Like many in our field, I had second, and third, thoughts about attending CCCC this year, given the NAACP’s travel warning for people of color. I followed the debate on several listservs and read all of the statements sent out by CCCC leaders explaining their decision to keep the conference in Missouri and the steps they were taking to work with the NAACP and other groups to support civil rights in Missouri. In the end, while I believe that our organization should have pulled out of Missouri (we have taken such action in the past, so there is precedent) and while I supported the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition’s decision not to meet at this year’s CCCC, in the end I decided to attend for one day (Thursday) in order to be part of a panel on “Feminist Rhetorics in the Age of Trump.”
That panel was inspirational to me, as I knew it would be, but I also got a surprise treat when I attended another panel, called “DBLAC: Challenging Narratives of Deviance and Disruption in Writing Spaces.” This panel was a surprise because I had not known about DBLAC, and it was a treat because the talks were all outstanding!
As its website defines it,
Digital Black Lit (Literatures & Literacies) and Composition or DBLAC is a digital network of Black graduate students in the United States, formed in May 2016 at the Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC) at The Ohio State University. We are comprised of graduate students who self-identify as Black in the fields of Literacy Studies, Literature, Writing Studies, Rhetoric, English Studies, Creative Writing, Digital Humanities, and other related fields. This network provides safe spaces for members to testify to, discuss with, and share support for each other in response to the continued marginalization of Black bodies in academia. DBLAC also acts as a learning community for professional development, networking, and resource-pooling aimed at the academic retention and success of its members.
The panelists introduced us to this fairly new organization, and told us a bit about its history and their involvement in it. As I listened to them talk about establishing safe spaces for graduate students of color and about how to establish a supportive community, I finally noticed what they were wearing: each member of the panel had on a black t-shirt with a series of names printed in large, white block letters. When these finally came into focus for me, I realized they were the names of these panelists’ mentors, scholars of color who had provided safe spaces for them. BANKS, ROYSTER, GILYARD, MOSS, NUNLEY. . . and others. In short, the panelists were embodying their message, delivering it not only through their words but through their actions and clothing.
Khirsten Echols, Brittany Hull, Louis Maraj, and Sherita Roundtree each shared experiences of being in UNsafe, hostile, and disrespectful spaces in the academy, stories that are all too familiar to all who have had the privilege of working closely with graduate students of color. They didn’t stop there, however, going on to share their research and scholarship on recognizing, respecting, and valuing the knowledge and insights of young scholars of color.
Sherita Roundtree, in “Black Women’s Noise and Institutionalized Spaces,” argues that Black women are often “scripted out” of spaces of belonging and that addressing this long-standing act of exclusion calls for literally making space and recognizing the right of Black women to occupy it, in their scholarship, teaching, and professional development. They have been kept from occupying such spaces by what Roundtree identifies as “noise,” a term used by Jacqueline Jones Royster in her award-winning essay, “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own”:
At the extreme, the African American community, as my personal example, has seen and continues to see its contributions and achievements called into question in grossly negative ways, as in the case of The Bell Curve. . . . Such interpretations of human potential create a type of discourse that serves as a distraction, as noise that drains off energy and sabotages the work of identifying substantive problems within and across cultural boundaries and the work also of finding solutions that have import, not simply for a ‘race’ but for human beings whose living conditions, values, and preferences vary.
In her presentation, Roundtree took this concept of “noise”—the chatter/clatter that distracts attention from African American women’s achievements and contributions, that literally drowns them out-—and then expanded it. In Roundtree’s work, “noise” affects the perceptions of African American women in such negative ways, yes, but the term also signals something else: the “noisiness” of Black women is not negative but can instead be thoroughly grounded in Black culture and ways of knowing and being. Roundtree’s goal goes beyond reducing the negative noise that affects Black women so profoundly; in addition, she aims to explore “the perceived and known noisiness of Black women GTA’s in the academy and their teaching of writing,” thus seeking to “develop a more nuanced understanding of Black women as teachers, learners, and mentors.”
As I listened to this group of very smart and very talented researchers, I wished that everyone at CCCC could have heard their presentations. In the meantime, I urge everyone who works with graduate students of color to make sure they know about DBLAC!
Credit: Pixabay Image 2488359 by gtjoflot, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License