Heather Brook Adams
Dr. Heather Brook Adams is assistant professor in the Department of English and cross-appointed faculty in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She has been involved with the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition since graduate school and is a relatively new member of the Coalition’s Advisory Board. Heather’s experiences are shaped by her work in community organizing, her non-academic experiences in the non-profit sector, and her academic interests.
Panel: "Intersectional Imperatives: Steps toward an Antiracist and Inclusive Feminisms & Rhetorics Conference"
Date: Thursday, April 22, 2:30-4 pm EST
Wendy Sharer: "Background and Contexts"
Dr. Sharer will briefly explore exclusionary practices and histories that culminated in substantial revision of the Coalition’s biennial Feminisms & Rhetorics conference and in ongoing efforts to front antiracist, inclusive work in the organization.
In March of 2020, the Advisory Board of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition voted to cancel the 2021 Biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics (FemRhet) Conference. This decision was made in light of COVID, but, more significantly, it reflected long-standing (and growing) concerns about the inclusivity of the conference. Concerns about the whiteness of conference programs, concerns about the costs of attending (for graduate students in particular), and concerns about the inaccessibility and exclusionary histories of the places and spaces within which the conference had been held all contributed.
The cancellation of the 2021 FemRhet conference was followed in April 2020 by the Advisory Board's vote to establish a task force to explore and articulate changes to the workflows, processes, and formats of the FemRhet conference. Before such a task force could be formed, in May of 2020, we witnessed the murder of George Floyd. The ongoing killing of Black people at the hands of the police and the massive demonstrations protesting police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement drove home the need to upend “conferencing as usual.”
Jessica Enoch: "The Workflow, Processes, and Format Task Force"
In June of 2020, the newly formed "Workflow, Processes, and Formats" (WPF) task force was charged with identifying specific actions that the Coalition and/or FemRhet planning teams might take to ensure that antiracism and inclusivity inform all aspects of future conference planning and implementation. The WPF task force members have worked hard this past year to generate paths toward substantive change and will, by the time of the Watson Conference, have made specific recommendations to the Advisory Board.
In this portion of the session, Dr. Enoch, a member of the WPF task force, will explore how the group’s conversations were anchored to multiple layers and forms of feedback: feedback provided by individual task force members; feedback communicated through evaluations that FemRhet conference attendees have provided over the years; and feedback gathered through an “inclusivity survey,” distributed via email and social media to Coalition members and supporters, that was designed to gather information that might enable greater inclusivity in the FemRhet conference and the broader Coalition.
This portion of the session will also explore the essential role of expertise to the effective work of the task force. Task force members include two experts in Black studies and African American rhetorics who were able to speak to efforts to center BIPOC scholars (and their labor) in ways that are substantial and long-term (not just for the benefit of the Coalition or for one conference). Another member is an established disability studies scholar-organizer whose expertise in accessibility has been invaluable to discussions. Additionally, the task force involved organizers of past FemRhet conferences whose generosity and openness in sharing first-hand experience provided critical perspectives on how certain aspects of previous FemRhet conferences have limited the radical potential of the conference to be a holistically inclusive space.
Jane Greer: "The Graduate Student Outreach Task Force"
Efforts to increase accessibility and inclusivity this past year have also consisted of the essential work of a Graduate Student Outreach task force. This task force was formed in 2019 in response to concerns about inclusivity and accessibility for graduate students at the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference and in the Coalition as a whole. Dr. Greer will explore how “taking stock” played a critical role in the efforts of this group. The task force spent significant time cataloguing existing opportunities for graduate students within the Coalition and at its biennial conference. This process of “documentation without defensiveness” laid the groundwork for the taskforce to help expand and transform mentoring opportunities within the Coalition and to recommend changes to the organization’s governance structure.
Gwendolyn D. Pough & Heather Brook Adams: "The Shared Values Task Force"
A third significant component of this year's work toward a more inclusive conference and organization was a Shared Values task force. When it became apparent that articulating a set of shared principles and values with regard to antiracism and promoting inclusivity would be of invaluable assistance in coordinating the work of the task forces and in guiding future efforts of the Coalition, this task force was formed to draft such a guiding document.
The idea of a shared values statement emerged from effective models that Coalition advisory board members engaged with through community organizing and advocacy work. Learning from such communities of practice, this task force set about identifying the rhetorical and organizational purposes of similar statements, including the ability for stated values to both move toward some coherence across various working groups and to provide a heuristic for generating new ideas and facilitating dialogue through potential conflict. As a small group, we were also able to dialogue and listen to one another and thus identify key rhetorical restraints such as determining who (all) should contribute to values-naming, possibilities for statement development, and the need for transparency throughout a values-drafting process.
Wendy Sharer: Wrap-up and Q&A
The session will conclude with a brief discussion of how the work of these three task forces--the Workflow, Processes, and Formats task force; the Graduate Student Outreach task force; and the Shared Values task force--highlight the multiple, complex, intersecting roles that organizations, institutions, and conference programming play in fostering and/or limiting the inclusivity and accessibility of a conference. Time will be provided for questions and conversation among attendees.