#LESSFUCKERY: FOR WORKSHOPS
WHAT WORKSHOPS, RESIDENCIES, AND MFA PROGRAMS CAN DO
I. BEFORE APPLICATIONS OPEN;
II. WHEN WORKSHOP LEADERS/ TEACHERS ARRIVE;
III. WHEN PARTICIPANTS ARRIVE;
IV. STATEMENTS FOR EACH COHORT;
V. OPEN CHANNELS FOR COMMUNICATION;
VI. CONSEQUENCES FOR REPEAT OFFENDERS;
VII. MENDING WHAT'S BROKEN: THE SINCERE APOLOGY FOLLOWED BY ACTION
I. Before Applications Open
- Develop an interest in who is applying, and most especially who isn’t;
- Consider who is on the judging panel: who reads? How? How much time do they have? Are they paid? What do they look like? How do they identify? Where did they go to school? What is their relationship to the current students? Who do they discuss the applications with?
- A white male raised in a canon that reflects his experience cannot be expected or trusted to evaluate work beyond that experience;
- If none of the readers/panelists are paid, a reader of more financial privilege will have more time to champion candidates who reflect his or her class background;
- A heterosexual reader is more likely to read queer texts as sexual, regardless of sexual content.
- Instead of/ in addition to diversity scholarships, considering the question of why these are needed. What is the experience of “diverse” writers when they arrive, why are these scholarships needed, what does it mean to select one diversity scholar above others, what do we ask that candidate to show (merit? Need? A particular narrative? A particular life experience? Do we ask them to undress themselves or explain their gender? How will we keep them from having to shoulder emotional labor? If they are in the minority, how do we protect them from violence when they arrive?)
II. When Workshop Leaders/ Professors Arrive, Before The beginning of the semester/ residency: talking points and questions:
- Have you considered who is and who isn’t here? What it means to get here, how much some participants had to sacrifice to get there, what it might feel like to do all the work to arrive only to find their work is treated differently than the work of other writers;
- How do you plan on dealing with micro aggressions or aggressions WHEN they happen in your classroom/group/unit/workshop? See Appendix for a sample Statement on Micro-Aggression used at The Escapery and at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts;
- How will you make sure everyone is given equal attention to their work;
- Which texts do you intend to assign or quote from in class?: When all/most of the authors taught in a class are white or come from a particular background, what message does it send? What does it mean to implicitly tell young writers to write like people who have made them invisible?
- How do you intend to re-center writers of color, queer writers, and other writers in the classroom as art, without tokenizing them, how will you engage with them as artists instead of as representatives of their groups?;
- What is your workshop methodology?;
- The purpose of the workshop is to serve the artist whose work is being explored, and to serve the class in deepening their powers of observation, understanding, and inspiration. How will you centralize the work? Will you allow the artist to speak up if the feedback has gone off topic? How do you intend to honor the work’s stage of completion?;
- Are you aware that workshops tend to magnify oppressive power structures? How do you intend to prevent that from happening, and how will you rescue it when it does?;
- Have you considered alternatives to the Iowa-style methodology?;
- How will you empower participants to help you keep the space safe?;
- What will you do when violence occurs inside the workshop?
- Do you know signs of workshop failure? (bandwagonning, asking writer to explain their culture/ background/ body; sidebars…)
- If you are using craft books or craft terms, where do they come from? See “Resources” for craft essays and books by writers of color, women, and trans artists.
III. When Participants Arrive: Consider a general announcement for the whole group/ class/ retreat
- How will we care for one another as diverse members of a community?
- Offering terms such as: micro-aggression; aggression; white fragility; mansplaining; whitesplaining; emotional labor; stereotype; just google it; appropriation; authenticity;
- Any method of bringing up a micro-aggression is ok;
- Allowing in discomfort, allowing that comfort can and should be sacrificed for safer spaces;
- The Comfort/ Listen in, Dump Out model of support (people of color, queer people, trans* people etc. should not have to carry all the weight of processing aggressions);
- Inviting white, male, and otherwise privileged artists to make room, listen, step back, perhaps even talk less, and consider authenticity and appropriation.
IV. Statements/ Discussions for Each Cohort
Consider Reading a Statement on Micro-Aggressions and Violence. (See Appendix for examples).
- It should note the potential for violence in workshops;
- It should let the participants know that although the workshop leaders should be responsible for the safety of the space, the workshop leaders will likely fail, and therefore the floor is open for feedback at any moment, during workshop or later, public or private, any tone of voice is ok, anger is ok;
- It might validate that we all belong here, and sometimes we might not know how to respond to a text, and that it’s ok in those moments to observe and listen and reflect what we’re seeing – always stick to the text;
- It should establish that anyone, including the writer, can always speak up. I like to use safewords and consent: Green: keep talking about that, I’m interested; Yellow: slow down, I’m uncomfortable with this direction; Red: we need to stop this workshop right now. It should be up to the author whose work is being discussed decision to start up again, redirect, or take a second to discuss what happened;
- It might give potential language for accepting feedback on our micro-aggressions, eg: “I’m sorry. I will consider that. Thank you for pointing that out.”
V. Open Channels to Communication at Every Level
- Everyone should know that if something goes wrong, they can go to their workshop leader or a designated person in the programming department;
- Remind people that any way of reacting to a violence or micro-aggression is ok, immediately or later, in public or in person, call out or call in, angrily or patiently.
VI. Consequences for Repeated Aggressors
If a student or teacher has not only committed repeated micro (or macro)-aggressions and refuses to be receptive to the work of leaders and participants or continues to take up space, they should be removed from the art space immediately until they can. Keeping them there in the name of “learning” or “community” sends the message that one racist white student (for instance) is more important than several students of color, and yet every school seems to tolerate "that one."
VII. After An Incident: Sincere Apology Followed By Action
If there has been an incidence of violence, how do we return to the art space? How do we validate and support the victims of racism? How will we avoid pathologizing or diminishing their experience? Will we take their concerns seriously? Will we agree that a measured tone is not important? Will we avoid over-checking in with them? Will we take concrete action so it doesn't happen again?