Tag Archives: composition

If Not Us, Who?

Megan McIntyre | Sonoma State University

We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language — the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.
~ Students’ Right to Their Own Language

It’s been nearly five decades since “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” (SRTOL) came to be. In fact, it was 50 years ago this year (in the fall of 1971) that the officers of the Conference on College Composition and Communication appointed members of their executive board and other language experts from among the association’s ranks to a committee charged with drafting a statement on varieties of English and students’ rights to learn and compose in the languages that are meaningful to them. In her history of the development of SRTOL, Geneva Smitherman, one of the original authors of the statement, has noted that, at nearly every step of the process, the creation and adoption of the statement was an “intense struggle” (22). So much of the struggle that Smitherman describes in the histories of SRTOL and NCTE’s subsequent decision not to adopt the text –– but to instead adopt a weaker version that, while affirming students’ right to their own language also argues that they need to learn “conventions of what has been called written edited American English”  –– feels familiar. Fifty years later, despite SRTOL remaining the official policy position of our largest professional organization, so many writing programs remain stubbornly devoted to a single, mythical “academic writing,” as evidenced by continued references to “academic writing” and a lack of references to varieties of English in programmatic outcomes, including the one from the Council of Writing Program Administrators

In committee meeting rooms and faculty workshops, writing program administrators and writing faculty like me have defended the continued teaching of this mythical monolith by telling ourselves and others that the kind of standardized English that most resembles white, middle- and upper-class English is what’s expected of students in other classrooms and in professional settings. And we’re not necessarily wrong: problematic, racist assumptions about language facility and variety pervade any number of spaces within and beyond academia, such as in business environments where assumptions about “proper” writing and speaking often mean a default to white, middle- and upper-class English varieties and linguistic bias continues to harm jobseekers of color. But that reality does not absolve us of the responsibility to push back on those assumptions or to fight for our students’ rights to learn and compose in the language varieties that are meaningful to them.

There are numerous ways that devoting first year composition (and other college writing classrooms) to so-called “academic writing” reifies racist and colonialist language practices. We know that we harm our students when we devalue the language varieties that animate their complex rhetorical lives. 

We know that there are benefits to helping students connect to topics, questions, and rhetorical practices that are meaningful to them. We also know there is no such thing as “academic writing” as a single genre, that what we mean by “academic writing” shifts from course to course, institution to institution, and discipline to discipline. We also know that grammars evolve, that stylistic choices are fluid and contextual, and that audience expectations and rhetorical situations shift.

Knowing all this, how do we make good on the promise of SRTOL? I want to suggest three places we might begin. First, I’d point us to the work of the Institute of Race, Rhetoric, and Literacy (once known as the CWPA Outcomes Statement Revision Task Force), whose members note that, “there is still a tendency among FYC practitioners to rely on predetermined, singular, habits of White language (HOWL). Too often in writing courses, HOWL purposefully excludes a diverse array of rhetorics and other habits of language that are, at base, equal to and, when used effectively, add to and even surpass the communicative and rhetorical effectiveness of HOWL.” I’d also point us to April Baker-Bell’s Linguistic Justice, which shows us, in no uncertain terms, that English language arts pedagogies are doing lasting harm to Black students. And I’d point to the 2020 CCCC Special Committee on Composing a CCCC Statement on Anti-Black Racism and Black Linguistic Justice’s “This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice!,” which tells us that, “the language of Black students has been monitored, dismissed, demonized.” Each of these texts calls our attention to the harm we’ve done by ignoring the clear position of SRTOL: 

students have the right to write and learn in “to their own patterns and varieties of language — the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style.” 

Taken together, these resources also offer us a way forward. They tell us that we can support and serve linguistically diverse students if we 

  1. Affirm our students’ existing rhetorical sophistication by assigning readings and inviting writing that encourage them to explore their existing literacies and use their well-honed rhetorical skills and knowledge in our classrooms.
  2. Make our classrooms and programs spaces for exploring and building on students’ previous literacy practices by using multimodal pedagogies, assigning writing projects that invite experimentation and play, and inviting students to speak and act as experts in their own literacy. 
  3. Help students build sustainable habits and routines for their writing, reading, and making in college and beyond through sustained, mindful reflection.
  4. Resist efforts to use a single standard to judge our students’ writing by eschewing rubrics that assume there is a single correct version of English and eliminating outcomes that emphasize mythical academic English. Faculty in programs that use a standard, program-wide rubric should push for its elimination or expansion of such assessment tools, or experiment with ungrading and other approaches that center students’ goals, needs, and approaches. Writing Program Administrators for such programs should revise rubrics, heuristics, and criteria to reflect the value of multiple Englishes. Or, we might decide to avoid rubrics altogether.

In the writing program at Sonoma State University, this means I’m working on

  1. Gathering data (quantitative AND qualitative) on equity gaps. This necessarily includes actual discussions with students of color who’ve gone through our programs and courses. Writing programs share any number of traits, but they are also idiosyncratic things, and local conditions, values, and experiences can have a significant impact both on the ways that programs make decisions and how students experience those decisions. To really understand what linguistic justice means for students in our specific programs, we need to understand their specific experiences. This data can be useful in programmatic assessment and decision-making (about student success, course caps, partnerships with academic and advising support, etc.) and for faculty professional development (At my previous institution, one of the most impactful faculty workshops allowed us to read anonymized student reflections about first year writing courses on our campus and consider how our practices impacted students’ experiences.)
  2. Revising our programmatic outcomes to eliminate ones that gesture toward or invoke a mythical, monolithic “academic writing” (Again, the work of the Institute of Race, Rhetoric, and Literacy is invaluable here.).
  3. Focusing our professional development on supporting faculty in doing the classroom work above, including through (as often as possible) paid support for faculty reflection, which can lead to communities of practice and course redesign.

All of these are concrete steps I can take in my own classroom and program. But, as the first post in this series reminded us, all writing and teaching work is local. I can’t chart for you how precisely each of these things might work in your classroom or program, but I can encourage you to find ways to (1) better understand the experiences of linguistically diverse students by reading the work researchers like April Baker-Bell and Django Paris or the College Reading and Learning Association and by talking to the linguistically diverse students in your own classes and programs and (2) interrupt, in ways big and small, the assessment and grading systems that do harm to all of our students, particularly our linguistically diverse students.

We can also insert ourselves, as often as possible, into conversations about writing and literacy on our campuses; we can be a voice for our students’ rights to their own language. But we have to start. And we have to start now. 

Writing faculty, writing programs, and English departments, as well as the humanities more broadly have the history, experience, and knowledge to lead conversations on our campuses about the harm of mythical “academic writing”. We can create the permission structure for our colleagues outside of writing studies to let go of the myth of “academic writing.” We can expose the lie. 

‘Cause if we don’t, who will? If not us, who?

References
Baker-Bell, April. Linguistic justice: Black language, literacy, identity, and pedagogy. Routledge, 2020.

Baker-Bell, April. “Dismantling Anti-Black Linguistic Racism in English Language Arts Classrooms: Toward an Anti-Racist Black Language Pedagogy.” Theory Into Practice, vol. 59, no. 1, 2020, pp. 8-21.

Beavers, Melvin, Beth L. Brunk-Chavez, Neisha-Anne Green, Asao B. Inoue, Iris Ruiz, Tanita Saenkhum, and Vershawn Ashanti Young. “Abbreviated Statement Toward First-Year Composition Goals.” Institute of Race, Rhetoric, and Literacy, 2021. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0YO3K4IVIJLJTNSBGl5HJKOdddAK73spe2GbOmJn1w/edit. 

Cedillo, Christina. “Diversity, Technology, and Composition: Honoring Students’ Multimodal Home Places.” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society, vol. 6, no. 2, 2017.

Conference on College Composition and Communication. “Students’ Right to Their Own Language,” 1974. https://cdn.ncte.org/nctefiles/groups/cccc/newsrtol.pdf. 

Conference on College Composition and Communication. “This Ain’t Another Statement. This Is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice,” 2020. https://cccc.ncte.org/cccc/demand-for-black-linguistic-justice. 

de Klien, Christa and Rachele Lawton. Meeting the needs of linguistically diverse students at the college level. College Reading & Learning Association, 2015. 

Finegan, Edward. “What is “Correct” Language?” Linguistic Society of America. https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/what-correct-language. 

Kohn, Alfie. “The Case Against Grades.” Educational Leadership, vol. 69, no. 3, 2011, pp. 28-33.

Lyscott, Jamila. “Jamila Lyscott: Why English Class is Silencing Students of Color.” TED, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4dc1axRwE4. 

Mitchler, Sharon. “Pedagogy: Considering Local Conditions.” FEN Blog, 2021. https://compstudiesjournal.com/2021/06/07/pedagogy-considering-local-conditions/. 

Paris, Django. “‘They’re in My Culture, They Speak the Same Way’: African American Language in Multiethnic High Schools.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 79, no. 3, 2009, pp. 428-448.

Smitherman, Geneva. “’Students’ Right to Their Own Language’: A Retrospective.” The English Journal, vol. 84, no. 1, 1995, pp. 21-27.

Stommel, Jesse. “How to Ungrade.” JesseStommel.com, 2018. https://www.jessestommel.com/how-to-ungrade/. 

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “The Meaning-Making of Reflection.” FEN Blog, 2021. https://compstudiesjournal.com/2021/07/12/the-meaning-making-of-reflection/ 

Young, Vershawn Ashanti. “Should Writers Use They Own English?” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 110-117.

The Meaning-Making of Reflection

Kathleen Blake Yancey | Florida State University

[R]eflection is rhetorical […] only through
bringing the human and the world together to theorize
can a reflective knowledge and meaning be made.
(Yancey, A Rhetoric of Reflection)
The book cover of A Rhetoric of Reflection, edited by Kathleen Blake Yancey, featuring a black and white picture of a person examining their reflection in a puddle on the ground.
Figure 1. A Rhetoric of Reflection, edited by Kathleen Blake Yancey

The word reflection points in a myriad of directions; it means so differently—see, for example, the ways several writing teacher/scholars approach it in A Rhetoric of Reflection—that it can be difficult to define fully. But I’ll try to provide a point of reflective departure 😉, at least in terms of my own sense of reflection.

In advance, though, I think I should observe that this blog post wanders a bit. I hope it does so reflectively. I hope it prompts you to think about how you define reflection, how you include reflection in your life, how you include it in your teaching and learning.

So, a definition: reflection, which is both a theory and a practice, is a means of making meaning. Drawing from experience and more—others’ views, information, intuition, materials, objects in the surround—we engage in a practice requiring attention, multiple perspectives, and time so as to understand anew. Sometimes, that understanding is deeper as a consequence of reflection; other times, that understanding changes, sometimes radically. Our reflections benefit from being situated in community, from response, from support. Reflection doesn’t so much provide answers as point to and open other ways of seeing and being; it puts into dialogue the familiar with the unfamiliar, the small in the large, the large in the tiny. 

In writing studies, we’ve long thought about reflection as a means of helping students develop as writers. Some of us ask students to describe their writing processes—in what’s conventionally referred to as a process memo. Some of us invite students to account for their development as writers—though the drafts and through the quarter or semester and through the years. Some of us require students to assess their texts according to outcomes—some of which may derive from a writing program, others of which students may create. All of these forms of reflection, which serve very different purposes, can be quite valuable. 

Still, I wonder: are these the best questions to prompt reflection about writing? Put in terms of the definition above, are these questions that will prompt authentic meaning-making?

**

We reflect in our personal lives, too. Consider the idea and the practice of family. How would you define family? How does one create a good family? Is a good family a happy family? An extended family? A family by choice? Does one ever leave one’s family, and if so, when? 

Or consider retirement. What is the purpose of retirement? Is it to sit back and rest after a lifetime of work? Travel around the world? Is it to care for our families in new ways? Is it to take up a new career or hobby? Is it to serve the public, perhaps by delivering meals on wheels or volunteering for a political candidate? What is the purpose of a good retirement?  

What’s interesting about these sets of reflective questions is a point that is obvious: no one can reflect for another; each of us, often in community, reflects.

**

As teachers, we know about reflection and about the role reflection plays in helping us improve—but again, largely through practice, largely through response to an undeniable exigence. When students don’t respond as we’d liked or hoped, we have an opportunity to reflect, to consider their concerns in the context of our aims, and to understand what’s going on differently, especially from the perspectives of others who also inhabit our curricular and pedagogical space. Such an exigence provides an opportunity for growth. Organizers, too, it seems, as AOC commented during 2020: “I come from the lens of an organizer, and if someone doesn’t do what you want, you don’t blame them — you ask why. And you don’t demand that answer of that person — you reflect. And that reflection is where you can grow.”

The course on a page is a hand drawn calendar for the fall semester with tasks such as "share" and due dates laid out for the whole course.

Figure 2. An example of Yancey’s “course on a page.” Photo credit: Kathleen Blake Yancey

All the (many) good teachers I’ve known have grown over time. For my part, one way I’ve grown—in response to student concerns—is in sharing with them ways I’ve organized a class. Because I design the courses I teach, it’s always been obvious to me how each unfolds, how the readings are arranged to motivate writing, how the class discussions and workshops will link to both. But students, they didn’t always see it this way: to them, my courses sometimes felt disorganized, they said. Was I disappointed? Yes. But I wasn’t angry. As AOC observes, there’s no blame here. I saw the logic of their response, and I also liked my intent, to include the potential for invention that a bit of ambiguity, per Kenneth Burke, seemed to provide. Through reflection, I effected a compromise: syllabi that were more detailed but that didn’t foreclose the chance of serendipity. In addition, I created a corresponding “course on a page” helping visually orient students to the way elements were linked and the times when assignments were due. Happily, I found that the course on a page also helped me; in drafting it, I could see where my rhythm of assignments needed an adjustment and assure that deadlines were relativized and reasonable. Reflection, in other words, includes more than taking stock or looking backward, although it includes both: as a meaning-making activity, reflection is also oriented to new understandings and future change.

**

About two years ago, faculty developers Tracy Penny-Light, Laura Colket, and Adam Carswell invited a group of international teachers, including me, to contribute to their edited collection Becoming: Transformative Storytelling for Education’s Future. The key word in the title, Becoming, signaled the editors’ interest in teachers becoming teachers in response to critical incidents, or episodes of difficulty, surprise, or struggle. More specifically, the editors were interested in how these teachers had experienced critical incidents, in how those incidents had contributed to their teaching practices, and in what the incidents might also suggest about how teaching practices, or the educational system itself, should be changed. 

To learn about this, the editors gave us the same reflective assignment:
1. Please write an educational autobiography in which you reflect on critical incidents in your experience as a student in relation to literature and theory about teaching and learning. In doing so, please consider the following questions:

How did those defining moments shape you as a learner? Are you able to identify an arc or any themes in your experience? What roles have your various social identities played in shaping your educational experience? What role did the contexts in which you were learning shape your experience? How did your broader social/cultural/political sphere shape your educational experiences? What main struggles did you face as a student? Did you have any resources, supports, people or strategies to help you overcome those struggles? What are you most proud of when you look back on your time as a student? What are you most surprised or concerned about? If you were to go back to talk to your teachers now, what would you tell them about how to better support you as a learner?

2. Please write your teaching or leadership philosophy. In doing so, please reflect on the following questions:

What are your key beliefs about teaching/leadership? What literature and/or theory supports your beliefs? What specific strategies do you draw on that align with your key beliefs? What critical incidents have shaped your beliefs and practices?

3. Please write a critical reflection about your experience thinking through these aspects of your teaching and learning experiences. What connections, themes, contradictions or new understandings emerged for you through this writing process? What implications might this have for your practice?

The cover of Becoming: Transformative Storytelling for Education's Future by Laura Colket, Tracy Penny Light, and M. Adam Carswell has a vibrant yellow-orange background with a spiral paisley swirl.

Figure 3. Becoming: Transformative Storytelling for Education’s Future by Laura Colket, Tracy Penny Light, and M. Adam Carswell.

I identified three such critical incidents, two in college: (1) when I saw integral connections between two seemingly disparate junior-level classes, Victorian literature and geology; and (2) when I enrolled in a rhetoric class in communication studies whose orientation toward texts differed considerably from that in the English department where I was a doctoral student. As important, I also identified an earlier critical incident occurring outside school, when as a child living in 1958 West Germany, I understood the situatedness of certain holidays—Thanksgiving was the first—as uniquely American and also—if somewhat vaguely (I was, after all, just 8 at the time)—as a more general phenomenon wherein cultural practices are often historically motivated. For me, I said in the chapter, living in Germany “was Copernican: the US, with its unique Thanksgiving, was no longer the centerpiece body among planets and stars, but rather one planet among many.” 

In the past, I’d often told this story about my surprise at learning about how un-German Thanksgiving was, sort of as a joke on myself: I was very surprised that my German friends were not celebrating the holiday, and my child-like naivete is pretty funny. But as I reflected on this experience in writing this chapter, I understood it another way, more as one source for my appreciation of history, my appreciation of difference, and my commitment to weaving both into my teaching, especially in terms of the way I begin classes: 

history is important to me as a person and as a teacher. I began college as a history major and was certified to teach history to students grades 6- 12; along with rhetorical situation, the historical context—perhaps in part because of my living, as an impressionable child, in such an intense historical context in post-war Germany—functions as something of a standard intellectual framework for me. It’s probably not surprising, then, that I begin every course I teach with history, more specifically with students’ histories. I often open the first class period with an icebreaker focused on course content that taps student’s prior experiences; my first homework assignment performs the same task more discursively. This term, I am teaching a special topics course, Writing across the Curriculum and the Question of Writing Transfer, and the first assignment is what I’ve called The Snapshot Project:

In 1-2 pages (single spaced), identify three moments when your writing changed. For each moment, 

a. describe it
b. analyze how your writing changed and why
c. consider whether this change was helpful or not
d. theorize about what this tells you about how writers
may develop

Tracing our own histories, as my students did this week and I have done here, allows us to distance ourselves from them, see them from other angles, and begin to make meaning of them.

**

I think one of the questions reflective teachers often have centers on the how of classroom reflection: what reflective questions should we ask students, and when should we ask them so that they are meaningful to students? That italicized part? That’s the kicker: it’s very difficult to decide in advance what will be meaningful to others. But in a writing class, or a rhetoric class, we are situated in an intellectual community where some questions, when reflected upon, have that potential. The list of potential questions, below, is hardly exhaustive, but it might provide a place to begin, for our students and for us, and it might also be that we return to these questions more than once.  

What is the purpose of rhetoric? What is the purpose of your rhetoric? 

What does it mean to write in the world?

What’s the most important text you’ve written? Why was it important? What did it teach you about writing? 

What does it mean to write? Is it only words, or mostly words, or words plus—words and visuals and document design and sound? Are writing and composing synonyms? Are you a writer, a composer, or both? Why?

Why do we write? Why do you write? 

What will you write and why?

At the end of the day, what difference will your writing—a given text, your writing generally, your efforts—make?  Continue reading

Universal sign for access of person in wheelchair created in blue neon in a window.

Access from/as the Start: On Writing Studies and “Accessibility”

Adam Hubrig | Sam Houston State University

One simple truth: when you build disabled accessibility in to your events as a non-negotiable, from the start, bottom line, you get it done.”
The Radical Access Mapping Project
“in order for us to ethically engage the question of “accessibility” we must be conscious of the bodies whose movements have, throughout the history of rhetoric and composition, been rendered immobile under the weight of discourse and inaccessible spaces.”
—Cody Jackson, “How Does it Mean to Move

Can I share a secret with you? I loathe having to ask about access needs—I doubly loathe having to inquire when it’s my own access needs. I hate it so much, and I feel like a terrible disabled advocate because of it. I get anxious making those calls or sending those emails to the point of being sick to my stomach. 

Yet, for the third time in as many months, I call the same event coordinator. They seem irritated that I’m calling—again—to ask about access. And then comes their accusation: “All you want to do is complain about access.”

Hard nope. I’d rather be doing almost anything else. As Annika Konrad has recently argued, “People with disabilities are often encouraged to advocate for their own access without con-sideration for the mental and emotional labor required to do so.”

Because—too often—how we think about access is reductive. It’s exhausting to have to keep insisting that disabled and otherwise marginalized people should be included. But still, at many American colleges and universities, composition instructors might be tempted to think of our courses as “accessible” because we’ve put an institutionally mandated Accessibility statement in our syllabus—often waaaaay at the back—to prevent the institution that signs our checks from getting sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (2). 

Disabled people notice these things. And disabled students at your institution definitely talk with each other about what professors roll their eyes at us when we inquire about access needs or ask us if we “really need” whatever accommodations we’re requesting—I have been one of them.

I want to talk about access as disability justice advocate and scholar Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha describes it, not just as “the same article that many sick, disabled, Deaf, and mad/neurodivergent folks before me have written to the abled—asking the abled to get it the fuck together and stop ‘forgetting’ about access and disbaled demands” which Piepzna-Samarsina also identifies as necessary work. Rather, I want to take part in conversations and projects that recognize that access is only the first step (Piepzna-Samarasinha 129) in an ongoing process of challenging institutional oppression.

And, mirroring work in disability studies (see Erevelles, Minich, Hamraie), discussions of access in writing studies are moving away from what some of my nondisabled colleagues seem to interpret—usually some version of accessibility as an abled prof doing some disabled student a huge favor by meeting the low-bar legal requirements (See Wood et al. and Brewer et al.). Instead, the evolving conversation on accessibility have us resituating that moment, considering how disabled students are doing us a favor in pointing out how our pedagogy, our curriculum, our institutions are ableist and how we can do better—for disabled students and all students—by dismantling the capitalistic, colonial, white-supremacist, and patriarchal ideologies that prop these systems up.

Importantly, as Sins Invalid reminds us through disability justice frameworks, disability never exists apart from other identities—such as race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and many other positionalities. Following the work of disabled activists, disability studies (see Bell, Dunham et al., Erevelles, Schalk) and composition (Cedillo; Del Hiero et al.; Ho et al.; Hubrig and Osorio; Jackson and Cedillo; Manivannan) are also expanding how they understand disability and accessibility to center intersecting identities, as well as multiple forms of disability including mobility impairments, blindness/visual impairments, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing folks (3), chronic illnesses, madness, mental disability, pain conditions, neurodiversity, sensitivities to fragrance, and many other disabilities. 

And as a multiply disabled scholar, I have at times been approached by well-meaning nondisabled colleagues with requests for an accessibility checklist or other labor relating to disability access. While I will point to some more immediately pragmatic accessibility advice in this post, I echo Wood et al. in insisting that checklists are often reductive, “locat[ing] disability over there” (147), rather than engaging disability with nuance and complexity, asking how disability might inform writing studies, writing pedagogy, and our composition processes. 

Writing alongside disability scholars in writing studies, rather than providing a checklist—which would inevitably be reductive and leave people outside—it’s my intention for this post to point to ongoing conversations and invite those conversations to guide accessibility efforts in your classroom and pedagogy and in your/our institutions and scholarship. To make this post more navigable, I have arranged them by rough categories—expanding access, access for students and access for colleagues, but the conversations about access in each space certainly overlap. 

Access for Writing Students
Many of my nondisabled colleagues first become interested in accessibility when trying to make their classrooms more accessible for disabled students. If that’s what brought you here, welcome and thank you for taking this first step. A number of resources and scholarship exist to help address accessibility in our classroom spaces. Anne-Marie Womack pushes teachers to challenge how we think of accommodation, and has created Accessible Syllabus, with important information on crafting more accessible syllabi and advice on making images, text, rhetoric, and policies in our syllabi more inclusive. 

And, as Womack’s Accessible Syllabus details, how we frame our policies—as listed on our syllabus and in practice—is an important site of accessibility. Other composition scholars have taken up these issues as well: Melissa Nicholas describes how our policies reflect our orientation to disability, and how class considerations like attendance can make our classroom inaccessible.  Considering other temporal policies like due dates, Tara Wood describes how nondisabled conceptions of time create barriers in the composition process, offering suggestions on how instructors can crip their conception of time in the composition classroom.

Conversations around access are becoming more inclusive of neurodiversity as well: Remi Yergeau’s Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness takes up Rhetoric and Composition’s dismissal of autistic ways of being. Cody Jackson presents several strategies for making our classroom spaces more accessible to neurodivergent learners and argues the most important step in that process “is [to] ask, listen, and reciprocate the intimacy of disclosure.” Similarly, Amy Gaeta argues for access by challenging ableist ideologies connected to composing and how we can better respect neurodivergent composing methods.  Ellen Cecil-Lemkin explores how neurodiversity shapes collaborative writing experiences, challenging assumptions about collaboration in composition.

Taken together, these scholars establish that accessibility is more than minor tweaks to a powerpoint slide, but that accessibility must challenge our pedagogical assumptions and institutional orientations. In “What Does it Mean to Move?: Race, Disability, and Critical Embodiment Pedagogy,” Christina Cedillo writes:

If we continue to base our composition practices on normate assumptions rather than the embodied experiences of people most in need of access to voice and space, our praxes can and do become part of a racist, ableist apparatus that promotes other -isms, tools of ‘social hygiene.’

Cedillo’s work is accessibility writ large, arguing for pedagogies based in critical embodiment rather than retrofitting to accommodate disability—or adding a single BIPOC author to the reading list as “diversity,” for that matter. Cedillo instead suggests thinking through how a multiplicity of embodied experiences challenge and improve our pedagogy and writing, while making our classrooms and our field more inclusive. 

Access for Writing Teachers and Scholars
Like conversations on access for students in writing studies, conversations about accessibility for teachers and scholars in the field—not limited to Tenure Track Faculty™, but NTT, contingent, and graduate student teachers as well—are not only about naming and identifying ableism (though that work is necessary, too). These scholars move the conversation to how disability challenges the systemic inequalities of academic work. For example, in “Faculty Members, Accommodation, and Access in Higher Education,” Kerschbaum et al. describe their own experiences as faculty with disabilities, exploring issues of access, accommodation, and the material realities of their embodied experiences. 

Interwoven with issues of faculty accessibility and accommodation, there is important work by writing studies scholars happening around disclosure— so much that disclosure deserves its own keyword blog post, particularly at the intersections of disability and other marginalized identities—but here I point quickly to Stephanie Kerschbaum’s article “On Rhetorical Agency and Disclosing Disability in Academic Writing,” which thoughtfully explores faculty disclosure. The way conversations about disclosure are moving to include not only students but faculty is an important development: Price et al. also explore disclosure, specifically disclosure of mental disability by faculty, finding few faculty with mental disabilities were familiar with possible accommodations, suggesting institutions haven’t made accommodations clear. They suggest discussions between faculty and administration about accommodations must become “clearer and less risky” as well as the need to destigmatize mental disabilities. 

Reflecting the move from accessibility as gift to accessibility improving the field as a whole, Ho et al. establish how, for disabled teachers and scholars, “neutrality is a form of oppression” (129) that ignores how academic institutions are designed for nondisabled people, and how tending to disability can foster deeper discussions on equity in the field. Other scholars have taken up issues of inaccessibility. Rottier, for example, points to how the existence and persistence of autistic academics in the face of ableist policies is an act of resistance, and challenges nondisabled people to push for more accessible institutional policies and spaces. 

But academic institutions frequently push disabled people out: consider accessibility in conference spaces. Importantly, Price—who also has examined the language and policies of conference documents—chairs Composing Access: An Invitation to Creating Accessible Events, which has many contributors. Composing Access includes helpful information on accessibility for conference organizers as well as for preparing conference presentations. A recent College Composition and Communication Symposium explored issues of access in our conference spaces, including: addressing institutional critique and responsibility (Simpkins); the misuse of quiet rooms (Anglesey and Cecil-Lemkin); exploring access needs—specifically for Deaf scholars—as transformative rather than transactional (Fink et al.); how alcohol makes our conferences spaces inaccessible and dangerous (anonymous); as well as accountability in disability research and accessibility efforts (Jackson and Cedillo). If you are hosting an event, I also point you to Sins Invalid’s event accessibility suggestions.

But considering accessibility is also about methodology: tending to disability can and should transform our scholarship and ways of knowing and center the work of those most impacted (Cedillo, Jackson). This is the work that Price and Kerschbaum take up in “Stories of Methodology: Interviewing Sideways, Crooked, and Crip,” exploring how disability should inform methods and research.

And this iteration of accessibility—accessibility that not only pushes for disabled inclusion but aims to restructure the institutional biases that make them inaccessible in the first place—is taken up in areas that connect to and overlap with writing studies, like Writing Program Administration (Nicholas, Vidali 2015), writing centers (Hitt, Rowan), open access scholarship (Dolmage 2018, Rice Evans), graduate education (Obermark), Rhetoric (Cedillo, Dolmage 2014, Maier et al., and Yergeau) Technical Communication (Browning and Cagle, Colton and Walton, Jones, Meloncon, Palmeri, Zdenek), gender and sexuality (Smilges, Yergeau), community literacy studies (Hubrig), basic writing (Vidali 2008), and I am excited to announce I’m guest editing a special issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College centered on disability and accessibility in the Two-Year College, coming 2022. 

Moving Toward a Conclusion, though Access is a Process with No End
At the College Conference on Composition and Communication in 2019, a large sign proudly proclaimed CCCCs is Accessible!

The original CCCC sign, a red sign with white letters, that reads: “The CCCC Convention is accessible! The CCCC Convention has accessibility guides for the Convention; Quiet, lactation, and family rooms at convention sites; Childcare grants; Gender-neutral bathrooms; Interpreters" has dozens of sticky notes with messages written on them.
Figure 1. The original CCCC sign proclaiming accessibility is covered with sticky notes from conference participants pointing out ways the conference failed to provide access. Photo Credit: Ruth Osorio

In response, many conference attendees posted—literally, with sticky notes—their/our own responses to the sign, highlighting multiple ways in which the conference was quite inaccessible—to disabled people, to parents and others with caregiving responsibilities, to many LGBTQA+ Folks, and people excluded or marginalized because of whiteness.

What I hope writing studies understands from the sticky note moment is that access isn’t a project that can be completed: it’s not a checklist or a bulleted list, but ongoing conversations and actions that address the systematic inequalities and institutional barriers that exclude disabled and other marginalized bodies. I ask you to take part in these conversations by engaging with this scholarship and connecting with other disabled scholars. To join these conversations, I recommend the resources I’ve outlined here, as well as the Anti-Ableist Composition Collective (created by Cody Jackson), the College Composition and Communication Disability Studies Standing Group, as well as learning from the work of disability activism like Sins Invalid and the Disability Visibility Project.

Notes

  1. I (Adam) would like to thank Ellen Cecil-Lemkin, Ruth Osorio, and Katie Bramlet, as well as FEN Blog Co-Editors Megan Von Bergen and Lauren Fusilier for their thoughtful reading and feedback on earlier drafts of this post.
  2.  ADA laws are typically only enforced through lawsuits, meaning many disabled people without financial resources to take legal action often have little to no recourse. I echo Wood et al. in suggesting it is important for educators to be familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the 2008 amendments as well as Section 504 of the rehabilitation act. But meeting the legal requirements is a first step, not an end goal of accessibility.
  3. Many Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Humans do not consider themselves as disabled, but rather recognize the importance of Deaf culture. By including Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing folks in this discussion of accessibility, I do not mean to undermine how they identify in relation to the disability community (for more information, see Monts-Treviska in Skin, Tooth, and Bone)
  4. A list of works consulted is linked in a Google doc here. I welcome suggested additions to better represent the range of accessibility work being done in composition and rhetoric and related fields.

 *Featured Image on this post created by Henry Faber.