Monday, July 20, 2009

U-N-I-T-Y: Brief Reflections on WPA Conference

Some of y'all are familiar with some of the events that went down at our discipline's WPA Conference held in Minneapolis this past week. This is the first time I attended the conference, so I don't have much to go by other than my own personal experiences. However, based on what I've heard, this is one of the conferences in our field where leadership is trying to promote diversity. And, I see why that's a concern: Out of the roughly 260 people in attendance, 5 or so of those people were African American. I'm not so sure about the numbers for other racial/ethnic groups. What I can say is that there didn't seem to be very many (if any) of other racial/ethnic minority groups represented either.

I also have some suspicions as to why this was the case. This may come off a bit harsh, but it's exactly how I felt when I was there. My suspicions are in no way intended to criticize the leadership, however. In fact, the WPA president and other members on the executive committee went out of their way to talk to me and make me feel welcome on multiple occasions, so my criticisms about the conference aren't directed at them. And, based on the events I'm about to tell, I've received multiple apologies for what happened.

Okay. Here's what went down. First of all, I did a panel with other colleagues about my experiences with racism and sexism as a future WPA. This panel was not exceptionally attended, although there were roughly ten people in the audience. We had good conversation and they seemed to appreciate the work that we had done narrating and complicating our experiences. Not a half-hour after our panel ended, we ran into a colleague whom each of us on the panel had met briefly about a year ago. She then proceeded to introduce us to one of her friends as our WPA supervisor's bitches. If that weren't appalling enough, she singled me and my African American male colleague out and basically urged us to beg their department chair for a job at their institution because their institution only had one African American and needed more. As a result of these comments--and the general vibe of the conference--in addition to other personal reasons, I chose to leave the conference early.

On my way home I rode to the airport with another scholar in our field. She also expressed concern about the lack of diversity, and after I told her of the events I experienced, (s)he was horified! We also discussed whether or not I'd come back to WPA. I told him/her that while I loved doing WPA workm and editing our first textbook reader and composing our handbook at my institution, I'm not sure whether or not I'd continue doing this kind of work if it meant that I'd be required to also attend this conference. (S)he encouraged me not to give up on the work that I love doing, but I dunno...

Once I'd gotten home, I received a text message from my African American male colleague telling me that they refused to let him into an event because they mistook him for coming to play basketball pickup games at the park where the event was being held. I won't get into the other details, but the president of the organization did issue an apology that can be read here.

Like I said, I love doing WPA work; I just don't want to be anywhere where I'm not welcome. And, like I also said, my sentiments aren't because of the leadership. Regardless of the leadership, if the people who are a part of the organization aren't welcoming, I still don't want to attend.

That's all.

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