WAC as a Force for Social Change

As a movement, WAC can and should support social change within the academy and in society more generally. Attention has deservedly focused recently on racism, sexism, and labor equity within the academy and, more specifically, within writing studies. As the WAC community has taken up these issues, it has looked both toward a more equitable and just future and towards its own role in supporting inequitable and unjust practices in the past. Importantly, the WAC community must embrace its role as a force for change, a force that involves both the recognition of past shortcomings and the promise of taking meaningful action.

In a recent chapter in Greg Giberson, Megan Schoen, and Christian Weiss' edited collection, Editors in Writing: Behind the Curtain of Scholarly Publication in Writing Studies, Mike observed that a key part of his editorial philosophy—a philosophy that has in part shaped the practices of the WAC Clearinghouse—has been a commitment to inclusiveness. Unfortunately, he noted, his approach to inclusiveness was both uninformed and, ultimately, less successful than he had hoped:

I welcomed anyone who wanted to join the project. All they had to do was ask. Or be asked. In most cases, an invitation to join the [WAC Clearinghouse] was based on scholarly reputation and shared values. In other words, I invited people who were like me. (Palmquist, 2021a)

In many ways, this approach mirrored the welcoming but naive approach adopted by the larger WAC community. For years, WAC practitioners have viewed an open-door approach as a sufficient means of promoting access to resources and opportunities within the community. Unfortunately, as the discussions that led to the formation of AWAC made clear, numerous potential members of the community failed to join, sometimes because they lacked an awareness of how to gain entry and sometimes, perhaps, because they saw few people who looked like them in the WAC community. As Mike noted in his discussion of efforts to enact changes in the Clearinghouse,

That earlier work taught me that projecting an image—in the case of the Clearinghouse, an image of welcoming inclusiveness—is far from sufficient. If it isn't backed up with action, it amounts to little more than virtue signaling—the kind of signaling we see, for example, by corporations who want us to believe that they care about climate change even as their products worsen the crisis. (Palmquist, 2021a)

Within the WAC community, efforts to enact social change have emerged perhaps most notably from AWAC, WAC-GO, and the WAC Clearinghouse. AWAC's committee structure has proven well-suited to the development of initiatives to increase opportunity for those whose interests align with WAC. Most notably, its advocacy, diversity and inclusion, and mentoring committees have actively supported efforts to promote access to the WAC community and to the resources available through AWAC. And, in fall 20020, its executive committee published its statement on antiracism and social justice (https://www.wacassociation.org/awac-statement-and-resources-for-wac-antiracism-and-social-justice/).

WAC-GO, which became part of AWAC's committee structure when the organization was formed but which had operated for a number of year prior to AWAC's launch, has sponsored a number of efforts targeted at graduate students whose scholarly and professional interests align with WAC. Its mentoring program, which pairs new members of the WAC community with more experienced WAC scholars, has been particularly effective. And its inclusive approach to recruiting new leadership has helped launch a youth movement of sorts that promises to help the WAC community thrive in the long term.

The WAC Clearinghouse, in turn, which had grown to include roughly 180 scholars in a range of editorial roles at the time this article was written, has increased the diversity of its editorial group by inviting new members to its editorial board, editorial staff, and review boards. It has also worked to increase the diversity of its authors by reaching out—on an individual basis and through the publication of its statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion (https://wac.colostate.edu/about/deij/) and its invitation to contribute scholarly work (https://wac.colostate.edu/about/submissions/)—to scholars from minoritized and under-represented groups whose interests might align with Clearinghouse journals and book series. To extend those efforts, it has also established partnerships with groups within writing studies to increase awareness of—and an opportunity to take advantage of—editorial and reviewing opportunities in its various journals, book series, and resource areas.

Efforts to promote social change have also involved the WAC community in labor issues—although much more work could and should have been done. While individual members of the WAC community have long recognized and worked to address the impact on faculty members of the growing reliance of higher education on contingent labor, the WAC community as a whole has not grappled with this issue in the depth it should. Given the use of team teaching in a variety of disciplines, and the growing reliance on section leaders in online courses, courses that rely on WAC often involve instructors who work in contingent positions. The WAC community, through its various organizations, should play a larger role in addressing issues related to the use of contingent labor. That work might include issuing position statements and other official notices, holding workshops and sponsoring panels at the bi-annual International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference, promoting equitable labor practices through the recognition of exemplary programs, and developing resources for use by individual scholars, WAC programs, and institutions to support equitable labor practices.

The WAC community should also become more involved in addressing issues related to poverty, in particular issues related to immigration and the digital divide. Our discussion of L2 issues above point to many of the challenges faced by immigrants who strive to become literate in the language of a new home country.