Finding and Fitting, Three Decades Later: Introduction to CFSHRC 2019 Action Hour

The Coalition’s 2019 Action Hour, one of several pre-conference events leading up to the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Pittsburgh, wasn’t originally planned as a 30th anniversary celebration. While 2019 did mark the end of the Coalition’s third decade, our attentions had been turned elsewhere since the 25th anniversary gala in 2014—namely, toward increasing mentoring opportunities and gift resources, being deliberate about directing those resources outward to individuals and groups who had been underrepresented by the organization or in the field, and trying to get ahead of (not merely to meet) the needs of a growing and changing membership. However, after we received word that past-president Cheryl Glenn was the 2019 recipient of the CCCC Exemplar Award, and after we received an e-mail from past-president Nancy Anne Myers about a historic gift of stock she had chosen to make in order to support feminist rhetorical scholarship, we began planning in earnest. It was a fitting tribute to Myers and Glenn for the tremendous colleagues they have been, framed by a celebration of the accomplishments of all thirteen past-presidents of the Coalition, and a poignant reflection of how far the organization had come since its shoestring days.

It was also a sobering reflection of how much work there is still to do, as demonstrated across the four microtalks around which the evening was built. The main focus of the evening was on a series of microtalks whose speakers were charged with articulating an intersectional methodology or space that has gone understated and underserved, or been hindered or obscured by disciplinary frameworks. The Coalition is roughly the same age as Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins,” and this year, in recognition of how much Crenshaw’s work has provided feminist academics and activists with the critical vocabulary they needed to define identity politics at various intersections of sexism and racism, we wanted to more closely consider the structural, political, and representational “frameworks” for thinking about the fraught or hybrid spaces that we occupy. Thus, emphasizing frameworks over “totalizing theor[ies] of identity” (Crenshaw), in early 2018, a call for papers went out that invited interrogations and explorations of how those intersections look today, and of where intersectionality has led us as a Coalition, and as a field.

While the call for papers invoked Crenshaw’s metaphor, my challenge and our challenge was not to extend, appropriate, or even reflect on Crenshaw’s framework. What we wanted was for Coalition members in feminist rhetorical studies, writing studies, communication studies, and women’s and gender studies to identify other areas of potential epistemic violence—of actual and practiced marginalization that could be interrogated more critically, whether from the marginalized positions of class, gender, and race or from elsewhere. We had hoped to articulate discoveries that reached beyond too-easy appropriations of Crenshaw’s work.

Microtalk proposals were blind-refereed by a vetting committee, then revised or refined with the input of mentor-readers over the space of four months. Selecting and vetting the microtalks was challenging, in part because the vetting committee had many more proposals to judge than were expected in response to the call for papers, and in part because adjudicating anything in light of a CFP that invoked Crenshaw’s work would be taking an optical risk. Critiques abound of the convenient uptake of “intersectionality” by white scholars, and among them Eric Darnell Pritchard’s essay (posted to Carmen Kynard’s blog in July 2019) rings the most elegant and poignant: “When You Know Better, Do Better,” … and stop shading, flattening, or diminishing the significant contributions of those on whose shoulders your own critical work rests (paraphrase mine). Reading Pritchard’s essay several months later helped me identify what had been my greatest hesitancy in circulating the call.

Responding to the CFP, the talks offered smart, engaging and pointed reminders of how every organization—including the one hosting the evening—is at great risk of mere appropriation and performative injustice if it does not immediately and systematically practice four kinds of reflection:

  1. a reflection on ableism, and the challenges of admitting the discomfort of chronic conditions or of practicing self advocacy, as well as recognizing less visible chronic ailments to be worthy of care, as argued by Sarah Singer;
  2. a reflection on ageism, and the quietly held reliance on a threshold whose crossing determines whether we give or take away each other’s epistemic right to be wise enough, seasoned enough, and expert enough to fully participate in public rhetorical work, as argued by Heather Adams;
  3. a reflection on the deeply embedded citational politics that cause us to erase scholars of color from the intertextual spaces they deserve to occupy, as punctuated by Jenny Ungbha Korn’s provocation to “cite scholars of color when you can, and you always can”; and
  4. a reflection on our rhetorical listening practices that, more often than not, reinforce rather than deconstruct the barriers that Muslim women scholars must constantly face in American higher education, as argued by Lana Oweidat.

Speakers had only seven minutes apiece in which to convey their arguments and examples, before participants launched into 15-minute interactive roundtable discussions with the aid of a literal puzzling activity. Conceived by Patty Wilde and Erin Wecker, the puzzling activity was designed to both laud and critique, reflect agreement and disagreement, and offer statements and questions back to one another, the speakers, the organization, and the field. The puzzle pieces were gathered intact from each table, transcribed, and offered back to the microtalk speakers for their final response. The resulting “forum” is what we remediate here.

Neither the CFP nor the evening was about putting people on display—or about determining who deserved to be put on display—but about focusing discussion on where we still are with marked and unmarked identifiers in feminist rhetorical work, and inviting Coalition members to bring their scholarship to bear on that discussion. Indeed, our challenge had been to ask how we could be more fitted for one another and to the conversation, and to identify the barriers therein. Judging by the roundtable responses, there are lingering marked identifiers still operating as mythical apparatuses in our conceptions of how to do feminist rhetorical work, and a number of people in the room saw and felt the weight of history’s assumptions as well as other contemporary accusations and constraints bearing on the kind of space we were trying to create.

In an effort to reflect both the individual work of the microtalks and the communal work of the evening, Jen England—Peitho’s talented web coordinator—has designed a format for this Remediation that enables the microtalks to stand alone and together, to be cited and recognized as individual works and as an assemblage of parts that comprised our forum. We sincerely hope that you will.

I must absolutely acknowledge the following individuals, without whom the celebration or the evening would not have been possible: Amanda Brooks, LoriBeth DeHertogh, Rebecca Dingo, Julianna Edmonds, Jen England, Patricia Fancher, Cory Geraths, Mariana Grohowski, Charlotte Hogg, Amy Lueck, Andrea Lunsford, Lisa Mastrangelo, Gwen Pough, Amanda Presswood, Cristina Ramírez, Alexis Ramsey Tobienne, Rebecca Richards, Lisa Shaver, Rebekah Sims, Erin Wecker, Kathleen Welch, and Patty Wilde. Their incredible and heartfelt work in gathering testimonials, designing posters, vetting presentations, mentoring presenters, conceptualizing the roundtables, encouraging discussion, operating social media, donating resources to the space, setting up the space, cleaning up the space, and other less glamorous tasks, truly made the evening.

While on that evening I opened with a land acknowledgment, as most of us did during the 2019 conference, I will close with it here. The indigenous people of the land on which we convened—the Lenni Lenape, Shawnee, and Haudenosaunee, the six Nations (the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga and Tuscarora)—did not authorize us to meet at the confluence of their rivers. There is nothing I can compose here to bring full acknowledgment and justice to the need for sovereignty and self-determination of the peoples whose terrain on which we stood, but I can recognize that beautiful place and be grateful for it. It permitted us, for two hours on a Wednesday evening, a space in which to dwell as feminist scholars who are trying to be better fitted to one another.

Tarez Samra Graban
CFSHRC President 2018–2020


To cite this page:

Graban, Tarez Samra. “Finding and Fitting, Three Decades Later: Introduction to the CFSHRC 2019 Action Hour.” Peitho digital insert, Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall/Winter 2019.