This week we discussed activism, language, and pedagogy in relation to Gloria Anzaldúa’s and Cherríe Moraga’s feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color and Candace Zepeda’s chapter “Chicana Feminism” from Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies. These works both discuss identity politics and intersectionality, while also tackling concepts like racism, sexism, and homophobia in academia and larger society. The readings focus specifically on Chicana identities/feminisms, marking them as distinct from Latina, Mexicana, or American identities/feminisms. Chicana/o identity formation began with the rise of the United Farm Workers and other civil rights protests in the 1960s and 1970s. This identity marker delineated not only heritage and ethnicity, as it is typically used to describe those living in the United States with Mexican heritage, but also a political identity that is aligned with civil disobedience and social justice. Towards the end of the Second Wave of US feminism in the early 1980s, Chicana feminists began forming coalitions that addressed the racist and homophobic policies and actions of more mainstream, white feminists. This Chicana identity, one that is uniquely ethnic and political, is what bound Moraga and Anzaldúa together to begin compiling the anthology that would drastically change the course of feminist theory.
Many class members commented on the importance of Moraga and Anzaldúa’s anthology, not only for academic discourse, but for pedagogy. We discussed the chapters that are typically used in classroom settings, and began to explore what it means that particular literature, like This Bridge Called My Back, usually finds itself stuck in disciplinary silos. We brainstormed solutions to this issue, offering effort and awareness as two important first steps to integrating more texts by women of color and spreading them beyond the ‘ethnic/women studies section’ (this is the terminology used on the back of the book by the publisher for organizational purposes, not how we as a class decided to classify the book). Classmates also contemplated the boundaries of allyship in this situation, asserting that white scholars must take responsibility for lacking diversity in professional institutions and take informed steps to expand what scholarship is accepted as canonical. We discussed what Zepeda calls the “Third Space,” for Chicanx students, emphasizing the importance of pedagogies of the home, Moraga’s theory of the flesh, and Chicana feminisms ideology of ‘the personal as political.' These three theories focus on the importance and value of student knowledge, grounding pedagogical practice in an ethics that promotes success for groups traditionally punished in hegemonic educational institutions, like Chicanx students. Class discussion dove into the complications of a Third Space, debating the merits of plural Third Spaces in order to expand post-colonial, flexible pedagogical forms.
This week we were also able to host Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the founder and executive director of the activist group Voces de la Frontera, as a class guest. She spoke about the accomplishments and direct action strategies of Voces, but class discussion further revealed the importance of rhetoric in the movement and for the organization. It is interesting to note that Voces has been using the Latinx distinction since 2016 as a measure for inclusivity, which harkens back to our earliest class conversations about the term’s merit within the community. As a class, we explored the use of ‘movement rhetoric,’ and its repeated presence in Voces through protest signs, letters written to government officials, and educational materials circulated in the community. We also considered the use of ‘family rhetoric’ when advocating for immigrant and civil rights issues. Most of the imagery and language adopted to rally support for Voces’ causes centers on kinship ties and the sanctity of family life. This rhetoric is purposefully chosen to reclaim the humanity so often stripped from immigrants and Latinxs in public discourse. Voces de la Frontera will be hosting their second Dia sin Latinxs & Immigrantes on May 1st, 2018, at 10AM in Waukesha, one of the most conservative and anti-immigrant areas in Wisconsin.
This week we attempted to make our way through Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera. It was mostly agreed that Borderlands is an important text and that it’s conceptual and linguistic complexity asks for more time than one week to work through. We still had an interesting and productive conversation about the text and our experiences with it.
Personally I have now read Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera twice and have in both cases found it to be a spiritual experience. Never have I found a text that so closely mirrors my experiences, wounds and internal questions. I felt very lucky when I found this text because it has helped me recognize feelings and thoughts that I have always possessed but lacked the language to articulate. Reading Borderlands is an experience in pain, healing, acceptance and empowerment. I think this speaks to the importance of teaching the text, especially in communities with large Latinx presences.
Many of my classmates spoke of Borderlands from the experience of having taught sections of it in their courses. This experience usually centered around the difficulty students had reading the text as well as to the students’ realization that reading Borderlands created for them an experience similar to that of the Chicano community and immigrant community. How have you reacted to this text?
Because I, a mestiza,
continually walk out of one culture,
and into another,
because I am in all cultures at the same time,
alma entre dos mundos, tres, cuatro,
me zumba la cabeza con lo contradictorio.
Estoy norteada por todas las voces que me hablan
Anzaldúa speaks about the concept of Mestiza consciousness; a description for those torn between two ways. Mestiza consciousness is a dual consciousness that straddles on the borderlands of multiple cultures and in turn multiple frames of reference or ways of seeing the world. These frames of reference do not always coexist in harmony within someone’s mind. La mestiza carries the pain of cultural collisions and copes with the contradiction of them by adopting a lack of rigidity in thought. With this fluidity they develop a tolerance for contradiction and ambiguity. Bearing this plural personality and fluid thought process, la mestiza is able to throw away oppressive traditions in their cultures, reinterpret history and adopt new perspectives.
Being so emotionally attached to Borderlands, I was at first resistant to the texts that we read critiquing the concept of Mestizaje. Gabriela Raquel Rios has a chapter called Mestizaje in the book Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies that brought up some pretty relevant points on the subject though. She describes mestizofilia as a method used to find value in Mexico’s mixed race majority, but only by viewing the mixed race as superior to the indigenous one. She describes that this ideology is what justified putting indigenos into ejidos (reservations). What I found to be undeniable was her description of ethnographic entrapment as what occurs when indigenos are seen as historical objects of knowledge rather than empowered individuals. The indigenos, their culture and customs are referred to in past tense and only the customs that the mestizo has kept are allowed access to the present and future tense. Anzaldua makes reference to this phenomenon when she describes the spirituality of objects. She gives the example of how an indigenous piece of art that had spiritual connotations in it’s community, is dead when on display in a museum. While Anzaldúa’s description of mestizaje lifts up and finds empowerment in lo indigeno, it still does not acknowledge a future to indigenous culture. Indigenous culture is treated as an additive. While Borderlands still is a revolutionary text, it is important to acknowledge it’s shortcomings. What ideas did you glean as empowering or problematic within this text?
This week, we read Juan Guerra’s book, Language, Culture, Identity and Citizenship in College Classrooms and Communities, as well as Michelle Kells’ article, “Welcome to Babylon: Junior Writing Program Administrators and Writing Across Communities at the University of New Mexico”. While much of Guerra’s book focuses on theory and clarifying terms and concepts, the end of the book focuses on the WAC (Writing Across Communities) program at UNM, which is also the focus of Michelle’s article.
In our class discussion, we talked about how our FYW (First Year Writing) classes might (and may already) integrate some of the WAC ideas in order to empower students not only to write in the academic register but to engage rhetorically in public spaces. UWM’s FYW is already undergoing positive improvements in this area; however, how can we keep pushing towards a more empowering space for students to practice rhetorical action?
In her article, Michelle Kells would encourage such questions. She suggests that we should be complicating issues like these, not trying to contain them (Kells). We do this each Monday night in class, and I hope that these discussions can lead to tangible ideas and practices to incorporate in the FYW classroom. Here are a couple of considerations to make when thinking about whether more WAC principles should have a place in FYW programs at UWM.
Scholars have researched and critiqued limited programs similar to WAC. Guerra refers to some critics of college writing programs, including one which states that “limiting the focus to academic discourse in a WAC program disempowers students” (Guerra 146). These critics insist that “students need to figure out how to become effective readers, writers and rhetoricians in a rich array of personal, professional and civic spaces as well” (Guerra 147).
Academic research and conversations surrounding writing programs confer that students need to be expanding their practices to reach outside of their own community in order to engage across communities. WAC provides tangible ways to do this.
FYW programs should be willing to change – and that’s not a bad thing. FYW at UWM might need to consider how to work with other departments in order to give students real practice in engaging with concepts from various genres and subjects. Michelle Kells advocates for this strategy: “Writing Across Communities does not fit neatly into any one institutional category or space. It cuts across the academy, engaging what I call the ‘four P’s of the writing process’: poetics (cultural aesthetics), pragmatics (rhetorical contexts), polemics (political possibilities), and pedagogies (educational practices)” (Kells).
In order to allow students space to practice what it means to be a rhetorical agent of change outside of the classroom, they need access to more than just English and Composition content. In public spaces, various subjects are folded into discourse. How can students be learning these ‘real world’ strategies before they leave college?
WAC principles can allow students to regard the FYW classroom as a new space in which to find their voice and empower themselves. Instead of enforcing a space of enclosed power dynamics in FYW classrooms, UWM Composition instructors have been trying to find ways to give students more agency in the classroom. Guerra states that “we cannot prepare students for active participation in the personal and public spheres of their lives if we do not take into consideration what they bring with them to the classroom” (Guerra 106).
Altering the power dynamics of the classroom allows students to bring their own knowledge, experience, and identity into their creations. It may even change the classroom into a different space, a type of ‘third space’.
As one member of our seminar class suggested, each student should be allowed to speak from their own seat of knowledge. Each should be recognized in their positionality – not as a student that needs to learn from an instructor – but as a person who brings unique ideas and perspectives that can have a voice both in the classroom and in public rhetoric.
WAC principles can allow students a space to gain the confidence to stand up from their seat of knowledge – their culture, identity, experience, and positionality – and be rhetors in action. Thus, empowered, they can help to rewrite the structures of the educational institution, enabling more student empowerment.
Students are rhetorical agents. The most important and empowering aspect of WAC is that the driving force of this program is the students. Guerra cites Porter el al stating: “Institutions, as unchangeable as they may seem (and, indeed, often are), do contain spaces for reflection, resistance, revision, and productive action. This method insists that sometimes individuals (writing teachers, researchers, writers, students, citizens) can rewrite institutions through rhetorical action” (Guerra 154).
If UWM is to continue improving FYW, it will not be through systematic changes to curriculum (though that is happening), but through graduate students and undergraduate students who are empowered to take rhetorical action.
By allowing students a space to learn about and practice writing across communities, by being willing to grapple with the ensuing complications of WAC principles, by experimentation and lots of trial and error, and by empowering students to take rhetorical action, UWM can build a collective of students who are writing and communicating both in the classroom and in public spaces in order to make change on campus and across communities.
In this week’s class, the main focus of our discussion was UWM's initiative to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). HSIs are colleges and universities where the population of Hispanic students enrolled comprises 25% of the institution’s total enrollment. According to UWM’s press announcement about its upcoming initiative, HSIs “are eligible for funding to support student recruitment and retention, faculty development, community outreach and more.” The announcement is, as you’d probably imagine, full of buzzwords and quotes from university officials that work as perfect sound bites to drum up excitement for this next chapter at UWM.
Excuse me if I sound bitter—it’s not that I don’t think this initiative sounds exciting and rife with opportunity. It’s just that I’m often wary of such announcements due to the fact that, more often than not, these initiatives are deployed only on the surface level—meaning that they make for great PR, but don’t actually do much to serve the communities they’re claiming to assist. My classmates seemed to share my apprehension. The term “tokenizing” was woven tightly into our conversation. By targeting a group specifically, even with supposedly positive intentions, are we not merely reminding that group that they are the “other”? How does a university truly and effectively serve these students while simultaneously working to ensure that they are actually being helped, not just singled out in order to check off some boxes?
While our class is certainly not a group of experts, and it is impossible to find concrete answers to these questions within the course of a few hours, we did manage to come up with several ideas that we felt would assist our or any university in its journey to becoming a true Hispanic-Serving Institution—or, ideas that would serve any institution in becoming more inclusive and effective, whether they hold the title of HSI or not. (Disclaimer: although this blog post is my own, these ideas are the result of a class-wide discussion, and I by no means want to take sole credit for them). Here’s the list we compiled:
1. Diversify curriculum and faculty. It’s hardly a secret that the mainstream curriculum at most colleges and universities abides by a very specific tradition—that of white, Western males. In UWM’s announcement about the plans to become an HSI, Chancellor Mark Mone said that these efforts “will benefit all students through a learning environment that prepares them for today’s world.” If we truly want to prepare students for “today’s world,” then it is vital that they be exposed to voices both within and outside of their own communities, both through their coursework and their institution’s faculty.
2. Incorporate public texts and linguistic diversity into classrooms. While it’s certainly important for students in higher education to engage with academic texts, we must recognize that not everyone who has important stories to tell or is doing critical work within their given field is going to be releasing their work through that medium. Just because someone does not use an arsenal of sophisticated vocabulary or isn’t getting published within a prestigious journal does not mean that their work should go ignored. Further, this sort of work is not necessarily what resonates with all students. Instructors should work to find a variety of voices distributing their work in a variety of ways—perhaps through blogs, various forms of social media, and other public forums—to spotlight voices that may otherwise go ignored in academia.
3. Change terms, not just content. Many students are not only unfamiliar with traditional academic vernacular, but also run the risk of feeling alienated in the classroom due to this unfamiliarity. Instructors should work with their students to figure out what sort of vernacular their students are comfortable with, incorporate it into class discussions, and help students to most effectively utilize it within their work (while treading lightly, of course, so as to not become appropriative). This may sound like a tall order, and we’re not calling for the common vocabulary of academia to change overnight—just a simple willingness on the part of instructors to acknowledge the vernacular their students are comfortable with is a good start.
4. Be comfortable with the fact that you’re not always the expert. Bringing different voices into the classroom and encouraging students to embrace their own vernacular and language means that instructors will often have to step out of their comfort zone. We cannot be afraid to allow the dynamics between instructor and student shift a bit—sometimes, they will be the expert and teacher, and we will have to defer to their expertise.
I’m sure this list could go on—in fact, it should. These are merely a few idea of how the university could and should go forward as it works to achieve the title of HSI.