More Than Empathy: Transnational Feminist Mentoring Practices for Solidarity Building

We are the victims of our history and our present. They place too many obstacles in the Way of Love. And we cannot enjoy even our differences in peace. 

–Ama Ata Aido, Our Sister Killjoy


Transnational feminist scholars like Uma Narayana, Chandra Mohanty, and M. Jacqui Alexander show the importance of building transnational coalitions via scholarship, research, and relationships. In addition, these scholars are alert to the colonizing potential of academic research, in which scholars are compelled to search for an area to research, which they then pin down and theorize. When that chosen “area” includes sets of knowledge and experiences outside of those of the privileged scholars, the effects, these feminist scholars argue, are too often colonization rather than collaboration. 

While we might imagine scholars from different positionalities as equivalent, the ideal of equal exchange of scholarship has long been troubled by the realities of power and inequity across national borders.  For example, just as Black feminist scholars in the US like bell hooks have said that they are “made” black, so do transnational scholars like M. Jacqui Alexander come to “know” that they are brown after coming to the US. This experience of racialization, as much as any other research product, is part of what is produced and exchanged in transnational work. And the effects are compounded in the context of other interlocking power differentials, such as those of gender, sexuality, religion and dis/ability. These effects, then, have consequences for transnational feminist scholarship and for the possibilities of feminist solidarity and coalition-building across differences. 

Drawing on existing feminist mentoring research (Eble & Gaillet; Ribero & Arellano; Mullings & Mukherjee; Tassoni), this article emerges from our own experiences of the coalition in mentoring–instances in which we shared several eureka moments of learning and unlearning that illuminated the following questions: 

  1. How can mentors and mentees bring their intersectional selves into their relationships?
  2. How can we understand mentor and mentee relationships as relational sites of solidarity?
  3. How can intersectional differences between mentors and mentees be negotiated for social justice purposes?

To explore these questions, the three of us–Asmi, Amy and Liz–first provide definitional clarity regarding transnational mentorship, before we meditate on our roles as mentor, mentee, collaborator, student, and scholar, as they have transformed in different mentoring moments. Through these meditations, we conclude that in order to develop a transnational feminist solidarity, we need more than empathy. While relationship-building is crucial to our feminist praxis, we center on the insight that feminists in majority positions may need to unlearn the idea that they could ever truly empathize with women of marginalized positionalities, because they fight very different battles with the patriarchy. 

Instead, all parties might instead benefit from focusing on their own reflective practices as a resource for solidarity building. For us, transnational mentorship is a relationship developed/fostered between and amongst differing, transnational scholars (for us, mentor and mentee). Like Chandra Talpade Mohanty, we define transnational in wider terms by going beyond the locational connotation and referring to the geopolitical and cultural positionality–all of which are important for production of knowledge (Erikson; Mohanty).     

The meditation on intersectional complexities produced by our locational experiences that also emphasize geopolitical and cultural positionality remind us that power is not always derived from location of origin–though often that location of origin is implicated in power dynamics.  Therefore, such mentoring involves recognition of the fluidity of power dynamics. The impetus for reflective unlearning in relation to mentorship is in recognition of the existing power differentials and the possibilities for violence and discrimination that mentoring may enable. Given the histories of various forms of transnational violence, we urge that differences are not to be “ironed out.” They must be discussed, so that trust may be built. Our conversations have led us towards a revised notion of rhetorical empathy, similar to that articulated by Lisa Blankenship, as a potential opening for transnational feminist mentoring praxis.

Blankenship’s concept of rhetorical empathy responds to critiques of empathy, such as our own, that have been leveraged in the wake of postmodernism. In particular, Blankenship responds to postmodernism’s critiques of the ways power can be seen to complicate (and even confound) the possibilities of empathy across differences. In lieu of empathy as traditionally conceived in Western thought, Blankenship defines four characteristics of rhetorical empathy, which we consider here in the context of transnational feminist mentoring praxis:     

  •  Yielding to an Other by sharing and listening to personal stories 
  • Considering motives behind speech acts and actions 
  • Engaging in reflection and self-critique 
  • Addressing difference, power, and embodiment (20)

In contrast to Aristotelian conceptions of empathy in relation to persuasion, which assume the rhetor’s ability to understand and influence another, rhetorical empathy is not about accessing the experience of an Other for persuasion but about changing the speaker through listening, invoking a response in ourselves that may then be reciprocally invoked in our interlocutor. It is a relational interaction that is grounded in vulnerability. 

While we think of rhetorical empathy as a resource for both mentors and mentees, it comes through most forcefully for us in the practices of those in positions of relative power, whether by virtue of professional position (of mentor), geographical origins that are related to global influence, and/or other vectors of relative power and privilege. In a transnational feminist mentoring practice, those with relative power are particularly called to practice rhetorical empathy–yielding, considering motives, engaging in reflection and self-critique, and addressing the salience of difference, power and embodiment in their relations–in order to build solidarity and coalition. For example, mentors in and from power positions in the US might begin by recognizing the cultural specificity of their own location and experiences, disrupting their ostensive normativity in the context of “internationalizing” rhetoric and composition research (Donahue).

 In the following, we provide examples of such reflection and self-critique that have enabled us to build a community of shared interests, examples of how explorations of our biases have resulted in collaborative projects that investigate the situations that perpetuate bias. In so doing, we reflect on our relationships with one another and respond to each other’s reflections. These ruminations work to surface shared insights, points of tension, and other learnings in the context of our own transnational feminist mentoring experiences. 

Ultimately, our narratives allow us to respond to our initial three questions by observing that we must be aware of our intersectional selves as well as the ways in which they change in and through our relationships. With such a recognition, we must be in solidarity even as our intersectionalities change. Such solidarity and recognition allow us to work better toward social justice, even as we ourselves take on the role of gatekeepers in the hierarchically structured academic system (Corrigan and Vatz). We must use the recognitions of our positionalities to contest the structural inequity of academia and work toward that social justice.

Our specific context was one in which the mentee experienced a power differential as a brown graduate student from Nepal relative to white faculty mentors in the US.  By providing examples of the “messiness” in mentorships, we provide some praxis to make it possible that mentorships developed between scholars sharing different intersectional identities can be leveraged for building solidarity. Mentors and mentees can learn from and be changed by each other when they engage in reflection and honest dialogue, humility, and support. 

Reflections: Storying Transnational Feminist Mentorship

The three authors of this text have come together through their shared relationships. At the center of this network of relationships is Asmita, a graduate student of Nepali origin who has worked for the past three years in mentoring relationships with both Liz and Amy, white women faculty in or from the upper midwest. Asmita invited the three of us to come together to reflect on our experiences of feminist mentorship across transnational differences to discover what might be learned from our experiences. Asmita wanted to build on the work of Ana Milena Ribero and Sonia C. Arellano who explore how Latinx mentors and mentees are able to utilize culturally specific mentoring approaches. She wanted to explore how the three of us from different backgrounds find means to mentor–particularly following on Beverley Mullings and Sanjukta Mukherjee, how we can do so within academia’s racist and xenophobic environments. 

To begin this process, each author individually wrote a reflection on their mentoring relationships with one another. Reading through the reflections of the other authors, we each then composed a second reflection in response. Together, this set of reflections and responses allows us to explore some of the intersections and differences in our experiences.

Asmi: My encounter with Liz and Amy is ushered and shaped by my desire for what I want to term as multiple mentorships (Rockquemore). For me, multiple mentorships is the networking and relationship I earned and developed to fight institutional racism I encountered after my arrival in the US as an international student and to excel in an academic market where excellence is determined by academic labor.  

Liz welcomed me as an international student at the University of Minnesota Duluth, an institution that was already fraught by and struggling to get rid of racialized hierarchy in diverse ways. For example, getting to hear remarks such as, “You must be very proud to be here,” as I introduced myself to my colleagues, classmates and professors was quotidian for almost the first semester, until I stopped responding to it with a simple, “Oh yes, my parents are really proud of me.” Nonetheless being placed in classes to get rid of my accent and to perform everyday English, stripping away from my right to be graduate instructor, and having professors ask me to visit the writing center every time I stumble with grammatical errors were some of my everyday experiences, which (as I reflect now) represent the neoliberal ethos of the institution that I arrived on. In the first week of my arrival, during the time when I was still making sense of what I now come to know as everyday racism, I got an email saying that I cannot be a TA because I failed the English Test. I did not respond to the email; Liz did. Liz replied that Asmita will work as RA for me. Her intervention as a white woman working as a WPA at that time was a powerful and much needed intervention. Reflecting after almost four years, I am wondering if that intervention is to be interpreted as a “rescue effort”–an action of a person from a powerful positionality assuming their benevolence was necessary for the success of another person from a less powerful positionality. Perhaps so!  However, if we want to define such an intervention as a “rescue,” how can we foresee the possibility of solidarity devoid of such interventions? The dual meaning of “intervention” which I illustrated before is important throughout our mentor and mentee relationship. Drawing from this experience, as one of these instances, in this article we are intentionally trying to answer how transnational mentorship–the idea of building solidarity amongst scholars sharing diverse intersectional identities (Mullings & Mukherjee)–is shaped by “messiness” (Pihlaja & Durá) of breaking down the hierarchy, as we are struggling to dismantle the institutional hierarchy that we already behold and represent. 

The Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (CFSHRC) mentor and mentee program introduced me to Amy. I do not remember our first meeting in detail, rather I have vivid memories of how she responded to my first draft of the project on Yogmaya, an important feminist figure in Nepali history. The first draft I shared with Amy was not the draft, but the sharing of my vulnerability secretly asking for support to make it possible that a Nepali feminist be known in academia in the US. In this draft, I really did not know Yogmaya; I did not describe her well because I did not know her well at that time. However, I had a secret belief that “If Ida B. Wells can be a rhetorician, so does Yogmaya but I do not know how to say that…” Amy caught me in the paragraph where I described my mother’s sister’s story of being a widow, and said she valued my experience: “Asmi, this is a great project. I really believe that you have valuable knowledge and experience to talk about it.” She did not look at the details of Yogmaya; rather, she asked me to look inside me, going beyond my discomfort.  She pushed me for self-reflection before asking me to research more about Yogmaya, even though I still thought Yogmaya’s story was more important than my own. In the case of recovering the rhetorical history of Yogmaya, my positionality was an asset–the asset that was developed by my academic knowledge of non-western rhetoric, my upbringing in rural Nepal, my family background and my emerging feminist resistance. 

More than being a Nepali citizen, what is crucial is my positionality that goes beyond my nationality. In other words, in the case of Yogmaya, her stories of child marriage, being widowed, and fighting for freedom resonate with the story of my mother’s sister. While in the first draft, I mentioned my mother’s sister in a passage. Amy caught this powerful narrative and suggested I focus on amplifying this living data to revive the actual story of Yogmaya whose story was available only through the secondary data like a novel written on her and a dissertation written on her where all the sources are either the novel or the imaginative narratives. As suggested by Amy, by going back to my own memories of my mother’s sister and revisiting my conversations with her, I was able to compose Yogmaya as a rhetorician. While doing this, I feel like empathy is not situated in bodies in hierarchical ways, rather it gets (ex)changed between mentor and mentee; in my case, I did not have to persuade Amy if Yogmaya was a rhetorician; she wants to see if I see/feel/think as a rhetorician based on my cultural and political history. Amy clearly mentioned that she does not know who Yogmaya is and how she is a rhetorician; but she also tells me that she wanted to know through me how she is. For me, at that time, I was experimenting with ideas and knowledge. Having lived a more privileged history than Yogmaya did and understanding her from the oral tradition only, I had to give voice to Yogmaya by interpreting her actions as rhetorical. And while doing so, I constantly felt that I am distant from her rhetorical practice as Amy is distant from my understanding of the rhetorical practice. 

Amy: Asmi and I met through the CFSHRC mentoring program in November 2020. Still in the early months of the pandemic and not yet accustomed to the isolation that would become our new normal, I really enjoyed the opportunity to connect with Asmi as a scholar, but also just as a person. 

From our first conversation, personal sharing and relationship building were a major part of how we connected, from my perspective. We talked often about Asmi’s sister, who was expecting her first child. Asmi was moving to New York for the summer to help out with the new baby, and I had just had my first child as well, so we had much to share with one another on this front. We also related to one another in our deep connection to our sisters. We were particularly surprised to discover our shared connections to Duluth, Minnesota, where my whole family is from and where Asmi had done her Master’s degree, having finished the year before. Now in California myself, with Asmi in Texas at the time, we waxed on about our appreciation of the cold and snow from our sunny desks in the South and West. Asmi doesn’t remember these early meetings, suggesting they resonated differently for her. But I wonder how they might have nonetheless staged a relationship of trust for our work together supporting Asmi’s research, particularly her project on Yogmaya, the early twentieth-century Nepali feminist activist and rhetorician. 

I learned everything I know about Yogmaya from Asmi’s passionate descriptions in these meetings. She talked often about her own personal connections to this woman and this story–connections that included national, gendered, and caste-based experiences and identities, among others. As a feminist rhetorician who studies historical women, I offered a set of readerly eyes and disciplinary resources to help draw those ideas out and contextualize them within the field. She brought her own scholarly texts to the interpretive work as well, trying out frameworks, combining them, and transforming them as she cast about for the right approach to do justice to Yogmaya and her contributions. 

As we continued to work together to refine Asmi’s argument about Yogmaya as a feminist rhetorician, we came to realize the process of researching and analyzing this woman was worth thinking about on its own, and we began to develop a version of Asmi’s research for submission to Peitho’s Recoveries and Reconsiderations section. That piece honored the specificity of Asmi’s own lived experiences and research process as part of the work and allowed that to be a contribution in and of itself. This is part of what a feminist rhetorical praxis looks like to me broadly: to explore the ways we are implicated in and connected to the women’s histories we research and narrate. That piece made me more fully realize the importance of the positionality, experiences, and stories of globally diverse feminist scholars. As much as Yogmaya’s lived experiences of patriarchy are outside of my own experience, so are the specific resonances of this historical figure within the context of Nepal, where Asmi encountered them. These are important perspectives that add complexity and depth to our discipline’s collective understanding of women’s rhetorics. Working in solidarity with the keepers of these stories, transnational feminist mentoring is a means by which I can not only learn from but also articulate my own experiences in relation to diverse histories and experiences from global contexts, understanding my own research subjects more deeply from this broadened perspective.

While she awaited word on that piece, Asmi pivoted and began work on another project that provided a different inflection point for these questions, as this next project focused on Afghan beauty parlors as sites of feminist rhetorical engagement, focusing on how these sites have been (mis)represented by Western stakeholders. This project revealed other layers of complex transnational feminist mentoring praxis, as we thought together about how to study and represent a community and experience of which neither of us were a part. While Asmi shared much with the subjects of her research in terms of her positionality as a non-Western feminist, there were other aspects of this culture and experience that were far afield from her own. Was this a project she was equipped to research, given her difference from her research subjects? How might she approach it ethically and reflectively? This additional layer of messiness and difference is part of what we can now explore together in this next research process. Transnational feminist mentoring does not offer a solution to these methodological questions, but instead illuminates and values their complexity as a resource. 

Liz: I have little transnational experience. When I met Asmita in 2019, I was a professor in Minnesota who greeted the impressive young woman from Nepal. I was horrified when my university denied her the position she had already been awarded as a GTA because of their assessment of her English-speaking ability. With a background in literacy, I seriously doubted that Asmita, who already had an MA in English and Rhetoric from Tribuwan University in Nepal, was any less capable than other GTAs. Fortunately, the university did not revoke its offer of funding, and Asmita began assisting me in teaching an Advanced Writing section, since she was not allowed to be the instructor of record. As we worked together in a graduate class on teaching writing, I was continually impressed by Asmita’s perspectives on rhetoric; I learned as much from her as she did from me, especially as she began research in the graduate class. Asmita’s lived experience as a scholar in Nepal taught me how professional texts differ in Nepal from the US, and her extensive research on Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNEST) introduced me to an area of our field I knew little of previously.

As a white, straight, North American woman, I am in a remarkable seat of privilege which I have recognized for a number of decades. I also recognize my parochiality: most of my life experiences and education occurred in the northeastern US. Though I yearned to see more of the world, my financial abilities limited the worlds I could experience.

Perhaps because of my background in feminist and African-American theories, I clearly know how little I know.  In fact, one of my mantras–one I often relay to students–is that a true sign of intelligence is an awareness of your ignorance.  In working with Asmita, as well as with many other young scholars, I remind them that though I might know more than they do about certain academic subjects–because of my age and experience–they may well have far greater critical capacity, and they have enormous experience in all kinds of areas in which I do not–and I can learn from them.

This attitude is perhaps what drew Asmita and me together as writers and scholars who thoroughly enjoy collaborating, because we appreciate each other’s differing experiences as we continually learn from each other. Asmita and I both would not acknowledge the power of authority for authority’s sake, as we constantly discussed gatekeeping. My attitude partially results from my experiences traveling to Spanish speaking countries. While my Spanish was sufficient to allow me to get by, people always told me that I “needed to work on my Spanish.” Bringing my memories of struggling in Spanish speaking countries to the multilingual classroom, I admire the courage, intelligence, and persistence of multilingual students studying in the US, especially at Predominantly White Institutions where a US/British English is considered the norm.

Our differing backgrounds, and a common love of learning, also bring us to an important element of mentoring: trust. I trust Asmita.  I may sometimes disagree with her, as she may disagree with me. However, we believe that the other is working to advance critical thinking–about whatever subject we are investigating. For our strong mentorship relationship, there needed to be trust built out of a common love of knowledge, a love that stems from the vulnerability and recognition of how much we don’t know, of how limited our experiences are. I want to learn, not just teach. I believe Asmita wants to learn and be given credit for what she knows or has experienced.  She knows so much that I don’t or haven’t experienced.  

Asmi: It took resistance and a sort of revolution for Liz and me to trust each other. Liz is a white woman who possessed power that could influence my experiences in American graduate school. I felt I had been betrayed by the American graduate school system that offered me admission and an assistantship, only to inform me after my move across the globe that my abilities were insufficient. I was not sure why I should trust Liz, a cog in this American system. At first I trusted her because I had to; my other options were to leave the system or to trust someone else who I had no more reason to trust. As time passed, we performed forms of trust a lot of times, and there were movements where we would push each other–I challenged her as she challenged me. Our honesty with each other introduced me to the recognition that in the US, people are regarded by color.  In other words, I learned that I am a “person of color” only after coming to the US. After nearly eight months of me being in Minnesota, the relevance of “color” in the US became enormously evident. George Floyd was killed, and his death resonated with my experiences of learning how dangerous it is to be a “person of color” in the US. People have to die for the color of their bodies; let alone be judged, discriminated against, relegated, degraded, and disrespected for the human they are. As I recognized these issues, one of the questions that Liz and I wrestled with is how does Liz’s positionality empower me? How does my positionality empower her? Does she need to be empowered by my position? Or do I need her support to be empowered? 

Oftentimes, I have seen, heard and learned how difficult it is for international students to work with privileged white professors in the university. Oftentimes, white professors want to capitalize on the labor, knowledge, and intellect of students–this often happens in most of the STEM fields too, where most of the academic publications are expected to be collaborative. Understanding one’s privileged positionality and leveraging the positionality is very important in mentor-mentee relationships. Liz always prefers to be the second author in the publications that we have done. This is very important for graduate students, especially in collaborative work. The authorial position is power. Empowering the co-author mentee can be done by providing them with an authorial position, especially when the mentor is in a powerful position. But the language of this offer does not have to happen in a gesture of grants or something like a kindness gesture. Giving an adequate and optimum amount of credibility to students and mentees is very important in mentor and mentee relationships. 

Amy: It is interesting to me that Asmi recalls my own influence in bringing out the personal connections between her and Yogmaya, as I saw them as an existing strength in her work from early on. As she wrote these stories up gradually, theorizing them as she went, I merely provided a reader’s perspective on where she might elaborate or draw connections for Western audiences, based on my own curiosities and excitement. 

This is where rhetorical empathy comes in for me–in yielding to Asmi’s expertise and listening to her experiences as a foundation for our work together, carefully considering my own motives in providing feedback and advice, and recognizing that her motives and experiences will differ from mine based on differences in power and embodiment. One thing that our relationship brought out about the nature of rhetorical empathy in the context of transnational feminist mentoring practices was the particular role of power and privilege in shaping who is most called to practice rhetorical empathy, and the complexity of accomplishing this in the context of career mentorship, where the task is simultaneously to listen and to guide. This was always a delicate balance for me, as I sought to mentor Asmi into new and potentially unfamiliar discourse communities and disciplinary literatures, without suggesting that her own frameworks should change as a result. I was keenly aware of Asmi’s depth of experience and the valuable situated knowledge that she brought to bear, which were key assets in this work of hers. How could I help harness those perspectives and contributions for Western audiences without inadvertently pushing her towards assimilation? How could we accomplish this work of translation, both within the text and also within our own mentoring moments? 

Still, reading Asmi’s account of microaggressions and unproductive writing feedback related to English grammar, I admit to pangs of fear: how might I have perpetrated similar violences in my relations with Asmi? How did my responses to her language or experiences in my own comments on her drafts unknowingly contribute to any of these same experiences of deauthorization? As I read her account, I found myself trying to read through the lines to see where my own approaches might be reflected and revealed as inadvertently damaging, in spite of Asmi’s assertion to the contrary. All of this is about me and my white fragility, not about Asmi. But it is also part of something more productive, too, at the center of our transnational feminist mentoring praxis: a seeking out of areas for improvement in our interactions, an assumption of growth and change, a desire to face the limitations of our own frameworks and interactions head-on. This drive towards self-reflection and self-critique in recognition of power /differences is rhetorical empathy at work in feminist transnational mentoring. 

In writing this piece, we have tacitly committed to examining honestly the ways we have interacted across difference, for better and worse. As I’m reading more in the area of cultural rhetorics recently, I see many resonances between that term and what we are here calling rhetorical empathy as a transnational feminist mentoring practice. In particular, what conversations in cultural rhetorics have helped to reveal for me is the utility and necessity of fluidity, change, and contact as resources informing cultural (and transnational feminist) rhetorics (Jackson). That is, it is not the isolation of practices, positionalities, or experiences that animates these discourses as sites of liberatory potential, but the purposeful interaction between and among them–the transrhetorical practices in our mentoring practice, as Rachel Jackson theorizes. I am beginning to see more and more in both Liz’s and Asmi’s accounts, as well as my own, a common desire to share and learn from stories that are different from our own. To constellate our experiences and perspectives as part of our discrete research projects and scholarly identities (Powell et al.). To be changed. I wonder what thinking of our transnational feminist mentoring praxis of rhetorical empathy in relation to these cultural rhetorics frameworks might afford or enable? 

Liz:  Reading Amy’s introduction, I am struck by the familiarity between Asmita and Amy, an initial familiarity Asmita and I did not have. For example, I never before called Asmita, Asmi, and I feel a bit uncomfortable doing so. As I wonder about my discomfort, I consider whether it’s my upbringing that forces the totally professional stance. When Asmita and I first met, before the disaster of the University imposing its not-so-subtle racism, Asmita offered me a gift.  A present from Nepal. I told her that I couldn’t accept it. There must be rules about accepting gifts from students, I thought, but didn’t know. I didn’t want to break rules. Am I such a gatekeeper, assimilating Asmita into the rules of North American academic traditions? Perhaps it results from our mutual recognition of my role as mother to children around the same age as her, and as she joins us for dinner, she is another member of the family, and I treat her as such.      

I’m also struck by Asmita’s observation that my involvement with her after the University disaster could be perceived as a “rescue” effort. Indeed, it could. As a white, female, full professor, I was in a position of power as Asmita came to the University. My “helping” her could be something for me to cite on merit forms and among my colleagues of what a wonderful person I am. I could assuage any discomfort I might feel about any of my own racial biases. Though I am horrified that I might have such selfish motives, I can’t quite dismiss that perspective. How can I avoid such self-serving rescuing as a white woman, I continually ask. 

As I contemplate this concept, I also note that discussions of “mothering” are parts of Asmi’s and Amy’s initial narratives while not part of my own, yet mothering is something that is comfortable to me–and enters all my teaching whether I want it there or not. I have two adult sons, but I still mother. My mothering is now more like mentoring, structuring our relationship in terms of trust and dedication to one another. For those of us comfortable with mothering (regardless of any actual parental roles), we can use those skills to nurture all students, as we simultaneously model that academic success and motherhood can be achieved together.  It’s messy, for sure, but it can be done. 

While recognizing that “the metaphor of the (cis-hetero) family has historically been used to produce whiteness and augment white power as well as paper over deep and irreparable structural trauma,” it is also possible, following Lisa M. Corrigan and Anjali Vatz, to imagine an ethic of care “where collaboration is prioritized and where growth is modeled and nurtured through intimate networks of collective solidarity and mutuality” (224, 226). For radical women of color feminists, as well as for myself, “mothering” in these ways may provide a model for this kind of care (Gumbs, Martens, and Williams). It may also take one of the hegemonic roles assigned to women and put it to work contesting hegemonic norms, which is messy business.

While there are no easy answers here, we need to recognize the multidirectional nature of knowledge and empathy, including its relationality to other positionalities we might hold, to better understand each other and learn from each other. Power is complex, and while mentors may sometimes have more privilege than do many of their mentees, the mentees have vast amounts of knowledge that can benefit the mentor.

More than Empathy: Rhetorical Empathy in Practice     

An implicit commonality within our discussion is the need for empathy. However, empathy in itself can be dangerous if the vicarious experience that promotes the empathetic reaction appears to substitute for the actual experiences that are empathized. As Ann Jurecic states, empathy can be complicit with “oppressive practices” (17). 

In our work together, understanding the other has been essential, but this understanding has been multidirectional.  The “rescue” mission that Liz engaged in with Asmita rescued Liz as much as it did Asmita; as Amy “helped” Asmita with her text on Yogmaya, Asmita helped her just as much. Empathy is not about power, and it is about power. We need to continually stretch our understanding of others, and ourselves, as we work to help each other and our field advances in the direction of social justice. 

After writing and reading these narratives, the three of us met to see what we could cull from our experiences and reflections about this work. To this end, we close by returning here to our original three questions and briefly discuss how our narratives collectively respond to them to illuminate our learnings about empathy and solidarity in our transnational feminist mentoring practices.

1. How can mentors and mentees bring their intersectional selves into their relationships?

As numerous mentors and mentees before us have observed (e.g., Okawa; Rowe, “What Actually Works”; Rowe, “Building Mentorship Frameworks”; Rheineck and Rowland), we recognize that both mentor and mentee must know and understand each other’s positionality both in and out of academia. Being self-reflective about one’s positionality will help to understand one’s privileges and challenges. 

Mentorship is already a hierarchical relationship. Amy and Liz recognized that in order to produce productive intellectual works and learning out of mentorships, they had to be willing to share the power that comes with their positionality. Power sharing here means willingness to be uncomfortable when it comes to empowering mentees. We must recognize that vulnerability can enhance rhetorical thinking (Marback). 

In each of our narratives, we cannot help but to be our intersectional selves: a brown graduate student and two white tenured professors, one at the beginning of her career, the other well into it. But we are also much more than the color of our skin or our roles in the university, and who we are continually evolves. As Asmita’s scholarship becomes more established, she will gain power; as Liz’s gray hairs turn white, she will lose it. While everyone’s positionality changes over time with reversals of wealth and health, with the passing of time in a patriarchal world, women are particularly likely to find their power differentials in a deficit. As women marry, have children, age, and lose ability, they are less likely to maintain power than are men (e.g., Carmel, Miller).  If we are serious about positive transnational mentoring relationships, we need to recognize their ongoing and intergenerational natures, as we continue to work and learn together. Amy’s listening to Asmi allows her to learn; Liz’s collaborations with Asmi teach her to challenge her assumptions; Asmi is able to negotiate gatekeepers. 

2. How can we understand mentor and mentee relationships as relational sites of solidarity?

Throughout these narratives, each of us recognized the value of what the other offered. Such recognition is essential. As in our case, when Asmi had been made to feel that her experiences did not count, Amy and Liz helped Asmi recognize the value of her previous experiences. This does not mean, as Juan Guerra points out, that Liz and Amy told Asmi to only use discourses associated with Standard White English (SWE) and its power to communicate those experiences and insights, but instead that they recognized and encouraged Asmi’s “rhetorical sensibilities” developed within her translingual practice as part of what she has to offer to her scholarly work. It also meant that Liz and Amy recognized that Asmi’s prior knowledge created thresholds for the development of their new knowledge, as their mentoring created thresholds for Asmi’s new knowledge.

The three of us also continually asked each other what role they wanted to be in, as Gesa E. Kirsch recommends feminist collaborators must. They had clear communication about authorship: Liz was explicit about that in their work, Asmi should be the first author. Asmi and Liz also discussed the demands of academic publication in the US and how to work accordingly–without losing confidence. Amy made clear she was not going to offer solutions to Asmi’s ponderings about Yogmaya–she wanted Asmi to figure out the answers. Amy told Asmi that Asmi was the sole producer of the knowledge she was creating and that she had the authority to carve the knowledge in the way she wanted. In our relationships, the focus has been less on the teaching and more on learning what role Asmi’s expertise had in the material.

3. How can intersectional differences between mentors and mentees be negotiated for social justice purposes? 

Recognizing our solidarity and the changing dynamics of our intersectionality, we have continually been challenging gatekeepers, trying to make our field more expansive. As mentors, we have encountered the paradoxes of being both gatekeepers and gate-breakers. However, part of the solidarity found in our fluid intersectionalities requires that, while we may have common goals in challenging the gatekeepers, many mentees from countries outside the US fear challenging gatekeepers because of visa policies and their documents. They do not want to speak against the system to which they are foreign. In such cases, we need to illustrate means of challenging the status quo.  For example, after Liz knew that Asmi was not allowed to teach, Liz went to talk with several of the administrators working on the behalf of international students and the school. She asked the exact reason Asmi was not allowed to teach. Liz was told that some decision makers wanted to give a good impression of the school. As a tenured professor, Liz made clear Asmi was an asset to the university. Such modeling illustrates we can recognize our intersectional selves to create solidarity to take on tasks that work for social justice. 

We also have to recognize when we are gatekeepers. As Amy and Liz have worked with Asmi, they have tried to handle differences in language and culture with care, recognizing such differences as resources, and not simply assumed as errors (Lu; Horner et al.). Our own work in this piece recognizes the discomfort with assimilation as well as with “error, ” a discomfort Suresh Canagarajah has discussed at length. We want this piece to be published, to be shared; however, we know the syntax here is not always conventional English. We struggle with how much to “correct” and how much to allow to create change and resist assimilation. After all, editors and publishing houses are gatekeepers, too (Corrigan and Vatz). Challenging the gatekeepers means a critical recognition and rejection of policies and practices that have prevented various peoples from moving forward. 

Challenging gatekeeping, like each aspect of transnational feminist solidarity we have explored, is a self-reflective practice of asking if our positions, roles, and practices are hampering others from moving forward. These moments do not present easy answers for any of us. However, as mentee and mentor in solidarity with one another, we struggle together.

Works Cited

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Blankenship, Lisa. Changing the Subject: A Theory of Rhetorical Empathy. U Press of Colorado, 2019. 

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 57, no. 4, 2006, pp. 586–619.

Carmel S. “Health and Well-Being in Late Life: Gender Differences Worldwide.” Frontiers in Medicine, vol 6 (2019), doi: 10.3389/fmed.2019.00218.

Corrigan, Lisa M. and Anjali Vatz. “The Structural Whiteness of Academic Patronage.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 220-227. 

Donahue, Christiane. “‘Internationalization’ and Composition Studies: Reorienting the Discourse.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 61, no. 2, 2009, pp. 212–43. JSTOR, Accessed 22 Aug. 2023. 

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Erikson, Thomas Hylland. “What’s Wrong with the Global North and South.” Global South Studies Cologne.

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline, China Martens, Mai’a Williams. Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. PM Press, 2016. 

Guerra, Juan. “Cultivating a Rhetorical Sensibility in the Translingual Classroom,” College English, vol. 78, no. 3 (January 2016): 2280233.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress. Routledge, 2014.     

Horner, Bruce, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur. “Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach.” College English, vol. 73, no. 3, 2011, pp. 303-321. 

Jackson, Rachel. “Red Flags of Dissent: Decoloniality, Transrhetoricity, and Local Differences of Race.” Special Issue: Towards Pluriversal Rhetorics. Ed. Ellen Cushman, Damián Baca, and Romeo García. College English Vol. 84, no. 1, 2021, pp. 78-99. 

Jurecic, Ann.  “Empathy and the Critic.” College English, vol. 74, no. 1,  2011, pp. 10-27,

Kirsch, Gesa E. “Reflecting on Collaboration in Feminist Empirical Research: Some Cautions.” Feminist empirical research: Emerging perspectives on qualitative and teacher research, edited by Joanne Addison and Sharon James McGee. Boynton/Cook, 1999, pp.158–162.

Lu, Min-Zhan. “Professing Multiculturalism: The Politics of Style in the Contact Zone.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 45, no. 4, 1994, pp. 442–58.

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Narayan, U. “Essence of Culture and a Sense of History: A Feminist Critique of Cultural Essentialism.” Hypatia, vol. 13, no. 2, 1998, pp. 86-106.

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Rowe, Mary P. “What Actually Works? The One-to-One Approach.” Educating the Majority: Women Challenge Tradition in Higher Education, edited by Carol S. Pearson, Donna L. Shavlik, and Judith G. Touchton. Macmillan, 1989, 375-384.

—. “Building Mentorship Frameworks as Part of an Effective Equal Opportunity Ecology.” Sex Discrimination in Higher Education: Strategies for Equality, edited by Jennifer Farley. Cornell UP, 1981, pp. 23-33.

Tassoni, John Paul. “Post-Arrival Mentorships that Are Not Mentorships: Cross-Gender and Cross-Generational Trajectories in Rhet/Comp’s Nexus of Practice.” College Composition & Communication, vol. 74, no. 1, 2022, pp. 58-83. 

Building Feminist Dwellings in Academic Spaces


The title of this piece is a play on the word “dwelling,” and an honest statement describing this writing: I am a feminist dwelling on and in academic space. A dwelling as a noun can be a temporary or permanent shelter in which to dwell. To dwell can be to live and it can be to ruminate and focus on a particular aspect of that living. Sara Ahmed calls her book, Living a Feminist Life, a built dwelling, and throughout the book as well as her blog from which it sprung, feminist killjoys, she plays with variations on this word and the concepts of building and home. She writes, “Writing the book has been like: trying to build a feminist shelter. I often think of books as houses. They are built out of stuff. They create room for us to dwell” (feminist killjoys para. 2). I echo her sentiment, and in general have found myself as a woman and as a feminist looking to the written word for places to shelter, whether I am lost in someone else’s words or in my own. Perhaps you can relate to this. 

This is a collection of individual stories; stories that are my own struggles to find dwelling- places in feminism, in rhetoric and composition, and in academia. As Aja Martinez says in her book, Counterstory, 

I believe that we’ve all been telling stories all along, but some stories are elevated to the status of theory, scholarship, and literature, while, too often, minoritized perspectives are relegated to marginalized or overlooked ‘cultural rhetorics’ methods or genres. (Martinez 1-2)

Stories are and always have been a fundamental part of rhetoric and of theorizing rhetoric. As a white woman, I do not want to claim that this is a counterstory as Martinez describes it, but it is a self-exploration that is not in the normative mode of argument that academia tends to value. It is a dwelling.

I’ll start where I currently dwell in multiple senses. 

Story 1

The ground on which my house sits, on which my institution rests, on which my livelihood depends is the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary homeland and gathering place of the Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla, Nez Perce, Palouse and Yakima nations. In 1855, a treaty council was held by U.S. government representatives, and against tribal arguments and interests, tribal leaders were coerced into signing treaties that lost them guaranteed access to 6.4 million acres of land. The Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Cayuse nations “secured a reservation of 510, 000 acres in northeastern Oregon,” just south of where I am now located (Trafzer). This acreage was later surveyed as only 245,000 acres by the U.S. government, leading to continued land debates. 

Over time the Umatilla reservation became the homeland of several families from diverse tribes. The Walla Walla Council and the treaty that created the reservation have significant implications today for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation [CTUIR], guaranteeing the tribe’s legal status and its government-to-government relationship with the United States. (Trafzer)

What I have just written can be read as a “land acknowledgement,” which it is, but it is also a relationship, another dwelling. I want to recognize this ongoing relationship that several tribes on and off the CTUIR have to this land and the surrounding area, because so many land acknowledgements seem to relegate the relational aspect of the land to the past. The 1855 treaty does not exist as a historical artifact, but as a living treaty. My college and my home stand on this land. 

My college is named after the missionaries that came to this region to convert the people already living here, but instead of enlightenment, they brought more white settlers on the Oregon Trail and they brought disease, dis-ease. 

I am feeling dis-ease.

The statue in honor of Marcus Whitman, our college’s namesake, greets students as they come onto campus from downtown Walla Walla. Periodically some student group “defaces” the statue in an act of protest, and yet it stands. 

Fig. 1. Patia, Katilyn. Contributed Photograph of Marcus Whitman Statue “defaced,” in student newspaper, Whitman Wire. Bronze statue of a presumably white man in frontier clothing and coon cap hat, standing on a rock, bags in left hand, and a large book under the right arm. This hand and book have been spray painted bright red. Beneath the statue is a pedestal with a quotation inscribed, which normally reads, “’My plans require time and distance,’ Marcus Whitman.” The word “distance” has been crossed out with red spray paint and in large block letters “GENOCIDE” has been written beneath so that the quote now reads, “My plans require time and GENOCIDE.”


These grounds are not easy to navigate for anyone with mobility impairments, especially the administrative building, the oldest building on campus and the most iconic, which, like many other such buildings on many other such campuses, is flanked by steep stairs to enter the main entrance (Dolmage), unless you go around to the back and enter through a ramp leading to the ground floor. The upper administration is on the top floor.

Fig. 2. Photograph by C.C. Pierce, Memorial Hall, circa 1907, Whitman College. The black and white photograph centers an academic building of three stories made of stone and brick, with a five-story tall clock tower, beneath which is the arched entrance flanked by steep stairs in a pyramidal shape

We who run writing centers are fond of marking our position in the margins of academia. We are hybrid people, part teachers, part administrators, part scholars. As far as prestige in academia goes (as far as that can go), yes, we tend not to be taken as seriously as some of our loftier literary counterparts. But let’s be real. We have jobs in academia. We have advanced degrees. The majority of us are white. It is true that some of us hold contingent or staff positions that do not come with the security of tenure, which is a way that neoliberal higher education exploits us (Valentine), but how many people in the world have the kind of job security offered by tenure? And what are our centers on the margins doing, ultimately? I began my trajectory in Rhetoric and Composition by teaching an activity I love because of a desire to spread this love of writing like an evangelist, like a missionary, like a colonizer; we writing center directors carry forth this mission.

This is an uncomfortable statement and one I am trying to come to terms with, to hold both my position as writing “missionary” and as practitioner of liberatory education in tension together. I sit in dis-ease, as Asao Inoue asked us in his 2019 CCCC address; can those of us who are white just sit with discomfort for a while (Inoue)? Being uncomfortable is radically different from being unsafe. Considering again the historical and contemporary exploitation of the land on which I carry out my “mission,” being uncomfortable is warranted. What can it mean for me to hold these two contradictory positions in tension and can I persist within this tension, as a feminist, and as a proponent of racial and disability justice? Sara Ahmed writes, “If we are not exterior to the problem under investigation, we too are the problem under investigation“ (94). And so I find myself under investigation.

In a printed symposium, Cody Jackson and Christina Cedillo claim, “Everyone in our discipline performs complicity with/in its structures in some way. Some of us do so to gain access to professional spaces. With that access, we conspire to enact change, a form of resistance to the damage wreaked by policies decided for us without us” (109).  I want to conspire in this way. To be honest, I did not enter our discipline with resistance in mind. I entered whole-heartedly and naively as a writing evangelist. I spent my whole life seeking solace from a painful material reality in words on a page. My reality growing up was extremely unstable financially and emotionally; but when there was no money, when I did not feel secure in my home, there were books, and I could feel secure in the imaginary dwellings there. Entering academia as a white feminist with a still invisible disability, I did not yet realize the harm academia, our discipline, and my teaching could inflict, even on me. In the slow process of realization, consciousness- raising, and the gradual visibility of my disability, in my PhD program and then as a faculty member, I have come to question the structures within which I am embedded and by which I receive so much advantage in our society. I have come to feel less safe in academia the further in I get.

Story 2

A few years ago, I took a small group of students to Shanghai for a short-term course on teaching English in China (TESOL China). I had this course approved in part because of its potential appeal to students who might later participate in a program called “Whitman in China,” which ships recent graduates (commodities) to China to teach English in universities short-term. In the actual course, we focused on the neocolonial forces that allow such an exchange of intellectual resources to occur, that allow recently graduated students without expertise in teaching a language to travel abroad and widen their “horizons.” It is a “great opportunity” for these recent grads, and many are very happy and stay on in China. But there are many highly educated and skilled teachers of English in China already. So why recruit these white American, British, Australian grads (Lan 2021)? On the one hand, they are cheap short-term solutions, and as such they themselves are being exploited by their institutions. On the other hand, there is a persistent and pernicious preference for “native” white English speakers as teachers, despite the general linguistic awareness that there are global Englishes. Pause to consider the potential irony of the phrase “native English speaker.” Louise Erdrich captures this irony in her 2000 personal essay “Two Languages in Mind, but Just One in my Heart”:

[English] is, after all, the language stuffed into my mother’s ancestors’ mouths. English is the reason she didn’t speak her native language and the reason I can barely limp along in mine. English is an all-devouring language that has moved across North America like the fabulous plagues of locusts that darkened the sky and devoured even the handles of rakes and hoes. Yet the omnivorous nature of a colonial language is a writer’s gift. (Erdrich para. 7)

I continue to wrestle with this gift. How can I love the freedom I perceive writing and reading in English to have given me and not be equally omnivorous?

Fig. 3. Photo by author. A group of children and teachers lined up for an assembly in a school courtyard. Above the entrance is a multi-colored slogan that reads, “One never lose anything by politeness.” My students volunteered briefly at this school, leading English learning games with huge classes of children. This particular school prides itself on their English instruction, and their promotional materials feature white international English teachers who also were likely short-term volunteers.

One evening, a student came to my room crying. She told me she had believed that education was the path to justice and equity, and I had ruined that myth for her. I am sorry. I’m still digging through the rubble of this myth in my own life. Education has never been a path to justice and equity, except by serendipitous accident, especially higher education (Spring; Loewen; and Dolmage). Education has been a system for dominating and winnowing; like the chaff wheat that is burned every year in this area, those deemed too broken to be either efficient workers or leisurely thinkers are slowly burned away while asked to jump through a series of flaming hoops we call standards.  

We are burning our students. [1]   

The late bell hooks ended her small treatise on feminism, Feminism is for Everybody, with these words: “Feminist politics aims to end domination to free us to be who we are—to live lives where we love justice, where we can live in peace. Feminism is for everybody” (hooks 118). What bell hooks describes is what I used to look for in books: freedom to be who I am, but without the feminist politics that seeks to end domination, that freedom is individual and fleeting. 

Story 3

During an online training of new instructors in the year of online instruction (2020-2021), in which we discussed accessibility in these new online formats and the stresses students were facing that may create new kinds of accommodations in their learning, one new instructor expressed what others felt: that students seemed to be demanding more and more accommodations. How do we know which ones to take seriously? Aren’t they just taking advantage of the system and our current circumstances? I jumped in before our disability services coordinator had to explain accommodations yet again to inflexible faculty. I responded that we should take our students at their word and that we cannot legally deny accommodations to any student.

In a training for teachers in our first year program just the other day, a colleague asked if anyone else had noticed that since the pandemic, students have become dependent on rubrics. Before others chimed in, I acknowledged the prevalence of rubrics in student lives, but pointed out that it has always been good practice to clearly share our evaluation criteria. Rubrics are not the only way to do this, but they may be the most familiar to our students. And then I added that I don’t like to use the word “dependent,” because it implies that there is something wrong with being dependent on assistance and in reality, we are all dependent on assistance in various ways. She disengaged for the rest of the session.  

Meg Peters, in her 2022 piece in Disability Studies Quarterly, argues for an orientation in academia toward both Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy (CSP). She discusses the institutional shifts during the COVID shutdown in response to accommodations and accessibility. To bolster her insight based on her individual positioning in her institution, she cites a tweet from Disability Rhetoric scholar, Jay Dolmage: 

There is a concept in critical race theory called “Interest Convergence” (access: Derek Bell). Basically, it means conditions for the minority will only improve if the changes can be framed as helping the majority. We have a perfect example of how this is happening now. (qtd. in Peters n.p.)

Peters elaborates on Dolmage’s observation, saying, “This new conversation and these new policies, around late assignments, final exams, and online classes were completely impossible until they were seen as helpful to the majority, not the disabled minority” (Peters n.p.). I want to resist the current knee-jerk impulse expressed by my colleague to “go back to normal.” Normal is not a place we want to go back to. Normal is what we need to dismantle. A feminist dwelling must be in tension with everything that has been normal in education. We may be “dwelling” here, but only in order to keep moving, continue feminist movement.

If feminism is for everybody, as hooks suggests, then our teaching, our writing, and our institutions need radical change, because they are currently and traditionally set up to exclude most people. We need to dwell and dismantle; to dwell on our lands and institutions, their histories, their peoples, and their violences:

To build feminist dwellings, we need to dismantle what has already been assembled; we need to ask what it is we are against, what it is we are for, knowing full well that this we is not a foundation but what we are working toward. (Ahmed 2)

A feminist dwelling is dynamic and permeable; a feminist dwelling does not have a solid foundation so that it can move. What are we sheltering against? What are we sheltering for? Our “we” must consistently be working toward its we-ness. “We” is an ever-changing intersectional coalition. We cannot remain in the same abodes in the same relationships and expect feminist movement. In order to really act “for” racial, gender, sexual, linguistic, disability and any other justice, we need to “dismantle” the neocolonial assumption that the chosen few have earned their leisure. We need to resist the neoliberal emphasis on individual productivity at the expense of wellness, community, and our land. We must pursue a radical coalitional accessibility, the foundation of which is care-taking. 

Hubrig and Osorio challenge us to never settle (yet another dwelling metaphor) for mere reform: “Disability justice is not about mere reform but is invested in dismantling and rebuilding exclusionary institutions, and as such, disability justice may always exist in tension with academic institutions” (91). So, I maintain the tension in my position now as I work at dismantling the house I once entered so enthusiastically.

Like many others, my journey through COVID-19 has been harrowing, and also like many others, I have reexamined my priorities in light of the fragility of life. I want to tell you this next story not because it is unusual, but because it very much is not, and though the difficulties of my situation were heightened by the pandemic, stories like this predate the tsunami that has been the COVID pandemic. I also tell you this story because I think it illustrates why we cannot “go back to normal,” and why we must take care in our dwellings.

Story 4

In fall of 2019, my mother-in-law’s dementia had started to progress very quickly. After a panicked night spent on our couch sure that there were men coming to kill her, we moved her in with us to keep her safe. She started wandering away soon after. By the time that COVID had finally become a serious concern in the US, and we were all being sent home from classrooms and workplaces, she was very confused. Explaining the need for face masks to her was a sometimes hourly ordeal. Our three children were also home, each on the brink of an important life transition that would be missed: my eldest about to graduate high school, my middle about to graduate middle school, and my youngest about to graduate from elementary school. My eldest lost his bedroom to his grandmother and after his “graduation,” took a gap year where he lived in an apartment with friends while working remotely.

Remotely should be the word of 2020. We worked remotely, we schooled remotely, we played games remotely, we existed remotely, except for where we didn’t. Remote from the rest of the world, families were stacked on top of each other in isolation from others and extreme proximity to each other. For many of us in academia, this stacking was an entirely new phenomenon, but for many many others in our country, not to mention outside our country, it was merely an amplification of a persistent living accommodation. 

I took up running and ran my first half-marathon in 2021. I was running from the intimacy and claustrophobia of home to someplace in some ways more remote, remote from people on winding country roads, but in much closer relationship to my surroundings. Running by the mountains alone, I felt grounded. Perhaps my mother-in-law was also trying to escape our proximity, or she was trying to walk home to Ohio from Washington. We had to call the police to find her on three different occasions. One of these occasions was after we had moved her into assisted living, where we could only talk to her through a glass window on a smart phone she did not know how to use. After her escape, they could no longer care for her and she moved back in with us.

Fig. 4. Photograph by David Ryder of Dorothy Campbell and her son, Charlie Campbell, attempting to talk via cell phone through a window with husband, Gene Campbell, at the Life Care Center outside Seattle. A tall middle aged man stands next to a hunched elderly woman. He holds a red cell phone to a window with mini-blinds that obstruct any view of the person on the other side of the window.


While teaching remotely, helping my children learn remotely, running the writing center remotely (a completely new modality for our center), I became the primary caregiver for my mother-in-law. This would not have been possible if not for the pandemic. If you do not know what this care-giving means, I will give some highlights. If you do know what this means, feel free to skip a paragraph. Caring for someone with fronto-temporal dementia means learning a new kind of sign language, because they lose the ability to use their words in meaningful ways early in the progress of the disease. So in a way I was re-learning to teach rhetoric at a really fundamental level, using my body and tone to make sure we were understanding each other. But eventually, even these gestures stop working, and the body itself begins to lose track of the brain. This meant sometimes my mother-in-law threw things at me and sometimes she patted me on the head and said, “I love you.” This meant that sometimes when her own son walked into the room she flinched at some past wound inflicted by some past man or men. This meant cooking for her, washing for her, trimming her hair and nails, hiding medicine from her, installing sliding bolts on the doors of the house. This meant cleaning her bedroom of urine and feces every morning. This meant showering a woman 9 inches taller than me and hoping she would not fall, which she finally did on the day she moved to the only memory care facility in our town that could handle “wandering” and takes Medicaid. 

I am not writing about this as a tangent. I am writing about this because though COVID brought these kinds of caretaking into high-definition focus, caretaking has always been a separate full-time job for many of us, and our institutions are not designed to facilitate that. For many of us in feminized and marginalized positions, caretaking has also always been a part of our teaching and advising. In many ways I am grateful that my mother-in-law’s decline happened during the initial shutdown in our state because it meant I was home. My partner’s job meant staying in front of his computer all day, but I had the flexibility to “watch” her while working. 

I would not have that now, since our institution has reasserted its commitment to the normal “in-person” learning, despite the fact that in many ways online teaching was better for me at times and I’ve had at least two students with disabilities who privately have requested a kind of hybrid-online experience because of the physical and emotional difficulty of getting to class. We as members of academia were not trained to think this way. “Educators are not taught to imagine that their students have lives and experiences outside of their classrooms. Even when teaching feminist or disability-related subjects, educators are taught to expect ‘academic rigour’ in their classrooms, without regard for how that rigour might involve class, race, or ability privilege” (Peters). We need to take care of each other and of our students.

Academia does not value care-giving. 

Academia does not take care. 

Moral of the Stories

I tell my writing center tutors this anecdote a lot. Once a tutor-in-training said they thought that the center’s ultimate goal would be to no longer exist because it would no longer be needed. They actually said, “no longer be a crutch.” That particular metaphor is hopefully obviously ableist, but the premise, which is common, is too. To call a mode of learning “a crutch” is to simultaneously devalue the lives of folks with mobility impairments and to reify the notion that the normal is crutch free. What is it that is inherently bad about “needing” feedback on writing, “needing” tutoring or help, needing translation, needing caregiving? In the realm of academia, it is a sign of the Other, the one who should not have scaled the Ivory Tower and may be slipping as we speak. That is not only ableist but deeply neocolonial.

Furthermore “accommodations” as a concept does the same thing as “crutch”: To say “accommodation for learning” emphasizes a “normal” or commonplace type of learning from which the accommodation is deviating. The missing premise is that there is some normal, or best, way to learn and that it is solely located in an individual’s efforts and innate capability. This commonplace insists on a model of productivity that relies on individual responsibility and that upholds a neoliberal value system, which is an outgrowth and continuation of neo/coloniality. 

I am not suggesting that professors refuse to grant accommodations or that students who have a right to accommodations should not demand them! On the contrary, I’m suggesting that the fact that we need to grant accommodations at all should not highlight a deficit in any individual, but a deficit in an institution and in a pedagogy that failed to imagine them in the first place. It highlights a need to dismantle and move the dwelling.

As I work to dismantle this house, to dwell differently, I work against certain commonplaces in academia and in our field. The term common-place is rooted literally in a common place, common ground, as metaphor. I’ve discussed the ground I stand on at my institution, which is anything but common. What is the ground you read this on? Is it common?  A rhetorical commonplace is a seeming truth taken for granted by a certain group of people, and on which many arguments can rest. When we say common sense, we are getting at the essence of this principle. But is sense ever common? Or is it contingent and based on our position in the world and in time? So commonplaces are also just tacitly agreed-upon assumptions by those with the power to frame discourse in that time and place. Commonplaces are useful in persuasion and argumentation, because you don’t have to waste time proving and explaining them. But precisely because of this quality, as critical thinkers, we need to uncover and examine them. If we are going to really dwell as feminists, we need to dismantle the metaphorical towers that exist in our languaging too. 

Perhaps these commandments resonate with you: You should not attend your doctoral program at the same institution where you attended your master’s program, let alone your bachelor’s (coming to graduate school with a family does not exempt you); you should be ready to move wherever the job takes you; you should be willing to work 60 hour weeks for your modest salary for love of the students or for love of the research; students should learn to stand on their own two feet; students should become better writers through the writing center and the writing program to the point that they may no longer need to come to the center; tutors should ask questions and not provide answers.

I could go on listing commonplaces that serve as tacit commandments in academia and in our field. The underlying theme in all of these is a neoliberal insistence on self-sufficiency that excludes the majority of people from our grounds. Self-sufficiency is a myth and it does not honor larger kinship systems, cultural values of caretaking, or disability as a lived experience of interdependence (Bost; Foss). 

To live lives in peace and to end domination, as bell hooks calls us to, and to build our feminist dwellings, as Sara Ahmed imagines, we need to consistently spend time dwelling, moving, dismantling, and dwelling again. We need to take care as we do so. We need accessibility in the broadest sense, a sense that values care-taking and that demolishes practices and beliefs that harm others. Hubrig and Osorio offer a definition of the kind of access we should strive toward: “We believe that access is dynamic. Access is relational. Access is intersectional. Access is political. In the words of disabled women of color Mia Mingus, Alice Wong, and Sandy Ho, ‘access is love’” (88). With this dwelling, I will move on and say, “I love you.”

Fig. 5. “Harmful Commonplaces in Academia,” infographic by author, OCR optimized. This infographic presents commonplaces overheard in academia that govern student and faculty perceptions and actions. The commonplaces are some of many and are meant to represent the range of colonial and ableist ideas floating through our workplaces and life-places. There are certainly many more than are listed here.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, 2017. Accessed 10 Apr. 2023.

—. Feminist Shelters.” feminist killjoys, 30 Dec. 2015.

Bost, Suzanne. “Disability, Decoloniality, and Other than-Humanist Ethics in Anzaldúan Thought.” Disability and the Global South, vol. 6, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1562–80. 

Dirth, Thomas P., and Glenn A. Adams. 2019. “Decolonial Theory and Disability Studies: On the Modernity/Coloniality of Ability.” Journal of Social and Political Psychology, vol. 7, no. 1, 2019, pp. 260-89. 

Dolmage, Jay. Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education. E-book, University of Michigan Press, 2017. b.9708722. 

Erdrich, Louise. “Two Languages in Mind, but Just One in the Heart.” The New York Times on the Web, 22 May 2000. 

Forrest, Brady James. “Crip Feelings/Feeling Crip.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, vol. 14, no. 1, 2020, pp.  75-89, 129. 2019.14. 

Foss, Chris. “Individual Redemption Through Universal Design; Or, How IEP Meetings Have Infused My Pedagogy with an Ethic of Care(Taking).” Pedagogy, vol. 15, no. 3, 2015, pp. 477–91. 

Grech, Shaun. “Decolonising Eurocentric Disability Studies: Why Colonialism Matters in the Disability and Global South Debate.” Social Identities, vol. 21, no.  1, 2015, pp. 6– 21. 

Grech, Shaun, and Karen Soldatic. “Disability and Colonialism: (Dis)Encounters and Anxious Intersectionalities.” Social Identities, vol. 21, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-5.

Hubrig, Adam, and Ruth Osorio, Eds. “Symposium: Enacting a Culture of Access in Our Conference Spaces.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 72, no.1,  2020, pp. 87-96. 

hooks, bell. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Second edition. Routledge, 2014.

Imada, Adria L. 2017. “A Decolonial Disability Studies?” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 3, 2017.

Inoue, Asao. “How Do We Language So We Stop Killing Each Other, Or What Do We Do about White Language Supremacy?” Conference on College Composition and Communication, Annual Convention, 14 Mar. 2019. Pittsburgh, PA. keynote address. Video:; Text:; Slides:

Jackson, Cody A., and Christina V. Cedillo. “We Are Here to Crip That Shit: Embodying Accountability beyond the ‘Word.’” College Composition and Communication, vol. 72, no. 1, 2020, pp. 109–17. 

Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. E-book, Indiana University Press, 2013. 

Khanmalek, Tala, and Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes. 2020. “A Decolonial Feminist Epistemology of the Bed: A Compendium Incomplete of Sick and Disabled Queer Brown Femme Bodies of  Knowledge.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women ‘s Studies, vol. 41, no. 1, 2020, pp. 35-58. 

Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Reprint, New Press, 2018.

Moody, Josh. “A Harbinger for 2023? Presentation College to Close.” Inside Higher Ed, 18 Jan. 2023.

Mulderink, Carrie Elizabeth. “The Emergence, Importance of #DisabilityTooWhite Hashtag.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 2, 2020. 

Patia, Kaitlyn. “Photograph of Marcus Whitman Statue Defaced.” Whitman Wire, Friedman, Lena, “Seeing Red: Responses to Symbols of Whitman’s Legacy Sweep across Campus.”15 Oct. 2019.

Peters, Meg. “Caring Classrooms in Crisis: COVID-19, Interest Convergence, and Universal Design for Learning.” Disability Studies Quarterly,  vol. 42, no. 1, 2022.

Pierce, C.C. “Memorial Hall,” photograph circa 1907. Whitman College and Northwest Archives, Whitman College Facilities Records, WCA067, Box 16e-f.

Presley, Rachel. “Decolonizing the Body: Indigenizing Our Approach to Disability Studies.” The Activist History Review, Oct. 2019. – the-body-indigenizing-our-approach-to-disability studies/.

Quinn, Stephanie, et. al. “Access [dis]Abled: Interrogating Standard Design Practices of Higher Education Writing Center Websites.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 39 no. 4, 2019.

Ryder, David. “Photograph of Dorothy Campbell and her son, Charlie Campbell.” Reuters. 10 Mar. 2020.

Schalk, Sami. “Coming to Claim Crip: Disidentification with/in Disability Studies.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 2, 2013. 

—. “Moving Feminist Disability Studies into the Crip Future.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 1, 2014. 

Spring, Joel. The American School: From the Puritans to the Trump Era. Tenth Edition, Routelege, 2018.

Soldatic, Karen. 2015. “PostColonial ReProductions: Disability, Indigeneity and the Formation of the White Masculine Settler State of Australia.” Social Identities, vol. 21, no. 1, 2015, pp. 53–68. 

Titchkosky, Tanya, and Katie Aubrecht. “WHO’s  MIND, Whose Future? Mental Health Projects as Colonial Logics.” Social Identities, vol. 21, no.1, 2015, pp. 69-84. 

Trafzer, Clifford E. (Wyandot) “Walla Walla Treaty Council 1855.” Oregon Encyclopedia. Oregon Historical Society. Last updated Nov. 2022.

Valentine, Riley Clare. “Eugenics and the Moral Majority: A History of Neoliberalism.” The Activist History Review, Aug. 2020.

End Notes

[1] Though scholars in our field, in particular scholars of color, such as the authors of “This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice!,” have been working on antiracist pedagogy and linguistic justice for quite some time, as they point out, very little has changed at our institutions and in our field more broadly. (April Baker-Bell, Bonnie J. Williams-Farrier, Davena Jackson, Lamar Johnson, Carmen Kynard, and Teaira McMurty.)

Dialogue and Coalition Building in a Multidisciplinary Writing Program


“In a modern society, who is allowed to speak with authority is a political act.” (Cottom, 19)

What does it look like to engender coalition when individuals may have contradictory goals? When the institutional contexts in which we work are themselves at odds with our collective agendas? We co-authors (all part-time or full-time faculty in a multidisciplinary university writing program, further described below) are composing in this space to work through the contradictions of collectivity we have encountered, some of which we knew before we set out to write this piece together, while others were revealed through the process of answering the CFP for this issue. We thus offer a multi-vocal and multi-modal reflection on what we hold in common and what we currently cannot claim as commonplace.

What we offer here is an exploration of coalition as we understand it. We find multi-modality important to fully express authors’ diverse perspectives on coalition, while multi-vocality is essential to this piece to examine disagreement and the evolution of ideas and praxis we have uncovered. We did not expect this collaborative investigation to produce a manifesto regarding how to fix our academic program, nor did we expect to produce a self-congratulatory conversation about social justice. We thought we would be examining how our existing practices engender or hinder our ability to enjoy a lived experience as a faculty coalition. While the discussions we had in order to write this piece have in some instances resulted in understanding and agreement, in others the discussions scratched at old wounds, or produced cautious revelations amongst ourselves.

The process of crafting this piece revealed that the co-authors all find common ground in many of the tenets of feminism: decentralized leadership, pluralism, transparency, and attention to power differences. However, enacting those feminist tenets has at some moments and in some spaces not lived up to the values of an intersectional feminism. For example, we do not all agree that white supremacy and unearned white dominance are the primary axes upon which institutional and individual power operates. In Shannon Sullivan’s Revealing Whiteness, her term “whiteliness” distinguishes between being white as a phenotypic feature versus being whitely as a kind of ignorance of one’s unearned dominance through that white embodiment. Charles Mills calls this the “white epistemology of ignorance,” in which practitioners “need not to know” the realities of racism and white dominance. Education researchers such as Michalinos Zembylas and Cheryl Matias have recently taken up these lenses to interrogate the “emotionalities of whiteness” among teachers, examining the refusal to see how racialization and racism operate in education spaces. The authors here have variable ways of theorizing these matters, while those who drafted this intro have found that a practiced ignorance of the privileges afforded by whiteness has been a recurring theme in our program’s history and is a current impediment to solidifying coalition in the ways we believe we could practice it. We also recognize that even in the inclusive space intended by this multi-vocal effort, not everyone has felt–for reasons of professional status, contingency, marginalization, and other constructed precarities–the security to speak openly in their full authority.

Fig. 1. Clustering of coalition definition concepts that emerged in interviews among co-authors. Image description: Alt text contains full transcription of the quoted phrases grouped into process, listening, making space → for change, shared values←→negotiation, aspiring.

Who are “we”?

The UWP is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) and consists of three distinct divisions (First-Year Writing, Writing in the Disciplines, and the Writing Center). The co-authors of this piece are all First-Year Writing instructors. The program has a sizable faculty, whose research interests and creative work reflect a multi- and interdisciplinary approach to writing instruction. Faculty research strengths lie in a range of scholarly areas, but most prominently in the intersections among writing, pedagogy, social justice, race, and gender. 

In the 2022-23 academic year, the UWP had 78 faculty members, 55 assigned on three- or five-year contracts and 19 part-time unionized faculty. There were also three one-year Visiting Assistant Professors and a sole tenured associate professor who held a joint appointment between the UWP and a regular CCAS department. 

From 2002-2003, the program was entirely white, with representation from faculty who identified as gay/queer and/or disabled. From 2003 to 2008, the faculty added two Black women. Other BIPOC faculty rotated in and out of regular part time and adjunct positions, but between 2008 and 2017, there was no increase in full-time BIPOC faculty. Current full-time faculty include several new hires who identify as BIPOC.

When the co-authors were asked how they would like to be identified in the article, the following responses were provided. Clearly, there is more to each of us than what is listed here, but this is what we saw as most important in terms of how we form and fit into coalitions: Working class, middle class, professional class, Southern US, Syrian-American, Afro-Caribbean, immigrant, first-generation college graduate, disabled, Black, White, Muslim, Jewish, secular Jewish, secular Christian, atheist, lesbian, woman, and man. The identities in this assemblage skew toward ones that are traditionally marginalized in US society as well as in our institution. 

Programmatic Context

The UWP was formed as an independent academic unit in 2003 as a Provost’s Signature program, newly separated from the English Department. With this change came a themed four-credit first-year writing course that all students were required to successfully complete. 

Notably, in the development of this new program, there was an administrative desire to rid the UWP of its previous emphasis on cultural studies, a field concerned with the operations and intersection of race, gender, class, and other markers of identity. In fact, faculty in the new UWP were expressly told not to use the term “cultural studies” in representing the new program or their work. This ban reflected a tension between understandings of the relationship between content and writing instruction in writing pedagogy: some across the university saw them as in conflict, while others saw them as interdependent

Thus, the work of the program was ideologically inflected from its start, and subject to external and internal pressures regarding content and approach. Despite this, the first two years of the program could be described as a period of collective effervescence (Durkheim), building a new writing program with substantial institutional support. Faculty designed writing courses across a range of topics and remained committed to content-driven inquiry as a foundation for writing instruction. 

Twenty years later, the shape of the program has shifted in response to the ongoing withdrawal of resources and a constant state of emergency (exigencies often of institutional making). To point to only a few of the most obvious examples of these resource-driven decisions, the program quickly pivoted from hiring only full-time faculty to employing a sizable part-time, contingent faculty; first-year writing courses have moved from caps of 12 to caps of 17 students; and course loads from four four-credit courses per year to six or seven

Alongside this continued internal state of emergency has been, of course, the much larger, public crisis around racism, which the program has attempted to grapple with to varying degrees. Such work has been informed and made more challenging by a faculty that is, as noted above, predominantly white; by our faculty’s very different experiences in the UWP; and by individual views on coalition that seem to sit in conflict with one another at times. 

One particularly stark moment showing this came in the fall of 2020. Subsequent to the murder of George Floyd, many organizations published statements affirming their commitment to anti-racism. In response to comments about the program’s in/actions and colleagues’ in/sensitivities around Black students’ and faculty’s experiences by one of our Black faculty members and a subsequent related workshop led by another Black faculty member, the UWP formed an ad hoc Anti-Racism Committee, which proposed an anti-racism statement for possible publication on our website. Because we were not in the habit of endorsing program-wide statements, and because committee members felt that an insincere statement was more harmful than no statement at all, we agreed that the statement must garner 100% faculty support, or we would not publish it. The proposal failed

It is with this programmatic makeup and history and in this environment, that we consider our efforts to create coalition/s within the UWP individually and collectively; we examine how, when, and where these efforts succeed and fail, and we do so multi-vocally not only to allow for voices and perspectives that might not otherwise be heard in publication, but also to highlight the nuances, the struggles, and the ongoing shifts in understanding that one program experiences.


We chose a round-robin interview process as a feminist and coalition-building tool for our explorations. Each co-author asked questions of a colleague and recorded the results; the interviewee then formulated new questions based on that exchange and asked them of a third colleague, and the process continued through all the co-authors. One conversation happened adjacent to this process, between the two Black women faculty members with the longest history in the program, primarily because one had retired and we didn’t want to ask for additional labor from her. 

As a tool, the round-robin approach highlights the writing process itself, given that the interview process is discovery-oriented, highly individuated, and recursive in nature. We valued the opportunity it offered for listening across varied perspectives and for sharing lived experiences (DeVault and Gross).

This tool also allowed for reflective scrutiny. In rereading the interviews, we have been able to recognize what came to the fore or is markedly original or confirms our understanding of our Program and coalition-building. Of equal importance, we have been able to assess what potentially was elided, neglected, obscured, or lost in the questions and answers. To return to the words of Tressie McMillan Cottom, not all interviewees stand with equal authority to be heard in more public spaces, and some may not feel they can be heard or taken seriously within even a feminist method such as these interviews. While we chose a discovery method intended to center listening, we were always already operating within the political contexts of our and McMillan Cottom’s modern society. 

Once interview excerpts were compiled, co-authors worked together to sculpt the final manuscript, which includes soundbites and ​creative interventions: multimedia works, enmeshed compositions, reflective thoughts, and forms of poetry, including some inspired by the ghazal form. Creative re-uses of the interviews helped us to process the revelations from these conversations, and to seek to truly listen to our colleagues on their own terms. 

Finally, we crafted intro and outro (as used by adrienne maree brown) bookends to the excerpts from the round-robin dialogue. Our hope was that these generative discussions and the writing they engendered would reveal the art and the angst of coalition building in a/our University Writing Program, which may be instructive for us and for those laboring in other institutional contexts.


Interlude: Sandie Friedman on The Center Table

Figures by Cayo GamberMy friend and colleague Nicole Wallack opens her 2017 book, Crafting Presence, with the memory of a shared space in the NYU Expository Writing Program, where we both learned to teach in the mid-1990s. NYU “Expos” (as we called the Expository Writing Program), once conjoined with the English department, now occupied its own space on 4th Street, upstairs from the legendary rock venue The Bottom Line. The program was staffed by graduate students with a small team of full-time faculty as directors. Although the furniture where we met actually comprised three adjoining tables, this space was known as the “center table.” For the most part, it belonged exclusively to the graduate student instructors. Perhaps the table could not have existed in a department of full faculty; we built our coalition through our identities as novices, with all the excitement and fear of that role. We felt comfortable sharing our moments of discovery and learning, as well as our panicky last-minute questions and our painful mistakes.“Every facet of this writing program radiated from the center table. Nearby, in a second squared ring were our shared cubicles where we conferenced with students and sought some quasi-solitude, and at the periphery (but only geometrically speaking) were the semi-private offices of the directors, which like the conference rooms and the Writing Center cubicles looked out over narrow streets. A lot was half-visible, half-audible in that space. The openness gave us many chances to eavesdrop on one another both on purpose and by accident. There still were mysteries.” (Wallack ix) 

Shared Space: An Interlude OR The Center Table. 

To create [structural] change, a writing program must have a shared space. 

What does this shared space look like? 

Fig 2









Here at this table, we all believe writing is a place of transformation.

Elbow to elbow, hip to hip, we sit in this shared space.


There were indeed mysteries and also seductions; we fell in love at the center table in multiple ways. I met two romantic partners (Bill, Madeleine), and I found my vocation there. Whenever someone has asked me how I chose the path of teaching writing, I always explain that I found my intellectual home in the “Expos” writing program. Now I realize it was at the center table, where conversations about writing and teaching unfolded. Wallack reflects: “The impetus for this book began in conversations at those tables among my friends, colleagues, and mentors–teachers all–woven through our gossiping, venting, joking, goading, flirting, complaining, and showing off–about essays” (vii). 

What happens when there is no center table?

The center of the writing program cannot hold.

Fig 3










The table is now too small.

Chairs line the walls.

Some sit at the table itself, others line the periphery.

The center table created community not just because it was located in the center of our shared room; community became possible for us because of the circumstances of our lives and the conditions of our labor. As graduate students and teachers-in-training, we led hectic, overfull lives, but as a program, we were not fragmented by institutional differences in status–the academic caste system that stratifies the GW writing program. We were certainly aware that some of us had greater seniority and authority–more funding, for instance, or the title of “mentor.” Some of us felt more comfortable speaking out at workshops, while others hung back nervously or listened with a degree of awe. But these differences did not interfere with the center table pursuits Wallack describes (vii). What mattered was that we were learning to read, write, and teach together. It was terrifying and exhilarating. 

We don’t have a center table in the GW UWP, and not just because it would be impossible to locate a spatial center on our floor of offices. We too live hectic, overfull lives, but mostly they don’t feel like an adventure so much as a balancing act. In the aftermath of COVID, as we struggle to care for our families and, at the same time, to give our students—and their writing—sufficient time and energy, we are tired. In the moments between classes, we don’t linger in a shared space, but scuttle back to our offices and hastily answer emails. We calculate the time we can allot to each task; falling in love would be an unthinkable luxury. 


Fig 4


“We should sit down and address each year…have a moment of reflection on: … here are our labor conditions … Here’s who is sitting at the table … This is where we are.” – Cayo “If all come to the table and engage in a conversation in a sincere way to understand each other, change can happen—something gets said and even gets done” – Nabila “They, regardless of these differences, come together to create a shared space; where all people, all entities, of those sitting at the table, and those who aren’t, can engage and create change in their respective spaces…pull up their own seat in the spirit of Shirley Chisholm…or maybe even create their own tables” – Jameta

Obstacles to Coalition: Structural Labor 

Multiple conversations focused on the stratification of labor as an impediment to coalition in our department. We are all contingent faculty, and thus subject to feelings of trepidation and precarity, and because of the anxiety about our positions, there is incentive to remain silent in faculty discussions. At the same time, faculty at every level feel overworked–constantly addressing the most immediate demands–and this also impedes our ability to form coalitions. Time, necessary for coalition-building, is scarce for everyone. 

As Robin Zheng observes, academic casualization has resulted in an inversion of the ratio of tenure-track to non-tenure-track faculty positions in the U.S. – from 78%:22% in 1969 to 30%:70% in 2011 (Kezar and Maxey). The 70% of non-tenure-track, contingent faculty who are engaged in the “actual work” of the academy also come to discover that their labor has been reconceived as devalued “care work.”

While we may all be contingent, our institution has created multiple layers of contingency. We discovered that the felt-experience of the tiers differs within the Program and outside of the Program. In earlier years, a new faculty member on a renewable reappointment would be renewed for three years the first time and then for five years every time thereafter. However, the University now often reserves five-year reappointment terms for faculty members who they believe have achieved some marker of excellence. “Excellence” often is predicated on successfully moving up in rank, a truly laborious process which comes with a modicum-at-best raise in pay and no greater job security. Thus, colleagues with renewable contracts may come up for review every three years and will be called upon to provide a detailed and persuasive dossier that evidences their success in the areas specified in their contract.[2] 

Danika: I see myself as in that middle power group: I’m white, I’m cisgender, I’m able-bodied. So I see myself as somebody who’s in a marginalized position in terms of being contingent labor, and because I’m a woman, and yet I’m aware that I have much more access to institutional power than somebody who’s trans, who’s disabled, who’s Black, who’s Latina/o, or any other racial, demographic, or religious minority.

Nasreen: I’m contingent faculty. As a result, I’m “here today, gone tomorrow.” I just have to make one stupid move or someone has to accuse me of something, and I’m gone. There’s no way I can say, “That’s not true.”

Nabila: If I say something and it’s misunderstood, my position would be on the line. (…) I speak, but I try to be cautious of what I speak or how I speak.

Cayo: The coalition we seek is constantly undermined by the conditions at the University and our (…) labor conditions.

Jessica: There’s an element of overwork that can keep us in our hamster wheel of just getting through the day. 

Wade: We have to contend with the surrounding noise of the University – the manufactured emergencies (of the University’s making): the budget shortfalls and the taking money back and increasing our course loads.

Sometimes I don’t have time to get my response out.

The labor of change is embedded in making coalition.

Something that makes it fragile is bandwidth and energy.

The hamster wheel of overwork is breaking coalition.

Race/ethnicity or Who is a PWI for?

We teach at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), which means not only that White people constitute the majority, but also that they hold the highest positions of power. Decisions are then primarily based on their ways of being and knowing, which are categorized as “neutral.” People who do not share these ways of being and knowing are excluded from positions of power. Just as one participant [Robin] found conversations about race within the program to be “inauthentic,” another faculty member of color [Jameta] observed that the university’s efforts at diversity and inclusion are largely “performative.” She revisited the fact that faculty of color feel isolated here, and as a result, they leave–undermining efforts for the stated institutional and program aims of diversity. 

White participants, in contrast, commented on feelings of connectedness and unity that focused on factors other than race and did not always foreground the experience of their colleagues of color. Helene Lorenz and Randi Gray Kristensen wrote about this phenomenon in 1999: we recognize that racism and sexism are present in the culture, but we tend to deny that these problems are present in the rooms we occupy. 

[O]ne could accuse other people on the campus of racist or sexist attitudes, but never, ever, would it be appropriate to consider how our own discourse reproduced sexist and racist relationships. A corollary rule that is even more problematic [involves] a “totalitarian we.” Other groups far away can have internal conflict and dialogue… But we can never do it in the room “we” are in because here there is harmony, congruence, and Sameness, and anyone who says there is Difference is breaking unspoken rules. So faculty who are African-American or Native American, Jewish or Buddhist, or from other identity groups whose presence is being erased often sit in rooms where people say things like “we are all comfortable here” or “we are all WASPS here” or even “we are all white here” and try to make choices. If we are silent, it reinforces the “totalitarian we.” If we challenge, we risk being called “militant” or “uncollegial” or “judgemental” or even “fascist.” (Lorenz and Kristensen 8-9)

The continuities across a quarter century are clear. For most of the program’s history, faculty who have raised issues of reconsidering the Eurocentrism of our curriculum or our faculty composition have been rebuked or ignored. 

Kylie: That means that people who hold power to make decisions from the top down are overrepresented for a certain [demographic]. They’re overrepresented in the way that reflects where the institution originates–which is that it was built for those kinds of people–and so everyone who doesn’t fit the assumptions of that way of being and knowing–which is implicitly framed as neutral–gets left out of the institutional power structures.

I think balancing being proactive in creating community and coalition, and also recognizing that my whiteness is the principal axis on which I experience the world–and that includes in higher education–means that I’m presumed competent sometimes, even if I’m not. Or I’m given credibility when I don’t deserve it, and I should use that in ways that don’t benefit me, but rather benefit coalitional interests which might not always be the things that matter to me individually, but which matter in the long run, for being part of the institution that I’m in.

Jameta: The assumption that’s made is that, for communities of color, [specifically, I’m speaking from my perspective of Black communities], we’re coming from a place of lack. (…) But I see that in other communities, other diverse communities, whether it’s related to sex, gender, race, religion, etc., and that it’s not a place of lack, but because that view is there [at] these predominantly white institutions [that] they are saviors. We got there first! We did this! And it becomes more performative work than actual structural change.

Jameta: [Coalition] is not something we’re doing well here at GW. This is something we’re aiming to do, and we’re looking for. How can we do this in a structural way, not a performative way? [Those questions are] so important, because what often happens is you’ll throw diversity all over pamphlets… all over the website. But these folks come to these institutions and feel isolated. Don’t feel supported, don’t feel safe, and then they end up leaving, and people wonder why and what was their need. And it’s more than just making sure that people are adequately paid. It’s making sure that people are adequately supported, holistically.

Danika: I see us as having grown in ways and changed in ways that we desperately needed to change over the last eight to ten years. I’m also wary of being self-congratulatory. Looking back, it seems that I, and at least some of the other white folks in the program, thought we were doing really well ten years ago, and it is now clear to me that my experience of being inclusive and welcoming and seeking to diversify the program and listen to outside voices was not what was happening and not what my colleagues of color were experiencing.

Danika: It’s easy to let relatively modest things give you an inflated sense of the work you’re doing as a white person in a white program in a white school. If you’re doing a little better than the other departments, it’s easy to feel self-congratulatory in ways that ultimately are going to be counterproductive both in terms of how they make my colleagues who are not white feel, and in terms of what we can accomplish, because as soon as we’re like “well, we’re doing better than almost everyone else!” you can stop working, and you can stop listening.

I started separating myself from the program’s goals.

While my colleagues feared getting it all wrong; it was a fragile coalition.

They paid lip service to the change, to the reframe.

Across our history here we’ve been uncomfortable; it was not an agile coalition.


Participants observed that at this PWI, white voices tend to dominate; faculty of color feel tokenized, invisible, or isolated. Some participants felt that conversations about race were “inauthentic” and left intact the basic structures and assumptions privileging whiteness. 

While ideologically we might expect “institutions of higher learning” to rigorously interrogate systems of oppression, our discussions as a faculty revealed that in our program and at the University level colleagues had experienced feelings of tokenism. 

 Who belongs here, what voices belong here, what voices are valued here,

What is required of someone l who is seeking to build a condition of coalition?

I don’t think we can get at what we’re trying to get at if we’re not honest.

When white people decide they’re no longer willing it’s an inhibition of coalition.


You need to leave; that is not a healthy environment for you. When they are afraid 

to cross boundaries it’s only an exhibition of coalition.

Robin: My whole life, except for a few years in my late elementary school, what we called Junior High, I was never around only or mostly white people, 

Randi: And [the UWP program leaders] didn’t say anything about ‘now that we’re at a PWI, what are your concerns?’ They didn’t have that vocabulary right? 

Robin: Ain’t heard that yet. 

Randi: So you felt tokenized. Can I use that word?

Robin: Oh, absolutely! How could I feel otherwise? But I got to see up close what it looks like when a director of a program [Service Learning] was really interested in diversity and not just in a lip service way… they went looking for people, didn’t wait for them to land in their lap. 

Robin: But to be honest, to come into a department that was so overwhelmingly white (…) was daunting. (…)

Robin: I realized I had a lot more in common with the Black students than I imagined, in terms of being present but absent. I had students sometimes, Black students who didn’t talk in class, and I knew they were engaged. They might roll their eyes at something that a white classmate said but they wouldn’t respond otherwise. They might come see me in office hours and chat away but in class they wouldn’t talk. And I thought shit, I don’t talk in faculty meetings either, for the same reason. That overwhelming whiteness is silencing. Not just because of its presence but because of its potential to say something offensive. 

One of the first year writing directors suggested that I should talk more in our larger faculty meetings during my review conference. And I said, nah, I’m not going to. Because there was always a point in the faculty meetings when I would become hyper aware that I was the only one, that anybody could see it, but no one was doing anything to correct it. 

Robin: Well, if you’re being honest, across our history here we’ve been uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable the entire time. Except in those rare moments like, remember, Randi, when Jameta came? 

I had a rage in me and I could not, I just could not tamp it down. I simply 

can’t see any coalition. You want me to ask a different question. You want me to say coalition.

Because I have a respect for and interest in and affection for the other women–

maybe that has to do with feminism. Maybe that’s the coalition.

There’re loud voices and those voices seem tethered to the status quo. Sorry to interrupt. 

No, I’m done. Just sighing. And you know, I feel relatively okay, whatever the coalition


Jameta: When you’re the only one asked to talk about Black people. That happens to me a lot, right? (…) So you want me to talk about Black people because I’m the person to talk about diversity.(…) [This] is a type of tokenizing inclusion to me. What if you had more than one voice that represents that diversity spectrum? Tokenizing often happens even in our committees. When we say we have our diversity person on the Search Committee, right? I just did that for the [Women’s Leadership] Program,  [but] I shouldn’t be the only diversity person; there should be more than one. There should be more than two. So we have to think it through. What does that look like to change? To reframe (…) how we look at inclusion, not just say, hey, we have someone who’s gay; we have someone who’s bisexual. It’s not that. It’s representation in a very structural change type of way.

Jameta: I don’t think coalition building is possible when you’re the only one down to represent a group trying to build (…) and when people are there who represent that larger power dynamic. In this case, we’re talking about white people. When they decide they’re no longer willing to work on change, you can’t do coalition building. You need to leave. This is not a healthy environment for you. 


Settles, Buchanan, and Dotson, in their survey of faculty of color at a PWI, found that “Faculty of color, as an underrepresented group that lacks power within the academy, may be hypervisible due to their race and other markers that distinguish them from dominant group members (e.g., gender for women faculty of color). At the same time, their marginalized group status may render them invisible in terms of their personal identities, personhood, or work performance. As a result, achievements warranting recognition may be largely unnoticed, whereas potential mistakes and missteps, whether real or merely perceived by dominant group members, may be amplified and receive heightened scrutiny” (63). 

In their interviews, faculty of color reflected on these feelings of hyper-visibility/invisibility. Faculty of color also drew attention to the hyper-visibility of white faculty, noting how the experiences and concerns of those faculty members were privileged above their own experiences and concerns. 

Class and disability were commented on briefly as factors that may not be seen by others but that nonetheless informed participants’ experiences.

I was an invisible woman. And I started separating myself from differences.

I lived with separation and suspicion. Pretense interrupted any vision of coalition.

He said are you coming on Friday and I said No, I feel I’m an imposter

We had a lot of tension, although he was very nice. That’s a fragile coalition.

We have to deliberately create. I often have that experience of sending something out

and then being like that was stupid! But that won’t grow seeds and cohorts of coalition

Kylie: I’m in a contract position, but (…) I don’t really consider myself to be precarious. I don’t really like the term “privilege”. I think that “dominance” is a little more useful, like a person who has unearned dominance in a space, in academic spaces. I come from a background of having parents without degrees and living in poverty. And those things are invisible. Now, my students don’t know that; my colleagues don’t know that; it doesn’t really shape the way that I’m perceived; it shapes what happens internally, but it doesn’t really alter my privilege. I think it’s important to not weaponize that version of my background as a way to gain credit for being here. 

Nabila: While the program is trying to change its hiring practices, it’s not equitable. With the emphasis on hiring faculty and recruiting students from underrepresented communities, hostile environments are further created. Racial or religious visibility should not be the decisive factor in hiring or recruiting. Being visibly white or non-white should not affect how good one is as a teacher. So for me, everyone should receive the same opportunity.


Pam (via email): I would like to be more open about my disability, which is chronic fatigue. Before the pandemic, I was extremely exhausted and ill all the time, but no one was teaching remotely, and I didn’t know it was a possibility. After everybody was forced to teach remotely, my doctor recommended that I continue teaching this way. I started applying for disability exemptions and have been teaching remotely ever since. I would be unable to keep teaching if I couldn’t get the disability exemption, so I am grateful for the program support that has allowed me to do this. 

That said, we need to have program-wide conversations about access and disability. We have had a couple of professional development sessions on disability, and the Anti-racism Anti-oppression Committee considers ableism to be part of white supremacy and thus part of what we are trying to fight against, but we don’t have program-wide discussions about disability. We need to have them, especially after what happened during the last search, when I was almost excluded from attending job talks because my chronic fatigue and complications from it prevent me from attending in-person events and the search committee chair did not want to provide a Zoom option. Wade, Kylie, Danika and others advocated for me, and a Zoom option was provided, but it was illustrative for me about the caste system that operates and allows some of us to be marginalized at any given moment.

I am not trying to say that my experience as a disabled person is in any way comparable to Robin’s experience or anyone’s, but I wonder if my disability and the marginalization that happened because of it can be used to build coalition. During the meeting where we voted on the candidate for that search, a slide was read which basically said that the candidates were put at a disadvantage because they were forced to accommodate people on Zoom. I experienced this as a microaggression, and it made me want to use my visceral experience of how devastating that felt. I wondered about talking to colleagues of color and anybody else who has experienced microaggressions in the program, but I didn’t know a good way to do that. And I don’t mean to say that I didn’t care about stopping microaggressions before that, it was just a similar feeling I imagine the Queen of England had when Buckingham Palace got bombed during WW2 and she said, “Now I can look the East End in the eye.”

Obstacles to Coalition: Process, Fear, Honesty, and Discomfort

As a program, we have failed to recognize the grief and rage that gripped faculty of color after racist murders, such as the death of Michael Brown. We didn’t collectively begin addressing structural racism until after the death of George Floyd (six years later). As a result, these faculty members continued to feel isolated in their suffering. In the round-robin interviews, the authors discussed how discomfort isolated them in some instances and in others, how discomfort might drive us to action.

Danika: I do feel fear that I will say something that is harmful, and I don’t necessarily think that I shouldn’t feel that fear. There are many things [someone in my position] could say that would be deeply harmful to my colleagues, and I don’t want to go into that space. (…) That’s kind of the balance: how do you have an awareness, a capacity for fear, without letting fear reduce you to timidity? And [without] it impacting your ability to be honest because you’re so afraid that anything you say will be misconstrued. Part of it is keeping the fear focused on what harm might I cause, and not focused on things like fear of repercussions for myself. 

Robin: Intentional obliviousness. It will interfere with coalition-building. It was not until George Floyd’s murder that people seemed to get jolted in our department into having a department-wide response. 

Randi: And I just want to point out there’s a half a decade between Michael Brown and George Floyd.

Robin: But after Michael Brown’s murder I had a rage in me. I could not, I just could not tamp it down. And I had space between when it happened during the summer, and when the semester started. But I just identified too much by that time.

(…) I couldn’t do anything I usually did to process that anger, and then on the first day of class, a colleague asked me “how was your summer?” I lost it. It all just gushed.

I don’t know what I said but I’ve apologized profusely, and she’s cool, but to NOT know? This is the thing that’s missing in diversity and inclusion, right? ‘Cause to not imagine me having had a tough time, in the wake of that event?

Wade: [Something that] we need to work against in order to be able to come together to make connections is a fear of reprisal. So you start thinking critically about your job security before you sign a petition, or before you attend a meeting.

When you’re in an environment where there’s a lot of loud voices and those loud voices seem occasionally tethered to the status quo, it could be really hard to speak out, even when you know there are other people in the room that are very close to where you’re at. Sometimes I wonder why certain like-minded people are not speaking up. And they probably wonder why I’m not speaking up too.

And then I think, what am I gaining in staying quiet? What do I lose? And, more importantly, what do others lose? I’ve had many hallway conversations about things that probably should have been addressed in a meeting and those conversations really stay with me.


Fig. 5. Erasure poem from Jessica McCaughey interview with Wade Fletcher.

Making Change

In a speech delivered to and critical of a feminist conference in 1979, author and equal rights activist Audre Lorde declared, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” This sentiment was one that preoccupied our Writing Program faculty in their discussions with one another. Could we achieve change at the program level? At the university level? And, if so, how? What, or whose, tools would we need to do that work?

Randi: [W]hat could we do to foster social justice and equity?

Robin: You could form a body. A council composed of faculty with a demonstrated track record. And vetting might include a review of their syllabi: who did they include in their syllabi? What did they introduce when they had a chance? What are their affiliations with relevant communities on campus? What has prepared them to be a part of this Council? (…) And then really support that Council with resources. Give it what it needs to imagine what the world of the Writing Program experience could be. Which would mean traveling, maybe zooming, experimenting, just creating a paradigm shift, a new compositionally inclusive world. 

Jameta: When I think about the rise in white nationalism and targeting Black and Brown communities, every day is a day of fear. I would not be able to function if I thought about fear. It’s a constant state but I don’t allow that to rule my life. If I focus on that, I couldn’t focus on creating a better educational experience for my students and a better work experience for myself. And so I think part of what’s going to be so essential is that we recognize how we have to bring that unapologetic notion to the work that we do, not just in coalition building, but as professionals and as humans in this world, showing up with all the authentic human experience, and listening to one another. We might not have that same experience, but understanding the commonalities is key because while throughout the world, oppression looks different, (whether it’s class, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc.) oppression as a system is oppression. (…) Coalition building is hard, but it’s worth it when people are trying to change. 

Kylie: I think that inclusion as practiced in PWIs is about getting people into the room, and you’ve [Jameta] said something interesting before that really relates to a broader rhetoric about inclusion, which is, ‘it’s not (…) about changing who’s at the table; It’s about building a totally new house with a new kind of table with a new shape of table, and then figuring out who’s at the table.’

Interlude: Nasreen Abbas on Community

Michael P. Farrell writes in Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work that: “[Henry] James argues that without a community of peers, a writer develops with more difficulty, and he contrasts the early work of such loners with the work of those who develop within a group: 

The best things come … from the talents that are members of a group; every man [or 

woman] works better when [they have] companions working in the same line, and 

yielding to the stimulus of suggestion, comparison, emulation. Great things have of 

course been done by solitary workers, but they have usually been done with double the 

pains they would have cost if they have been produced in more genial circumstances. 

                                                      (James 1909, 31)”

However, this phenomenon has been little studied. What are the shared dynamics and values of such collaborations? And why do some flourish while others collapse?

Farrell’s questions offer an ideal framework for our process of round-robin interviews on coalition. The UWP has both newer and more established faculty but is marked by many sites of mutual support and collaboration: not only committee work, but also a number of reading groups, peer support social hours on Zoom, and other places where faculty can vent and share. These efforts prevent a feeling of isolation and encourage a sense of shared struggle. Caroline says it best: “I’m not good in large group settings. So, I think one of the easiest or best ways that I’ve been able to build coalition is in smaller groups on committees,” where a colleague feels more like a friend and therefore, nonthreatening. “I think our program, compared to other departments or programs, really excels at coalition building. We obviously have our weaker points, but I feel like all of us are on the same page about what we want from our classes and the program.” 

So, whether other (tenured or more celebrated) faculty may look down on us, the UWP is welcoming. Caroline claims, moreover, that she “can give that spiel [to students regarding the UWP syllabus common load], and actually mean it because I do feel like we all have common goals.” 

Another coalition builder is the exposure to diverse groups and attention to intersectionality here. As Wade says, the “feminist ideology” he was exposed to in the 1990s “informs [his] sense of coalition building. And maybe in the earliest stages, we [feminists and other diverse communities] came together because we each had something to gain and could each help with something.”

When I saw the call to participate in this piece for Peitho, I initially had cold feet as I, a Google Doc Dinosaur, had zero experience in writing anything other than literary essays. Thus, for me coalition building is an embracing of others within a community, which we are doing right now.


Coalition is not forged in the fastest burn. It isn’t made within the confines of an academic year or between issues of a journal. As philosopher Isabelle Stengers has pleaded for the deliberative process of a slower science, we now remind ourselves that the kind of coalition we aspire to here requires many months, even years, of deliberation and consultation. Above all, it must include sincere movement toward trust and risk-taking: while the work may be slow, the needs are urgent and overdue. Thus, our mandate is to attend to a mutual ethic of care that draws from the myriad lessons of crip time, both for inclusion of disabled colleagues and for all of us (Samuels). We knew this process would not lead to a utopian place of work and learning. However, the shape of the ways we were able to work with each other was unexpected to some. 

Entering into a co-authorship relationship does not necessarily mean writing together. We found that cross-referencing viewpoints and achieving multi-vocality is at times merely aspirational. Returning to Tressie McMillan Cottom as in the intro, we are not each equally empowered to speak and be heard. But writing together (in aspirational coalition) must always already involve listening. One part of the problem is structural: the knowledge economy of higher education pressures many to publish, to bow to neo-liberal audit culture. With more than a dozen authors here, no one actually stands to gain in publication metrics from this composition. Yet many of us may have carved out space for this effort because of CV-line generating impetuses. We set ourselves on an untenable path, in which the timeline for this project was not conducive to the careful, slow work we very much need(ed).

We do find that crafting a multimodal work like this has led us to unexpected realizations, new forms of transparency with each other, recognition of shared values, and even unwelcome surprises about the gulf between some of us. What we composed here helps us see that consensus is not an achievable or desirable goal; rather listening is the process we need. This multi-vocality was a necessary feature of this composition, both as we strived to truly hear each other and where we each come from, and as we now share these thoughts with others. 

In a reflection written by Sandie above, she implies that our end goal, the object of our labor, ought to be building community rather than striving for coalition. What is structural change for, if not community? This seems a promising way to frame our process, and echoes adrienne maree brown’s sage advice in her “principles of emergent strategy” (41-42). Along with appreciation for small changes, brown emphasizes the value of trust and gradually building community. “There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this moment can have. Find it,” brown advises (41-42). Through this project, we discovered a potential community around our diverse experiences and shared visions.

Many of brown’s tenets, and the slow deliberation we meditate on, are antithetical to the operations of a modern university. Institutions function in ways that prioritize checking off demographic categories rather than engaging the slow, gradual process of investing in people and their wholeness. (In other words, there are more incentives to tokenize, as interviewees repeatedly noted above.) For similar reasons, institutions also reward intentional obliviousness to systemic inequities, what we have referred to as whiteliness, in channeling the theorizing of Shannon Sullivan. What this all amounts to is that higher education implicitly prevents coalition from growing. And where institutions claim to be forging community, they are more often throwing t-shirts into basketball arena crowds and wheeling popcorn machines onto the quadrangle. 

So, it is incumbent on us to continue to work through the discomfort of finding we cannot have consensus. It is incumbent on us to take these generative conversations we had and turn them into realities. Whereas some authors spoke of the feminist tenets they see in the functioning of our writing program, others asked why have we never heard “feminism” uttered in program meetings? Why do we not explicitly identify as an intersectional feminist program and make our shared values apparent, which would facilitate us holding ourselves accountable to such aspirations? This process has revealed invisibilities, erasures, structural and interpersonal conflicts and congruences; it has also shown many shared values that took shape under our varied circumstances. We find hope in the continuation of the conversation and seek both optimism and healthy skepticism in the realization of those values.

No act in self-interest; rejection of convenience.

I anticipate the hostility that comes from age-old hierarchist coalition.

People began to think about decentering the power structure.

Where could we find a different structure, an anarchist coalition?


Works Cited

brown, adrienne maree. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. AK Press, 2017.

Cottom, Tressie McMillan. Thick: And Other Essays. The New Press, 2018.

DeVault, Marjorie L., and Glenda Gross. “Feminist Qualitative Interviewing: Experience, Talk, and Knowledge.” Handbook of Feminist Research: Theory and Praxis, SAGE Publications, Inc., 2012.

Durkheim, Émile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Farrell, Michael P. Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work. The University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Kezar, Adrianna, and Daniel Maxey. Adapting by Design: Creating Faculty Roles and Defining Faculty Work to Ensure an Intentional Future for Colleges and Universities. Second Edition, A report from The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success and the University of Southern California Earl and Pauline Pullias Center for Higher Education, 2015,

Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Penguin, 1984, pp. 110–13.

Lorenz, Helene and Randi Gray Kristensen. “Failed Multiculturalism and Dreams of a Negotiated Settlement.” In Proceedings of the American Association of University Women Conference on Gender and Race on the Campus and in the School: Beyond Affirmative Action, 1999.

Mills, Charles W. “White Ignorance.” Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance, edited by Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, Stanford University Press, 2008, pp. 230–49.

Samuels, Ellen. “Six Ways of Looking at Crip Time.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 3, 3, Aug. 2017.,

Settles, Isis H., et al. “Scrutinized but Not Recognized: (In)Visibility and Hypervisibility Experiences of Faculty of Color.” Journal of Vocational Behavior, vol. 113, Aug. 2019, pp. 62–74. (Crossref),

Stengers, Isabelle. Another Science Is Possible: A Manifesto for Slow Science. John Wiley & Sons, 2018.

Sullivan, Shannon. Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege. Indiana University Press, 2006.

Wallack, Nicole B. Crafting Presence: The American Essay and the Future of Writing Studies. Utah State University Press, 2017.

Zembylas, Michalinos, and Cheryl E. Matias. “White Racial Ignorance and Refusing Culpability: How the Emotionalities of Whiteness Ignore Race in Teacher Education.” Race Ethnicity and Education, vol. 26, no. 4, June 2023, pp. 456–77. (Crossref),

Zheng, Robin. “Precarity Is a Feminist Issue: Gender and Contingent Labor in the Academy.” Hypatia, vol. 33, no. 2, ed 2018, pp. 235–55. Cambridge University Press,

End Notes

[1]   Authors listed alphabetically

[2] Special Service contract expectations are 90% dedication of one’s time to teaching and 10% to service. For a Regular Active Status contract, expectations are 60% dedication of one’s time to teaching, 30% to research, and 10% to service.

Further, while drafting this piece we learned that anyone hired in 2018 or later (which includes many BIPOC faculty) will only be eligible for three-year contracts, regardless of “excellence” or time served.