The Professional and Technical Writing Program in the Virginia Tech Department of English sponsored a virtual event, “Black Technical and Professional Communication,” on November 30, 2020.

During this free event, a coalition of Black scholars in technical and professional communication offered their perspectives on defining Black technical and professional communication, advocating for the inclusion of Black perspectives in the body of mainstream disciplinary scholarship and pedagogical practice, and carving out the methodological, theoretical, and practical space that will enable other Black scholars, teachers, and practitioners in the field to see and do such work.

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“This event was organized in response to national calls for interrogations into anti-Blackness and white supremacy across domains, and to a call by the president of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing to redress anti-Blackness within our spheres of influence,” said event organizer Jennifer Sano-Franchini, an associate professor of English and director of the Professional and Technical Writing Program at Virginia Tech, in advance of the program.

“This panel has the potential to contribute to how we think about writing across departments and colleges, including in STEM fields that employ technical communication in their day-to-day work,” Sano-Franchini added. “Specifically, the panel will offer different ways of theorizing technical writing and conceptualizing writing assignments and assessments with Black perspectives at the fore — ideas that can inform faculty and students’ ability to advocate for more inclusive perspectives about writing.”

The featured speakers were members of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Black Technical and Professional Communication Task Force, which worked on the CCCC Black Technical and Professional Communication Position Statement with Resource Guide. The speakers were:

  • Dr. Kimberly C. Harper is an assistant professor of English at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Director of the Technical Writing concentration for the Department of English. Her research examines social justice, race, and ethos within technical and professional communication, and she writes about the rhetoric of maternal health, mental health, and hip-hop discourse. She is the founder of The Space of Grace, a monthly podcast focusing on Black maternal health and reproductive justice. 
  • Constance Haywood is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. Her research interests include Black feminist rhetorics and literacies, online community-building, and digital research ethics.
  • Dr. Natasha Jones is vice president of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing and an associate professor of wrriting, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. Dr. Jones is a technical communication scholar and a coauthor of the book Technical Communication after the Social Justice Turn: Building Coalitions for Action (2019). She has received national recognition for her work, including the CCCC Best Article in Technical and Scientific Communication in 2020, 2018, and 2014, and the Nell Ann Pickett Award in 2017. 
  • Dr. Temptaous Mckoy is an assistant professor of English with a focus in technical and professional communication, and co-coordinator of graduate studies in the Department of Language, Literature, and Cultural Studies at Bowie State University. Her research focuses on redefining the field of TPC and challenging it to be more inclusive of the (in)formal communicative and learning practices as found in Black communities, such as HBCUs. She is an HBCU alumna (Elizabeth City State Univ.) and a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. 
  • Dr. Donnie Johnson Sackey is an assistant professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, and a senior researcher with Detroit Integrated Vision for Environmental Research through Science and Engagement (D•VERSE). His research centers on the dynamics of environmental public policy deliberation, environmental justice, and environmental community-based participatory research. He is currently working on a monograph, Evasive Species: Communities, Invasion Ecology, Crisis, which focuses on invasive species and environmental public policy deliberation.
  • Dr. Cecilia D. Shelton is an assistant professor of English at the University of Maryland. Drawing on Black feminist theory and praxis, her research prioritizes the perspectives, goals, and experiences of Black people (and other communities structured into the margins) as a way to insist on more equitable solutions to contemporary social, political, and organizational problems. Her work has been published in Technical Communication Quarterly, The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics, and Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, among other publications. 
  • Ja’La Wourman is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. Her dissertation looks at the role of race and identity in Black women entrepreneurs branding and content strategies on social networking sites. She is a King-Chavez-Parks Future Faculty Fellow and recipient of the 2020 Excellence Award in Interdisciplinary Scholarship for her work in Tanzania with the Tanzania Partnership Program at Michigan State University. 

Moderators for the event included Sheila Carter-Tod, an associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of English, and three doctoral students in rhetoric and composition at Virginia Tech — Chloe Robertson, Luana Shafer, and Matt Homer.

Funding for the event was provided by a range of Virginia Tech sponsors, including the Black Cultural Center, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, the Center for Humanities, the Composition Program, the Writing Center, the Center for Communicating Science, the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts, and the Engineering Communications Program, and the the Professional and Technical Writing Program.

“For the Professional and Technical Writing Program, sponsoring this event means a continued commitment to taking concrete actions in the service of anti-racism and equity,” Sano-Franchini said. “To do so, it is imperative that we more purposefully attend to our Black colleagues’ perspectives about writing in technical and professional contexts.”