[This is a two-part posting about my CCCC experience.]
Last week, I attended my first Conference on College Composition and Communication, and it was awesome. It was an overwhelming experience (so many people! so many sessions!) in a really positive way (lots of engaging panels and people). The first part of my CCCC experience was the IWCA Collaborative that was held all day Wednesday.
The IWCA Collaborative was focused around activism, specifically, “Writing Center Activism: From Ideals to Strategies.” It was a self-identified (“un”)conference, and we spent the whole day participating in non-traditional conference activities: workshops, roundtables, collaborative writing circles, and round robins. No paper presentations. Awesome.
The (un)conference opened with a session where we articulated our ideals about writing center activism, the goals of our work, and our values. We collaboratively brainstormed definitions of activism, writing them on giant pieces of post-it paper around the room. The breadth of the definitions amazed me, and I appreciated the shared values that surfaced as people shared their definitions aloud:
- Activism for writing centers is multidimensional and dependent on context—region, institution, and situation.
- Activism is community awareness.
- Activism is advocacy for students and diversity.
- Activism is being active in institutional and administrative conversations; opening up and participating in dialogue.
- Activism is channeled energy. Writing centers are places where power happens (students are in power and power is energy).
- Activism is dissolving student stereotypes in tutor practice and honoring students’ identities and writing styles.
- Activism is exporting what we know to others (in our institutions and beyond), being role models for others.
- Activism and radicalism are acts of responsibility.
- Activism is labor advocacy—for contingent faculty, pay wages, recognition.
- Activism is talk: talk as action, talk + action.
- Activism is countering oppressive conditions of racism, sexism, classicism, ableism.
With these definitions of activism in mind, our (un)conference began. The activity in our opening session was actually a really nice bridging activity to the workshop that I co-led with two colleagues from Syracuse (Jason and Kate). Our workshop was “Public Narrative and Writing Centers: Stories of Self, of Us, of Now.” Here’s the abstract for that session:
This workshop will borrow methods from Marshall Ganz’s public narrative approach in order to (1) demonstrate a way of organizing with consultants at our own centers, and (2) to address challenges and threats confronting writing centers today. Through structured personal and communal storytelling activities, participants will articulate a set of shared values and parlay those values into commitments for change, both at home in their local institutions and within the more cosmopolitan arena of writing centers.
It felt like a really productive workshop, and the participants identified some important shared experiences, such as “falling in” to writing center work through serendipitous moments and trying to figure out how to defend the value of WCs as more than “remediation centers.” They also articulated some important shared values:
- the non-evaluative and non-authoritarian environment
- learning with students/tutees
- applying tutoring knowledge to pedagogy
- recognizing the importance of flexible practices
After our workshop, I attended a roundtable entitled “Writing Center as Partner: Effective and Ethical Activism across Campus and in the Community” run by some WC folks at Eastern Michigan University. Ann Blakeslee talked about some interesting community outreach initiatives, such as the Family Literacies Initiative and Disciplinary Literacies Initiative. Other EMU consultants discussed training, engaging in literacy practices that move beyond particular assignments, constructing clear and detailed assignment prompts, and the importance of talk. One of the discussions I found most productive was about regional activism and how writing centers can advocate for other centers by constantly telling stakeholders what we do (e.g. successful conferences, projects and initiatives, etc.).
The next session I attended was Jackie Grutsch McKinney’s workshop, “Generating Writing Center Stories: Action Research as Activism,” which was super informative. I’m taking a methods class right now, and I’ve read a few articles about action research, but I’m not making claims to knowing much about it. In the workshop, Jackie gave us some background information about action research itself—it’s collaborative, defined in our own contexts, planned, and action-oriented—and argued that writing centers could benefit from taking up action research to make more informed decisions about change/activism. Specifically, she argued that action research and writing centers have shared values in their focuses on pairing theory and practice, self-reflexivity, and an emphasis on local settings and contexts.
We had a chance to sketch out a plan for an action research project, which I will definitely return to when crafting a Research Proposal in my methods class. The annotated bibliography and critical lit review I just wrote were both based on writing center research, and approaching my WC interests from an action-research perspective will be really useful.
Finally, the (un)conference closed with some collaborative brainstorming about how to translate our ideas into strategies. We were asked to write down one concern—and issue that had surfaced from the workshop—that we wanted to do something about. Then, we passed that concern around our table, and everyone wrote down one concrete strategy for approaching that issue. And although I was on information-overload at the point, it was a fun activity.
With my interests in dis/ability and writing centers, my concern was the lack of writing center research/scholarship/resources about students, tutors, and directors with dis/abilities. I received some interesting feedback about how to raise money for resources and some people to read who engage that work (such as Rebecca Day Babcock). I also received some troubling feedback that one person already does this work and that disability scholarship already exists. Placed within the larger context of the collaborative itself, it bothered me to think that these are not concerns worth pursuing if one person is already doing this or if similar scholarship exists elsewhere. I think it’s important for writing center scholars to take up issues of dis/ability and accessibility as they relate specifically to WC spaces and WC inhabitants.
If there was one major takeaway for me from this (un)conference, it was the importance of collaboration in both research and in practice. By addressing these topics more collectively, we gain richer understandings of how to make these spaces and practices more accessible to a range of students. The collaborative at large was a great opportunity for framing how we can begin working toward social change, and I look forward to continue reading and meeting people who do this type of work.