the next ten years. 

Works Cited 

Brereton, John and Cinthia Gannett. “Intergenerational Exchange in Rhetoric and Composition: Some Views from Here.” Composition Studies, 49.1, 2021, pp. 119-124. 

Eble, Michelle and Lynée Lewis Gaillet. “Re-inscribing Mentoring.” Retellings: Opportunities for Feminist Research in Rhetoric and Composition Studies. Eds. Jessica Enoch and Jordynn Jack. Parlor, 2019, pp. 283-303.  

Gilligan, Carol. “Interview.” Ethics of Care. 11 June 2011. Accessed 26 May 2022. 

“History.” The Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition. Accessed 13 April 2022. 

“Intergenerational Exchange in Rhetoric and Composition: Some Views from Here.” Symposium, Composition Studies, 49.1, 2021. Accessed 2 June 2022.