Session C13: “Designing Inclusive Futures: Black Feminist Design(s) as Ethical Practice in Administration, Pedagogy, and Research”
Presenters: Floyd Pouncil, Nicholas Sanders, and Constance Haywood
Review by Noah Wilson
The panel “Designing Inclusive Futures” provided attendees a working conceptualization of Black Feminism and then challenged them to consider ways to use it as a heuristic to re-envison their work as researchers, teachers, and administrators. While each presentation focused on one of the aforementioned academic roles, they collectively demonstrated the ways these areas overlap and raise productive questions for what it means to critically examine academic work.
Floyd Pouncil – “Black Feminist Administrative Philosophy Design”
Pouncil’s talk began by asking participants to write down one facet of their lives where they function as an administrator. He then unpacked the Combahee River Collective’s definition of Black feminism as committed to addressing the interlocking (intersectional) nature of major systems of oppression. Pouncil explained that “If we are at all about anyone, including ourselves, we must move collectively to combat systems of oppression that specifically directly impact the most vulnerable among us.” Turning to Deborah King’s multiple jeopardy, Pouncil also asked us to consider how oppressions towards different identities interact, overlap, and are informed by identities’ histories. With this presentation as an effective first step toward understanding racism in the academy, Pouncil then challenged us to re-conceive what we wrote earlier to now address Black feminist concerns and to act as a necessary first step in transforming the environments we work within. Pouncil ended his talk with opportunities for the audience to share their ‘next steps’ for enacting the change they wanted to see in their work and on their respective campuses.
Nicholas Sanders – “Anti-Racist Accommodation Interfaces: Notes Toward Black Feminist, Anti-Racist Syllabus Design”
Building from the lens Pouncil offered, Sanders began by explaining that his talk was not meant to “provide easy guidelines for anti-racist teaching via syllabus design” but rather to think through Human Centered Design and Universal design as opening potentials for anti-racist syllabus design. Acknowledging his own positionality as a white man, Sanders explained the importance of situating his position as an ally and someone who “takes seriously the difference bodies have in specific spaces.” Sanders went on to explain that Black feminism is essential to antiracist work because it “doesn’t end at critiques of racist systems, but instead provides ways to transform them.” Turning to the work that Black feminists have already enacted in writing studies, Sanders explains that the work of scholars such as Barbra Omolad (among others such as hooks, Richardson, Smitherman, Royster, Prichard, Kynard, Baker-Bell, Truth) have exposed the ways racism is already present in our approaches to writing instruction. Sanders offered important strategies for creating more accessible and anti-racist syllabi drawing from decolonial scholar K. Wayne Yang’s “A Third University is Possible” (via his avatar la paperson) and Anne-Marie Womack’s “Teaching Is Accommodation: Universally Designing Composition Classrooms and Syllabi.” These strategies include creating documents that are user-friendly, center the most essential information, and state our commitments, values, and assumptions. In this way, concluded Sanders, syllabi can function as an example of a technology that disrupts how the university functions and works to “dismantle hegemonic systems of white supremacy omnipresent in the academy.”
Constance Haywood – “#CiteBlackWomen: Ethical Composition Practices in Social Media Spaces (A Black Feminist’s Approach to Social Writing and Research)”
Haywood began with two incidences (Shaun King and Sam Whiteout) where “writing and work of Black women and Black social media communities serving” are used without giving those women and social media communities any credit. When we consider ourselves as ethical researchers, explained Haywood, it is important to understand the individual positions that we bring to our work. When it comes to online texts and the ease with which we can repurpose them, there is “also the considerable need for positional awareness when producing (and reproducing) writing and work that engages or revolves around marginalized communities.” As an important, illustrative example, Haywood offered the uptake of Dr. Moya Bailer’s term misogynoir or “a specific kind of anti-Black misogyny that works to silence, harm, and/or eras Black women and Black experience.” What is ironic about misogynoir in particular is that the origins of the term itself have been stripped away and decontextualized in a way that is nothing short of (well) misogynoir. That is not to suggest, however, that Black women and Black online communities have not spoken against this erasure. As Haywood explained further, Black Feminism is an important framework and means to address these erasures because it “intentionally works to center Black women, Black writing, and Black lived experiences.” Adapting McKee and Porter’s heuristic for ethical research through a Black feminist framework, Haywood offered an updated version of their questions, one that better considers researchers’ impact on the very social writing communities they study:
- What am I writing and who am I to this topic? What are my intentions in writing-around and researching this topic? Who will benefit most from this work?
- Who and what exactly am I citing? How will I ensure that credit/recognition is given to the people and communities I reference?
- Should these texts/users/communities-in-practice that I am referencing and considering working with even be subjected to an academic gaze?
- Even though the text is public, should I get consent to use it (and if I am unsure about this, am I willing to go out of my way to find out)?
- In what ways might I, my writing, or my research endeavors pose a threat to peoples facing multiple oppressions?
- Do my composing and research practices work to disrupt or reinforce white supremacist narratives? Are there goals of equity and/or liberation located anywhere in my writing and work?
- What is the sensitivity and vulnerability of the materials/texts/users/communities I gauge? What other possible risks might I, my writing, and my research pose?
Haywood closed her presentation with a personal anecdote from her own research that illustrated the importance of scholars asking the aforementioned questions in their own work. While conducting research on a Facebook group, Haywood reached out to the group for permission to use their content in her work. When she did not receive a reply (and considered moving forward with the project anyway) she thought about her ethical questions and opted to change her research project topic rather than increasing any potential risks to the community she was studying. More than intentionally citing Black women, concluded Haywood we must also think about how our work will impact the communities we are studying.