(Anti)Racist World-Making in the University: Reinventing Student Work

Pritha Prasad

On April 26th, 2018, it had been 50 years since the 1968 Black Student Union (BSU) at Ohio State occupied a university administrative building to protest racial educational inequities and anti-Black police brutality by campus police. In these protests, nearly 60 Black students demanded more Black faculty and administrators, Black history and language courses (Anderson and Oates), and greater accountability for campus police who had harassed four Black women and kicked them off a bus (“Ohio State”). After the protest, over half of the 60 students were indicted by a Franklin County jury, and Ohio State retaliated by implementing “disruption rules” that would call for the immediate dismissal of any student found in violation (Anderson and Oates). On the 50th anniversary of the initial protests, however, Ohio State invited back several BSU protest leaders to attend a reception with the university’s first Black president Michael V. Drake and take a bus tour of the Columbus campus to, as Ohio State News puts it, “get a sense of how much the university has changed” (“Ohio State”). Among those who returned was John Sidney Evans, the 1968 spokesman for the BSU at the time of the protests who had been expelled from the university and criminally charged as a result of the protests. “The programs that the kids are talking about now,” he recalls in an interview, “that’s what we were talking about 50 years ago . . . We’re part of the reason we have a Black president on this campus” (“Ohio State”). 

As Carmen Kynard has argued at length, the 1968 BSU protests at Ohio State are part of a long history of protest at colleges and universities stemming from the 1960s and 1970s Black Power and the Black Arts Movements (112). Thinking back on this history some 50 years later, it is very easy—perhaps too easy—to read Ohio State’s 2018 recognition of the 1968 protesters as a sign of uncomplicated, linear progress, when in fact university spaces remain particularly hostile and violent for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian and Asian-American people today. Consider, for example, 2016 protests at Ohio State just two years prior calling for divestment from human rights abuses in Palestine and privatized prisons during which student protesters of color were threatened and harassed by administrators and police (OSU Alumni). Think also of Arizona State University professor Ersula Ore, who was assaulted by a police officer on campus while walking home after teaching (Ore 2). After the officer grabbed her, Ore recalls, “[t]he rest was, as too many black folks already know, history” (4). These events do not just occur in or around the university. They are part of the university. What, then, is the university? What does it mean to teach about rhetoric and writing in the university?

Bartholomae famously writes in the first sentence of “Inventing the University” (1986) that “every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to invent the university for the occasion” (4). The student must “learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community” (Bartholomae 4). “Inventing” in 1986 was a very specific intervention in writing studies underpinned by social constructionist and Foucauldian sensibilities about how scholars and teachers ought to approach student writing, but if we expand the meaning of the university to consider racialized, spatialized, and embodied state-sanctioned violence, I can’t help but wonder what is missing in Bartholomae’s treatment of “the university” as a metaphor for the academic discourse students appropriate “or are appropriated by” (Bartholomae 4). Are our BIPOC students “inventing the university” when they are harassed, assaulted, or killed by campus police nearby, outside, or on the way to the classroom? Are they “inventing the university” when they harness embodied protest pedagogies—which are often met with embodied violence by campus officials to demand, like in the 2016 Ohio State protests, that the institution divest from companies that fund privatized prisons and Israeli aid? Are these not examples of student work?

In this chapter, I expand the applications of Bartholomae’s work by exploring how “the university”—and, I would add, our discipline—is “invented” through both racisms and antiracist resistance. In addition to considering, much like Bartholomae does, the university as a metaphor for a system of academic discourse and knowledge, I argue that we must also conceive of the university as a site of racialized world-making that animates the “work” our students of color do, both inside and outside of the classroom, the latter of which is a consideration often absent from popular readings of Bartholomae’s piece. In developing a Black feminist conception of antiracist world-making (Cooper 2015; Nash 2018), I analyze how racialized and embodied world-making literacies crop up in rhetoric and writing studies’ pedagogical, professional, and material spaces in ways that require a critical shift in how we think of student work. This shift is especially important as rhetoric and writing studies undergoes a critical “turn to disciplinarity” in the university (Yancey 16) in the wake of both implicit and explicit racisms on our university campuses, in our discipline, and in our professional spaces. 


World-Making in the University

Perhaps the most common reading of Bartholomae’s “Inventing” revolves around the ways in which students “build” the university in their writing, as Carrie E. Nartker writes, to “meet the expectations they have constructed” (210), When they “invent” the university, students, Andrew Stubbs and Michael Whitehead add, are especially sensitive to “the contingencies, uncertainties of academic practice” (77). These uncertainties are most pronounced for first-year students: in the first year, “one is no longer ‘there,’ not quite ‘here’” (Stubbs and Whitehead 79). The university might therefore be thought of as both a “(con)text” and “an experience” that “impacts students’ levels, even chances, of surviving negatively” (Stubbs and Whitehead 79). 

These analyses of Bartholomae imply that the “university” is something more than a construct or a discursive practice. It is also, perhaps, a site of world-making for our students. Indeed, in considering the university as a “(con)text,” it is revealing how Nartker, Stubbs, and Whitehead utilize metaphors of space, place, and embodiment: students “build” the university (Nartker 210), “one is no longer ‘there,” or “here” (Stubbs and Whitehead 79), and the university is an “experience” that can dictate one’s “survival”—or not (Stubbs and Whitehead 79). I suggest, however, another reading of “Inventing” that reads the university as a site of world-making at the intersections of knowledge-production, literacy, and embodiment, an impulse that these scholars do not fully explore. This world-making, furthermore, is specifically racialized. After all, as the example of the 1968 BSU protests at Ohio State indicates, Black students’ embodied rhetorics of both racialized violence and antiracist resistance have literally, metaphorically, and discursively invented the university as it exists today. 

Black feminist conceptions of world-making open up generative ways to make sense of the racialized, embodied violences that invent the university as a racist world-making project as well as the political possibilities that emerge through and alongside it.[1] Jennifer C. Nash suggests that Black feminist world-making functions as “a form of witnessing that names the ecology of relentless antiblack violence” while at the same time asserting a politics of love and possibility (121).[2] Furthermore, as Brittney Cooper adds, Black feminist “liberatory world-making” is synonymous with “theory-building” (19); in this view, the university is seen as “a site of world-making” (Cooper). The language of “building” and “making” is key here in that it marks “the limits of critique,” and specifically, the limits of poststructural analyses of power that undermine the political possibilities of lived, embodied experiences of racialized identity and practice (Cooper 19). However, as Cooper has stated more recently in a 2019 public lecture, even as we consider the radical potential of world-making, we must also recognize the fact that the aggressive white supremacy of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign is also a world-making project. Recognizing this is especially important, she suggests, if we intend to resist it (Cooper). I think immediately, for example, of the Trump-era rhetoric of “building the wall.” The spatial metaphor of “the wall” does more than mark geopolitical boundaries between the U.S. and Mexico—it is also a kind of world-making that depends upon harming, controlling, and surveilling particular bodies and spaces. 

Nash and Cooper thus demonstrate how we might think of the practice of “building” or “making”—or, perhaps we could say, inventing—in a way that is distinct from popular notions of “building” (Nartker 210) or “inventing” the university (Bartholomae 4) in rhetoric and writing studies as they have developed through Bartholomae’s work. Their conceptualizations of world-making acknowledge how both racism and antiracist resistance build the university imaginary as it reproduces itself in our students’ and our own literacy practices as teachers and scholars of color. It is a kind of embodied and spatialized world-making that is simultaneously historicized, presentist, and future-oriented.[3] 

From this vantage, we might read Kynard’s work (2013) on the convergence and collusion among the Black Arts Movement, Black Power, Black Studies, and Students’ Right to Their Own Language (SRTOL) as not only a critical historiography of rhetoric and writing studies, but also as an analysis of Black students’ world-making in the university. This world-making has historical roots, as Kynard’s work reveals, that underscores crucial relationships between Black literacies, the development of the university, and resistance. Kynard discusses, for example, the “historical continuum” of the post-Reconstruction Fisk University student protests in the 1920s that occurred decades before the 1960s and 1970s Black Arts Movement and SRTOL (25). Although 1920s Fisk protesters addressed mostly the strict and racist dress and behavior codes of universities, the subtext, Kynard reminds us, was a trenchant critique of “the underlying belief that blacks could not control their sexual appetites and needed rules for demureness because, if allowed to exercise full liberty, they would be too savage” (27). These protests marked a “social turn” through their stance of literacy as a “collaborative and socially interactive process,” critically challenging the common belief in rhetoric and writing studies that the social turn originates in the 1980s (Kynard 33). 

However, Black students’ literacy practices during these 1920s protests, Kynard reminds us, are also part of a complex history of education and literacy in Black lives (33). That the students “referenced slavery so closely in their chants was also not inconsequential since post-emancipation represented a new, public discourse on education and literacy” (Kynard 33). The slave spirituals that 1920s Black students chanted in the Fisk protests, she adds, illustrated a “counterhegemonic imagination of literacy and education” and an “extension of the ideologies of their own formerly enslaved ancestors” (Kynard 34). Protests like these not only contested the university’s own spatialized and embodied racist world-making project, but they also animated students’ parallel antiracist world-making projects—their "student work”—of reimagining the intellectual, political, and even spatial architecture of the university. As I show in the following sections, however, expanding the notion of “student work” can also help us better recognize the anti/racist world-making already happening both in our classrooms and in our discipline.


Student World-Making in and beyond the Classroom

When we use the term “student work,” the rhetoric of the classroom as it is implied through the word “student” often obscures some of the other important implications of “work.” Although we as teachers of writing often think of the “work” our students do in terms of course assignments, participation, and assessment, it is worth questioning how “work” could mean something more to our students—and particularly those students who are multiply marginalized on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, or nationality. We can look, for example, to the 2016 NCTE position statement on “Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing” that seeks to address and resist the narrowing of “students’ experience of writing inside school.” As the statement contends, “[w]riting is not just one practice or activity;” thus, understanding what student writers do “involves both thinking about what texts look like when they are finished as well as thinking about what strategies writers might employ to produce those texts” (NCTE). Although the statement goes on to discuss some of the diverse ways in which our students use writing in their lives beyond the narrow experience of “writing inside school,” it does not actually consider student work beyond a framework of writing as it is traditionally conceived. Scholars like Jodi Shipka (2011) have already discussed at length the other kinds of multimodal literacy processes that precede or exceed students’ work in the classroom such as “taking or passing notes in class, composing to-do lists, doodling” (10), but as we consider what antiracist pedagogy looks like in the writing classroom, it is also important to center some of the other works that exist before, after, and around students’ writing: our BIPOC students encountering swastikas, racist graffiti, and white supremacist flyers on campus while walking to class; protesting in analog and digital campus spaces;[4] and, of course, witnessing and experiencing the collective trauma of racialized violences both on and off campus. These forms of world-making defiantly resist containment in the writing classroom. 

In Fall 2016, for example, I taught a course on multimodality and digital protest at Ohio State in which I asked my students to compose video essays that explore or expand any discussion we had had in the course about race, gender, and/or sexuality. This particular moment in U.S. racial politics was fraught: Trump was elected, Dakota Access Pipeline #NoDAPL and #BlackLivesMatter protests had been receiving widespread media coverage, and a particularly insidious brand of white nationalism—the “alt-right”—had recently emerged in the mainstream. As a response to the sheer volume of racist rhetoric at the time, a student of color in my class created a video essay in which she filmed herself in her dorm room watching video news coverage of current #BlackLivesMatter and #NoDAPL protests. She interspersed video footage in which she faced the camera directly with headphones in—the camera seemingly witnessing her own embodied witnessing—with videos of protests from the news. These side-by-side scenes create a jarring juxtaposition of loud, lively protest chants in contrast with long, uncomfortable silences as she sits quietly—looking even “apathetic” at moments, as she wrote in her reflection—in her room. 

Although she contended at the time that she composed this essay with the intention of exploring the passivity of distant witnessing, I couldn’t help but think about how there might also be another way of reading this video essay. The juxtaposition of her embodied witnessing as a woman of color in her college dorm room on campus with antiracist and decolonial protests is more than critique—it is world-making. What is implicit in her video essay is the question of how college campuses, which often present themselves as insulated “safe” spaces that claim to value political progressivism and diversity (Ahmed 61), are actually experienced and navigated differently by BIPOC students who are asked to work, resist, and otherwise thrive in the wake, as Christina Sharpe argues, of “immanent and imminent death” (13). In other words, what this student’s video essay reveals is the seemingly “in-between” spaces of writing that impose themselves upon not only our students’ academic work, but also on the other forms of student work that invent the university in alternative ways: the world-making of cultivating alternative spaces within the institution for community, love, and survival, or the embodied, affective labor of both witnessing and experiencing the violence of racism, while also, like in the case with my student, writing about and critiquing it in their coursework. Indeed, while the examples of the 1968 BSU protests at Ohio State and the 1920s Fisk University protests are surely examples of antiracist world-making as they embody explicit rejections of a racist university project, my student’s video essay from my 2016 course reveals, perhaps, how such world-making practices appear in our classrooms whether we expect them to or not. Following Cooper and Nash, I wonder would it look like to actively cultivate opportunities for world-making in the writing classroom instead of the traditional modes of representation-based, poststructuralist analysis that we as teachers and scholars in rhetoric and composition are often trained to use. More specifically, how can we look at the theory-building and knowledge-creating work our BIPOC students—and particularly women of color and queer people of color—are already doing in the spaces in which they live and work as a basis for understanding how race and racism operate in our classrooms, universities, and beyond? 

Some scholars in rhetoric and composition have argued that the field is currently undergoing a “social justice turn” that marks “a collective disciplinary redressing of social injustice sponsored by rhetorics and practices that infringe upon, neglect, withhold, and/or abolish human, non-human animal, and environmental rights” (Haas and Eble 5). As a scholar who has been engaged in often unrecognized and under-appreciated antiracist work for a long time, it is validating in some ways to see well-intentioned efforts to center such work in our current disciplinary moment. At the same time, however, I am wary of how the dominant conversations around this “turn” almost always assume that BIPOC teachers, scholars, and students have not already been doing this work in, around, and near the classroom. Thus, even while we as writing teachers who teach “process” in our classrooms should consider a fuller vision of what the writing process might look like for our students who continually experience and resist the violence of whiteness in the academy, we should also be critical of how our field’s current “social justice turn,” which coincides with what Kathleen Blake Yancey has identified as a “disciplinary turn” (17), both upholds and stifles certain practices of racist and antiracist world-making.


A Turn to Disciplinarity

Indeed, as I suggest above, my argument need not be attached to a particular historical moment. Those of us whose very personhood and literacies have been historically marginalized and rendered invisible by whiteness have been doing work for a long time. Ore perhaps suggests this most incisively when she remarks on her anti-Black assault in the university: it happened as a singular event in 2014, but it is history (4). However, in considering the title of this collection—Inventing the Discipline—there is a special significance in extending an analysis of anti/racist world-making in rhetoric and writing studies in our current professional moment—our so-called “disciplinary turn” (Yancey 17). This “disciplinary turn,” Yancey argues, is characterized by a 1) “resurgence of interest in research” focusing on student writing (26), as is embodied by this collection; 2) a scholarly impulse to reflect upon and articulate “the knowledge at the center of the discipline” (27); 3) the rise of the undergraduate major in Rhetoric and Composition (27); 4) and the shifting position of the field in the academy (29).

Let me, however, add more to this disciplinary moment as it has coincided with the “social justice turn” that Yancey does not discuss. In 2018, the same year in which Yancey’s piece was published, 4Cs held their conference in Kansas City, Missouri in the midst of a NAACP travel advisory warning people of color not to travel to the state of Missouri,[5] making it unsafe for some scholars of color to attend at all.[6] Then, some six months later, an accomplished and highly visible white scholar uttered the n-word out loud during her 2018 Watson Conference keynote with no formal intervention by conference organizers for nearly a month after the conference[7]—the same conference, incidentally, that Yancey identifies as “a sign of our nascent disciplinarity” in its inception in 1996 (21). All of this occurred, interestingly, in the midst of a widely publicized 2015 NCTE position statement declaring solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and calling upon “English education researchers to commit time to studying and disrupting narratives of racism rendered complexly in the substance of our profession” (NCTE), even while BIPOC students on college campuses organized across the nation to protest explicit racisms in the university in the face of bodily harm—in many cases—by campus police and administrators themselves. 2015 was the same year, for example, that University of Missouri (MU) student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike alongside several other Black student activist efforts in response to explicit racist attacks on campus vowing that he is willing to die if the university’s president didn’t resign (Miller). Our disciplinary world-making has coincided with the racialized world-making projects of the university and beyond, invented and reinvented in our intellectual, pedagogical, and disciplinary paradigms. 

Take, for example, Asao B. Inoue’s 2019 4Cs keynote, which responded both directly and indirectly to this disciplinary context. Gesturing to the world-making forces of whiteness, Inoue attested in his talk that we need to “commiserate together here in this place because often we may be alone at our home institutions … I have seen white people around you smile at your words, then not take them, turn and go on in their White world, a world that rewards their silence and hesitation” (Inoue). One of the most notable components of Inoue’s talk, however, was the question of address: who do we (not) address in our work, our teaching, or otherwise? As an antiracist world-making project, Inoue thus addresses the first portion of his talk to only the people of color in the audience, a purposeful invisibilization and silencing of the “White world.” 

Some days later, Erec Smith, a Black associate professor at York College of Pennsylvania wrote to the WPA-L listserv critiquing Inoue’s speech, arguing that institutional racism “cannot be addressed by telling white people they are inherently tyrannous to students of color.” Rather, he suggests, it is necessary to embrace the white habits of mind Inoue critiques to “use favored discourses against the traditional holders when necessary.” In closing, he writes in his email that he is “concerned by the turn this conference and this field are taking.” The field “would have you believe,” he declares, that “first year composition is as big of a problem as economic disparity and police brutality; this is a false equivalency no one seems to notice” (Smith).

Shortly after Smith sent his email to the WPA-L listserv, Everardo Cuevas, a Chicanx graduate student at Michigan State University, posted a response to Smith’s original message. Cuevas writes, addressing Smith:

What Asao is asking us to do is to consider at what costs do these hegemonic “habits of mind” come at? What are you asking to sacrifice in our material/visceral/oppressed bodies when you reduce learning the tools that oppress as a necessary evil (that is basically your argument) to navigate “contexts.” Audre Lorde answered this question decades ago: the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, but they do offer “narrow avenues of change.” Of course some of us know that we have to wield these problematic tools (like standard English) to make meaning sometimes … We often make concessions to get by. (Cuevas)

Cuevas continues, contending that “those who read Asao’s call to action to promote change, wish to create a future where folks don’t have to make these concessions anymore.” That will only happen, he notes, “if we change and actually do different things.” While no one is “equating the severity of the industrial prison complex and police brutality to FYC,” they are related, Cuevas argues, “because we carry these relations in our bodies in our classrooms, in our academic communities” (Cuevas).

Smith’s original critique captures a common application of Bartholomae’s intervention in “Inventing”—as well as, for example, the interventions of scholars like Lisa Delpit who argued around the same time in the late 1980s about the importance of teaching students “the codes [of power] needed to participate fully in the mainstream of American life” (Delpit 296). Students “invent” the university when they sit down to write, and, as Smith suggests, the re-creation of this imaginary—the world-making practices of the white university—enables students to “imagine for themselves the privilege of being ‘insiders’” (Bartholomae 10) as a means, ultimately, of becoming insiders. This impulse can be problematic if followed to its logical end, Kynard warns, in that it continues to serve as a basis for validating “a paradigm for economic uplift that black students can be taught to linguistically manipulate and master” that upholds integrationist ethnicity paradigms (94). I view Cuevas’s critique of Smith, on the other hand, as embodying the world-making impulse captured by the works of Nash, Cooper, Kynard, and, I would add, the student from my 2016 course. Like Smith, Cuevas recognizes the university as a site of world-making that materially mediates the literacy practices of students (and teachers) of color, but he also suggests something more: it is not enough to accept and embrace the university as a site of standardized, whiteness-centered world-making. Rather, as he argues, we must “create a future where folks don’t have to make these concessions anymore.” We must “change and actually do different things” (Cuevas). 

What Cuevas is arguing for is a shift in how we as researchers and teachers of writing approach not only student writing, but also in our pedagogical and scholarly paradigms that continually view student work as separate from a network of embodied violence, of the racist world-making forces of mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline, police brutality, and settler colonialism that also underpin the university. Thus, when Yancey, citing Charles Bazerman’s 2002 arguments for a new disciplinarity based on “put[ting] together the large, important, and multi-dimensional story of writing,” considers what our discipline might look like moving forward (qtd. in Yancey 21), I can’t help but wonder: are not the concerns highlighted by Cuevas part of this “multi-dimensional story of writing?” Bazerman argues for the necessity of this project given that the university is “central to contemporary society’s knowledge, ambitions and professions” and an “international meeting place of global projects” (qtd. in Yancey 22). Interestingly, we again see the rhetoric of world-making here to describe the university as it is invented through our students’ work. However, as Smith’s response to Inoue’s keynote indicates, a sustained analysis of the racial histories and forces that intellectually and materially invent the university and our discipline continue to be sidelined as “a false equivalency” (Smith), even as these forces shape our students’ work both inside and outside the classroom.


(Re)inventing Student Work 

Notably, Smith’s response to Inoue illustrates a particular disciplinary discomfort with centralizing race in the teaching and theorizing of student writing. It is revealing, for example, that Smith’s critique of Inoue is followed almost immediately by the declaration of his concern about “the turn this conference and this field are taking” (Smith) in a moment that has been deemed a “turn to disciplinarity” (Yancey 16). Indeed, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian-American scholars in rhetoric and writing studies have, for nearly a century, critiqued the sidelining and tokenization of the scholarship and perspectives of scholars, teachers, and students of color. In some ways, then, responses like Smith’s that suggest a discomfort with centralizing the insights of critical race scholars in how we approach student writing are part of a very long disciplinary and university world-making project that neither starts nor ends with Smith. As 1968 BSU activist Sidney recalls, for example, even though the programs that Ohio State protesters were demanding in 1968 are now available 50 years later, this fact has not meant that the university is a safer space for Black students today or that Black students are no longer organizing on campuses to challenge and make visible the racist world-makings of the university as a way to imagine more equitable futures. My point is that the fact that critiques like those of Kynard, Inoue, and Cuevas are viewed by scholars like Smith and many others as marginal to mobilizing antiracist world-making practices in the university and discipline underscores just how important it is for us to shift to a view that makes visible the centrality of racial politics to understanding what our discipline has been, and what it can be in the future. Our students of color have been doing this work. Scholars like Kynard have also been doing this work, pulling from a long and rich tradition of Black feminist and women of color feminist world-making and critical historiography. One might also look to Iris Ruiz’s insightful work in Reclaiming Composition for Chicano/as and Other Ethnic Minorities (2016), a text that, as the title suggests, reclaims composition studies’ history through the work of students of color rather than the common practice of merely finding and filling in blanks in an existing genealogy. Scholars like Kynard and Ruiz extend decades-long traditions of antiracist organizing within and against the discipline that has been historically led and initiated in part by the NCTE/CCCC race and ethnicity-based Caucuses. From the contesting of transnational racialized, gendered, and sexualized violences in the 1980s alongside Third World and women of color feminists working towards reproductive justice (Kynard 2013; Vergès 2020)[8] to its national efforts in the field to bring out the material links between racial inequities in the organization and in scholarship (Gilyard 2013), the Black Caucus,[9] for example, has consistently “criticized the academic colonization of Black topics” (Gilyard, “African American” 636) while also resisting the many ways in which the foundational political organizing and intellectual work of Black scholars has continually been erased from dominant disciplinary histories.[10]

As Ruiz points out, however, too often the work of scholars of color in our field’s major journals like College Composition and Communication or Journal of Advanced Composition are featured only in “special issues,” the assumption being that our “issues” are “special,” not central or imperative (10). This logic is replicated in NCTE and CCCC’s own labeling of the identity-based caucuses as “Special Interest Groups,” as though the works of the Black, Latinx, American Indian, and Asian/Asian American caucuses are meant only to enrich the whiteness that remains unflinchingly at the core of the discipline. These assumptions are precisely why antiracist activism and teaching often emerge from what perpetually feels like what Karma R. Chávez has called “emergency mode” as a response to immediate, material harm or erasure (Chávez, Suchland, and Prasad). In the same way that this retroactive temporality is troubling, we must think also of the situations of precarity these assumptions generate. Consider the fact that Smith and Cuevas are both among just a handful of people of color in rhetoric and writing studies, both of whom occupy different positions of power in the academy. What does it suggest when it is our graduate students of color, those in the greatest positions of professional and political precarity, who are the ones publicly doing this work? Indeed, this is student work, not unlike like the work our students do in the writing classroom. And one might also ask, as Ruiz herself does in a later email in the same WPA-L thread, “[w]hy won’t our white, tenured colleagues come out with the critiques” (Ruiz)? 

At the same time, I wonder how we might also attend to student work in the classroom in the service of world-making rather than critique or redress, the latter of which should be a starting point to antiracist work rather than an end in and of itself. What compels me most about Inoue’s valuable work of articulating interventions for interrupting white supremacist modes of assessment and grading is his call to shift from standardized assessment and pedagogical modes to a sustained focus on “the amount or intensity of labor” (117) students engage as the central basis for assessment. But when does the shift happen from a Marxist conception of “labor” to Black feminist “world-making” or “theory-building” (Cooper 19)? The notion of world-making demands a situatedness and specificity derived from centering the everyday work of Black feminist scholars, Black women, women of color, and queer people of color as a basis for understanding not only racialized students’ labor, but also their “invisible geographies” and “ways of knowing the world” (McKittrick 7). There is clear material labor, for example, in my student’s work from my 2016 course, but there is also her creative and sometimes ambivalent work of reimagining and reinventing the composing process as inextricable from racialized, gendered, and sexualized processes of embodied witnessing, experiencing, and resisting both inside and outside of the classroom. The question, then, is how to move from redefining racist grading and assessment practices to paying attention to how our marginalized students—including our graduate students—are already imagining the materiality of spaces of knowledge-production differently. Following Black feminism’s sustained focus on the politics of the everyday (Williamson 20), when we center the work of our BIPOC students as theory, as the “multi-dimensional story of writing” (Bazerman qtd. in Yancey 22) we must cultivate, we can open broader connections—as I’ve attempted to make in this piece—between (anti)racisms in our pedagogical spaces, our disciplinary identity and history, and our professional community in rhetoric and composition. 

I am not arguing that we should centralize discussions of race, racism, and antiracist resistance in the writing classroom, in our scholarship, in our professional organizations, and in the university. I am arguing that race, racism, and antiracist resistance are central to the writing classroom, our scholarship, our professional organizations, and the university. To be clear, I am not the first to make this argument, and I will certainly not be the last. When remembering how the classroom felt in 2014 in the wake of the Ferguson Uprising and Michael Brown’s murder, my friend and colleague Brandon J. Manning (2019), for example, recalls the inescapable “collective affective experience” of embracing “the stillness of processing pain and trauma” as a Black teacher alongside his Black students (62). These collective experiences are certainly literacies, but they are also, notably, a kind of theory and world-making cultivated through the embodied, racialized histories and “relations,” to use Cuevas’s term, of the institution that we carry—and invent—in our classrooms. 


[1] It is necessary here to distinguish between Black feminist thought/Black feminism and Black feminist practice. As Terrion L. Williamson argues in alignment with foundational work of the Combahee River Collective, Black feminism requires a commitment to centering the work and lives of Black feminist theorists and Black women and girls broadly “while actively struggling against racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other intersecting modalities of oppression that affect even those who do not identify as either black or female” (20). Black feminist practice, on the other hand, articulates a radical commitment to “the significance of black female life and the humanity of all black peoples, regardless of whether the practitioner identifies with feminism as a formalized ideological commitment or holds some views that might ultimately be deemed antithetical to feminism itself” (Williamson 20). I align my usage of Black feminist theory with Williamson’s notion of Black feminist thought/Black feminism as I consider how the centering Black feminist thought in analyses of anti-Blackness can uniquely reveal the material operations of race and racism comparatively across races, genders, sexualities, nationalities, and class distinctions.

[2] Nash’s conceptualization of world-making is inspired by Christina Sharpe’s (2016) concept of “wake work” (Nash 121). Sharpe argues that wake work involves the “plotting, mapping, and collecting” of archives of the “everyday of Black immanent and imminent death,” while also “tracking the ways we resist, rupture, and disrupt that immanence and imminence aesthetically and materially” (13).

[3] The theories of world-making I discuss are not new. Tiffany Lethabo King gestures towards the risks in imagining Black feminist frameworks as “new” by stripping them from their context and history (125). Nash also shares in King’s critique, pointing to the ways in which “progress” in the university through institutionalized frameworks of Black feminisms and intersectionality obscures a long history of Black feminist world-making (119). Indeed, women of color feminists, and particularly Black feminists, who are scholars of—or who have become seminal in—rhetoric and writing studies have long theorized about the embodied, situated knowledge and literacy as world-making practices as is exemplified by the works of scholars like Geneva Smitherman, Jacqueline Jones Royster, June Jordan, Patricia Hills Collins, and, of course, Kynard.

[4] There are almost too many occurrences to count. At the time at which I was revising this chapter, the most recently discussed instance of racist graffiti and violence on a college campus was that of Syracuse University. Throughout the month of November, as Teri Weaver writes, 12 cases of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti were found on campus, causing the FBI, Syracuse police, and New York State Police to investigate the incidents (Weaver). Among several additional incidents, students then reported later in the month a white supremacist manifesto which had been posted to an online forum, while another person at Bird Library on campus attempted to use Apple’s AirDrop function to share with nearby students another manifesto “appearing to be a copy of one authored by the perpetrator of the mosque shootings in March in New Zealand” (Weaver). In response, campus student activist groups organized both digital and analog protests under the hashtag “#NotAgainSU” (Weaver).

[5] On June 7, 2017, the NAACP released an urgent travel advisory in the state of Missouri in response to SB 43. SB 43 legalizes individual discrimination and prevents individuals from protection from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation (NAACP). This statement was a direct response to a number of anti-Black, Islamaphobic, and homophobic attacks—and in some cases, deaths—that had recently occurred in Missouri.

[6] Kynard critiques in her blog the ways in which the organization fails to center the “racialized everydayness” Black and Brown students experience in and near college campuses (Kynard). She vows not to attend the conference, stating that she will not allow the NCTE/4Cs and Missouri “to profit off the backs of the young people of color I teach” (Kynard).

[7] At the 2018 Watson Conference, which I attended for the first time that year, Laurie Gries uttered the “n word” out loud during her keynote as she quoted a racist remark made to her as a child by a teacher about one of her Black classmates (Gries). Neither Gries nor the conference organizers addressed this incident until nearly a month later. In response, the NCTE/CCCC Black, Latinx, American Indian, Queer, and Asian/Asian American Caucuses released an open letter denouncing Gries’s usage of the “n word” and the Watson Conference organizers’ inaction (NCTE/CCCC).

[8] Led by Ernece Kelly, the NCTE/CCCC Black Caucus, for example, protested the 1980 CCCC convention site after it was revealed to be a subsidiary of the Nestle Corporation, Nestle, for years, had been purposely producing unhealthy baby milk formula targeting women in the Global South (Kynard 75), a practice that had long been protested by reproductive rights activists, many of whom were women of color and Third World feminists (Vergés and Glover 2020). Notably, Kelly also urged the NCTE to establish a formal position as an organization with regards to Apartheid in South Africa (Kynard 75).

[9] My focus on the Black Caucus here is not meant to undermine the work of other NCTE/CCCC race and ethnicity-based Caucuses. Among many other texts, see, for example, Sano-Franchini, Jennifer, K. Hyoejin Yoon, and Terese Guinsatao Monberg’s (eds.) Building a Community, Having a Home (2017) for a history of the political and intellectual work of the Asian/Asian American Caucus or García, Romeo, Iris D. Ruiz, Anita Hernández, and María Paz Carvajal Regidor’s Viva Nuestro Caucus (2019) for a political and intellectual history of the Latinx Caucus. 

[10] See Kynard’s (2013) critique of Stephen Parks’ Class Politics: The Movement for the Students’ Right to Their Own Language (2000), as well as Scott, Jerrie Cobb and Valerie Kinloch’s “Review of Class Politics: The Movement for the Students’ Right to Their Own Language” (2001) in JAC. 

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Duke UP, 2012.

Anderson, Erika M. and Matt Oates. “Tracing Black History at Ohio State.” The Lantern, Ohio State University, 1998, thelantern.com/1998/08/tracing-black-history-at-ohio-state. 

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” Journal of Basic Writing, vol. 5, no. 1, spring 1986, pp. 4-23.

Bazerman, Charles. “The Case for Writing Studies as a Major Discipline.” The Intellectual Work of Composition, edited by Gary Olson, Southern Illinois UP, 2002, pp. 32-38.

Chávez, Karma R., Jennifer Suchland, and Pritha Prasad. “Episode Ten: A Conversation with Dr. Karma Chávez.” The Ohio State University Human Rights in Transit Podcast, Ohio State University, 3 Apr. 2018, u.osu.edu/hrit/media/.

Cooper, Brittney. “Love No Limit: Towards a Black Feminist Future (In Theory).” The Black Scholar, vol. 45, no. 4, winter 2015, pp. 7-21. 

---. “Whose Humanities?.” Hall Center for Humanities Lecture Series, University of Kansas, 12 Sept. 2019, Liberty Hall, Lawrence, KS. Public lecture. 

Cuevas, Everardo. “Re: The Cs Chair’s Address.” Message to WPA-L. 19 March 2019. 

Delpit, Lisa. “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 58, no. 3, Sept.1988, pp. 280-98.

García, Romeo. Iris D. Ruiz, Anita Hernández, and María Paz Carvajal Regidor (eds.). Viva Nuestro Caucus: Rewriting the Forgotten Pages of Our Caucus. Parlor Press, 2019.

Gilyard, Keith. “African American Contributions to Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 50, no. 4, June 1999, pp. 626-44.

---. True to the Language Game: African American Discourse, Cultural Politics, and Pedagogy. Taylor & Francis, 2013.

Gries, Laurie. “Swastika Monitoring: Developing Digital Research Tools to Track Visual Rhetorics of Hate.” Watson Conference, University of Louisville, 25 Oct. 2018, Strickler Auditorium, Louisville, KY. 

Haas, Angela and Michelle F. Eble. “Introduction: The Social Justice Turn.” Key Theoretical Frameworks: Teaching Technical Communication in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Angela Haas and Michelle F. Eble, Utah State UP, 2018.

Inoue, Asao B. Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future. WAC Clearinghouse, 2015. 

---. “How Do We Language So People Stop Killing Each Other, Or What Do We DO About White Language Supremacy?” Conference on College Composition and Communication, 14 March 2019, Pittsburgh, PA.

King, Tiffany Lethabo. “Post-Identitarian and Post-Intersectional Anxiety in the Neoliberal Corporate University.” Feminist Formations, vol. 27, no. 3, winter 2015, pp. 114-138.

Kynard, Carmen. “A Black Feminist Critique of Bourgeois Professional Organizations…. 40 Years after the Combahee River Collective.” Education, Liberation & Black Radical Traditions for the 21st Century, Carmen Kynard, 16 Nov. 2017, carmenkynard.org/tag/race-and-composition-studies/.

---. Vernacular Insurrections: Race, Black Protest, and the New Century in Composition-Literacy Studies. SUNY P, 2014. 

Manning, Brandon J. “Protest Pedagogy: A Meditation on Unapologetic Blackness in the Neo-liberal University.” Prose Studies, vol. 40, no. 1-2, 2019, pp. 60-70.

McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women, Geography, and the Poetics of Landscape. U of Minnesota, 2006.

Miller, Michael E. “Black Grad Student on Hunger Strike in Mo. after Swastika Drawn with Human Feces.” The Washington Post, 6 Nov. 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/11/06/black-grad-student-on-hunger-strike-in-mo-after-swastika-drawn-with-human-feces.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “URGENT MISSOURI TRAVEL ADVISORY.” Missouri NAACP, 10 June 2017, monaacp.org/urgent-missouri-travel-advisory.

National Council of Teachers of English. “Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing.” NCTE, 28 Feb. 2016, ncte.org/statement/teaching-writing/. 

---. “Statement Affirming #BlackLivesMatter.” NCTE, 8 September 2015,ncte.org/governance/pres-team_9-8-15.

Nartker, Carrie E. “‘All the World’s a Stage’: Performance, Audience, and A Room of One’s Own.” Rhetoric, Uncertainty, and the University as Text: How Students Construct the Academic Experience, edited by Andrew Stubbs, U of Regina P, 2007, pp. 210-220.

Nash, Jennifer C. Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality. Duke UP, 2018.

NCTE/CCCC Black, Latinx, American Indian, Queer, and Asian/Asian American Caucuses. “Fellow Colleagues.” Open letter addressed to 2018 Watson Conference organizers, 4 Dec. 2018.

“Ohio State Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Protests for Racial Equality.” Ohio State News, 2018, news.osu.edu/ohio-state-commemorates-50th-anniversary-of-protests-for-racial-equality/. 

OSU Alumni. “Letter to the Editor: Alumni Stand in Support with #ReclaimOSU.” The Lantern, 13 Apr. 2016, www.thelantern.com/2016/04/letter-to-the-editoralumni-stand-in-support-with-reclaimosu.

Ore, Ersula J. “They Call Me Dr. Ore.” Present Tense, vol. 5, no. 2, 2015, pp. 1-6.

Ruiz, Iris D. Reclaiming Composition for Chicano/as and Other Ethnic Minorities, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

---. “Re: The Cs Chair’s Address.” Message to WPA-L. 21 March 2019.

Sano-Franchini, Jennifer, K. Hyoejin Yoon, and Terese Guinsatao Monberg (eds.). Building a Community, Having a Home: A History of the Conference on College Composition and Communication Asian/Asian American Caucus, Parlor Press, 2017.

Scott, Jerrie Cobb and Valerie Kinloch. “Review of Class Politics: The Movement for the Students’ Right to Their Own Language,JAC, vol. 21, no. 3, 2001, pp. 705-710.

Sharpe, Christina. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke UP, 2016.

Shipka, Jodi. Toward a Composition Made Whole. U of Pittsburgh P, 2011.

Smith, Erec. “The Cs Chair’s Address.” Message to WPA-L. 19 March 2019.

Stubbs, Andrew and Michael Whitehead. “‘Since the Dawn of Time…’: Thinking/Writing in the Gaps.” Rhetoric, Uncertainty, and the University as Text: How Students Construct the Academic Experience, edited by Andrew Stubbs, U of Regina P, 2007, pp. 76-98.

Vergès, Françoise. The Wombs of Women: Race, Capital, Feminism. Duke University Press, 2020.

Weaver, Teri. “#NotAgainSU: A Timeline of Racist Incidents at Syracuse University.” Syracuse.com, 22 Nov. 2019, syracuse.com/Syracuse university/2019/11/notagainsu-a-timeline-of-racist-incidents-at-syracuse university.html

Williamson, Terrion L. Scandalize My Name: Black Feminist Practice and the Making of Black Social Life. Fordham UP, 2017.

Yancey, Kathleen B. “Mapping the Turn to Disciplinarity: A Historical Analysis of Composition’s Trajectory and Its Current Moment.” Composition, Rhetoric, and Disciplinarity, edited by Rita Malenczyk, Utah State UP, 2018, pp. 15-35.