Feminist Resilience at the Heart of Coalition Work


After reading the Call for Papers for the summer 2023 special issue of Peitho: Coalition as Commonplace: Centering Feminist Scholarship, Pedagogies, and Leadership Practices, I sat for a moment and paused on the question, “How can we work with each other and with other scholars in rhetoric and across disciplines to create coalitions situated in lived experiences and feminist praxis?” (Clark-Oates, Maraj, Matzke, Rankins-Robertson). My initial thought was, “Well, within coalitions we should teach each other, learn from each other, and write together, not just work together.” I wondered, “Could writing be the thing that helps us learn from each other?” and also wondered., “Could writing in times of retreat, together and apart, be an answer to helping us get to know how each of us is positioned and the places from where each of us comes?” As I formulated a response to the questions, I imagined the voices of scholars whose works have spoken to me and helped shape me throughout my career.

In a polyphony of voices, I’m reminded of values and lessons that I’ve clung to regarding community writing (House, Rosenberg) and community listening (Fishman, Garcia, House), difference (Kerschbaum), resistance (Anzaldúa, hooks, Enoch), language and experience (Lu), writing as a feminist (Ede and Lunsford), and as a Chicana (Ruiz, Ritchie), feminist rhetorical resilience (Flynn, Sotirin, Brady), solidarity and illusions of solidarity (Mohanty, Restaino), hope (Glenn), care (Royster, Kirsch), and storytelling (Cisneros). This is a short but important list of scholars and their work that contribute to the ideas I have regarding coalitions. These are the voices that have carried me to the place where I am now, as a junior faculty and member of The Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (CFSHCR) and the Coalition for Community Writing (CCW). While it’s important for me to focus on why I chose to belong to these coalitions, it’s also important to reflect on why I am intent on continuing to engage. I feel that I must also trouble the reasons I may have stayed away. So, I come with my thoughts, hopes, and ideas for ways we might make note of what has been going on in coalitions, what is going well and not so well, and what we might do to begin to see our way forward as we coalesce with each other and others outside our field. 

An Offering Wrapped in Chances Taken to Do Something Different

This chapter is an offering, from me, an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at a Hispanic Serving Institution in Southern California. In the moments during which I question the value of this offering, I recall Chicana feminist, Gloria Anzaldúa, arguing for the mestizaje to be brought into dialogues on power relations and across disciplinary boundaries (1990). This work done by Anzaldúa and many others to make a space for my work to be included is a path cleared before me. I set off with gratitude and hopeful anticipation of what lies ahead for coalitions and our field, as we do work that guides us toward positive change. 

Hesitance becomes encouragement to contribute to a conversation started years ago toward moving us, the field, and coalitions within our field “beyond the perceived patriarchal (hierarchical and competitive) structures of our disciplines and professional organizations and the masculinist practices that had long guided them,” as Cheryl Glenn and Andrea Lunsford imagine in “Coalition: A Meditation,” written for the 2015 Fall/Winter edition of Peitho (11). There are complications still, nearly ten years after Glenn and Lunsford recognized a need for change, as coalitions in our field are “still far too pale” (12). The absence of people of color in coalition is also a challenge brought about by the fact that there is such a small percentage of people of color who have Ph.D.’s in the country, much less in Rhetoric and Composition. Some of the complication with who decides to become a member of a coalition is also brought about by past constructions of coalitions as being built and maintained by white men and women and how this construction has kept others out by way of association with the term “coalition” and what this means to them based on past experiences. I am positive and hopeful that over time, dismantling of past constructions of coalition is possible. 

Similar to the concept of mestizaje, what I offer is a mix and blend of story, theory, experience, ideas, and voices that have formed my scholarship and membership in coalition. Blended within, I draw on the concept of feminist rhetorical resilience. Commonplace definitions of resilience are  typically applicable to individuals, rather than groups. I take a chance of incorporating the principles of feminist rhetorical resilience into this piece as I see an overlap of issues regarding labor, and needs for relationality, sociality, and agency, as well as a dependence on resources held by those involved with coalitions. In Feminist Rhetorical Resilience (2012), Elizabeth Flynn, Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady note that “feminist rhetorical resilience includes actions undertaken by rhetors, usually women, who, with varying degrees of success, discursively interact with others, resulting in improved situations despite contexts of significant adversity” (1). When I think of coalition work at present, I often think of it as women’s work, although I know this is not always true. This, I assume, is because of a lifetime of associating women with care and community work. 

In recent experiences, I see that feminist agency and rhetorical action are at the heart of coalition work in that coalitions within rhetoric and composition often call upon feminist concepts such as social justice, equity, care, and gender, thus complicating conventional rhetorical understandings of terms such as “context, engagement, audience, production, and exigency,” similarly to the foci of feminist resilience (7). It is feminist concepts and, often, feminine bodies that connect coalitions and feminist resilience, and it cannot be ignored that “Women carry out at least 2.5 times more unpaid work than men” (www.news.un.org). The more time I have spent in coalition, I have noted that coalitions are “relational, dynamic, responsive in and to contexts,” while “creating and animating capacities and possibilities,” like the concept of feminist resilience (8). It is for these reasons I argue that approaching the future of coalition work with principles of feminist rhetorical resilience will take the adversities faced at present and offer relational and social answers to some issues we have with making connections and building bridges across difference. One of the ways I posit we do so is through writing. I will expand on this position as the chapter moves forward. 

Coalitions have the potential to nurture souls of academics who require engagement in feminist praxis based on personal values, to fulfill communal needs, engage in reciprocal work, and respect for the needs held by some, to nurture others. Coalition work requires that members be resilient in the face of adversity, and also that the coalition as a group be resilient as it “shapes, enacts relationships among selves and others, speakers and audiences, things and dreams, bodies and needs, and so on” (Flynn, Sotirin, and Brady 7). Coalitions can be productive spaces for the building of relationships that allow for the sharing of the “why” of their participation without reservation, which can be done through writing and discussion. Like feminist resilience, coalition work also “enables fresh perspectives on feminist themes of empowerment, growth, health, and transformation,” all of which also require care and trust within the relationships (Flynn, Sotirin, and Brady 22). As the chapter moves forward, I will also expand on the need for an ethos of care and the value of taking time to build trust within a coalition. First, I will share some of my story, to help give insight as to my belief in the power in coalition, and recognition that coalition work begins in undergraduate and graduate school and continues with encouragement from respected mentors, and in interactions with esteemed scholars. 

Getting Involved in Coalition Work

During my education at New Mexico State University (NMSU), there were two major opportunities that shaped my future interests and visions for coalition involvement. The first was being selected as a Fellow in the Borderlands Writing Project (BWP), a satellite project of the National Writing Project. In BWP, I was taught to help students see the value of their experiential knowledge (Lu & Horner). Also essential to my time in BWP was my own experience of feeling the power that comes from writing together and sharing of that writing. In preparation to hold my first writing classes, I gleaned as much knowledge and preparation to teach writing from listening to teacher’s stories from kindergarten through doctoral programs as I did from pedagogical readings, if not more. This is the beginning of my belief in writing being essential to forming the care and trust necessary to see goals come to fruition in groups of individuals who are unknown to each other. 

I was also fortunate to spend six years as a research assistant and participant-observer to retired professor Christopher C. Burnham in a History of Rhetoric course focused on an assignment titled “The Advocacy Project.” This assignment led students through the rhetorical process of organizing a social justice focused project that they would use to get their peers to act by the final day of class. Being exposed to and part of the organization of more than a hundred advocacy projects helped me to visualize the path of work toward bringing about social change. 

The power behind small gestures that reach numerous people became apparent to me through this work and took on a new level of energy in my dissertation research study, as I learned of the role of small gestures as enactments of feminist resilience and their role in change over time (Trujillo). As a research assistant, I repeatedly witnessed the potential of groups made up of like-minded individuals, and non-like-minded individuals who were persuaded to pool their resources to effect change, to take actions of varying degrees, because they believed in something presented to them by a peer. This is not unlike working in coalition toward seeing goals and tasks through, based on beliefs in the work being done. Formation of the topic for the advocacy project, plans toward seeing the project through, brainstorming, troubleshooting, and moving through stasis, or stuck points all took place through writing. 

Over the course of the last three years, I have been actively involved in CCW and CFSHRC. Had it not been for the fact that I knew Jessica Enoch was involved with The Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (CFSHRC), I probably wouldn’t have made an effort to join. Having read Jessica’s “‘Para la Mujer’: Defining a Chicana Feminist Rhetoric at the Turn of the Century” and, Survival Stories: Feminist Historiographic Approaches to Chicana Rhetorics of Sterilization Abuse” while in the master’s and doctoral program, I knew that she was aware of the complexities existing in America among mestizaje, and issues faced by Latino communities over many decades (2004, 2005). I knew through her writing that Jessica cared about how bodies, particularly the bodies of women, are remembered and treated. This helped me to consider that the CFSHRC might have more like-minded members and gave me a push to look into the group and to step up for membership. This reminds me of the importance of the work that I do, of the need to keep writing, not knowing who is going to remember what I have written and those whom I value in my scholarship. 

Had I not met Veronica House at the Conference on Community Writing and felt the warmth in her presence and sincerity in her efforts toward inclusion, I wouldn’t have become affiliated with the Coalition for Community Writing (CCW). My first interaction with Veronica felt as if she had welcomed me into her home as she made sure I was comfortable, called me by name, and when I showed interest in belonging to CCW, she made a space for me to use what I felt I could contribute. Veronica’s actions served as another reminder to me, that it is not just what we write that has an impact on fellow and up and coming scholars, but what we say and how we behave when no one else is watching is equally as important.  

To begin, I would not have attended the Conference on Community Writing without the encouragement and invitation of Lauren Rosenberg, my then, dissertation chair and advisor. Lauren’s work with CCW and articles, such as “Navigating Difficulty in Classroom-Community Outreach Projects,” brought me to think more about the places I wanted to spend my academic time (2017). I could see through her projects and publications how Lauren’s relationships with research participants had spanned years, and how important writing in the community and listening in community was to her and other writing teachers. It is essential that we not take for granted that our students know what is available to them in the way of coalition. We must make invitations, and act as attentive hosts to newcomers to our coalitions. 

I also know that without the money and time to travel, research, and connections to a network, I might not have ever known these coalitions existed. Unless a faculty member or student has the time, funds, or encouragement, not many are going to find coalitions in the field of rhetoric and composition as existing or as being open to them. It is imperative that coalitions become more present, work to create and maintain community, and once they have members, particularly those who have been excluded, they should work to help those who join want to stay. Coalitions are relational, they are social, and should be attentive to not only the exigencies of the field, but the exigencies faced by their membership at varying stages in their academic careers. 

In work I recognize as coalition work, although it was done strictly through writing, I joined many authors to contribute to a Guest Edited Special Issue of Writers, Craft & Context titled, “Conferencing Toward Antiracism: Reckoning with the Past, Reimagining the Present.” I consider work that I have done with groups focused on bringing about change to fall under three types of coalition work: as an active participant in the role of speaking and contributing through labor, writing, and discussion; in the role of support by contributing ideas and some written labor; and as a contributor solely through writing. 

In a most recent role that involves labor, writing, discussion, outreach, and will require presentation, it has been my pleasure and honor to work with Aurora Matzke toward organizing the Feminist Workshop at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in 2024. While the organizers of this event are not named as a coalition, the work done in this Workshop and the preparation it takes to put on the workshop feels like coalition work, as it brings together like-minded individuals to focus on abundance and center our workshop time on the “rich and vibrant ways differing Feminist Latinx scholars, through their situatedness, scholarship, community work and teaching yield contributions to our field,” through discussion and by drawing on the power of written testimonio (Trujillo and Matzke).  

While I feel that all three types of work are important, considering feminist praxis, they require different types of action that for me, all are still bound to an ethos of care. In these settings, I consider core feminist values to include, but not be limited to considerations of how power is distributed or shared, to creating and maintaining equitable spaces, to connecting social justice to all teaching and learning, acknowledgment and valuing of experiential knowledge, and the championing of diversity and inclusion.  

Challenges Faced by Coalitions

While there are many issues on which I could focus regarding challenges faced by coalitions, I have chosen to discuss only a handful in depth. I will not pause on all issues, but will not ignore that there are general issues within coalitions that cannot be anticipated, and are realities of meetings, so there must be a willingness to allow for mistakes made and for regrouping. These issues could include issues such as inexperienced or disinterested facilitators, the necessity of meeting objectives on the agenda within a particular timeframe and, in the interest of time, not stopping to form working relationships. 

I want to note that it can also be jarring to join a coalition and come face-to-face with unknown members and with members with far more experience and history with the coalition than a new member possesses. It is probable that there will be differences of opinions and life experience and sensations of being steamrolled by confident speakers and those comfortable with and accustomed to sharing firm positions. Other issues faced can include imbalances in the labor load, difficulties forming and maintaining trust within the group, behaviors antithetical to equity and inclusion, waning motivations for belonging, conflicting priorities, and hidden agendas.

The challenges listed above are the unfortunate issues of current organization of coalitions and meetings offering few opportunities to build community among participants who are often made up of members from diverse backgrounds, who are unknown to each other, or are only known through publications, or conference presentations. This can be problematic for graduate students in coalitions who are only beginning to publish, and don’t have background knowledge of seasoned academics, or the work that is being done outside their focused areas of interest. The probability of many challenges exists in many groups where different individuals come together to accomplish goals. I return here to my position that much of the imbalance of sharing of voices, themotivations for belonging, the possibilities of membership, experience, intentions, and research interests can be shared through taking time to write and share with each other in retreat once a year. Retreat offers a chance for a coalition to regroup and give members a chance at forming relationships that can be difficult to nurture face-to-face, much less online.   

Online Meetings

With the prevalence of online coalition meetings, I think of Stephanie Kerschbaum’s Toward a New Rhetoric of Difference, and her discussion of perception and disclosure regarding others in shared spaces–paying mind to that which we count as similarities or differences with those with whom we are gathered. Kerschbaum notes in “Signs of Disability, Disclosing” that she “defined markers of difference as dynamic, emergent, and relational rhetorical cues deployed by interlocutors to point to or engage difference between themselves.” In her article, Kerschbaum’s aim is “to deepen our understanding of the meanings of disability that emerge as people move among material artifacts and environments.” I wonder then, how online coalition meetings orient the membership to others in the online space where personal experience is oftentimes not disclosed, nor are there markers through which to make connections other than the physical, visualized in photos, small squares, and names in white font on a black background. Without writing, sharing, or discussion beyond addressing the tasks of the coalition, the field must consider how perception and disclosure are occurring and how this affects the coalition overall. 

Accommodation and Overcommitting

It should also be taken into consideration that many newer coalition members, although faculty members, are a few years from having been graduate students and have become accustomed to saying “yes.” This, of course, is also true for graduate students who, often by virtue of needing to make money, have been those in groups to take on labor before fully considering the time and energy that will be demanded of the accepted tasks. Coalition members in composition and rhetoric, for varying reasons, come prepackaged with vulnerabilities, memories of marginalization, and a need for the same care and consideration we have worked to give research participants. It’s important that established coalition members go out of our way to make sure all members feel safe to say “no,” are respected, heard, and appreciated–as coalition work can also turn into uncompensated emotion work. Taking care of membership may be even more difficult, when the members are not known to each other. This difficulty can be compounded when a member does not know their fellow coalition members well enough to feel they can say “no” without repercussion of becoming an outsider or even self-driven anxieties about belonging that come from past experiences and preconceived ideas of who belongs and who does not in coalition. 

The White Nature of Coalition Work 

Some things just don’t feel like they are for a Chicana, and coalitions are one, unless it is a coalition for resistance and racial justice. I find it interesting that the term coalition is daunting, as opposed to group, gathering, organization, alliance, or association. This is not the chapter for interrogating the way certain words conjure images of whiteness and for whom this takes place, but my experience is that coalitions is one of those terms that brings about feelings, similar to those brought about when I walk into a restaurant, or clothing store and know “this place isn’t for me.” It’s not easy to explain exactly why until one takes the time to sit down and deconstruct the feelings of exclusion, they don’t realize how often these feelings include details such as color, design, images, text, behaviors, and titles. 

While I don’t argue that we should call coalitions something else as a field, I do think we can remove some of the ideas that coalitions are only for some, by making ourselves more present, and being inviting to others’ whom we notice are not aware that they could become involved. Coalitions could be well served by reaching out to graduate students, to junior faculty, and undergraduates through social media, invitation emails, and through conference presence. Social media presence is growing for coalitions, but it is still not enough. When a student or a new faculty member assesses what is available in their fields, coalition involvement should be front and center. As the field of rhetoric looks to create coalitions across the disciplines, and to extend the relevant work already being done, coalitions should exist as organizations that are welcoming, inviting, and transparent beyond a small group of people. 

What Can Be Done

Coalitions present possibilities for advocacy, mentorship, community outreach, creation of activities and gatherings. These positive aspects of coalition work become more likely when approached with a feminist ethos of care. With care, it becomes more likely that mentor type relationships will form in coalition. And as members are added each year, these relationships serve to model how to contribute to, belong, and perform in coalition. In Feminist Rhetorical Resilience, Flynn, Sotirin, and Brady write that resilience “begins from a place of struggle and desire,” both of which are experiences known to coalitions within our field at present. Resilience is creative, animating the potential of whatever comes to hand as a suitable rhetorical ‘resource,’ be it music, linen, or family narratives” (7). Within coalition are bodies, stories, experiences, knowledge, foresight, care, effort, organization, resources, and interest. I see in feminist rhetorical resilience the relationality, agency, and sociality that I have seen in coalitions and know that there was strength in numbers, but more so in relationships. These relationships need creating, and nurturing, however. 

In coalition, and as “a group of distinct individuals who come together to cooperate in joint action toward a mutual goal (or set of goals) –not forever, but for however long it takes,” I posit that we should be intentional about creating and maintaining community (Glenn, Lunsford). Formation of community can be accomplished through writing, reflection, and sharing by the membership regarding what they hope to offer and gain by belonging. As a community, the coalition can offer a place for work, where members can leave and return as necessary throughout their careers, dedicating “however long it takes” to each fulfill their individual needs for membership. It occurs to me that members join coalition for a variety of reasons, ranging from a need to build a curriculum vitae, to searching for a way to fulfill a need as an academic who is seeking opportunities to bring about change, a combination of the two, and many reasons around and in between. I draw also from Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch’s approach to research with an ethos that involves “care, introspection, and attention to the material conditions of the past and the present. It demands that we pay attention to how lived experience shapes our perspectives” (664). It is these perspectives that I believe will help to shape coalitions over the years, as members join, leave, and with hope, return. 

I believe the key to having members return is in members moving beyond joining and accepting tasks, and roles, with an assistance toward thinking, writing, and sharing about how the coalition fits into their career, and what they can contribute as a community member. For me, coalition is a special gathering of people, as it is not just a group, or meetings with people with shared goals, but a community in which members can form alliances, which suggests relationships, association, and benefits. Relationships suggest that we get to know the people with whom we coalesce, and this can be achieved through sharing of experience through writing. Writing, I posit, should take place before joining to express one’s intentions and goals for belonging, and during membership in writing retreats.

Retreating Toward Coalition

To think of a coalition as a productive academic community is to commit to the provision of a place where experience inside and outside academia can be stored, drawn from, and replenished, for the sake of the fields of rhetoric and composition, and beyond. This can be accomplished through literal time taken to retreat as a coalition, to write, and get to know one another, as well as to retreat from the group and return when ready, if ever, to offer the experiences they have gathered, once again. I wonder if this is the future of conference gatherings, as we have fewer financial resources, support, and time taken to organize conferences.

Taking into mind the ways that we could work with each other and scholars across disciplines, I believe that taking time to form community within the coalition attends to feminist praxis and to strengthening the relationships between the coalition members. Relationality is important to the success of a coalition, as it is reliant upon the resources the members can provide. By taking time to retreat, at a minimum, annually, for the sake of writing and sharing, the membership opens the possibility for reduction of feelings of exclusion, and the hurried nature of meetings where the agenda is longer than the time allotted for the meeting. With consideration of the necessities required of coalitions, such as in material and non-material contributions, we can only know what each member can or wants to contribute by taking time to ask, and then listen to written or verbal responses. 

I strongly feel that an ethos of care, trust, and relationality are necessary for a group to function. It takes trust to share lived experiences, dialogue to come to know difference outside of categorization and taxonomizing, as well as reflexivity and reflection to examine where we have been and where we would like to see our fields headed (Kerschbaum; Kirsch; Royster). This behavior is what I advocate for when these groups meet, particularly in retreat. We come up against coalition as a commonplace and can’t ignore that we don’t always know in these precarious political times who our allies are and that as a commonplace, coming together as a coalition may mean one thing for some, and not the same for others. 

Locating Members

In order to work with each other and with other scholars in rhetoric and across disciplines to create coalitions situated in lived experiences and feminist praxis, we must begin by taking time out to share knowledge about ourselves with others. I draw from feminist and composition scholars Gesa Kirsch and Joy Ritchie, as they approach caring as requiring “one to place herself in an empathetic relationship in order to understand the other’s point of view” (21). Thus, when in coalition, time must be taken to learn about where the membership is located, to move away from essentializing coalition contributors based on what we can see and to avoid taxonomizing across difference (Kerschbaum, Rich). This can be achieved through writing, discussion, or both. As well, an ethos of care means that we feel responsible for others, respecting differences that exist as individuals and in communities. I envision writing and sharing in response to questions similar to the following: 

  • Why have I chosen to be a part of this coalition? 
  • What can I contribute to this coalition?
  • What do I hope to receive as the result of belonging to this coalition?
  • What change do I hope to be a part of as a member of this coalition?

Members are often pressed for time when gathering, requiring that meetings move directly into the business of coalition rather than sharing the places from which we have come, and what inclusion in the coalition means to each member. This could take place at an annual, online retreat, for instance. Even as Fitzsimmons and Prasad share in this issue, there is a marked difference between being able to contribute and wanting to contribute. Questions such as those listed above can give a coalition member a chance to also ask themselves if their contributions are in response to being accustomed to accommodating, or over committing. These reflections could assist someone with withdrawing from the coalition or keep them from withdrawing in sight of what they can contribute. 

While motivations for coalition membership cannot be controlled, taking the time for membership to write about and explore their motivations for participation may prove surprising, as members locate the ways they can contribute, wish to contribute, and may gain beyond what they initially expected. Labor is also an issue in coalition work, as asking members to meet or retreat annually for the sake of community formation requires time and mental energy. I do believe, however, that there is a tradeoff; for the time and labor invested in building a strong coalition, there is the possibility of less turnaround in membership, better considered use of resources, and fewer chances of exclusion or members leaving without sharing the reasons why. 

Coalitional Trust

Trust is also necessary for objectives to be met in coalition. This can look like trusting the value of the work that is taking place, trusting the mission of the coalition, or trusting effectiveness of small gestures that come to pass through coalition work. I return here to my position that coalition requires the formation of community through sharing that comes from discussion and writing, as it is through these actions that membership can explore what trust means to them in professional settings. Because coalition work is situated in lived experiences, time is required to build trust for sharing these experiences and rapid turnaround in coalition makes it less possible for trust to form. With consideration to the coalition work I have done, which is predominantly in the Coalition for Community Writing, the meetings take place via Zoom, between classes, meetings, appointments with students, and sometimes during time that has been set aside for writing but pushed aside to do other meaningful work. Coalition work takes place in meetings, as well as outside meetings requiring that the coalition member keep a focus on hope, change, relationality, and reciprocity as motivators for this unpaid labor. This leaves little time for relationship or trust building, and this is not the fault of the leadership, but a reflection on the way that coalition work is organized. 


I envision a coalition as a productive space for inclusion that can work to disassemble fictions that challenge oppressive situations caused by and doing harm to teachers, administrators, researchers, scholars, community members, and our organizations. The field of rhetoric holds the potential to exemplify the sustaining of internal coalition work, as well as set the example for other coalitions through that which can be seen in the way of manifestos, mission statements, vision statements, strategic plans, and publications, as well as through the non-material that can be seen through recognition of social change.

In the model of coalition I imagine, and through enactments of feminist rhetorical resilience, I posit that “‘personal reflection’ becomes a means of enacting more radical forms of belonging” (Hsu 142). Coalescing looks like coming together to care for the self, for others, and as a result, for the whole, which comes to knowledge through taking time in retreat as a coalition to explore the motivations for the work, what can be given, and what might be gained. Participating in coalition requires relationality, a tenet of feminist rhetorical resilience, as it does agency, and sociality, but I argue that we cannot fully offer of ourselves as members until we take the time to reflect on our experiences as we engage feminist scholarship and rhetorical practices, share our positions openly, and discuss our locations in our fields and in our research. 

It is all too often that in coalition, positions on topics are rumored, one’s scholarship is “understood,” and difference is gathered through first impressions and assumed through superficial interaction. As we work to reshape coalitions, it is time that we “change shape to meet the exigencies of…circumstances” faced in our field, in academia, and as a country as these circumstances are important to the work we do (Flynn, Sotirin, and Brady 9). To accomplish this, we must think of coalitions in the same way that we think of our writing classrooms, requiring writing, discussion, and reflection as we discover and share our locations in our research and visions and explore what has come from and been taken away by our experiences. By doing what we already know how to do, and doing it well, we have a chance at serving in coalition in the most meaningful ways and uniting across experiences, differences, and shared goals. 

Works Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria (Ed.), Making Face, Making Soul Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Coloraunt lute, San Francisco (1990), pp. 15-27.

Enoch, Jessica. “‘Para la Mujer’: Defining a Chicana Feminist Rhetoric at the Turn of the Century.” College English 67.1 (2004): 20-37.

Enoch, Jessica. “Survival Stories: Feminist Historiographic Approaches to Chicana Rhetorics of Sterilization Abuse.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35.3 (2005): 5-30.

Flynn, Elizabeth A. and Tiffany Bourelle, eds. “Introduction.” Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity. The Ohio State University Press, 2018. 1-27.

Flynn, Elizabeth A., Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady, eds. “Introduction.” Feminist Rhetorical Resilience. University Press of Colorado, 2012, pp. 1-29.

Glenn, Cheryl. “Introduction.” Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope. Southern Illinois University Press, 2018, pp. 1-4.

Hsu, V. Jo. “Reflection as Relationality.” College Composition and Communication. 70.2, 2018, 142-168.

Jarratt, Susan C. “Feminism and composition: The Case for Conflict.” Contending with Words: Composition and Rhetoric in a Postmodern Age, 1991, pp. 105-123.

Kerschbaum, Stephanie L. “Signs of Disability, Disclosing.” Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture, 2019. https://www.enculturation.net/signs-of-disability-disclosing.

Kerschbaum, Stephanie L. “Toward a New Rhetoric of Difference.” Urbana, IL: Conference on College Composition and Communication, National Council of Teachers of English, 2014.

Kirsch, Gesa E., and Joy S. Ritchie. “Beyond the Personal: Theorizing a Politics of Location in Composition Research.” College Composition and Communication, 46.1, 1995, pp. 7-29.

Lu, Min-Zhan, and Bruce Horner. “The Problematic of Experience: Redefining Critical Work in Ethnography and Pedagogy.” College English 60.3, 1998, pp. 257-277.

Pratt, Mary Louise. “Arts of the Contact Zone.” Profession, 1991, pp. 33-40.

Rich, Adrienne. “Notes toward a Politics of Location.” Women, Feminist Identity and Society in the 1980’s: Selected Papers, 1984, pp. 7-22.

Rosenberg, Lauren. “Navigating Difficulty in Classroom-Community Outreach Projects.” Community Literacy Journal 11.2, 2017, pp. 65-73.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. SIU Press, 2012.

Trujillo, Karen R. Enactments of Feminist Resilience in the Composition Classroom: ReScripting Post-Adversity Encounters Through Writing. Diss. New Mexico State University, 2020.

Solidarity in Feminist Iconography: Gloria Steinem, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and the Power Fist


Within the literature on solidarity and coalition, there is a tension between those who claim that identity is a central tool for resistance and those who caution that any identity claim engages otherness and exclusion. That latter suggests that as a political tool, identity may be an obstacle to building solidarity in coalition. To bridge this obstacle, icons can operate as cultural mediators by offering a common ground for building connection in “shifting social and political climates” between individuals at distinct intersections of identity (Roberts 83). According to Lauren Berlant, icons within women’s culture[1] can function to create an imagined common ground for viewers of different social, cultural, and economic backgrounds (5). This study draws from Berlant to suggest that feminist icons in an imagined common groundwork by soliciting “belonging via modes of sentimental realism that span fantasy and experience and claim a certain emotional generality among women” (5). In other words, feminist icons may be able to pierce emotional, experiential, and ideological dimensions of culture to build community. Like bell hooks explains in All About Love, what we imagine is vital to what we can accomplish. Writing about the definitions, ideas, and examples of love that we are exposed to throughout our lives, hooks questions what it means to belong and how we can mine cultural discourse to chart our way to our desired destination—such as a more just future. Inspired by hooks, then, I venture to ask, if we imagine it, then isn’t it real? Can this imagined-real space be more than a fantasy? Can this affective discourse become a community resource? From this space, can we create material consequences that further the vision of feminism? 

This article presents a case study of the Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes photograph from 1971 by Dan Wynn (referred to in this article as the Wynn photograph) as an icon that has the potential to encourage solidarity, even though it doesn’t represent the vast array of identity formations within the community of feminists. The Wynn photograph carries historical, symbolic, and ongoing significance, capturing an iconic moment in the women’s liberation movement and the broader feminist movement of the 1970s. The black-and-white studio photograph captures the two friends standing side-by-side with their right fists in the air and solemn expressions on their faces. The prominent feminist activists Gloria Steinem and the late Dorothy Pitman Hughes[2] played crucial roles in advancing women’s rights and challenging societal norms. Steinem and Pitman Hughes embody intersectional feminist solidarity, which recognizes that individuals can face multiple forms of discrimination and oppression simultaneously based on their race, gender, class, and other intersecting identities. Specifically, Steinem and Pitman Hughes collaborated and advocated for both gender equality and racial justice and continue to serve as sources of inspiration for those working towards social justice. 

Historically, the mainstream feminist movement has struggled with inclusivity and adequately addressing the concerns of people from diverse backgrounds, sometimes being conflated entirely with white feminism. However, the image of Steinem and Pitman Hughes together continues to circulate as a reminder of the importance of diverse voices and the need for inclusive activism. While the photograph is from the 1970s, its themes and messages remain relevant today. The fight for gender equality, racial justice, and intersectional feminism continues, and the photograph can inspire and motivate current and future generations of activists. It reminds viewers of the progress made and the work still to be done in creating a more equitable and inclusive society. Focusing on this image as an icon is necessary because it has not been the focus of rhetorical study in the past; it is memorable and oft recreated; and it has maintained consistent relevance in a mainstream sociopolitical and cultural context (transcending the boundaries of 1970s feminism). In what follows, I offer background on Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes relationship and discuss the significance of rhetorical iconicity. Then, I give a brief overview of the literature on feminist solidarity, often explored through the notion of coalition. I then present three rhetorical moves that the Wynn image, as a feminist icon, makes to communicate solidarity. These moves include emphasizing connection, centering civic responsibility, and circulating visual-emotional resonance. 

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, 1971

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes met through Steinem’s journalistic work at New York Magazine in 1969. After an interview for Steinem’s column, the women formed a friendship and became speaking partners at meetings for women’s liberation on college campuses and in communities (Gutterman). Between 1969 and 1973, the women traveled as a team with other Black feminists such as radical feminist lawyer Florynce Kennedy and queer Black feminist and civil rights advocate Margaret Sloan (Baker). After their years on the road, Steinem and Pitman Hughes released the first issue of Ms. magazine in 1972. The magazine became the first national American feminist magazine and is still in print today. A year earlier, in 1971, Steinem and Pitman Hughes posed for the iconic image at the center of this case study. The Wynn photograph first appeared in the October issue of Esquire, an American men’s magazine, emphasizing a call to solidarity between the feminist and civil rights movements. Over time, the photograph has also become a representation of solidarity across different marginalized groups in the feminist movement because it emphasizes the importance of addressing various forms of oppression simultaneously.

Figure 1: Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, 1971, Dan Wynn.

The photograph itself is visually powerful and conveys a potent message, providing representation for both white and Black women in the feminist movement. The image features Steinem and Pitman Hughes positioned in front of a gray-gradient background. The simplicity of the image is striking, where the lack of excess suggests a desire to eliminate distractions from the message. The color scheme elicits a serious tone, one that is supported by their resolute expressions. The women are centered in the image, side by side, and facing the camera directly. Their gaze suggests a commitment to their message, a shamelessness in confronting the viewers as their audience. Originally, the audience was Esquire magazine’s male viewership, which positions the image as an embodiment of a challenge to the male gaze in a literal sense. 

The photograph has traveled far beyond the exclusivity of the niche Esquire magazine and sits in residence at the National Portrait Gallery, a Smithsonian institution, that “present[s] people of remarkable character and achievement” (Bagan). Steinem’s hair is straight and covers her chest, her “money pieces” (the sections of hair growing from the hairline above the forehead) are dyed light blonde—her signature look. Pitman Hughes wears her hair natural with tight coils, styled as an afro. She also wears large hoop earrings. Pitman Hughes’ hair and accessories carry an aesthetic of Black culture and style of the times donned also by iconic entertainer Diana Ross and Black feminist radical professor and activist Angela Davis.[3] Steinem and Pitman Hughes both wear long-sleeve turtlenecks in a neutral color. In front of them is neutral-colored draped fabric meant to resemble a skirt. Both women are holding their right fists clenched in the air above their heads and in front of their face, a gesture referred to as the raised fist.

Rhetorical Iconicity

Before analyzing the image, it is important to discuss the rhetorical significance of feminist iconography. Feminist iconography requires viewers to engage in critical and emotional ways that implicate both subjectivity and social change. As Lauren Berlant implies, imagined common ground is often circulated through aesthetic and emotional narratives found in books, personal testimony, essays, films, television, and other visual genres such as icons. Herein lies the rhetorical significance of icons for feminist solidarity. By engaging intentionally with feminist icons exhibiting solidarity, viewers-as-critical-consumers participate in their own civic education. This engagement brings together the political consciousness and presence of being that exist in the viewer with the political and social ongoings of society that impact communities. Popular culture narratives create and circulate a specific set of expectations that inform the role individuals assume in given interactions, dynamics, and relationships. With these narratives come icons that reference the values and outcomes of the narratives. While these narratives begin to inform an audience’s worldview, they also create community by binding members to the same promises—or the same enemy. This affective phenomena is where feminist icons may assume rhetorical power by circulating justice-oriented narratives in the public/private sphere of popular culture.

For example, “Barbie” (the idea, doll, and franchise) has been recently reintegrated into the public imagination as a feminist icon through Greta Gerwig’s critically acclaimed box-office hit film of the same name. As a doll, Barbie invokes a continually shifting narrative of women’s place in society. At first, she was introduced as an alternative role-playing toy to the common “baby doll.” The Barbie doll invited children to imagine themselves as adults with jobs and interests outside of child-rearing. While Barbie’s iconographic narrative begins by shifting public discourse on women’s domesticity to women’s career diversity and self-expression, Barbie has also been complicit in the unrealistic beauty standards and sexualization imposed on women. Yet, in 2023, Greta Gerwig reintroduces Barbie; living in “Barbieland” means that everyone has a role to play, women make the important decisions without being in competition with each other, and men function as supportive accessories. The new Barbie fantasy may be a caricature of a feminist future, but it attempts to deal with the consequences of hegemony in politics, personal development, and relationships. The film has made feminist ideals a mainstream topic of conversation in the pinkest and most hyper-feminine way possible–without trivializing them. The film seeks to offer a reimagined-real affective space through and for feminist visual culture–and it carries its power through rhetorical iconicity. 

Thus, the idea is not for trickle-down empowerment from icons, but for icons to generate conversation over the varying relationships to the images, values, and personas that they offer. Icons, as discursive articulations, allow individuals to imagine their positioning in the world. In On Racial Icons, Nicole Fleetwood contends that racial icons can function as “a counterbalance to intentionally demeaning characterization[s of Black Americans]” and that “racial icons can serve to uplift, literally and symbolically, ‘the black race’ and the nation” (4). While she is speaking specifically in the context of the national Black community, I forward that the simulation of solidarity inherent in engagement with icons is a place from which to draw a morsel of empowerment through feminist narratives as well—connecting through affinity and shared goals. Fleetwood suggests that “these images can impact us with such emotional force that we are compelled: to do, to feel, to see” (4). This process, albeit in reverse, mediated consciousness-raising manifests in the 21st-century through popular culture discourse. Interacting with visually-represented solidarity in feminist iconography through sight simulates emotional connection of differently-experienced (yet shared) narratives among non-men in patriarchy, all with the hope that the connection is strong enough to bring us together in action. 

I recognize that this process is an appropriation of an externally provided image and the role that accompanies it. But if this phenomenon is already taking place, let us analyze the apparatus by which this kind of interpellation is imposed. Judith Lakämper suggests that the basis for solidarity is not the “affective attachment to a shared fantasy” but “from an investment in the conversation with others who struggle in similar, yet also different, ways with the genres they encounter” (134; 132).  Despite the advancements in women’s rights, the changing landscape of media, and the mainstreaming of feminist discourse, communities continue to organize around images from a shared feminist history. The Wynn photograph has endured as a featured visual of feminist activism for over fifty years in various forms including posters at protests, images in social media posts, alluded to in reenacted photographs by people of all ages, races, and backgrounds, and more. In this case study, I argue that the image exhibits solidarity through three rhetorical moves: emphasizing connection between differently positioned women in political discourse, centering civic responsibility to respond to social injustice, and projecting visual-emotional resonance that transcends generations. 

Solidarity and Feminism

I define solidarity as a sense of shared responsibility for the wellbeing of others. Often, a problem arises when theorizing the relationship between individual and community in a politics of equity and change. On the one hand, feminism underscores subjectivity, a perspective coming from a specific body, history, and status, as a place from which to draw knowledge. On the other hand, feminism values systemic change, the fundamental reform of social protocol and procedures that exceed individual circumstances of oppression. These foci, subjectivity and social change, engage a duality of feminism, one which requires attention to the individual as well as the community in achieving feminist goals. Solidarity brings these foci together in considering the self in relation to others in the pursuit of shared goals. More specifically, this study posits that the visuality of solidarity in feminist iconography requires views to engage in critical and emotional ways that implicate both subjectivity and social change.

A particularly feminist solidarity refers to a coalitional response to inequitable treatment of minoritized people and communities. Alice Wickstrom et al. suggest that solidarity “emerges from the capacity to affect and be affected, through care, compassion, and empathy with and for others” with the goal of “social transformations that are made possible through ‘democratic engagement’” (857). The hinge here is that solidarity is care with a purpose carried out through affective and political encounters of care and advocacy. I’m interested in framing solidarity as an embodied practice rather than a democratic engagement. The affordance here is to be able to emphasize the bodily, and otherwise material, elements of solidarity. Coming from a new materialist perspective, Wickstrom et al. acknowledge that while “discursive assemblages between different bodies” are not inherently aligned, that the “embodied struggles support the emergence of solidarity” through a shared sense of vulnerability, public affirmation, and symbolic resources. In other words, the source and manifestation of oppression, and the language used to identify it, might not be universal. However, willingness to share, responsiveness and recognition, and common references—such as popular culture icons—allow feminists to enact solidarity. In the case of this study, Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes’ friendship and political partnership offers a prolific example of the power of unity in the face of difference. 

While feminist solidarity can be founded on personal meaning attached to experience and the commonalities thereof, the presence of power imbalances, ideological differences, and the impact of historical relationships to power and privilege should not be ignored. For example, Linda Berg and Maria Carbin illustrate the damaging effects of “we” rhetorics under the guise of feminist solidarity. After an attack on a Muslim woman in Sweden, Muslim feminist activists started #HijabUppropet (#HijabOutcry), a call for Swedish feminists to post selfies wearing hijab. Berg and Carbin illustrate how the well-intentioned participation of non-Muslim Swedish women risked “reinstalling the white citizen as the self-evident subject of feminist solidarity” through cultural appropriation (134). The visuality of white women in hijab obscures the racist motives that prompt violent attacks. Rather than condemning racism, prejudice, and hatred, the campaign turned into a conversation about the right for all women to choose to cover. The study illustrates 1) that there are still barriers for women of color to function as agents of feminist solidarity as well as 2) the stumbling blocks in the visual enactment of solidarity. 

In the case of the Wynn photograph, similar imbalances became apparent in the rhetorical life of the image. While the women are featured in the photograph in equal measure, the Esquire article that first accompanied the image framed their activism solely in the context of Steinem’s contributions to the women’s movement. In the years to follow, Steinem’s fame and public intrigue overshadowed Pitman Hughes, and other non-white activists, in mainstream coverage of feminist activism. In fact, Gloria Steinem has been referred to as “the world’s most famous feminist” despite her consistently collaborative engagement with feminist activism suggesting that she rarely acts alone (Karbo). In any case, the visual harmony represented in the image does not necessarily mirror the public perception of the figures in the photograph, but that doesn’t change the complementary nature of their friendship and the work they were able to accomplish together.  

Clearly, any attempt to describe membership or belonging also implies a boundary, indicating which groups or individuals are different or “other.” Thus, within the literature on solidarity and identity, there is a tension between schools of thought. On one hand, there are those who claim that identity is a central tool for resistance. On the other hand, there are those who caution that identity is an obstacle to solidarity rather than a tool because any identity claim has the consequence of imposing otherness and exclusion. A solution to this tension might be to encourage an active construction of identity rather than assuming identity from fixed categories. Similarly, Elizabeth R. Cole and Zakiya T. Luna discuss how feminists reconceptualize identity as an articulation of how their bodies are controlled by the state, rather than any inherent association with their embodied identity. Their study illustrates how feminists who occupy subordinated identities have developed a complex understanding of the ways that identities are crafted through lived experience, rather than through phenotypic commonalities as sole points of connection.

However, active constructions of identity may not account for the imposition of others’ perspectives of that identity. Agnes Varda speaks to this imposition, citing the power of seeing and looking in reclaiming one’s subjectivity. In an interview documented in the film Filming Desire, Varda states, “The first feminist gesture is to say: ‘OK, they’re looking at me. But I’m looking at them.’ The act of deciding to look, of deciding that the world is not defined by how people see me, but how I see them” (Mandy). Her assertion underscores the rhetorical significance of paying attention and looking. The starting point for a feminist praxis, according to Varda, is to look, to pay attention, to see from where we stand, to critically consume the world around us, and to construct our worldview from meaning that resonates with our experience. In a sense, Varda asks us to make peace with being seen and to ground ourselves in the power of looking back. Thus, this project brings a feminist rhetorical perspective to the potentialities of viewer engagement with textual, visual, and material properties of icons that may significantly, but often implicitly, affect citizens’ understanding of their own role in the community.

Solidarity in Feminist Iconography 

Earlier in the essay, I describe the image from the National Portrait Gallery that hosts the image in its entirety (shown in Figure 1). While it is important to consider the background and context of this image as part of the rhetorical situation within a case study, it is also important to recognize that the context in which the photograph is encountered is oftentimes absent of the photograph’s origin story and historical significance—a typical occurrence in the rhetorical life of icons. As the visual dimension of images exists in a constant present, remaining unchanged by and untethered to the passing of time, ideology embedded in the image is often detached from specific context when the image stands alone—or the image may take on the context of other rhetorical situations through circulation. For this reason, I analyze the image as an image, observe the visual and rhetorical presence of solidarity, and draw from Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites to pull visual and contextual significance from the image and its history. In doing so, my goal is to illustrate the resonance of solidarity in feminist iconography.

Emphasizing Connection

Minimizing differences maximizes unity in the context of this photograph. The nature of iconic imagery lies largely in its ability to reproduce ideology. Especially evident in the Wynn photograph is a visual phenomenon of icons which “presents asymmetrical relationships as if they were mutually beneficial” (Hariman and Lucaites 9). The racial incongruity between Steinem and Pitman Hughes has been a source of skepticism and, at times, a dismissal of their call to solidarity. However, the composition of the image and the congruity of their styling suggests that both figures are equally important in the frame[work] of their efforts. This marked phenomenon of iconicity suggests that the image “presents a social order as if it were a natural order” (9). Without containing any reference to the contrary, the image omits any notion of misalignment between the figures. In this sense, the image begins from a place of sameness or similarity to emphasize the call to solidarity. The color palette, the framing, and the sameness in stance, gesture, expression, and dress bring the women together in their call to solidarity. 

The intentionality of the image in its totality mirrors the intentionality of Steinem and Pitman Hughes activism in a number of ways. First, filtering the image in black-and-white eliminates a stark contrast in skin pigment without obscuring that the women come from different racial backgrounds. This choice is important because ignoring difference can result in erasure of differently experienced forces of oppression, a pitfall that contemporary feminism is wont to avoid. However, the filter creates a uniform color palette that allows for an overall harmonious visual. Second, no woman is centered in the image. This choice allows for both women to take up as much space as their bodies require without framing any individual as the “subject” or “star” of the image. According to Hariman and Lucaites, “photography is grounded in phenomenological devices crucial to establishing the performative experience” (31). In other words, the camera shapes the viewer’s perception and actively involves viewers in constructing meaning, leading to a performative experience where they engage with the photograph on a subjective level. The framing, or boundaries of the photograph, marks the work as a special selection of reality that, in this case, is situated in feminist and civil rights activism of the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, the framing of the image allows that they are both expressing the message of solidarity and action in the image. Had either woman been in the foreground of the image, the message of solidarity would have been associated more so with the foregrounded person. Similarly to the lack of centering, had only one person been making the gesture, the call to solidarity would have been associated with only one person or one cause—and may not have been as compelling.

Third, the fashion in the image strives to create the sense of togetherness. This is where the power of clothing and the composure of dress is utilized. The turtlenecks offer a streamlined, dramatic, and striking silhouette that aligns with the urgency of their call to solidarity. During the 1970s, during which Steinem and Pitman Hughes worked together through their activism, turtlenecks were fashionable for other activism and advocacy groups. For example, Black Panthers and their supporters often wore black turtlenecks. While sporting a different color, the choice in dress for the Wynn image brings together the origins of the raised fist gesture in the fight for racial equality with the feminist aim of securing women’s rights. The clothes bring the women together visually as one, most notably in the choice to stand together behind the abstract skirt. The sharing of a skirt suggests that the women are presenting a united front as women, for the skirt in 1970s mainstream America was seen as a predominantly female style. Thus, the photograph speaks to women supporting women in the face of injustice, while demanding audience involvement in, or at least awareness of, the cause.

Centering Civic Responsibility

The women are united in solidarity most overtly through the raised fist gesture, a gesture laden with a message of equality and namely civil rights. When the photograph was taken, the raised fist was also referred to as the Black power salute. Thus, the Wynn image is an interesting space to think about communicating social knowledge. In No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy, Hariman and Lucaites[4] say that an iconic photograph “must activate deep structures of belief that guide social interaction and civic judgment and then apply them to the particulate case” (10). Undoubtedly, the image communicates social knowledge through its historical and cultural significance, but it also contradicts hegemonic ideologies sex and race. Namely, the image communicates the civic responsibility to advocate for and prioritize human rights, racial and gendered. However, this social knowledge does not necessarily come from “deep structures of belief that guide social interaction and civic judgment.” The social knowledge in the image contradicts deep structures that guide belief because the dominant ideology at the time of the image’s creation did not align with the political aims for which Steinem and Pitman Hughes were advocating. Hariman and Lucaites write that iconic images are born in conflict or confusion (36). The raised fist might not have become a powerful symbol if equality and civil rights were already embedded in society’s deep structures of belief. The kind of social knowledge in the iconic image comes from critical thinking, awareness, and a compulsion to move toward more just social practices. 

Thus, the exigence of the image is to contradict the status quo through solidarity. However, looking at the image from a contemporary standpoint, the raised fist is more likely seen as a symbol of solidarity and pride specific to the Black community. The Wynn image itself follows another iconic moment that took place at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. During the medal ceremony for the track event, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two Black male Olympic sprinters, held their fists in the air with heads bowed for the entirety of the American national anthem (shown in Figure 2). The gesture was embodied to honor the Black community in America, but also to draw attention to the Olympic Project for Human Rights at San Jose State University, addressing the continued prejudice imposed on Black America. It is worth noting that their demonstration involved more than the raised fist gesture, but other material and symbolic references to racial and social injustice in the United States on a notably apolitical international stage.[5] However, what these historical moments share are the centering of Black activism on the world stage, the signification of solidarity in community, and a demonstration by a pair of activists. 

Figure 2: Photograph of Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on the Olympic podium, shot in 1968 (Zirin).

There is similar, albeit astonishingly unequal, negative feedback in the reception of the Olympians’ and the feminists’ political gesture. In Smith and Carlos’ case, they received a lifetime Olympic ban and Smith lost his NFL offer, among other unjust consequences[6] (Marinelli 446). In Steinem and Pitman Hughes’ case, the Esquire article framed their activism solely in the context of Steinem’s contributions to the women’s movement, all the while calling Steinem’s character into question. In the accompanying article titled “She: The Awesome Power of Gloria Steinem,” Leonard Levitt assessed that Steinem was “good at manipulating the very rich and the very famous” and described her writing as “pedestrian” (87, 202). As evidenced by the title, he dramatically obscured the presence and relevance of Pitman Hughes all the while publishing disparaging commentary on Steinem. Additionally, Levitt ignored the presence of the raised fist gesture in the image, which could reveal a causality between the efficacy of the raised fist and the bodies that wield it. For two black bodies upholding the gesture received condemnation on an international level, while the visuality of resistance from an interracial female pair is at first dismissed and, later, exalted as a beacon of feminist hope, history, and solidarity.[7] ​​ 

There are key differences in the images, to be sure, including the rhetorical situation of each image, the posture and stance of the subjects, and the way they are dressed. The image of Steinem and Pitman Hughes was less extemporaneous in that it was planned for, staged, and studio quality, serving as visual accompaniment to an article about Steinem’s activism for liberation. Not to mention that the visualization of women’s bodies in a men’s magazine drew a different kind of attention to the gesture of solidarity—one that had the consequence of undermining the significance of social justice activism and feminism in general. As alluded to earlier, Steinem and Pitman Hughes appropriate a demonstration of racial power as a demonstration of women’s/feminist activism. This gesture embodies a contemporary intersectional feminist rhetoric of solidarity by inserting a visual marker that counters the idea of white feminism. With the origins of the raised fist located squarely in Black counter politics, the fist interrupts a reading of the article that takes-for-granted Steinem’s whiteness and beauty as the central draws of her image as a public figure. While the performative stance between the Olympic moment and the Esquire photo are similar, the difference in response and ultimately in rhetorical effect can be traced to the bodies “speaking” and the rhetorical situations in which those bodies exist.

Circulating Visual-Emotional Resonance

Because the outcomes of justice and solidarity discourse are deeply tied to the material conditions of women, people of color, and marginalized communities, there is an element of emotionality that the image evokes. Physical bodies center the humanity of feminist activism in a way that text and caricature do not. Hariman and Lucaites write that the performance trafficked by bodies evokes emotional responses when the expressive body is placed in the social space of the photograph. The social space of the photograph refers to the social nature in which photographs are shot and experienced, creating a network between the photographer, the camera, the figures in the image, and the viewer. In the case of the Wynn photograph, the image deals with deeply personal and socially significant issues related to gender equality, identity, and power dynamics—all of which are relevant to ourselves and our loved ones in one way or another. Combining the social and psychological attachment to these issues with our attachment to our desire for personal and communal well-being is going to bring about an emotional response. These emotional responses form a powerful basis for solidarity and action through the rhetorical situation of icons as still imagery (36).

Alongside the subject matter, the apparatus of the image is involved in an interactive dynamic with the viewer that involves emotional resonance. Hariman and Lucaites explain that one observes social interaction depicted within the frame and by doing so, those in the frame are put into a social relationship with the viewer (36). Steinem and Pitman Hughes, purposefully or not, are utilizing this feature of photography to speak directly to the viewer and bring them into a conversation about change. Particularly, it is important for iconic imagery to situate a message within a particular scene and specific moral context, both of which the Wynn image exemplifies as a visual artifact of justice activism and feminism, more specifically. The clear message embedded in the image, and the emotional resonance associated with humanitarian work, has allowed the image to evolve as “a technique for visual persuasion” in specific rights-related political discourse (Hariman and Lucaites 12). Because it is easily referenced, reproduced, and altered, the image offers a means to tap into the power of circulation and the rich intertext of iconic allusiveness for rhetorical effect through its persuasive emotional efficacy.

Notably, the image is present at high points of contemporary feminist activism such as the Women’s March of 2016, the rally against the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in 2020 (shown in Figure 3), and the Pro-Choice protests of 2022. Not only do the messages in the photograph clearly resonate, but there are layers of historical significance that bring the image into context with leading feminist concerns of today such as antiracism and justice, women’s rights, and representation. According to Hariman and Lucaites, iconic photographs are “accessible and centrally positioned…images for exploring how political action and inaction can be constituted and controlled through visual media that tap into public memory” (5, 6). The continued presence of the image within feminist organizing as well as the digital sphere suggests that it is influential in shaping collective memory as well as providing figural resources for communicative action. The emotional impact of the Wynn photograph lies in its representation of unity, empowerment, intersectionality, historical significance, and the ongoing fight for equality. It encapsulates the spirit of activism and the deeply felt emotions that come with advocating for social change. Not only does the emotional resonance of the image come from its association with the progress Steinem and Pitman Hughes helped achieve, but the emotions conveyed in the image are timeless and continue to resonate with people today. The struggle for gender and racial equality is ongoing, making the image relevant and emotionally charged in contemporary contexts. All the while, its reproduction and reenactment evidences the impactful and resonating rhetoric of feminist iconicity.  

Figure 3: Photograph of person holding the Wynn image on a protest sign at a rally against the killing of George Floyd, 2020, Kevin Mazur.

The image’s role as a tap into the public memory has allowed for its capacity to influence to increase over time. To learn where the image has gone and how it has served feminists, I took to the internet.[8] I was able to trace a plethora of hits that feature the image, including but not limited to: Articles, message boards, social media posts, timelines, captions, art, retail pages, blogs, listicles, press releases, film reviews, event pages, college websites, fundraisers, podcasts, interviews, women’s march posters, and online exhibits. The most striking outcome of my search was not that the image has lived in all of the aforementioned rhetorical situations, but that it had been reenacted over the years by all different kinds of people. The specificity of the image creates opportunities for reproductions, demonstrating how aesthetic familiarity factors into iconic efficacy. In fact, the three elements outlined earlier (color palette; framing; shared stance, gesture, expression, and dress) have continued to be present in replications. Aesthetic familiarity stems from “the realm of everyday experience and common sense” that creates a “moment of visual eloquence” (Hariman and Lucaites 30). This again draws heavily from the embodiment of the call to solidarity in the raised fist but also through the visuality of the female body in the simple and visually uncomplicated composition of the photograph.

Figure 4: Photograph of two young girls reenacting the Wynn image, 2021, Shauna Upp Pellegrini.

As demonstrated by the photograph of the young girls recreating the image (Figure 4), icons interpolate a form of citizenship that can be imitated. In “Rhetorical Citizenship: Studying the Discursive Crafting and Enactment of Citizenship,” Christian Kock and Lisa S. Villadsen write that the “notion of rhetorical citizenship offers a frame for studying very diverse discursive and other symbolic formations to see how they may either contribute to or alter common conceptions and practices relating to societal identity and cohesion” (582). Icons, as discursive and symbolic formations, can define relationships between civic actors by functioning as a mode of civic performance (Hariman and Lucaites 12, 30). In the case of Wynn photograph, the image offers a civic through an enactment of feminist values of friendship, solidarity, and activism. Both women exude a sense of empowerment and confidence in the image. Their raised fists and assertive gestures convey the idea that they are standing up against inequality and injustice, emphasizing the importance of self-empowerment in the fight for equality. 

By posing with their bodies in a confrontational stance, holding a politically charged gesture, Steinem and Pitman Hughes demonstrate that they are women with power to advocate for their stake in the political discourse. While they contradict the dominant ideology in capitalist patriarchy, they are defining an oppositional relationship to the state—and the opportunity to catalyze dissent is powerful for feminist theorizing on a large scale. Viewers who feel represented by the icon are realized not as individuals, but as feminists, dissenters, citizens, or other politically implicated interpellations. However, because representation is always incapable of reproducing the social totality, any political discourse or image necessarily fails to meet all needs while it cannot avoid signifying biases, exclusions, and denials (37). The image itself is not a perfect model or representation of solidarity, equality, womanhood, or anything else, but it offers a visual touchstone in an often abstract political discourse. 

Figure 5: Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, 2013, Dan Bagan.

In 2013, Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes reenacted the Wynn photograph themselves at a birthday party and fundraiser organized by Pitman Hughes. According to Dan Bagan, the photographer of the 2013 photograph (Figure 5), someone from the crowd “of hundreds” called out for the women “to do the salute” (Hampton). Referring, of course, to the raised first that is part of their visual legacy as friends and activists. Reenacting a photograph can be a way to commemorate a significant moment in history and reflect on the progress made since then. It allows individuals to revisit their past activism and the impact it has had on the feminist movement and society as a whole. By reenacting their photograph, Steinem and Pitman Hughes reflect the continued relevance of their message and ideals, reminding audiences of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and social justice and emphasizing that the issues they fought for are still pertinent today. Reenactments of iconic images can generate conversations, raise awareness, and reinvigorate public interest in specific issues. By revisiting the photograph and sharing the reenactment, Steinem and Pitman Hughes can reignite discussions on feminism, gender equality, and social justice, prompting a renewed focus on these topics.


While Gloria Steinem’s national media presence only grew, Dorothy Pitman Hughes continued to prioritize community activism. Some of her endeavors involved grassroots organizing in Harlem, advocating for Black-owned businesses, and urging the importance of childcare and welfare as tenets of the women’s movement. The only biography written about Pitman Hughes features the iconic raised fist photograph as the cover image. Titled With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism and written by Laura L. Lovett, the book was published in 2021 (Figure 6). Pitman Hughes shares the cover of her own biography with Steinem. Although Steinem’s image appears faded, leaving Pitman Hughes a highlighted figure. This choice begs several questions. Does Pitman Hughes only bear recognition for her proximity to Steinem? Is the image a way for the publishers to profit from Steinem’s commodified image? Did the publishers think the biography wouldn’t sell without centering the friendship between Steinem and Pitman Hughes? There was certainly an effort to emphasize Pitman Hughes as the “main character” in the image, so why include Steinem at all? Predictably, the culprit here would be racial capitalism, but also white-heteronormative standards of beauty that are universalized in America, and the centrality of white women in the women’s movement. 

Figure 6: Image of the book cover of With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism by Laura L. Lovett, 2021.

While the media’s fascination with Steinem brought attention to the causes she championed, it also served to erase the presence of the other valuable leaders of the Women’s Movement such as Pitman Hughes. Pitman Hughes’ made enduring contributions to feminism, civil rights, and humanitarian welfare, becoming a noted community activist when she began raising money for imprisoned civil rights protesters in the 1960s. Raising three daughters, she took it upon herself to address a lack of childcare services in her neighborhood. In 1966, she founded the West 80th Street Community Child Day Care Center in Manhattan, charging a tuition fee of five dollars per child per week, regardless of income bracket. The day care center became a community resource that offered professionalization opportunities and housing assistance. These efforts are in line with Pitman Hughes’ foundation for her feminism, which stems from the need for safety, food, shelter, and childcare, health and safety issues that white feminism has often failed to take up holistically and inclusively. 


In this study, I analyzed the rhetorical significance of solidarity in feminist iconic imagery through Dan Wynn’s 1971 photograph of Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes. In doing so, I presented three rhetorical moves that the Wynn photograph makes as a feminist icon to communicate solidarity: emphasizing connection between differently positioned women in political discourse, centering civic responsibility to respond to social injustice, and projecting visual-emotional resonance that has endured as a featured visual of feminist activism for over fifty years. Steinem and Hughes were not only collaborators but also friends. The genuine camaraderie between them is evident in the image, reflecting the emotional support that can be found in alliances formed through shared ideals. The image has become an inspirational symbol for feminists and activists who seek to challenge systemic inequalities. It reminds individuals of the power of solidarity and the importance of standing up for justice. The photograph was taken during a period of significant social and political change, when the women’s liberation movement and the civil rights movement were intersecting. 

Serving as a visual representation of the changing landscape of feminism, the photograph’s continued relevance to feminist causes of today also serves as a reminder that there is more work to be done. By revisiting feminist iconography as rhetorical scholars, we can continue the work of interrogating the imbrication of racial capitalism in popular culture. A few ways we might take up this challenge would be to examine how capitalist systems co-opt feminist ideals for profit while perpetuating inequality and exploitation; how media portrays women and their agency in relation to consumerism, work, and activism; and how marginalized communities use these icons to challenge racial capitalism and demand justice. This approach can help shed light on the ways in which systems of oppression operate so as to empower individuals and communities to resist and demand change. 

Works Cited

Bagan, Dan. “Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes.” National Portrait Gallery, 2013, https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.2017.105.

Baker, Carrie N. “The Story of Iconic Feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes: ‘With Her Fist Raised.’” Ms. Magazine, The Feminist Majority Foundation, 23 Sept 2021, https://msmagazine.com/2021/09/09/dorothy-pitman-hughes-feminist-gloria-steinem-who-founded-ms-magazine/

Berg, Linda, and Maria Carbin. “Troubling Solidarity: Anti-Racist Feminist Protest in a  Digitalized Time.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 3 & 4, 2018, pp. 120–36, https://doi.org/10.1353/wsq.2018.0035.

Berlant, Lauren. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008, p. 5.

Cole, Elizabeth R., and Zakiya T. Luna. “Making Coalitions Work: Solidarity Across Difference Within US Feminism.” Feminist Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, 2010, pp. 71–98.

Fleetwood, Nicole. On Racial Icons. Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Gutterman, Annabel. “Beyond Gloria Steinem: What to Know About the Women of Color Who  Were Instrumental to the Women’s Liberation Movement.” Time Magazine, 30 Sept 2020, https://time.com/5894877/glorias-movie-activists/. 

Hampton, Laura. “Smithsonian Claims Local Photographer’s Remake of Iconic Photo.” The St. Augustine Record, 2017 17 Oct., https://www.staugustine.com/story/lifestyle/2017/10/17/smithsonian-claims-local-photographer-s-remake-iconic-photo/16290962007/.  

Hariman, Robert., and Lucaites, John Louis. No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

hooks, bell. All About Love. William Morrow Paperbacks, 2018.

Karbo, Karen. “How Gloria Steinem Became the ‘World’s Most Famous Feminist’.” National Geographic, 25 March, 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/how-gloria-steinem-became-worlds-most-famous-feminist

Kock, Christian, and Villadsen, Lisa S. “Rhetorical Citizenship: Studying the Discursive  Crafting and Enactment of Citizenship.” Citizenship Studies, vol. 21, no. 5, 2017, pp. 570–586.

Lakämper, Judith. “Affective Dissonance, Neoliberal Postfeminism and the Foreclosure of  Solidarity.” Feminist Theory, vol. 18, no. 2, 2017, pp. 119–35, https://doi.org/10.1177/1464700117700041.

Levitt, Leonard. “She: The Awesome Power of Gloria Steinem.” Esquire, 1 Oct 1971, https://classic.esquire.com/article/1971/10/1/she.  

Lovett, Laura L. “With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism.” Beacon Press, 2021.

Mandy, Marie, director. Filming Desire: A Journey Through Women’s Film. France, 2000, https://www.wmm.com/catalog/film/filming-desire/

Marinelli, Kevin. “Placing Second: Empathic Unsettlement as a Vehicle of Consubstantiality at the Silent Gesture statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos.” Memory Studies, vol. 10,4, 2017, pp. 440–458.

Mazur, Kevin. “Protests Against Police Brutality Over Death Of George Floyd Continue In NYC.” Getty Images, 2020, https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/protester-holds-a-poster-that-shows-an-image-of-gloria-news-photo/1233491951?adppopup=true

Noveck, Jocelyn. “Pioneering Black Feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes Dies at 84.” FOX 5 Atlanta, FOX 5 Atlanta, 11 Dec. 2022, https://apnews.com/article/new-york-city-gloria-steinem-d5c11ee749bfc94f4834622b28b2bcc4

Roberts, Chadwick. “The Politics of Farrah’s Body: The Female Icon as Cultural Embodiment.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 37, no. 1, 2003, pp. 83–104.

Upp Pellegrini, Shauna. “Her Story: Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman-Hughes.” She Made History, 4 Mar. 2021, http://shemadehistory.com/dorothy-pitman-hughes-and-gloria-steinem/. 

Wickström, Alice, et al. “Feminist Solidarity: Practices, Politics, and Possibilities.” Gender, Work, and Organization, vol. 28, no. 3, 2021, pp. 857–63,https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12689.

Wynn, Dan. “Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes.” National Portrait Gallery, 1971, https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.2005.121. 1 May 2023.

Zirin, Dave. “Fists of Freedom: An Olympic Story Not Taught in School.” Zinn Education Project: Teaching People’s History, 2012 June 23, https://www.zinnedproject.org/if-we-knew-our-history/fists-of-freedom-an-olympic-story-not-taught-in-school/

End Notes

[1] A “women’s culture” is distinguished by a view that women inevitably have something in common and need a conversation that feels intimate and revelatory (Berlant 5).

[2] Dorothy Pitman Hughes passed away on December 1st, 2022  at the home of her family in Tampa. She was 84 years old (Noveck).

[3]   Nicole Fleetwood traces Davis’ perspective on the uptake of her aesthetic during the early 70s. She summarizes: “Davis explains how the attack on black radical and progressive thinking and style during the era subjected many, Afro-wearing black women to routine stops and searches by law enforcement. Yet she notes as well how the Afro has become aestheticized and depoliticized as fashion and style for consumer culture” (68).

[4] They also add that photographs are a particularly apt medium for enacting this phenomenon because they are a mute record of social performance.

[5] For more on the context of Smith and Carlos’ demonstration at the 1968 Olympics, please visit: https://www.zinnedproject.org/if-we-knew-our-history/fists-of-freedom-an-olympic-story-not-taught-in-school/

[6] It would take decades before their stance would be nationally celebrated and the athletes seen as heroes of racial protest. In 2005, San Jose State University unveiled a 22-foot high statue of their protest titled Victory Salute. In most cases, lasting iconicity takes time to cement itself in the public imagination, where meaning can surface beyond first impressions and the social mores of a given time period.

[7] This is further supported by the caption under the photograph in Esquire’s original printing. It reads: “Body and Soul. Gloria Steinem and her partner, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, demonstrate the style that has thrilled audiences on the Women’s Liberation lecture circuit” (Levitt 89). The term “thrilled” has a positive connotation.

[8] A limitation of this approach is in the 22-years between the creation of the original image and the creation of the internet for public use in 1993, which did not promise universal access. In addition, the evolution of the internet and computer software has made early communicative platforms obsolete and unreachable. However, I was able to collect 84 meaningful hits (out of 835 total hits) published between 2000 and 2021, searching until I did not come across any new hits. The collection includes hits featuring the image alongside text, all of which refer to the image as iconic and feminist. This collection cannot account for the existence of the image in posters on walls, t-shirts, collages, and other meaningful manifestations.

Learning from Student Activists and Responding to Attacks on Critical Race Theory


Histories of student activism within rhetoric and composition have looked at The City University of New York (CUNY) open-admissions policy to demonstrate the foundational influence BIPOC students have had on our profession. In particular, Carmen Kynard’s work in Vernacular Insurrections famously resituated CUNY’s open admission policies in “the larger constellation of Black and Puerto Rican activism in New York City” and thereby challenged our discipline’s identification of Mina Shaughnessy’s role as a founding figure in basic writing and the broader “white integrationist narrative” (150). Revealing how our profession has suppressed the legacy of Black and Latinx student activism, Kynard challenges historians in rhetoric and composition to constitute our discipline based on the coalitional leadership of BIPOC student activists. Responding to Kynard’s challenge means researching the institutional contexts impacted by and responsive to student-led social movements and analyzing the archival materials related to those movements. In opposition to the seminal histories of our discipline, which considered the publications of major professional journals (Berlin), the classrooms of Harvard professors (Brereton), the intellectual histories surrounding the first-year writing classroom (Crowley), and the major textbooks used by composition instructors (Connors), Kynard looked to the activism of Black and Puerto Rican students that worked to transform their university to resemble their neighborhoods and communities.

Many scholars have echoed Kynard’s call to center histories of our discipline on BIPOC students’ activism (Gilyard; Trimbur; Molloy). These studies have coincided with a turn toward the local histories of HBCUs, HSIs, Normal Schools, and high schools (Kates; Gold, Rhetoric at the Margins; Enoch; Mendenhall). Similarly, our goal is to center the student activists on our campus at the University of Arizona who fought to make their institution responsive to the cultures and languages of their communities, and it builds on the movement among historians in rhetoric and composition who research the experiences of teachers and students who worked in institutions responding to the social, political, and economic challenges facing students. For example, the research featured in Donahue and Moon’s edited collection, Local Histories, captured the diversity of writing instruction across regional and educational contexts in the US by studying a range of archival material: students’ notes, accounts of institution celebrations, teacher’s formal writings, annual report, course catalogs, and faculty minutes (5). Ostergaard and Wood’s In the Archives of Composition extended Local Histories by featuring research on the sites where a majority of students in the US were taught to write: high schools and normal schools. Ostergaard and Wood argue that “local stories can reveal powerful counter-narratives as well as co-narratives that may productively complicate our sense of our own disciplinary past” (20).  

We build on these histories by centering (via Kynard) how Black and Mexican American student activists disrupted white hegemony at the University of Arizona during the 1960s and 1970s. Specifically, we examine two parallel initiatives during the 1969-1970 academic year: (1) the Black Student Union’s (BSU) campaign to cancel all athletic events with Brigham Young University because of that institution’s affiliation with the Church of Latter-Day Saints, whose racist doctrines at the time excluded Black people from becoming priests, and (2) the Mexican American Liberation Committee’s (MALC) campaign to revise the “tokenizing” and “concocted” Mexican American Studies (MAS) program used to “appease the Chicano community at large and the Chicano student body in particular” (Bradford, “MALC Rejects”). The parallel efforts provide critical examples of how students today might craft their own coalitional tactics among constituents on their campuses and within their surrounding communities to defend the rights currently under attack with the demonization of CRT. In other words, we argue that teaching the history of coalitions on our campuses may promote coalitional thinking among teachers and students now. 

Our approach draws from Natasha Jones’s concept of coalitional learning. Jones defines coalitions “as relational, dynamic configurations that are attuned to issues of power, privilege, and positionality while actively pursuing options for addressing and redressing inequities and oppressions” (519). This notion of coalition is rooted in the legacy of black feminists who recognize “that the major systems of oppression are interlocking” and require collective and integrative action (“Combahee River Collective”). Jones and a chorus of transdisciplinary scholars in technical professional writing and composition studies build from Black feminist traditions to theorize how “an intersectional understanding of oppression requires a coalitional approach to change” (Walton et al. 12). Importantly, coalitional learning asks teachers and students to work across boundaries of discipline, privilege, power, and difference to address the specific problems they face. In this way, we believe that coalitional learning provides historians in rhetoric and composition with an important call to teach the history of coalitions to inspire coalitional thinking. 

We also invite scholars to conduct their own archival research on student activism on their campuses and consider how that activism speaks to current political moments. Our study and others like it encourage students “to show solidarity with a broader transhistorical community” of student activists who have combated white hegemony at their universities (Graban and Hayden 8). We hope our study of the archives of past student activists will help readers consider how they might use such research on their own campuses to combat attacks on school curricula, especially those centered on CRT efforts.       

In the following sections, we first explicate how, in 1969-1970, the University of Arizona’s President, Richard Harvill, delegitimized Mexican American and Black students’ demands for social justice. We, then, outline the coalitional lessons present-day students can learn from studying how BSU and MALC representatives worked together to expose the racism that motivated Harvill and his administration’s claims of neutrality and how the BSU and MALC representatives’ arguments might be extended to also understand and combat the racism that has continued to motivate educational disparities in Tucson’s public schools in 2010 and again in 2022. We also consider the ways these historical BSU and MALC characterizations of Harvill’s rhetoric parallel Tom Horne’s (superintendent in 2010 and now again in 2022) more current demonization of Tucson High’s MAS program. Finally, we highlight the legislation that former MALC student activist (1969-1970) and current Arizona congressmen Raúl Grijalva has now proposed to continue to defend schools from conservative attacks on CRT. Considering these efforts together enables students and educators to examine patterns in coalitional movements and apply those patterns to the ongoing efforts of those engaged in social justice work to create systemic change. 

Harvill’s Dismissive Rhetoric and Student Activists’ Coalitional Lessons (1969-1970)

The president of the University of Arizona, during the 1969-70 academic year, Richard Harvill, underwent drastic measures to ignore and silence the demands of student activists. He employed two main dismissive strategies: 1) he claimed that student activists did not represent the majority of the student body, and 2) he argued that administrators needed to remain neutral on social issues. 

The Bear Down Incident

It is important to note that this was not the first time activists found Harvill’s rhetoric to be a disservice to the larger student community at UA. In 1968, BSU leaders submitted a list of demands to Harvill that included “the establishment of a non-discriminatory off-campus housing service, the inclusion of a Black Studies Department in the campus academic structure, the recruitment of Black instructors and students, and a full-scale investigation of employment practices” (Kornman). These demands included a one-month ultimatum forcing Harvill to respond publicly. In a series of articles, Harvill explained that he was unwilling to respond to the BSU’s ultimatums because they were “improper methods of voicing views regarding policies and procedures in the academic community” (Kornman). In response, BSU organized a broader coalition of students called the “Committee for Students’ Rights” (Staff, “Committee”). One of the organizers of this committee, Karen Schwartzman, described the reasoning for the coalition: “All students must become aware of and will be informed about the pressing issues of this time in history. Students at the University have a particular responsibility toward knowing the issues of their own campus…” (Staff, “Committee”). In this way, BSU leaders began to make the work of combating Harvill’s dismissive rhetoric an issue for all students.

A detailed reading of the Arizona Daily Wildcat (ADW) from the 1969-1970 school year reveals that the Black Student Union (BSU) continued to dominate the public discourse on campus–a historical fact that previous studies of student activism at UA have not emphasized.[1] For months, student leaders of the BSU wrote newspaper articles and organized public demonstrations that demanded their university and the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) cut athletic ties with Brigham Young University (BYU) because of its affiliation with the Church of Latter-Day Saints. These protests came in response to the Mormon church’s racist doctrines that prohibited Black people from becoming priests and culminated with members of the BSU and leaders of Tucson’s NAACP chapter staging a protest on the center court of Bear Down Gym during a basketball game against BYU (which came to be known as the Bear Down Incident). 

These student activists were acting in solidarity with fourteen Black football players at the University of Wyoming who, earlier that year, had protested their game against BYU. The Wyoming football coach suspended these athletes, causing a wave of student support across the Western Athletic Conference. As students from various institutions consolidated support for Wyoming’s Black student-athletes, they also called for the WAC administrators to cut ties with BYU. John Heard, a member of the BSU, published an article in the campus newspaper arguing, “Black Athletes should not help support policies held by a church institution which denies his humanity and the humanity of the group to which he belongs…BYU as a representative of ‘Mormonism,’ degrades the black athlete and his race through financial assistance provided by his athletic endeavors which support the state institution” (Staff, “BYU Investigation”). Heard’s arguments represented a consensus among Black activists across the WAC and the student body at UA. 

On October 24th, 1969, UA’s student senate passed a resolution that asked athletic directors in the WAC to disassociate with BYU (Nathanson, “Senate Asks”). At the WAC’s annual council in Denver, Colorado, fifty student representatives from Black student unions at eight different institutions interrupted the council and demanded that the WAC break ties with BYU. Despite these demands, the faculty senate and UA’s university president, Richard Harvill, maintained a “neutral” position on the WAC’s relationship with BYU. In multiple letters to the campus community, President Harvill explained that the university could not get involved in social issues and that student demands would be better directed toward administrators at the central offices of the WAC. In response, the BSU chairman, Gale Dean, referred to Harvill as “an example of the buck-passing bureaucracy” (Staff, “Racist By”). 

Program Reform

Harvill used these same evasive strategies to stunt efforts by the Mexican American Liberation Committee (MALC) when they tried to  reform the established Mexican American Studies (MAS) program that they had successfully argued to establish during the 1968-1969 school year. The movement to reform this curriculum was led by MALC chairman Raúl Grijalva, who noted that Chicano students felt that President Harvill, when establishing the original program, “concocted” a “token” program used to “appease the Chicano community at large and the Chicano student body in particular” (Bradford, “MALC Rejects”). Unsatisfied with the state of the MAS program, in 1969-1970 MALC presented the Dean of Liberal Arts and the Vice President of the University with a petition signed by 122 of the campus’s 250 Mexican American students to revise the MAS program. 

MALC leaders Raúl Grijalva, Herminio Rios, and Fausto Alarcon argued that President Harvill’s version of Mexican-American Studies was a “Spanish language major program under the guise of Mexican-American Studies” (“MALC Rejects”). Instead, Grijalva called for a program that would “present a true historical, sociological, political, anthropological, cultural perspective of the Chicano presence and experience in the Southwest” (“MALC Rejects”). Joe Molina, MALC’s president, presented a series of memorials for reforming the MAS program over the course of the 1969-1970 school year. Molina presented arguments for revising MAS during the same student senate meetings where representatives passed a resolution that asked WAC athletic directors to break with BYU. In the same semester that Harvill ignored the BSU’s calls for administrative action against BYU, MALC leaders felt Harvill “blatantly ignored” their proposed revisions to the MAS program (Staff, “University Weighing”).

Tactics for Response

The central focus of the BSU and MALC’s response to Harvill’s dismissive rhetoric was to expose the racism motivating his arguments for political neutrality by elucidating the historical positioning of UA and demonstrating current community relationships and needs. They employed two coalitional tactics to accomplish that task: (1) they framed their critiques of Harvill’s politically neutral policies as deliberate attempts to disadvantage minoritized communities on their campus and in Tucson’s community, and (2) they circulated those critiques among sympathetic audiences in order to mobilize coalitional action. 

Tactic One

BSU and MALC student activists framed their critiques of Harvill by explaining that the university historically only served white students, so remaining politically neutral on social issues impacting Mexican American and Black students meant perpetuating the standard of serving only white students. Importantly, BSU and MALC representatives extended this framing to critique how administrators were unwilling to serve not only Black and Mexican American students on campus but also the predominantly Mexican American and Black communities surrounding the university. 

For example, at the start of the 1969-70 academic year, Gale Dean and Raúl Grijalva, the respective spokespeople for the BSU and MALC, explained in an interview with the Arizona Daily Wildcat (ADW) that their organizations’ main goal for the 1969-1970 school year was to serve marginalized students in Tucson’s public schools. They framed their work with high school students as a service to Tucson’s community. Dean explained that the BSU wanted to “form a closer unity” with the “minority groups” who made up Tucson’s community (Bradford “Campus”). Grijalva called out UA for being “in the center of the Southwest surrounded by Mexican Americans” but being more “responsive to its white community than Chicano community” (Bradford, “Campus”). Both Dean and Grijalva appealed to the larger city of Tucson to expose how Black and Mexican Americans existed in a government and education system that did not serve or even recognize them. By engaging in public discourse through authoring ADW articles and organizing public demonstrations, the BSU and MALC successfully demonstrated how to challenge  Harvill’s continued dismissive rhetoric–a rhetoric designed to silence and ignore the Black and Mexican American students who constituted the university and the city’s community. 

While MALC activists worked in coalition with the BSU, they focused on exposing how Harvill’s unwillingness to serve minoritized students on campus reflected a larger trend in public education. Raúl Grijalva and Joe Molina criticized Tucson’s local government for the unequal educational opportunities it provided to Mexican American students. They called on Tucson’s public schools to create spaces where students could learn about the problems facing Mexican Americans in the Southwest. Grijalva and Molina articulated these demands in a series of ADW articles addressing a report from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW Report) documenting racial inequities in Tucson schools and at UA. When interviewed about the report, Grijalva celebrated that someone was investigating the “discriminatory practices by the University against Chicanos, Black, and Indians” (Grijalva). The report condemned the university’s mistreatment of minoritized students and was published against the will of UA administrators. Harvill openly attacked this report saying that researchers interviewed “irresponsible” people–e.g., “Chicano, Black, and Indian students” (Grijalva). 

At the same time, a similar HEW report was conducted in the Tucson School District, and the similar results caused six hundred Chicano students to walk out of their schools in protest; however, erasure continued in the community, as another member of MALC, Frank De La Cruz argued that the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Daily Citizen celebrated the school district’s work without recognizing the Chicano parents who protested the inequities their children were experiencing. The Tucson Commission on Human Relations defended the Star and Citizen by declaring that “the District is completely innocent of any discrimination” (De La Cruz). De La Cruz explained that Tucson’s school district, the Daily, and the Citizen ignored these disparities, but “la mentira dura hasta que la verdad llega–the lie lasts until the truth arrives” (De La Cruz). 

Like the student-led movements at CUNY, which we discussed in the introduction, student activists at UA demanded that their university serve all the communities that surrounded it. Rodrick Ferguson’s account of the CUNY protests points out that these demands for universities’ responsiveness to local communities are an “epistemological proceeding necessitating the reorganization of knowledge” (97). Ferguson argues that the communities that host our universities “are the material catalysts to epistemic shifts and transformations” within them (109). The BSU and MALC’s demands for revising white hegemonic policies on their campus and in their local schools, then, were not simply about admitting or preparing more Black and Mexican American students for college; they were about transforming the epistemological structure of a white education system to better reflect minoritized and the larger local communities experiences and ways of knowing.

Tactic 2

BSU and MALC student activists enacted their second coalitional tactic by circulating their critiques of Harvill’s dismissive rhetoric among sympathetic audiences–both within their university and city–mobilizing minoritized students and teachers in local schools, other student organizations on campus, and civil rights leaders in the community. As these coalitions expanded, their critiques of political neutrality engaged with the racism that motivated educational disparities in Tucson’s public schools, and they argued that all levels of education should be held accountable for serving all of Tucson’s communities, not just white ones. 

For example, BSU leaders created a coalition of student organizations, including the main student governing body, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA), to organize months of public demonstrations against UA’s athletic affiliation with BYU. These ties were so strong that the President and Vice President of the ASUA were leading voices arguing for breaking ties with BYU. After the police violently removed student demonstrators from a UA basketball game against BYU (the Bear Down Incident), President Harvill pursued felony charges against eight students for inciting a riot. In response, the BSU worked with the student governing body to demand Harvill’s resignation (Nathanson, “Senate Wants”). A week later, the BSU’s coalition with other student organizations, the United Student Front (UFO), organized a campus-wide rally with over 3,500 people in attendance. One report for the ADW noted the crowd “was made up of students with long hair and beards, clipped locks and ties, hip clothes and conservative dress and attitudes that ranged from casual detached interest to fervent advocacy” (Gold, “Sampling”). Reverend John C. Fowler and Arizona’s ACLU chapter representative, Ted Mote, called on the administration to drop the criminal charges against the eight student activists arrested after the Bear Down Incident (Nathanson, “Harvill Accuse””). These community leaders spoke alongside the BSU president, Gale Dean, and MALC representative, Sal Baldenegro, in solidarity against Harvill’s prosecution of the Bear Down protestors. Harvill avoided responding to student demands until two hundred and fifty members of the BSU and UFO organized a “campout on the porch of the Administration building” waiting to talk with him (Nathanson, “Harvill Grants”). 

Like the BSU, MALC’s calls to address the educational disparities that existed at UA and in Tucson’s schools were inherently community-based and stemmed from relationships they had built with UA professors, high school students, and college students from across the Southwest. Still, MALC leaders worked hard to build coalitions among Mexican American students on campus by aligning their efforts with the national movement of Chicano students. In the spring of 1968, MALC member Sal Baldenegro attended the first Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver, Colorado. The conference aimed to coordinate efforts among Chicano student organizations across the country by establishing a shared definition of Aztlán–“a proclamation of solidarity with all Chicanos who are oppressed regardless of where they may live” (Baldenegro). Aztlán refers to the homeland of Mexico’s indigenous ancestors, the Aztecs and Mexica, and necessitated that all Chicanos had “a moral obligation” to address problems facing Chicanos on that shared ancestral land. Aztlán would be the guiding “cultural-nationalist ideology” that would inspire activist efforts to achieve their goal of “full equality for” all Chicanos in the Southwest (Baldenegro). 

After returning from the conference, Baldenegro and other MALC representatives focused on building coalitions between Mexican American students and Tucson’s Mexican American community. Darius Echeverria’s book, Aztlán Arizona, provides a detailed account of how this coalition of Chicano activists successfully organized an annual Chicano Senior Day for local high schools and established the first La Semana de La Raza (or Chicano Culture Week), an event that “served to inform the larger Tucson community about ongoing discriminatory practices against Arizonan-Mexicans” (98). Consequently, efforts were both local and national, as the organizers combatted the dismissive rhetoric of university administrators and initiated political action on their campus and in their community.  

Tom Horne’s Dismissive Rhetoric and Tucson High Student Activist Responses (2007-2010)

For present-day educators in Arizona, President Harvill’s dismissive rhetoric is echoed in Tom Horne’s three-year crusade (2007-2010) to end the Mexican American Studies program at Tucson High School. Fifty years after BSU and MALC student activists fought to make their university and public schools responsive to the lived experiences of Black and Mexican American students, Tom Horne enacted a racist legislative initiative that banned ethnic studies in Arizona schools and employed similar dismissive rhetorical strategies as Harvill to silence student activists that challenged his legislation. Horne justified his dismissal of student activists by claiming that a majority of Arizona voters agreed with his policies and, like Harvill, that the education system should teach color-blind individualism to remain politically neutral. 

At the center of Tom Horne’s rhetorical attacks against Tucson High’s MAS program was the belief that students should see themselves as individuals, not as members of a particular ethnic or racial group. He supported this appeal to individualism by appropriating passages from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, saying King “wanted his children to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin…and Ethnic Studies teaches the opposite” (qtd. in Cammarota 525). According to Julio Cammarota, Horne promotes “an idealized…vision of race neutrality” that does not align with “the current and real existence of systems and ideologies of oppression” to maintain white hegemony (526). Horne’s appeals to individualism promoted colorblind racism in a way that “perpetuates the subordination of racialized groups,” privileging “the right of comfort when the topic of social injustice” is invoked (Cammarota 526; Martinez 227). Conversely, we embrace the importance of critique as “the very genuine effort of engagement in coalitional solidarities” and recognize our study of Black and Mexican American student activists’ coalitional leadership as an essential response to Horne’s color-blind individualism (Martinez 228).

Horne framed his call for teaching individualism as an appeal to unity. He accused the MAS curriculum of dividing Americans. These appeals to unity were veiled attempts to maintain white hegemony and are born from anxieties around demographic shifts in the US. Horne’s strategy is to incapacitate students of color by preempting any attempt to foster the sort of coalitional thinking that could lead to political action. Horne has spent his career enacting legislation meant to undercut the coalitional capacities of BIPOC students just as they are becoming the majority in American schools, and fewer are planning to pursue higher education (“The NCES”; Class of 2022). Over his initial time as superintendent of Arizona schools (2003-2011), Horne introduced legislation to ban ethnic studies three times (Cammarota and Romero 55). To be clear, each piece of legislation was directed at Tucson High, because Tucson was the only school district in Arizona with an ethnic studies program. In 2010, Arizona’s majority conservative state legislature passed House Bill 2281, which stated:

A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

  1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
  2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
  3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

(State of Arizona House of Representatives, Forty-Ninth Legislature)

Many scholars and activists have written about this legislation (see Cammarota; Huizar-Hernandez; Cabrera, “The Fight”; Owens; Santa Anna et al.). This scholarship emphasizes that Horne was “deliberately sabotaging the state’s k-12 public education system,” because there was precise data that Mexican American students enrolled in Mexican American studies classes were “twice as likely to graduate and three times more likely to go to college” (Sheridan 397). Nolan Cabrara’s research demonstrated that Mexican American students who enrolled in MAS classes at Tucson High increased their grades and test scores in reading, writing, and math (Cabrera, “Missing”). Teachers, students, and parents across Tucson’s school district repeatedly fought Horne’s initiatives throughout those three years. Similarly to BSU and MALC student activists, they organized marches on the state capitol, disrupted school board meetings, and repeatedly wrote editorials combating Horne’s fearmongering. 

Horne blatantly ignored Tucson High teachers, students, and parents who tried to save the MAS program in 2010. He also repeatedly refused invitations to observe MAS classes at Tucson High. Instead, he hosted news conferences decrying the program as “anti-American,” because he believed it fomented resentment towards white people and denied the idea that the US is the “land of opportunity” (Bustamante and Gargulinski). Hundreds of students and teachers from Tucson High protested at these news conferences and public hearings (Bustamante and Gargulinski). White and Mexican American students from Tucson High MAS classes wrote editorials directly confronting Horne’s ignorant portrayals of their program. For example, Adrian Laruenzi wrote, “Contrary to the assumptions of Horne…I have experienced only love and respect as a white student” in MAS classes (Laruenzi). Selina Rodriquez explained that the MAS program did not “brainwash” her.  It helped her become a “critical and conscious person” and “opened her eyes” to the barriers her Mexican American community faced in Tucson (Rodriquez). These tactics are similar to those also undertaken by BSU and MALC students in 1969-1970.

Despite these protests and public outcries, the conservative majority on Arizona’s Education Committee refused to hear testimony from Tucson High’s parents, students, and teachers when debating the legislation that would ban ethnic studies programs in Arizona (Cammarota and Romero 56). After the bill passed, district administrators in Tucson stationed over one hundred police officers around Tucson High and ordered a helicopter to monitor the campus to stave off potential protests (56). These intimidation tactics did not work. Immediately following these events, a coalition of teachers and students called “Save Ethnic Studies” filed a lawsuit against Arizona’s state government, challenging the ban’s constitutionality, and the student organization UNIDOS “took over” the school district governing board meetings by “chaining and locking themselves” to the board members’ chairs (61).

Like Harvill, Horne’s appeals to political neutrality were veiled attempts to maintain white hegemony and explicit attempts to undercut the coalitional capacities of BIPOC students. They fly in the face of the transhistorical community of student-led coalitions that have fought for their school curricula to reflect their lived experiences. In response to the conservative calls to teach individualism, we must teach toward coalitions. As Kynard has effectively argued, student activists have been and continue to be the catalysts for social change across educational contexts. Without student-led initiatives, structures of whiteness in education do not change.

Attacks on “Woke Education” are Attacks on the New Majority (Present)

Federal courts deemed HB 2281 unconstitutional in 2017, but advocacy efforts have reignited since Horne recently won reelection as the superintendent of Arizona schools in 2022 (Depenbrock). His first legislative action was to introduce a bill banning CRT.[2] The conservative state legislature passed the bill, but Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs, who narrowly defeated 2020 election-denier Kari Lake in one of the most watched gubernatorial races of the 2022 midterm elections, vetoed the bill. Hobbs noted that “it is time to stop utilizing students and teachers in culture wars based on fearmongering and unfounded accusations” (Hobbs). Horne has since attempted to remove funding for dual language immersion programs throughout Arizona. Graduates of those dual language programs, like state representative Alma Hernandez, and director of Stand for Children Arizona, Georgina Monsalvo, are leading efforts to defend multilingual students’ right to their own language (Bootzin).

Horne’s attacks on CRT in public schools are only one example of the forty-four state legislatures that have launched a “nationwide anti-CRT crusade” (Schwartz). Forty other state legislatures are working to dismantle diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within institutions of higher education (Chronicle Staff). The attacks on students and teachers in Arizona mirror those orchestrated nationally by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his political strategist, Christopher Rufo (Khalid and Snyder). Rufo has openly discussed his strategy for “unlocking new terrain in the culture war” by demonizing CRT (Goldberg). Rufo’s rhetorical templates have been widely circulated among conservative politicians attempting to pass legislation prohibiting CRT in K-12 curricula and DEI programs in higher education. The formula includes two basic strategies: 1) accuse schools of promoting “woke indoctrination” that does not align with the views of the “general public” and 2) implement accountability measures that make sure schools celebrate “individual rights, patriotism, and Western Civilization” (Khalid and Snyder). 

DeSantis laid out the next steps in this national movement in his interventions at the New College of Florida, where public accountability now resembles totalitarian state control. In fall of 2022, DeSantis hand-picked six conservative politicians, Rufo being one of them, to implement anti-DEI initiatives at New College. Since then, the conservative-dominated board replaced the college’s president, abolished its diversity office, and denied tenure to five professors because their teaching and scholarship did not align with the board’s goal to move “towards a more traditional liberal arts institution” (Anderson). These appeals to public accountability assume that conservative politicians speak for a “general public” that is predominantly white and conservative. This assumption does not align with the demographic realities of the US. Using state mandates to silence teachers and students committed to race-conscious education poses a serious threat to our democracy. As educators ourselves who work in Arizona, our response has been to look to the histories of student-led coalitions that have responded to similar attacks on our democracy. This approach invites educators across contexts to research the history of student activism in their contexts and use that research to craft courses that center coalitional work.

Our analysis of the coalition tactics of student activists in Arizona highlights the effective tactic of circulating organizers’ arguments among sympathetic audiences. Importantly, former MALC student activist and current Pima County representative to the US Congress, Raúl Grijalva has employed a similar strategy for building support for the Right to Read Act. He does not directly engage with Horne’s arguments or evoke Horne by name. Instead, he frames conservative attacks on school curricula as anti-democratic attempts to “erase the representation and histories of marginalized groups” and the role they play in constituting our national imaginary (“Grijalva: Protecting”). By centering the education system’s role in constituting our democracy, Grijalva reframes the demonization of CRT as an attack on students’ rights to access the histories and cultures that constitute not only their communities but also their democracy.  

Present-day activists combating attacks on CRT can also adopt the coalitional tactic of approaching the community. A community frame for critiquing Tom Horne’s attacks on CRT exposes how his arguments for color-blind individualism are deliberate attempts to limit students’ access to the histories and cultures that constitute their local and national communities. Grijalva has used this appeal to the community to outline how our national education system perpetuates a standard of only teaching the history and culture of white communities. Grijalva frames the demonization of CRT as an attack on liberal democracy by emphasizing that our democracy is constituted by diverse cultures and histories and arguing that students have a right to learn about their community’s histories in their classrooms and curricula. In response to recent Republican efforts to “ban books; censor curriculum; restrict students’ civil rights; and/or punish teachers for accurately recounting our nation’s history,” Grijalva has introduced the Right to Read Act (“Rep. Grijalva”). The bill addresses disparities in access to library resources by increasing federal funding for school libraries and protecting students’ access to reading materials that “highlight the experiences and histories of these marginalized individuals and groups” (“Grijalva: Protecting”). 


Grijalva’s work rings alongside a symphony of voices in solidarity against conservative attacks on our curricula, but we have more coalitional work to do. In Texas, the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, has made ending DEI initiatives and denying tenure his main legislative priority (Surovell). In early May, the Texas state senate voted to oust tenure lines for new faculty hires (Brown). Patrick explains that this legislation ensures that professors can no longer “hide behind” tenure as they “continue blatantly advancing their agenda of societal division” (Patrick qt. in Surovell). These attacks on DEI and tenure discourage new faculty from applying to or “accepting jobs where their research or teaching could be subject to political interference” (Zahneis). Ohio’s senate passed legislation ending several diversity efforts in public colleges and disallowing any policy or program “designed explicitly to segregate faculty, staff, or students by group identities such as race, sex, gender identity, or gender expression” (Marijolovic). The bill also stipulates that “students in associate and bachelor’s degree programs would have to pass an American history or American government class to graduate” (Marijolovic). Thirty-four other states have proposed similar legislation (Chronicle Staff).

Students have been and will continue to be the catalysts for change in our schools and on our campuses. As historians, scholars, and, most importantly, educators, we must study the transhistorical coalitions of student activists that have responded to the discourse surrounding attacks on our curricula in order to effectively respond to the present attacks on CRT. As educators, we can teach these histories to learn from the student activists of the past to inspire coalitional thinking in the present. Working in coalition with the legacy of student activists from our local communities means historicizing contemporary discriminatory educational policies. Building on the tactics of student activists, past and present, bolsters our ability to dismantle an education system that perpetuates white hegemony and undermines the promises of our liberal democracy.

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End Notes

[1] These histories do not discuss the leading role that Black student activists played on campus and fall into a larger historical trend to render Black Arizonans “indiscernible” (Glegziabher 347). Meskerem Glegziabher’s recent article for the Journal of Arizona History outlines the “comparative dearth of scholarship and archival materials about African Americans within Arizona” (347). Glegziabher points out that the Arizona Archives Matrix Project reported “less than 1 percent of archival materials in the state” related to African Americans (347). Despite this lack of Black representation in the archives, Glegziabher traces the “long-standing Black institutions and communities in contemporary Arizona” in order to dispel the “dominant public narrative that persists in characterizing Black people as newcomers and outsiders” to Arizona (355).

[2] Using the same language as the 2010 law, the bill would have prohibited teachers in K-12 schools from creating courses that “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” (“Arizona House”). If a “violation” was reported by a student or administrator, teachers could have been fined up to $5,000. During Horne’s 2022 campaign, he promised that he would not only pass his ban against CRT but also investigate two hundred and fifty Arizona teachers who signed a petition that they would “defy the law” and teach CRT if Horne passed his bill (“News”).