March 21, 2012 – Crowne Plaza Hotel, St. Louis, MO
Writing Center Activism: From Ideals to Strategies
In Facing the Center (Utah State UP, 2010), Harry Denny explores the ways in which identity politics impact writing center work. He observes that identifying such politics within the center marks only the beginning; writing center professionals must continue to examine how the “larger socio-cultural forces” of race, class, gender, and nationalism (to name a few) “commingle with institutional histories and cultures” (145). He insists that our responses to the tensions that arise from such commingling can “provide critical lessons to our colleagues beyond the spaces of our writing centers,” and he identifies such responses as the stuff of “everyday activism” (145). For Denny, understanding activism as a daily choice—or performance—creates at once tremendous potential and challenges for writing center professionals and workers.
For Linda Adler-Kassner, activism is the task of changing “the dominant story about the work of writing instruction” (2). In The Activist WPA (Utah State UP, 2008), Adler-Kassner counters widely-circulated stories in which students are deficient and writing instructors are to blame, with the possibility of alternative stories that rely on the assumptions that “everyone can write; that students are astoundingly knowledgeable about composing in contexts that some teachers know relatively little about; that schools are being put in virtually untenable situations with regard to literacy instruction; or that it might be worth questioning the criteria by which ‘quality’ is being determined” (1). To change the stories told about writing instruction, she asserts, our field must move beyond the safety of idealism to reconsider and articulate our fundamental beliefs about our work and boldly devise real strategies for change.
For many of us, activism is an ideal meant to counter the stories often told about writing center work—be it remedial instruction, improved writing skills, or improved writers (whatever that may mean)—to include more progressive, transformative, subversive, or even revolutionary agendas. And while writing center people may have strong ethical commitments to educational or civic ideals, we often feel uncertain about how to operationalize those ideals in practice. At the same time, others may cringe at the suggestion that writing center work have some sort of political undertone, viewing activism as an unjustified agenda that competes for precious time and resources in our centers. For most, the invocation of “activism” unsettles questions about our values and ethics—questions which ultimately underlie how we do our work. Denny’s and Adler-Kassner’s works challenge us to reconsider our definitions of activism, to tell new stories about our work, and to turn those stories into action. For the 2012 Collaborative @ CCCCs, we invite participants to likewise draw upon the everyday to craft different narratives about activism in the writing center.
The IWCA Collaborative @ CCCC 2012 is an untraditional (“un”)conference that will provide a forum for highly-interactive conversation and hands-on activities that allow participants to investigate the function of activism in writing center work. We invite proposals from writing center consultants, scholars, researchers, and administrators to serve as facilitators in leading discussions or activities that explore the following types of questions:
- How do we define activism? What tensions among our definitions are productive? In what ways does our field need to reach consensus?
- Should writing centers be engaged in activism? What are our ethical obligations? Is it necessary, problematic, or unavoidable to politicize our work?
- How might our interest in activism impact our tutors, positively and/or negatively? How can/should/might our tutors’ social activism impact their writing centers?
- What are our ideals? For what causes can or should writing centers advocate? Racial, gender, sexual, linguistic, ability, religious, or labor equity? Disciplinary status and just assessment? Local issues or global and systemic oppression?
- What real strategies will enable just, effective, and ethical activism? How might we ally with other units on or beyond our campuses committed to social change?
For this year’s IWCA Collaborative @ CCCC, we plan to experiment with a growing trend in regional writing center association conferences inspired by the “unconference” model in other fields and industries. While more traditional formats, such as roundtable sessions, are available, traditional conference papers and panel presentations will not be included. Instead, proposals that explore new modes of collaborating and making meaning will be given priority in the review and selection process, including:
- Laboratories: Facilitators use the session time with the participants to conduct an experiment or test a hypotheses (e.g. administer and discuss a survey, have participants be guinea pigs in an activity you plan to use with your staff, etc.) (1.5 hours)
- Collaborative writing circles: Facilitators guide participants in a group writing activity intended to collaboratively produce a document or materials (e.g. mission statements, petitions, position statements, letters to the administration, etc.) (1.5 hours)
- Workshops: Facilitators lead participants in a hands-on activity (rather than presenting a paper or power point) to teach tangible skills related to writing center work and activism (e.g. how to advocate for resources, facilitate intergroup dialogue among staff, or speak confidently at a faculty meeting, etc.) (1.5 hours)
- Roundtable Sessions: Facilitators lead discussion of a specific issue related to writing center praxis and activism; this format might include short remarks from between 2-4 presenters followed by active and substantive engagement/collaboration with attendees prompted by guiding questions. (1.5 hours)
- Fishbowl Conversations: Facilitators initiate a large-group discussion then rotate off the panel to allow other attendees to join in and contribute to the discussion. (1.5 hours)
- Round Robin Discussions: Facilitators introduce a topic or theme (e.g., racial justice in the writing center) and organize participants into smaller break-out groups to continue the conversation. In the spirit of “round robin” tournaments, participants will change groups after 20-30 minutes to extend and expand their conversations. After at least two rounds of conversation, facilitators will reconvene the full group for a concluding discussion. (1.5 hours)
- Research Projects-in-Progress Workshops: In facilitated small-group workshops, participants present in-progress research or assessment projects and receive feedback from colleagues in attendance in response to questions posed by the researcher. Each participant will have 5 minutes to present his/her project and 25 minutes to receive feedback and discuss it. (2.5 hours)
- Other new and engaging models! Have a format in mind that we haven’t included? Propose it (and be sure to include a description and rationale)!
The proposal process closed on October 17, 2011.
IWCA Collaborative @ CCCC Overview
The all-day IWCA Collaborative @ CCCC is an independent, annual IWCA event and will not appear on the CCCC program. The Collaborative @ CCCC focuses on providing an interactive, informal, and invigorating day for all comers. As of 2010, IWCA hosts an annual Collaborative @ CCCC and Fall IWCA conferences in even numbered years. The schedule reflects IWCA’s effort to respond to difficult financial circumstances, to reduce conflicts between spring IWCA conferences and CCCC, to strengthen writing center presence in conjunction with CCCC, and to encourage strong participation in regional conferences.
This year the event will take place from 8 am to 7 pm at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, across from the landmark Gateway Arch and 0.6 miles from the CCCC convention location. The day will be well worth the registration fee, which will include beverages, lunch, and an evening reception. Registration information will be posted on the IWCA website as it becomes available. We look forward to joining you for a great day in St. Louis!