The Idea That Was a Forum

When the current Coalition president wrote these words in a September 27 blog post, she did not anticipate that they would speak much beyond that day’s topic:

“[T]here is a great and well defined need for what the members of this organization do—not only to assuage crises in settings as public as the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, but also to make the less conspicuous publics that we occupy every day of our lives into more critically visible and audible spaces. More often than not, the discourses we find ourselves having to engage in involve the promotion of fear, the preservation of self, the shoring up of a single position, or the mitigation of an immediate crisis. … More often than not, the intersecting spaces that we occupy do politically and emotionally conflict.”

However, they did and they do speak to the occasion of a blog forum we had hoped to conduct, which was in turn motivated by several concurrent threads on the WPA-L listserv between October 21 and October 30, including the consequent hashtag (#wpalistservfeministrevolution), and which resonated across parallel threads into the month of November 2018.

During the extended WPA-L conversation, both new and established scholars gave generously of their emotional and intellectual energies as readers, writers, listeners, and/or witnesses of conversations about privilege, reverse-privilege, sexism, reverse-sexism, and discourse—in some cases, echoing recent podcasts in more popular media about communicating in polarized spaces (cf. “Relationship Across Rupture” and “Can Conversation Make Any Difference?). As the conversation grew, several suggestions emerged from within our own membership that the Coalition create a space for further reflection and discussion. (See especially Megan McIntyre’s October 26 tweet suggesting a blog carnival.) In response, the Executive Board, along with Trish Fancher, our Director of Outreach and Digital Media, moved quickly to arrange a blog forum, inviting just under a dozen participants to reflect on two central concerns, with plans to feature their responses in series.

The forum did not come to fruition. There is significant risk in hosting a forum this way (indeed, discoursing in any public space poses a risk): the forum could not have adequately responded to all the positions that have arisen since the hashtag, could not assume that all the organization’s members identified the same way with the hashtag, and could not offer a single expression of a universal standpoint to speak adequately on all members’ behalf. No two people experienced the conversations on WPA-L the same way, or its uptake in other media spaces, or its resonances of conversations that have occurred before in the history of WPA-L and other listservs (and that includes those of us writing this post).

Although it didn’t happen, we want to thank all the individuals whom we invited for considering the invitation, for graciously conversing with us about the invitation and/or their reasons for declining, for explaining, for talking, for resisting, for understanding, for their honesty, their genuineness, and for their diplomacy. We can, as an organization, use the idea that was the forum to bear witness to a dialogic process that is always already underway and that remains central to our mission, and we hope that is what will continue to occur. We can also recognize that the following issues—the ones we had invited scholars to reflect upon in the proposed blog forum—are issues that the Coalition must daily address:

  1. How the WPA-L conversation and its consequent threads reflect places we have been before or things we have witnessed before, and amplify our own or others’ long-standing feminist research, teaching, rhetorical practices, and citational influences;
  2. How we and others might better articulate the often invisible work (emotional, physical, and intellectual) that is required to engage in such challenging conversations, in this moment or in any other.

Executive Board
Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition