Complete Story


Diversity, Equity, and Transformation Special Committee Report

ORWAC Diversity, Equity and Transformation Audit - December 2020

Submitted by: Manoucheka Celeste, V. Jo Hsu, and Karma R. Chávez


In the summer of 2020, Dr. Leslie Harris, immediate-past president of ORWAC, asked Drs. Celeste, Hsu, and Chávez to participate in an ad-hoc committee in order to evaluate ORWAC’s strengths and weaknesses in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The call emerged after the president’s panel at the 2020 Western States Communication Association (WSCA) conference, entitled “Meaningful Diversity, Equity, and Justice: ORWAC’s Legacy and Future.” 

In order to conduct this audit, we considered the following materials: ORWAC’s website; Dr. Harris’s written reflections from the 2020 panel; and the committee and awards structure, including selection committees, criteria, and past winners. We include a summary of what we view as ORWAC’s strengths as well as recommendations for addressing weaknesses, below.


ORWAC’s longstanding commitment to self study is significant and its interest in DEI is ahead of other organizations in the field of communication. ORWAC has made strides in the area of representation. It has had at least five women of color in the role of president since 1981, and several of its committees have been populated by women of color in recent memory. A number of past Feminist Scholar of the Year awardees and grant recipients have been people of color. Moreover, ORWAC has a strong commitment to financially compensating people for their labor. In addition, ORWAC’s strengths lie in its commitment to mentoring graduate students and junior faculty, especially in the WSIC publishing process; providing financial support for feminist scholarship; hosting relevant and often cutting-edge pre-conference workshops; and repeatedly stating its commitment to intersectional scholarship, mentoring, and teaching. 


This committee’s recommendations for ORWAC fall into five categories: the website, the name, committee composition, climate, and labor. 

  1. The website should be redesigned to reflect the diversity of people who comprise ORWAC’s membership. Imagery such as old typewriters, books, and letters not only potentially signals elitism, but it points to a time well in the past. 
  2. The organization should consider changing the name of the organization and the journal to reflect ORWAC’s feminist commitments and signal inclusion of trans and non-binary folks.
    1. These changes should entail a detailed self study about the membership’s relationship to feminism(s) and the category of women-- and whether that category remains the most appropriate term for ORWAC’s commitments. Surveying the membership may be appropriate.
    2. These shifts should be accompanied by special issues devoted to shaping the conversation, either before or after the changes, similar to the special forum Joan Faber McAlister hosted on the question of the journal’s name in 2014 or the forum devoted to what counts as feminist communication scholarship in 1988.
  3. There is a lot of repetition in who serves on various selection committees. This may happen because volunteers are solicited at the business meeting each year, and so anyone who does not attend, will not be considered. Devising a mechanism to ensure that more members participate in these processes is advisable.
  4. Fundamentally, ORWAC leadership and longtime members must address the organization’s climate. From the website to the business meetings, ORWAC feels like a space primarily for white cis women. For example, in the reflection from the 2020 president’s panel under recommendations for “guiding principles,” the first principle is recorded as “We need to take care of our own glow.” This phrasing in itself may be exclusionary as it emerges from a very particular subject position. A welcoming organization:
    1. Is led by people who see and understand power, and when they don’t see it or understand, they do their own work to figure it out.
    2. Looks like the people it hopes to have as its members. If that’s not presently the case, how can the organization incentivize membership for particular groups of people? One idea is to create caucuses within the organization that have a budget, a regular slot at the annual conference, and a role in ORWAC leadership.
    3. Ensures that anyone can be involved and is welcomed in, and that there are no barriers to entry. This can start as simply as actively recruiting people to participate in the business meeting and reception and ensuring they have a good time when they do. 
    4. Actively discovers what members have to contribute to the organization and finds a way for members to do that work.
    5. Actively seeks out underrepresented scholars and students for mentorship to address identified “pipeline” concerns.
  5. The vast majority of this labor needs to be done by the white cis women who make up the majority of ORWAC leadership and mentorship and who benefit from this current configuration. The authors of this audit all agreed to undertake this process, but recognize that the work fell on three people of color, including two who have never had any connection with ORWAC. Unfortunately, this approach reflects those taken by so many white leaders in academia who seem to believe that DEI is the labor of people of color and other marginalized groups.

This committee believes that each of these recommendations is achievable with the will and resources to do so. This type of work is always a long process that requires ongoing commitment, reflexivity, and organizational evaluation. As this very inquiry indicates, ORWAC has been and remains committed to this active practice, and with this document we hope to provide potential directions for future growth.

Printer-Friendly Version