Mara Lee Grayson

Assistant Professor, California State University Dominguez Hills
Mara Lee Grayson

Mara Lee Grayson, a white woman with shoulder-length blonde hair, stands with arms folded.

Dr. Mara Lee Grayson is an antiracism and critical whiteness scholar, teacher, and consultant, specializing in antiracism in higher education. She is the author of the books Teaching Racial Literacy: Reflective Practices for Critical Writing (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018) and Race Talk in the Age of the Trigger Warning: Recognizing and Challenging Classroom Cultures of Silence (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), as well as numerous articles and book chapters. Dr. Grayson holds a PhD from Columbia University and is currently an Assistant Professor of English at California State University, Dominguez Hills. She has worked with the Scholarly Institute of Teaching Excellence at El Camino College, the Women’s Leadership Workshops at California State University Dominguez Hills, and the Pace University Faculty Institute, among other organizations. She is Co-Chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication's Taskforce on Assessing Whiteness for Equity, Understanding, and Change, serves on the CCCC Committee for Change and the CCCC Social Justice at the Convention Committee, and previously served on the NCTE Convention Task Force. Learn more at or follow her on Twitter @maraleegrayson.

Presentation: "Policy, Programs, and Practice: A Tripartite Approach to Challenging White Supremacy in Professional Conference Planning

Date: Thursday, April 22, 12:30-1:45 pm EST

Description: Traditional so-called “diversity” trainings generally emphasize the reduction of race-based prejudice and the expansion of opportunities for members who identify as BIPOC; though the significance of these emphases should not be understated, too often we see that the reduction of prejudice is temporary or limited and the new opportunities translate to access without equity. For example, participants may make fewer overt racist remarks but may continue to participate in covert racism or misogyny; BIPOC scholars may receive additional funding to attend a conference but limited support once they arrive. Other times, the formation of initiatives aimed toward inclusion places additional labor on marginalized scholars who are called upon to lead such programs.

Most problematically, these structures tend to be additive rather than integrative and, thus, do not challenge the deeply rooted ways of knowing and doing that result from and perpetuate white supremacy (Guinier, 2004; Leonardo, 2009; Mills, 1997). As Cordery (2020) notes, an organization must acknowledge how “it benefits from white privilege and commit to actively working to disarm this weapon of privilege before it can earnestly and holistically support racial justice.” 

This presentation highlights one approach to organizational change that addresses the ingrained ideological, rhetorical, and institutional nature of white supremacy and how these structures perpetuate racism and inequity. This integrative approach features a tripartite structure designed to interrogate how white supremacy functions at multiple levels and in multiple spaces within an organization or conference. The components include:

  • Policy: Organization leaders and policymakers explore how founding documents, by-laws, and policies perpetuate white supremacy and contribute to inequity and marginalization of members and conference attendees; this includes planning, revision, or drafting of existing or new documents. 
  • Programs: Program leaders (event organizers, section chairs, proposal review coordinators) examine how programmatic structures and offerings perpetuate racism and develop ideas for small-scale or large-scale programmatic change. 
  • Practice: To move from structure to behavior, members critically examine their own positionalities, relative privilege, and attitudes about race and racism, and the subsequent impacts on their work and interactions. I use the term “practice” to connote the ongoing nature of this work and the continual (un)learning it requires. 

I draw upon original and existing scholarship and my experiences as a critical whiteness consultant and a member or chair of multiple professional committees about whiteness and racism in professional organizations to demonstrate how this approach differs from other approaches, how it works, and why it is effective. To protect clients’ confidentiality and my ongoing work with the professional organizations I serve, I use my work with my home institution, California State University, Dominguez Hills, as an example of this structure’s operation, challenges, and successes. I build upon my experience with professional organizations such as NCTE and CCCC to draw parallels between this setting and the context of the professional conference, while also highlighting the distinctions between these contexts and, therefore, the adjustments that must be made. 

Challenging white supremacy requires long-term, intensive work, and this approach provides a structure that acknowledges and welcomes that intensity and complexity.