On July 7th, Dr. Sam Dragga of Texas Tech shared a “striking example of technical writing” with the Association of the Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW) listserv in an effort to raise awareness for changing conditions for international students. The document outlined conditions that would force international students to find face-to-face instruction or be deported within mere weeks of a new academic year.

The initial email was met with a flurry of responses as instructors rallied to find a way to protect their students regardless of the students’ country of origin. However, not all felt this need to protect. One professor, who will remain anonymous, made an upsetting series of comments. In one instance the professor wrote, “…we are not responsible for [international students] welfare and educational outcomes. I believe that universities have relied too long in[sic] intl students. With the coming student shortage, Colleges will have to cope or close”.

While the situation with ICE has resolved in many positive aspects, the effects of this one professor have brought forth a public inquiry into the professor’s history of racism. For me, it has been a private case study on community dynamics and has me asking several questions about my role in said community.

Action from Academics

Dr. Mckoy of Bowie State Univ., Dr. Cagle of the Univ. of KY, Dr. Potts of Michigan State Univ., and several others attempted to first clarify the initial remarks, a gracious opportunity if there ever was one. Not all who were reading felt the same need for patience or understanding noting the comments as absurd.

“So just to weigh in, and maybe slightly less politely because whatever…What are you talking about? Of course we have a responsibility for the welfare of international students. That’s not something to be debated. They did absolutely nothing to deserve what’s happening to them” -Dr. Jordan Frith Clemson University

From there, the conversation focused away from the original “striking example of technical writing” and on to the comment history of the one professor revealing many unsettling racist remarks on blogs, twitter, and even published articles.

This all lead to a letter and a petition to have the professor removed from the listserv essentially shunning them out of the community of scholars. Seeing the long list of names should be quite convincing, but as of now the decision to remove the professor has not been decided.

Defining Periphery

I don’t have any major ties to the ATTW community. I went to the Portland conference in 2017. After receiving fantastic advice from a career “speed dating” session, I dedicated all of my time to following that advice with the plan that I could someday join as a fellow teacher. I continued to follow the listserv and follow as many members as possible on Twitter.

I do not have a university in my signature. I am not employed at a college or university.

I do have an MA in Rhetoric & Technical Communication, have been a paid grant writer, and I’m currently working as a PM. I know more about technical writing practice than many academics that teach the subject (Though they know way more theory than I do). I really hope to get my Phd, but know that I could be waiting a few years before I could set foot on a campus.

For me in this situation, I felt that I could only watch the train derail in horror without the ability to do anything about it. I’m not an instructor. Heck, I’m not even a paying member. I’m just some lurker that reads along so that I don’t feel like I’m completely out of the loop, but by no means do I feel like I am a member of that community.

Action From the Periphery

Besides this post, there’s no action on my part to address the racism within the ATTW community.

I don’t want to get into whether or not I have agency to address racism in any community, but only the feeling that I lacked that ability to confront it. I’m not a stranger to racism. I’m from Idaho. While I don’t remember seeing burning crosses or lynchings like the south, I grew up hearing casual racist remarks like people bringing up the weather in a dentist’s waiting room.

I feel like I don’t have a voice or, at the very least, shouldn’t have a voice. I’m not a full member of that community just some guy that signed up to receive emails. I don’t pay dues and have not been published. I don’t have the title of “technical writing teacher” or some other version thereof. For all intents and purposes, I’m as much of that community as an unchosen contestant is on the Price is Right. There’s no one asking me to, “come on down”.

I may be asking questions that many white people have been asking themselves a lot lately, “do I say something?”, “can I say something”, and “can I live with the consequences?”. These are big questions when you discuss family, but they are just as big when you talk career.

You see, I have the ability to write an email or pick up the phone much like many of those responders in the ATTW listserv. I’m not incapable. However, I don’t know how writing a public facing email might affect my life. I don’t know if some professor recognizes my name and thinks, “Good for you for standing up, but it’s not your place to have ever said anything in the first place. Sorry, find another program”. I don’t know how my words will be taken because due to my lack of title. I’m scared to even test it.

I know I’m not alone in that fear. Having the fear of losing a family member, a friend, a career, or an opportunity due to speaking up against something questions your very agency from the start. I’ve read on twitter, “Do I cut Grandpa out of my life?”, “Do I look for another job?”, “Do I call off the wedding?”, “Do I uninvite them from my graduation ceremony?”, and “Do I ask them to remove me from the byline of a co authored paper?”.

Conclusion

I don’t have answers. I wanted to end that last section with the same feeling of abrupt ending as I felt watching the events unfold in the ATTW listserv. It’s that feeling of ending right when you start, a frozen in place moment a sharp moment. I know it’s not easy.

I’m also not sure what kind of responses I’ll get. I anticipate at least one person being costly vigilant with “pull it out from root to stem”. I may have, “it’s okay, it was taken care of”. Even with a reassurance, you either feel like you allowed the terrible thing to happen without consequence or you feel helpless.

I want to thank you for reading. I hope you found something to add to your everyday rhetoric repertoire. I know I wanted to express something about this last week’s events. Maybe it was just enough to express how much I felt like I couldn’t express anything. Again, thank you for reading.

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