Author(s): Aurora Matzke, Louis M. Maraj, Angela Clark-Oates, Anyssa Gonzalez, and Sherry Rankins-Robertson
Aurora Matzke is Writing Center Director at Chapman University. She enjoys learning about and working toward ways to create successful access pathways for all students. Most recently, she collaboratively guest edited a special issue of Writing Program Administration based on the legacy of Mike Rose and authored a chapter in Women’s Ways of Making. Currently in press are a collaboratively edited collection Systems Shift: Creating and Navigating Change in Rhetoric and Composition Administration and a chapter in Mentorship and Methodology.
Reppin’ Trinidad and Tobago, Louis M. Maraj, PhD, thinks/creates/converses with theoretical black studies, rhetoric, digital media, and critical pedagogies. His intellectual, pedagogical, and justice-oriented community work has been recognized with numerous awards from entities like the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the National Communication Association Critical and Cultural Studies Division—including, most recently, the latter’s 2023 New Investigator Award. Maraj’s latest thought-projects appear in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Canadian Literature, The Routledge History of Police Brutality in America, and elsewhere. He is an associate professor in University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism, Writing & Media.
Angela Clark-Oates is associate professor of composition and rhetoric in the English department at California State University, Sacramento. She recently finished a six-year term as the writing program administrator and is currently serving as the graduation writing assessment coordinator. Her research interests writing program administration and professional/faculty learning, writing assessment and reflection, the teaching of college-level writing and multimodality, and feminist leadership practices. Her scholarship has been published in The Journal of Writing Assessment and Communication Design Quarterly. She has also published in the anthologies Stories from First-Year Composition: Pedagogies that Foster Student Agency and Writing Identity, Women’s Way of Making, The Framework for Success in and Postsecondary Writing: Scholarship and Applications and most recently co-edited a special issue of the WPA: Writing Program Administration focused on the legacy of Mike Rose.
Anyssa Gonzalez is a second year PhD student in Texts & Technology at the University of Central Florida. As a former middle school English teacher curious about how to tap into students’ interests to improve their well-being and writing skills, her research areas lie at the intersection of games and learning. She is particularly interested in how writing in, around, and about games might have an impact on undergraduate education.
Sherry Rankins-Robertson is chair and professor of writing and rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. Her research includes community-engaged writing, feminist leadership, writing program administration, and teaching and administration in online learning environments. She has co-edited two book collections along with a special issue of WPA: Writing Program Administration and co-authored a first-year composition textbook along with numerous articles and book chapters. She has held leadership roles on executive committees and task forces in the field of writing. For the past twenty-five years, she’s taught first-year writing; she also teaches graduate-level theory courses. For more than a decade, she’s been teaching in prisons. Sherry is a 200-hour registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance.
Coalitions sometimes sustain—whether through embracing or navigating differences (Glenn and Lunsford) by releasing those who disagree with their respective practices and missions, or in recalibrating and finding new purpose in some other shared motive. Coalitions, however, also often dissolve: perhaps the dissolution takes place due to the fracas of attempting to include, or because some attempt to speak for others, or maybe in contentions over best practices, or even in a kind of successful irrelevance–as its members’ “strategic use of positivist essentialism in a scrupulously visible political interest” possibly having seen fruit with policies revised, officials elected, or mindsets changed (Spivak 205).
But coalitions do not come easy, as they usually represent ephemeral, desired attachments to what cultural theorist Sara Ahmed might call “happy objects” in her 2010 book The Promise of Happiness. And often, as historical challenges to mainstream white feminism borne of unbelonging—particularly in calls by Black feminists like Audre Lorde and feminists of color like Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa—attest, coalitions can offend, disbar, and serve racist, heteropatriarchal, settler-colonial, ableist, or otherwise normative ends, whether or not they intend to. They may, alternatively, result in the formation of new kinds of coalitions among racially marginalized subjects; for instance, Black lesbian feminist and Combahee River Collective founder, Barbara Smith, credits Moraga and Anzaldúa’s collection This Bridge Called My Back as “a document of and a catalyst for these coalitions” (xliv). And while some cultural philosophies–such as Afropessimism, for example (Wilderson III)–ultimately reject coalition altogether, those in feminist circles have theorized/practiced the politics of coalition (arguably) from nascence, from the event that collective organization became central to its justice-oriented missions.
It may be worth repeating that coalitions certainly do not come easy, and when idealized by its participants’ visions of “common ground,” might grow more difficult, less open, and do more harm than any initial aspiration for social good. They also often fail: fail to reach across difference/s, fail to fulfil their purposes, or fail to maintain momentum after initially coalescing. And, of course, coalitions do emerge and exist with more explicitly nefarious end-goals. Coalitions are not inherently positioned toward human good. With this backdrop in mind, alongside the contemporary work of the many who continue to reiteratively theorize coalition in our fields and subfields, such as communication scholar Karma R. Chávez, rhetoric and writing studies scholar Pritha Prasad and technical communication scholars Rebecca Walton, Kristen R. Moore, and Natasha N. Jones, this special issue emphasizes the myriad (re-)makings,
(re-)breakings, complications, desires, challenges, and dreams lived, practiced, and theorized by its contributors in their varied roles and spaces.
When we proposed this special issue, we sought to illuminate the conceptual and embodied contact zones we discuss above. Tensions that, for us, were centered by scholars and attendees who participated in any of the three CCCC Feminist Workshop between 2021-2023 when the majority of the editors of this special issue co-chaired. During that time frame, CCCC’s shifted from in-person to fully online to hybrid due to COVID-19 and attempted to move toward more national and international attendance inclusivity. With this organizational backdrop, it was during the 2021 CCCC Feminist Workshop that we grappled with coalition as a commonplace. Lana Oweidat called on us to understand the value of sitting in discomfort, arguing for coalitions that center accountability, responsibility, ethics and intersectionality (a call carried forward by Fitzzsimmons’s and Prasad’s piece in this issue). Aja Martinez also reminded us of the potential of being uncomfortable, of recognizing our discomfort as an indication that we were engaged “in the homework of coalition,” echoes of which we experience in Karen Tellez-Trujillo’s contribution, temporal loops experienced by many of us as we moved through the virtual spaces of conference that year.
As we carried the ideas of Oweidat and Martinez, along with the ideas from the other feminist scholar presenters and attendees, back to our communities and began proposing the 2022 CCCC Feminist Workshop, we responded to Perryman-Clark’s call by inviting feminist scholars whose research and teaching addressed the need for us, as educators and activists, to construct spaces–in our classrooms and communities–that adequately respond to the traumatizing lived experiences of our students, while acknowledging how traumatizing many of academia’s practices, practices steeped in white supremacist notions of power and power acquisition, continue to be. We also more formally imagined the workshop space as having the potential to be an intellectual and professional loop, proposing a recursivity in attendance, speaking, and mentoring by feminist scholar presenters from one year to the next.
Consequently, scholar-presenters (graduate students, current faculty, and emeritus scholars) from the 2021 CCCC Feminist Workshop were invited to return as respondents and Workshop co-leaders in 2022 and 2023, where the cycle would then, again, repeat. This, we believed, might be a sustainable strategy for rooting the Workshop as a constant (prospective) site for coalition-building. The CCCC Feminist Workshop, then, would be an annual convening dedicated to offering an opportunity to construct a diverse, intergenerational coalition that would not ignore the discomfort and violence of past attempts to build trans-generational coalitions in feminist circles in our field. If this was possible, a space to construct more opportunities to listen recursively to emerging, current, and past wisdom of participants might open (Brereton & Gannet; Wang; Gaillet). We hoped, then, that the coalition-building would both be attendant to what Aja Martinez argues is the “responsibility of privilege,” and we would work to center and amplify new and diverse voices by encouraging a joining and rejoining of on-going and ever-changing scholarly conversations.
Centering the above strategy, then, the 2022 Feminist Workshop featured BIPOC and un(der)represented scholars, which included august feminist respondents and emerging scholars, who grappled with how to focus on student wellbeing in the decision-making of education, how to approach teaching and learning through trauma-informed perspectives, how to address the double pandemic that was (and still is) affecting both our health and our ability to live safely in an environment where black and brown bodies are constantly being policed and killed, and how, if any way, coalition could be used to inform these processes (search #FeministWorkshop #4C22 on X, formerly Twitter, for snapshots of the day). Karma Chávez, who is published in this issue, challenged us during that workshop to interrogate an assumption of commonality that is pervasive in discussions of coalition-building, particularly in feminist circles, while Mays Imad, a neuroscientist, shared her research on trauma-informed pedagogies and practices being deployed more frequently in higher education, as communities found themselves collectively processing the ongoing trauma of COVID-19, asking the audience to attend to the very real generational and active traumas experienced by students and educators. We ended the day listening and learning from Beverly Moss, Shirley Wilson Logan, Lana Owedait, and Kathi Yancey as they conversed in a roundtable discussion. “What’s a different type of model for coalition going forward?” Moss asked. In response, Logan encouraged us to disrupt the idea(s) that coalition-building is an invitation to others to join us in the spaces in which we already reside; instead, she said, we should consider learning where folx are already doing the work and building coalitions in those spaces. From these ideas, the editors began (re)imagining this work as a recognition of and as a traveling toward coalition. As reflection and movement.
Moss’s question, carried from the 2022 workshop into our everyday lives, encouraged the co-chairs to trouble presence for the CCCC 2023 Feminist Workshop, acknowledging in the proposal that we had already spent two years focused on the trials, opportunities, and trauma inherent in coalition building, emphasizing a commitment to disrupt, dismantle, and rebuild coalitions across commonplaces and differences. As Karma Chávez observes in The Borders of AIDS: Race, Quarantine, and Resistance, “because coalescing cannot be taken for granted, it requires constant work if it is to endure” (8). Inspired by Frankie Condon’s challenge to think more deeply about how we might “do hope” in difficult circumstances, we expanded our focus on coalitions as means for inclusion/exclusion by focusing on how our organizations and institutions limit or expand notions of “presence.”
In Chicago, we centered rage and discomfort, movement and inertia, sound and silence, flow and “stickiness” (Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion). We asked: what does it mean “to be present” in spaces historically structured for the exploitation and demise of historically marginalized peoples? In what ways might we dream new futures together by acknowledging, mourning, and healing from–but not premised on continuing–such violence? When we met face-to-face for the first time in two years, we celebrated and lamented and challenged and imagined. One of the key initiatives at the Workshop was also the invitation to various Caucus leaders to come and share key initiatives from their own workshops, special interest groups, and SIGs. Representatives from the Asian/American Caucus, Black Caucus, Latinx Caucus, LGBTQIA+ Caucus, and more, came and educated Feminist Caucus members regarding their initiatives, ideas, frustrations and hopes for coalition.
As workshop leaders, feminist scholars, and attendees challenged, interrogated, reimagined, and (sometimes) reproduced what Fitzsimmons and Prasad (in this issue) call “the rhetorics of positivity and abundance surrounding questions of identity, power, and social justice” an exigency emerged to continue these conversations in the pages of Peitho. In this way, we wanted the intellectual work of the workshop to extend to the larger field, to ask folks to listen and learn how feminist scholars navigate the paradox of coalition-building. The authors in this issue took up our call to the field to continue to interrogate this paradox, to challenge the belief that coalition-making is inherently a tactic that centers a building with, to expose the failures of coalition-building to construct more diverse, equitable and inclusive spaces, to articulate, as Chávez reminds us, both “the dangers and possibilities of coalitions.”
In this vein, we have organized this issue into four thematic categories that emerged as we read and re-read across the manuscripts. In the first section, entitled “Coalition in Theory/Praxis,” authors Chávez, Glasscott et al., House et al., and Fitzsimmons and Prasad work to uncover the potential for fractures, repairs, and new growth in coalitional work. The authors provide context for what they argue is the potential of hegemonic reification in coalitional work. When read collectively, the difficulties Chávez and House highlight are further brought into focus by the practices detailed by both Glasscott et al. and Fitzsimmons and Prasad. Ultimately, the authors deftly break down how, if unacknowledged or under-examined, imperialist desires for conquest insidiously and negatively impact just structures of engagement. They provide readers with ways to apply inclusive coalition theory to practice even in these troubling times. These skillful reminders then lead us to section two, “Accountability with/in Community Relations.”
“Accountability with/in Community Relations” opens with Letizia Guglielmo and Meghan Stipe’s detailing of their campus and community partnership, as they detail their own practice of Del Hierro, Levy, and Price “orientations and re-orientations.” These differing instantiations of accountability continue in section two through both the works of Keshia Mcclantoc and Megan Faver Hartline and Maria Novotny. Mcclantoc highlights how understanding, defining, working with, and establishing community partnerships requires actionable principles of accountability. Principles of accountable reciprocity, then, as outlined by authors Hartline and Novotny through the works of Alvarez, Riley Mukavetz, Shah, Patel, Baker-Bell, Martinez, Crewnshaw, and McCoy, are applied throughout the section. The Peitho authors poignantly demonstrate that without direct leadership from community partners, feminist coalition cannot thrive.
From unearthing practices rooted in white supremacist notions of suppression to the klaxon call of the effects of burnout on student performance, section three or, “The Promises and Perils of Coalition Building in Academia,” these authors focus our attention on the ways in which coalition impedes or promotes inclusive academic ecologies. The section opens by Abbas et al, who show that coalition work, especially in the context of an academic department is always, already messy, complicated, unfinished, and generally further from change than coalitional activists might hope. This is followed by McDermott who performs an examination of the ways in which their disciplinary training might be one of the very things inhibiting the ability of feminists to form life-giving coalitions for change. These investigations are further challenged by the work of Ghimire et al, as they position transnational mentorship as a functional way to build disciplinary coalitions across time and space.
To remind us of the time-bound nature of coalition, section four closes the issue with the section “Temporal Politics of Coalition.” The authors of this section remind us of the recursive nature of coalition, both in the forming and maintenance of inclusive coalition. They examine the ways in which coalition and relationships with/in them change over time while having the potential to chase continuity along the thoroughfares of established legacy. From the localized examples provided by McMartin and Diaz to the instantly recognizable iconography examined by Molko, this section provides ways in which readers can examine time and timeliness as concepts directly influenced by the building, staying power, and adaptability of locality. The section closes with Tellez-Trujillo’s individual contemplation on coalition’s meanings for her inside and outside of the academy, emphasizing how lived experience, writing, and retreat may inform coalitional engagement and mentorship across time and space.
Of course, the special issue would not be complete without the work of some of our foremothers who bring each of us to this space. Shirley Wilson Logan, Cheryl Glenn, and Andrea Lunsford use the afterword to ruminate on dual calls–one from Moss in the Workshop itself (as we’ve mentioned earlier), and one in the 2015 text in Peitho by Glenn and Lunsford that calls for more inclusion “to seize kairotic moments as they arise to keep central the goals of supporting research by, about, and for women and mentoring young scholars squarely in its sights” (13). Together, these foremothers consider how this special issue responds to their calls, to continue our recursive trajectory, as we work to uncover, recover, and trouble the temporality and embodiment of coalition.
We want to thank the diligent support of Clancy Ratliff and the Peitho team for their engagement, guidance, and patience from the writing of our call for this special issue through its publication. We are particularly grateful to PS Berge for the thoughtful design of the cover. The collection would be empty if not for the over fifty authors who worked tirelessly to write, revise, rewrite, revise, and edit these texts. It was our honor to facilitate this collective conversation on coalition.
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