Harry Denny. “A Queer Eye for the WPA.”

Denny, Harry. “A Queer Eye for the WPA.” WPA: Writing Program Administration, vol. 37, no. 1, 2013, pp. 186-98. Accessed 5 Nov. 2016.

To remember:

  • To channel Linda Adler-Kassner in the Activist WPA, our American jeremiad is always already a paradox of an exceptionalist mission toward homogenization and assimilation that’s also constantly under threat of disorder, dysfunction, and diversity. For people who identify with the queer community, the question of what is meant by “normal” has been crucial to identity formation, organizing, activism and inquiry (187).
  • the exploration of sexuality is about the mechanics and operation of power [Michael Warner, Chronicle of Higher Ed] (187).
  • Foucault taught that the appearance of the homosexual coincided with the discovery, invention, and proliferation of identities that continues through today The production of sexuality has accelerated, has become ever more complex, and gradually has embedded itself into nearly every aspect of contemporary ways of thinking about human activity. Specifically, it wasn’t enough, for example, to invent a personage that we came to name as the homosexual; social science had to imbue the figure with meaning and a sort of pedagogy that in some ways we continue to use … the meaning was never intrinsic to the homosexual’s words or body; it arose from a sort of translation dynamic. As more and more began to be known about the homosexual [by psychologists/teachers], this figure gave meaning to its opposed/unmarked companion: The heterosexual (187-8).
  • My colleague Anne Geller once teased me about this rhetoric of “safe spaces;” the notion is a non-starter because spaces are only ever more or less safe (191).
  • Our spaces are not domains that we can claim or pronounce meaning on for a collective of colleagues, students, or some combination. These people and the spaces they move in or occupy are not problems to be fixed. Instead, we need to think about how our spaces make possible tactics that we either intend or that people using them find on their own and through which they become empowered. From our leadership and abilities to make things possible, we can create spaces where people feel encouraged to challenge, to research, and to engage in inquiry-based practice (191-2).
  • My takeaway in that moment wasn’t that WASPs or men or people with privilege can’t speak, or that people of color, sexual minorities, working class people or other marginalized people must now displace those historically at the center. Instead, we need to have ongoing conversations, talks that are inclusive as well as cognizant of the material reality of those occasions (192).
  • we’re all constantly performing our identities, coming out, and eliding who we are (or what some name as passing) (193).
  • My “coming out” was a critical juncture, a performance that queer studies asks us to attend to (193).
  • a whole range of bodies that in our culture are rarely interrogated, what Donna Haraway once named as unmarked bodies, namely white bodies, male bodies, heterosexual bodies, middle-class bodies, American bodies, all bodies that pass as ideological, material, political, social, cultural, and economic privilege (193).
  • many cannot pick and choose their privilege (193).
  • This discursive reading of performance-of thinking about how we signify and of how signs are read-is especially relevant to writing centers, where we need to teach and coach and mentor consultants or tutors on how to negotiate that very terrain in sessions … Questioning performance is an important socio-cultural set of tactics or form of capital for writers to acquire and be encouraged to develop-whether in the writing center or in our writing classrooms These very practices of critical self-reflection as well as supporting and challenging conversations, whether in writing, cross-talk, and whatever venue, about assumptions and values seem to be at the heart of “high-impact” practices that more and more of us are talking about on our campuses (193)
  • Our landscape couldn’t be more foreboding and promising at the same time … I wonder whether we can get past identity and what it might mean in our writing centers and writing classrooms to presume ever to be past or beyond identity in our country, to elide it (194).
  • In our … writing classrooms, if only context or geography drives our ability to have critical conversations or difficult dialogs about diversity, what happens when we no longer have “critical masses” or when “critical masses” exist in isolated places? That reality of homogenous campuses exists in many places already, so our curricula must begin to take on the challenge of teaching diversity as a set of intellectual practices that can serve a variety of academic purposes (195).
  • we must also be aware that our institutional missions face a crossroads. One direction continues a facile presence of tolerance where institutions and mainstream society grudgingly includes those who have been historically marginalized, and another direction represents a commitment to education as generative of critical citizenship that is performed through a pedagogy that challenges social space and naturalized discourses and hegemonic performances of dominant values (196).
  • [Melissa Harris-Perry] asks us to consider what it must feel like, to be a problem, the object of consternation, of speculation, of resolution. We must ask ourselves, how often do we produce this very rhetoric, this ideology, those practices, that position people as wistful problems, if only, if only? (197).
  • In our moments when we manufacture and reify our identity politics as a politics of problems, we need to ask what and who we are normalizing, how do we naturalize and pathologize sets of performances, and what are the identities we foreground and elide? What might it mean to queer our impulses around the problem student, the troubled teacher, the flawed program? What’s it mean to flip or to queer the moment, and think about the possibilities we find ourselves lucky to engage like no other on campus? We have access and opportunity and resources, to channel Du Bois and Harris-Perry, to engage the struggles of our moment because we can, we must, and we will (197).

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