College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


Leave a comment

Schell, Eileen. On Being a Woman Department Chair in RCWS. Peitho, 2019. Posted 04/20/2019.

Schell, Eileen E. “Is It Worth It to ‘Lean In’ and Lead? On Being a Woman Department Chair in Rhetoric and Writing Studies.” Peitho Journal 21.2 (2019): 308-33. Web. 4 Apr. 2019.

In her contribution to the Special Cluster on Gendered Service in Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the Peitho Journal, Eileen E. Schell draws on the feminist scholarship of gender and academic labor as well as her own experiences to address the challenges of serving as chair of a large writing program (309).

Schell contends that scholarship on academic leadership does not adequately take into account the different positions of the many laborers, particularly women, who are involved in supporting an academic unit (311). Any leadership role, she argues, depends on many actors and stakeholders whose contributions and influences may not be uncovered when the focus is purely on the “relative privilege” that is afforded leadership positions within “institutional hierarchies” (311).

Schell advocates “intersectionality” as a more productive lens (310). For example, she cites the work of Mel Michelle Lewis and Shannon J. Miller, who examine how their “intersections as Black queer women” (qtd. in Schell 310) inform their leadership roles. She presents her “embodied” position as an “able-bodied, cis-gender, white academic woman on the tenure track” as one window on the effects of taking on the role of department chair (311).

Schell provides a list of important questions, including “what is gained or lost” in accepting the many challenges of a chair’s role (309). She frames her own discussion “around timing, dual academic career couple issues, and family formation issues” (311).

The discussion of timing recounts how Schell was asked to take on the chair role far ahead of the schedule she had negotiated on being hired but was able to defer the appointment until a more logical point in her career (314). Issues included the importance of a developing research agenda and the need for tenure before taking on such extensive administrative duties.

Schell reports that saying no to service appointments can be an effective strategy, but it carries a burden in that many female academics see “service work as vital to the functioning of academic units and the institutional mission of colleges and universities” and feel a sense of obligation to their colleagues (314). Accepting other administrative and service duties while deferring the chair’s role allowed Schell to serve her institution and program as well as develop her scholarship toward tenure and promotion while resisting an early commitment to the chair’s role (314).

One aspect many women face in relation to the timing of demanding administrative appointments is family formation. Schell recounts the challenges of caring adequately for her young daughter, for example, the need to bring her to work (316). She cites scholarship showing that, for many women, working toward tenure and being asked to take on more institutional responsibilities tend to coincide with the years they want to begin a family; some research suggests that the struggle for tenure actually affects women’s ability to start families (315).

A third timing issue for Schell was coordination with her partner’s career. Originally forced to commune long distances, by the time Schell accepted the chair appointment, he had earned tenure in an institution that was much closer, easing this burden (314).

Schell draws on work by Lisa Wolf-Wendel and Kelly Ward to argue that institutions should not force faculty to negotiate each situation individually but rather should recognize that, for women especially, barriers to effective participation in leadership as well as teaching and scholarship should be systematically addressed by the institution. Policies should serve all “pre-tenure professors (both male and female) with family demands” by meeting needs such as those for “tenure stop clock policies, lactation support, access to affordable day care, family leave” (315). Schell notes how work by her fellow faculty to install a family leave policy helped her in the early months of her child’s life (315). Similarly, her institution passed a “tenure clock flexibility proposal” that, among other provisions, addressed the effects on the tenure path of extensive service (316).

During her appointment, Schell noted the number of women chairs increasing despite ongoing dominance by older white men (317). Though she could draw on her experience working with female leaders in the writing program, Schell contends that the chair’s role encompassed a much larger set of exigencies. “Guidebooks” on the chair position she consulted featured “a masculinist dominance-based model” that did not deal with the issues that she specifically faced as a female chair (318-19); her discovery of “interdisciplinary scholarship on intersectionality and department leadership” finally gave her needed direction (319).

Crediting her leadership experience “both inside and outside the department and in the community” (319), Schell lists some of the initiatives she was able to implement, while also acknowledging failures (320). The ongoing task of “Mentorship and Advocacy” involved such efforts as “negotiating for the resources” faculty members needed to do their work and scholarship and clearing the “backlog” of women who had not been promoted to full professorship (321). “Assigning Service” included determining how to allocate committee work effectively while keeping in mind equity in workloads and compensation (321). Schell recounts extensive interpersonal engagement as one of her “most favorite and challenging duties”: acknowledging colleagues’ accomplishments and empathizing with as well as helping to address their daily and professional struggles (322).

Schell notes that the “scope and scale” of the chair’s duties exceeded those of other academic positions: “the work touched on all areas of the department and the lives of every single faculty member” (322; emphasis original). She explores issues such as the need to prioritize interactions and the exigencies of the “second and third shift[s],” such as dealing with her family’s needs and then returning to administrative duties late at night in a “job [that] never turned off” (322-23). Effects on her health led her to address the difference between “work-life balance” and a “sustainable schedule and life” (323-24; emphasis original). Keeping up with scholarship (324) and insisting on “self-care” such as scheduled work-outs were among Schell’s strategies (329).

She offers “general advice and lessons of survivance” she gathered during her tenure as chair (326). Citing research showing that few chair receive adequate professional development for their roles, she urges networking and workshops (326). Further, she reminds potential chairs to be sure to arrange adequate compensation and manageable teaching loads (327). Under “Developing a Sustainable Work Plan,” she discusses establishing a well-functioning program infrastructure to accomplish departmental goals (327-28).

Schell reports being “surprised” to find herself advocating strongly that women take on leadership appointments such as chair (325). In her view, such roles allow women to pursue a “progressive feminist agenda” that can improve the lives and work of all faculty, promote diversity, and strengthen curricula (327). Ultimately, she writes, she hopes that

more feminists in rhetoric and writing studies will lead our academic departments . . . and that when we attend chairs’ meetings at our colleges and universities, we will look around the table and see a more diverse and inclusive cast of institutional leaders who also said yes. (329).

 


Leave a comment

Hayden, Wendy. Archival Research as Teaching Methodology. CE, Nov. 2017. Posted 01/11/2018.

Hayden, Wendy. “AND GLADLY TEACH: The Archival Turn’s Pedagogical Turn.” College English 80.2 (2017): 133-54. Print.

Wendy Hayden proposes archival research as a pedagogical method to help undergraduates develop a nuanced understanding of academic research. She writes in response to accounts of student research from both students and faculty that depict the usual research process as one of collecting information from sources and reproducing it with attention to mechanics of documentation and organization but with little input or engagement from the student writer (133). Hayden cites scholarship advocating assignments that foreground primary research as a way to address this problem. In her view, archival research is an important form of such primary research (134).

Hayden anchors her discussion in a course she taught for upper-level majors in English, education, and political science. The specific topic of the course was “the archival turn in rhetoric and composition studies” (140). Hayden discusses the challenges of covering all aspects of archival research in a single semester, arguing that even including such research in a single unit provides many benefits. In her own case, she was able to supply an “immersion” experience by focusing on archives throughout a semester (140). She reports that she decided to “survey the field’s archival turn and then throw everything I could into the course to see what happened” (141). Students explored both physical and digital archives, met with guest speakers, visited repositories, and created final projects that followed up on some aspect of their research experiences (141).

According to Hayden, a major benefit of archival research is that it casts education as an “inquiry-based” activity (135). This inquiry, she contends, allows students to enhance their close-reading skills and to develop projects that move beyond “rehash[ing] existing scholarship” (135). Archivists and faculty incorporating this methodology report “increased student engagement” as students find themselves able to contribute to knowledge in a field (135).

Hayden stresses that archival pedagogies inculcate feminist values of collaboration, cooperation, and invitation (135-36) as well as activism (140). Citing a number of practitioners who have published about archival methodologies in the classroom and including many examples of assignments, Hayden proposes three components of this research: recovery, rereading, and creation of new archives (136).

Students exploring archival material to recover forgotten voices and missing histories can be encouraged to see research as an “ongoing endeavor rather than a set number of citations” (Tom Keegan and Kelly McElroy, qtd. in Hayden 136). Hayden argues that experiences in digital archives foreground the collaborative nature of such research, especially when students can annotate or contribute to the materials (137). Digital archives, which can be defined either narrowly or broadly, can be connected to local issues that enhance student engagement (137). Recovery assignments include opportunities for students to share their findings with larger publics, building their confidence in the value of their own voices (137).

“(Re)reading the archive” (138) encourages student attention to the constructed, partial nature of the materials as they begin to question why some things are included and others left out (138). Hayden writes that such questioning leads to an understanding of “public memory as a process” that, in the words of Jane Greer and Laurie Grobman, reveals “the fluidity of our shared memories” (qtd. in Hayden 138). According to Hayden, this understanding of the rhetoricity of archives inspires what Jessica Enoch and Pamela VanHaitsma call an “archival literacy” (138) that points to the archivist’s responsibility in assembling the components of memory (140).

Creating their own archives, as in the assignments Hayden reports, further emphasizes for students the complex decisions and ethical challenges of joining an archival conversation (139). Students’ agency in collecting and organizing materials of interest to them permits increased connections between history and the students’ own lives while also providing opportunities for the feminist value of activism (140). Hayden cites Tarez Graban and Shirley K. Rose to propose a “networked archive” in which the feminist practices of collaboration and invitation are paramount (140).

Discussing her own class, Hayden finds that “the central question and focus that emerged . . . was the nature of academic study as a personalized inquiry and how undergraduate scholars are central to that inquiry” (141). She recounts extensive collaboration with a librarian, with guest speakers, with archivists throughout the city, and even with authors of texts on archival research (141-42). In the process, all participants, including the students, cooperated as “agents” in exploring, documenting, and building archives (142).

Hayden’s students read archives she made available, pursued questions of individual interest that arose from this exploration, and completed a final project of their choosing, reflecting on each step in blog posts that themselves became a class archive (143). Hayden found that students were more comfortable in physical archives than digital ones, which students reported finding “overwhelming” (142). The author notes students’ discovery that acquiring information was less challenging than selecting and organizing the voluminous material available (142).

Throughout her discussion, Hayden provides examples of student projects, many of which, she argues, deepened students’ awareness of the rhetorical and activist nature of archives and the work involved in exploring and creating them. One student, for example, collected voices of women who had returned to college and “advocat[ed] for resources based on what these women need to succeed” (145).

Hayden writes that uncertainty inherent in archival research encouraged students to be open to “shifts” in the direction of their discoveries as they found some searches to be “dead-end question[s]” (145). These experiences further led students to often see their course research as a component of a larger, ongoing project, deflecting the purpose of research from a finished product to a process and therefore permitting them to take more risks (146). In turn, this experience, in Hayden’s view, engaged students in a more authentic scholarly conversation than that often depicted in textbooks, which might rely on sources like newspaper op-eds rather than actual academic exchanges (147).

An additional value Hayden cites is the way that archival research defines scholarly research as “about people” (147). Thinking about their obligations to their subjects personalized the process for students; among the results was an increased tendency to develop their own ideas and values through their work, as well as to accord more interest and respect to the contributions of peers (148). Students became excited about publishing their work, in the process moving beyond the “more traditional scholarly paper” (148).

Hayden closes with the voice of student Julie Sorokurs, who writes, “I marveled at how easily and effectively an academic pursuit could become a project of love and genuine curiosity” (qtd. in Hayden 149).


Leave a comment

Detweiler et al. Feminist-Sophistic Leadership. CE, May 2017. Posted 05/21/2017.

Detweiler, Jane, Margaret LaWare, and Patti Wojahn. “Academic Leadership and Advocacy: On Not Leaning In.” College English 79.5 (2017): 451-65. Print.

Contributing to a special issue of College English on “English and Leadership Studies,” Jane Detweiler, Margaret LaWare, and Patti Wojahn examine current models of leadership in academia and advocate resisting these models in order to re-envision how leadership can enable a more inclusive, collaborative institutional structure. In particular, they take a “feminist-sophistic” approach to consider how a feminist lens enables critique of current models and points to possible alternatives (460, 463).

They find this feminist approach important because of the degree to which decades of critique have not led to a re-valuation of the kinds of service and relationship-building largely undertaken in the academy by women (454). Re-envisioning what leadership can look like and what it can do differently, they contend, will require attention to “intersectionlity,” which they define, drawing on bell hooks, as “the intersections of gender, race, sexual identity, and class that shape the embodiment and enactment of leadership” (453).

The authors note that scholars in the humanities may be inclined to see the devaluation of women as less egregious than it is in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas, but the article presents statistics to support a claim that, in fact, for women, “recruitment in the more advanced ranks in our field” is as problematic as in STEM fields (452). Although humanities faculty may be reassured by the finding from a 2009 MLA study that “women make up 67 percent of associate professors” in English and foreign language departments, as compared to only 42 percent across institutions, women in the humanities account for just “43% of full professors—the rank that is a prerequisite for many leadership positions” (452).

In the authors’ view, current models of leadership do not accord with the realities of women’s positions within academic institutions. According to Detweiler et al., the kinds of contributions made by women within the academy are not seen as “leadership” and do not earn access to “decision-making” processes related to governance (455)). These contributions involve mentoring of students and faculty, running programs, and developing relationships and collaborations across institutions (454-55).

On the whole, the authors contend, the expertise required to perform these important tasks is not recognized, with such vital contributions relegated to “maintenance” rather than “leadership” (455). Women, often non-tenure-track, “are disproportionately pressed into service” (455), where “service” is considered secondary to “the ‘real work’ of research” (457).

In addition to devaluing the essential roles women tend to play within institutions, Detweiler et al. argue, current conceptions of leadership do not mesh with the reality of women’s lives both within the institution and in their roles beyond their careers. They note studies showing that women report more time on service and teaching than men, even though men tend to perceive the time investment in these activities as equal (456). The MLA Commission on the Status of Women in the Profession reports that women far exceed men in the amount of caregiving they perform (457); as a result of such discrepancies, women are “not just less likely to advance to full professor levels but also do so more slowly—advancing, in fact, 24 percent more slowly” (454). In another study, “women with children were 38 percent less likely to procure tenure than were their male counterparts with children” (457).

A feminist response to such conditions, in the authors’ view, involves rejecting the call from writers like Sheryl Sandberg to “lean in” to existing leadership structures that feminist scholars “want neither to enter nor accept” (452). Extant leadership roles focus on individual achievement and on maintaining current exclusionary hierarchies that continue to denigrate much of what women are called on to do as service (459). The authors contend that traditional advice about advancement within institutions is “rhetorically savvy but ethically suspect” (459), urging as it does that one exploit one’s opponents and consider advancement as a competitive victory (459), with leadership “as a birthright or as mastery to be achieved by conquest or coercion” (456). Detweiler et al. argue that simply increasing the numbers of women in advanced positions within departments will not suffice (459); instead, women who achieve these levels in governance structures must act on an “ambivalence” about those structures that fuels change (463).

Such change, the authors urge, should embrace collaboration and inclusion meant to create “well-being for all” (461). They advocate Krista Ratcliffe’s “rhetorical listening” as a means to develop “responsive leadership” that acts on the needs of teachers, students, and the community (456). In their view, such leadership will recognize and reward the skills women bring to academic institutions, such as the ability build relationships across diverse communities and to form coalitions (457). In such an environment, service will no longer be seen as a “necessary evil” but rather understood as vital work that keeps programs and institutions running (456-57).

The authors note the difficulty experienced by members of marginalized populations as they use their “considerable rhetorical skill” in the cause of their communities yet risk “being subsumed into the polity and losing identifications with their own constituencies” (459). This risk associated with “leaning in,” they suggest, is related to a “public turn” in composition; in response, curriculum design can encourage students to see themselves as actors, in the words of Mark Gellis, in “polis-like organizations” so that “the teaching of rhetoric becomes, to an extent, the teaching of leadership” (qtd. in Detweiler et al. (459).

For Detweiler et al., such leadership through teaching meshes with Ernest Boyer’s “scholarship of engagement” in which “applied research, the scholarship of teaching and service in leadership” emphasizes the “integral relations” among these activities (461). Adopting this view of leadership will, the authors contend, advance the goal articulated in the MLA Commission on the Status of Women in the Profession by bringing academic advancement “directly into line with the numerous, essential, and vitalizing activities that sustain day-to-day life in colleges and universities” (qtd. in Detweiler et al. 461).


1 Comment

Gruwell, Leigh. Wikipedia’s Gender-Gap Problem. C&C, May 2015. Posted 08/19/15.

Gruwell, Leigh. “Wikipedia’s Politics of Exclusion: Gender, Epistemology, and Feminist Rhetorical (In)action.” Computers and Composition 37 (2015): 117-31. Web. 28 july 2015.

Leigh Gruwell examines Wikipedia’s “gender-gap problem,” the fact that only 13% of its editors are female. Gruwell recounts interviews with three women who regularly contribute to Wikipedia to argue that a number of aspects of the Wikipedia process are not welcoming to women.

Gruwell reports that Wikipedia is widely used by both men and women and has earned the approval of a number of composition scholars who see it as “a collaborative site of writing and knowledge production that emphasizes revision and challenges traditional models of textual authority and authorship” (117). Compositionists have valued wiki technology in general and have incorporated Wikipedia into classroom assignments (119). Gruwell points to scholarship that casts Wikipedia as a way of showing how texts arise through a “socially constructed, ever-unfolding process” that does not stem from “a single, unified identity” (119). Scholars also value Wikipedia’s public nature and its message that knowledge is not limited to “credentialed experts” and is, in James Purdy’s view, “framed as up for debate” (qtd. in Gruwell 119). But Gruwell argues that Wikipedia, like any technology or text, emerges from its culture and encodes “biases and assumptions” that scholars should be alert to (119).

Gruwell examines Wikipedia as a discourse community; she notes that the scholarship on such communities demonstrates how, within the community, some modes of communication are sanctioned while others are discouraged or even denied. Gruwell argues, however, that members of one discourse community are also members of other communities and that these varied simultaneous memberships shape individuals’ relationships across communities. Wikipedia, she writes, does not acknowledge the diversity or multiplicity of the people who contribute; for example, the site does not ask editors to register and minimizes the information users have to supply. As a result, Gruwell states, “it is difficult to discern who these users are” (121). She contends that a user’s “standpoint”—his or her “allegiances . . . , politics . . . , [and] social positioning”—affect the knowledge that the user incorporates into the Wikipedia interface (121).

This dissociation from users’ lived experiences is further enforced, she writes, by the site’s style preferences. She demonstrates these preferences with a screen shot of the entry for “Feminist movement,” which is deemed unacceptable because it is “written like a personal reflection or essay” rather than in the mandated “encyclopedic style” (Wikipedia entry for “Feminist movement,” qtd. in Gruwell 118). Gruwell critiques this style choice through the lens of feminist standpoint theory, arguing that Wikipedia’s “neutral point of view” requirement, which, according to the site’s guidelines, asks writers “to describe debates rather than engage in them” (qtd. in Gruwell 121), excludes writing from an “embodied” positionality reflective of the kind of “lived experiences” that shape knowledge and that characterize a feminist approach to discourse (119).

Gruwell details her own experiences with Wikipedia. After regularly turning to Wikipedia for “quick run-down[s]” when needed, she fulfilled a graduate seminar assignment by enlisting as an editor (122). Discouraged by the difficulty of the “idiosyncratic” mark-up language then in use and by seeing her edits revised, Gruwell returned to using Wikipedia solely as a resource. However, the discovery that only 13% of editors were women encouraged her to see her experiences as grounds for investigation (122).

After promised help from Wikipedia recruiting women study participants failed to materialize, Gruwell located a “Wikimedia Australia gender gap listserv” (123) populated by women who contributed regularly to Wikipedia. Participants took a short survey on their experiences and then responded to a request for a longer interview over Skype or phone (123, 128-29).

Gruwell focuses on three interviews that provide useful insights into women’s relationships with the Wikipedia community (123). The three women were “relatively privileged . . . , well-educated, [and] economically advantaged” (123). Gruwell posits that these women’s positions may have enabled them to engage successfully with Wikipedia because they had both the time and the skills to do so (123). The women cited their emotional commitment to Wikipedia’s goals or to the community, with one explicitly expressing a political purpose, calling attention to issues she considered important. Gruwell notes that all three wrote “about topics that mattered to them, as individuals and professionals” (124) and with which they had a personal connection.

Gruwell’s interviews suggest three reasons why women fail to thrive at Wikipedia. First, her participants note that even professional women are still burdened by traditonal women’s duties and thus cannot prioritize becoming expert users (124-25). Second, though Gruwell notes that Wikipedia is making its coding simpler (123n4), historically learning to edit has presented a considerable learning curve. Her participants suggest that because IT has generally been a male-dominated domain, people comfortable using the interface may well more often be male. Finally, Gruwell emphasizes the degree to which the discourse expectations at Wikipedia exclude the kinds of knowledge many woman may bring to the project (124-25).

Gruwell explores these issues by examining how her three interview subjects have succeeded as Wikipedia editors. Beyond bringing some IT expertise, as one participant does, the women exhibit “a sophisticated sense” of how Wikipedia operates that enables them to meet the rigid community requirements (125). They recognize the mandate to direct their work to “the widest possible audience” (“Lekha,” qtd. in Gruwell 125); they copy and develop templates to structure their work in formats that will be accepted (126). Gruwell especially addresses the epistemological standards the women must meet. Of particular note is the need for “sourcing” that will be considered “reliable” (126). The women’s experiences in academia, Gruwell posits, makes meeting this standard easier for these women than it would be for others. However, she provides examples of how this standard excludes individual and local knowledge, as does the site’s sense of what constitutes the “notability” necessary for inclusion on Wikipedia (126). In Gruwell’s view, such practices create a “homogenous” body of information that claims authority as decisive when it fact it excludes rather than enables debate (127). Moreover, citing Andrea A. Lunsford and Lisa Ede, Gruwell identifies Wikipedia as an example of “hierarchical collaboration,” in which differences must be smoothed out rather than acknowledged (127).

Gruwell cites Wikipedia’s recent efforts to address the gender issue, but argues that these efforts do not challenge the limiting epistemology the site endorses (127). She introduces #tooFEW, a feminist group hoping to change the Wikipedia culture rather than simply “align with” it, and notes composition journals that do similar work (127-28). She reminds composition scholars that academic fields also value the “‘objective,’ detached writing” privileged by Wikipedia, and urges feminist scholars to take the “risks” involved in resisting such standards (128). Teachers should bring Wikipedia into classrooms for examination of the assumptions underlying its concept of knowledge and driving its discourse conventions (128). Finally, teaching Wikipedia critically can identify other excluded positionalities in its depiction of reality (128).