The 2017 IWCA Conference was a conference of firsts. For the first time in the history of this conference, the Keynote speaker was and African American woman. Since much of my own research focuses on writing center theory, race, and pedagogy, I center this response to IWCA2017 on the Keynote speech of Neisha Ann-Green. Her speech used personal stories from her time as a writing center director to articulate and nuance the various instances of racism she experienced at the institution where she worked. These instances included rotten bananas being thrown at black students or hung from nooses with the name “Harambe” written on them.
Confederate flags hung around campus with cotton stuck to them while they all sat collectively at a formal townhall to talk about the new antiracist center. The pain of racism and the work of undoing it are commodities for which the institution profits. However, the symbolism of an antiracist institution situated on a campus that allows confederate flags, bananas in nooses, etc. expose the dissonance between seeming antiracist, while ensuring racist iconography remains on campus—a perfect metaphor for neoliberalism (a space to promote freedom of speech, while we “consider” both sides, staking a stance on neither). It is from this point that Neisha asked that we not be allies who set up separate, and at times, segregated spaces where Colored bodies go to express their concerns of racism to Chief Diversity Officers hamstrung by limited resources and institutional policies. Neisha called on us as writing center directors, consultants, staff, etc. to not be allies, but to be an accomplice in undoing both systemic racism in education and individual racism that occurs on college campuses. To be an accomplice is to call out racism or racist acts; it’s to explain to family and friends why racism and racist rhetoric should neither tolerable in private nor public spaces; it’s to do the work and not just creating monuments to those who have done the work.
Her keynote asks questions not only relevant to writing centers, but to institutes of higher education: how do we become accomplices to historically marginalized populations and how do we ensure that the facilities we build for them work towards their intended goals?
Written by Wonderful Faison
I went to my first IWCA a couple years ago in Pittsburgh. You can read about it here. At that point, it was the largest conference I had ever been to, and my first international conference. Since then, I’ve been to two more IWCAs and I think I’ve reached a point where the conference is just as much a space of learning as it is a space for getting to know colleagues, and myself a little better.
This year, I roomed with Hannah Espinoza (find her post here), and we opted to stay in the conference hotel so we wouldn’t have to take Lyfts everywhere and so we could take naps between sessions. Best idea ever! I learned that recharging is an important part of conferencing, especially when you need to be “on” the whole time. Taking breaks between sessions allowed me to be more social and engaged throughout the conference, which helped me meet some important people and make new friends.
This year, I also gave myself permission to skip sessions in favor of networking and meeting new people. For example, while I love the Queer SIG the most, I opted to miss it this year in order to grab lunch with some people I had only ever met on Twitter to get to know them better. I know I would have gained some valuable insights during the SIG, but I also got a chance to get to know some people on a personal level and plug the special issue I am editing alongside Rachel Robinson for TPR. In fact, a lot of the friends I made and people I met and reconnected with occurred because I gave myself permission to miss some sessions. People always say that networking is the most important part of conferencing, but networking is hard when you go to every session and exhaust yourself!
I guess my point is, the more I attend this conference, the more comfortable I become, the less official “conferencing” I do, and the more I get out of it. I’m sure some years I will attend more sessions than others, but I know now from experience that getting the most out of a conference requires a balance of work and play.
Written by Elise Dixon
Being a first year MA student, there are still many firsts that I’m experiencing in the academy. One of those was IWCA, which was my first international conference. Incidentally, it was also the first snowfall of the year. The new snow and old friends made for an incredible environment full of love, learning, and laughter.
I didn’t know what to expect for my first presentation at an international conference, but what I learned was that everyone was so immediately intimate, ready to participate, and ready to listen. I presented a round table with three of my colleagues about how, as peer tutors, we do emotional labor in every single session, emotional labor that we aren’t necessarily prepared or trained for. We talked through scenarios that most tutors grapple with like disengaged students, students worried about grades, students dealing with grief, and students whose anger towards school becomes channeled at us. We discussed how we dealt with those students and how we wished we would have dealt with them knowing what we know now. Ultimately, my colleagues and I decided to create a workshop that administrators can use to train tutors on emotional labor, especially in online sessions, where we don’t have the affordance of face to face intimacy.
A part of the conference that I wasn’t prepared for was the deconstruction of an over enthusiastic mindset I had. I went into the conference thinking I would attend every single session on every single day, attend all the Special Interest Groups, and still have time to relax in a beautiful city with my friends from all across the country. What I quickly learned was that conferences are not designed that way. I learned that the sessions I was most interested in weren’t the same sessions that my friends were interested in. I went alone to the sessions that were most important to me and I made new friends. And most importantly, I spent dinners pouring over what my friends learned in their sessions and growing emotionally and intellectually with them.
Written by Raquel Wright-Márquez
IWCA 2017 was my first International Writing Center Conference event. I presented with a former colleague about a classroom-based tutoring program I had administered for three years at my former institution and which she had taken over administration of as the faculty writing center director in the last two years. I love collaborating with others in conference spaces and though we presented late in the day on Sunday, we had a few participants attend (some MSU folks included!). In many ways I think our presentation was a prefiguring moment for a potential project we’ll work on together in the future. And so in that capacity, it acted as a exploratory, audience engaged, workshop format more than a paper presentation moment. It was positive to see the ways in which MSU’s writing center culture is already acting on my pedagogy: we had people visualize and draw their own institutional configurations, we asked participants to help us build new knowledge and ask questions of us. In this way, it helped me better understand my own meaning making around the reflective moments of a conference presentation.
I also attended a session that was highly feedback based. Because the national conferences I have attended are CCCC and WPA, I wasn’t familiar with their format here. They are called “In-Progress” sessions and this means that participants have submitted in process work to each other before the conference and received feedback from one another. Then, in the session, they briefly outline their paper and the other participants verbalize feedback while the “audience” observes. It mirrors something I do in my first-year writing courses called a “fishbowl” where students observe feedback taking place and then have a space where they can also offer questions or thoughts. Sharing your work is an intimate, vulnerable space and it struck me what a supportive, generative environment this session felt like, overall. It is a thing I would definitely apply to participate in in the future to share my own work.
I also found myself reflecting, during the conference, on the differences between “Cs” and a conference like this. Cs is very big, bustling and fast. It feels like a marathon of interaction in sessions, hallways, after conference events and networking/working moments. In contrast, IWCA felt very quiet, calm, and in some ways, more intimate. I was happy to see several people I see at Cs, to share meals or tea with them and catch up but in general, I spent my time with MSU colleagues, how cool! In general, conference spaces are a nice place for me to feel connected to the larger field. For many, myself included in the past, these conferences are often very important places to step out of isolation in the English departments we frequently find ourselves working in as compositionists. I felt a strong sense of connection to MSU and our ethos as a program. I’m so thrilled to be a part of such an engaged, thoughtful, dynamic group of learners and practitioners.
Written by Anicca Cox
While I have worked in the Writing Center part time for a few years now, this was the first year that I attended a writing center related conference when I went to IWCA in Chicago, IL. I presented some of my thoughts about our Lyman-Briggs Studio program and was impressed by the positive and constructive feedback I received, even from a small crowd on the last morning of the conference! However, the best thing about this conference was what I learned from other writing center directors and staff who are practicing studio sessions in several exciting ways!
In a particularly compelling Sunday session, Michelle Marie from Oregon State talked about her center’s full switch to a studio model in their new library space. She described the way that students come into the center and are encouraged to make their own goals and use the space to actually write while tutors check in and offer feedback where desired. She also talked about the ways that her brave tutors were working to retrain themselves to step back, set short-term writing goals, and allow their clients the space or assistance that they wanted. I see in this practice emphasis on writing practice and the fluidity that comes with the writing process, which I find exciting when thinking about unique ways to use a writing center space. I hope that I can carry some of these ideas with me in our own tutor trainings and practices!
Written by Hannah Espinoza
On October 21, 2017, I had my first experience presenting at the 22nd Michigan Writing Center Association Conference for Ideas Exchange at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. My proposal for the conference was about working with Multilingual students in the Writing Center at different locations. Specifically, my partner Christian Lambren, a graduate student in Student Affairs, and I were interested in finding how space and community, body-language, and proximity (regarding structural elements ex: seating arrangements) in the WC rooms on campus affected consultations with Multilingual Students. I grew interest in researching such a multifaceted topic from working in the Writing Center on campus in different locations for a total 5 semesters! Most of my consultations included new, and returning determined Multilingual writers who were interested in understanding how to improve grammar errors, and/or how to interpret an assignment to prove they followed the instructions correctly. I never felt more connected with any other academic community other than the Writing Center at MSU because of the inclusiveness of its spaces on campus, and the approachable, supportive team of the writing consultants in each respective location.
To answer the research question: How does space and community, body-language/movement, and proximity (structural elements of a space) affect consultations with Multilingual students in different WC locations? Christian, and I prepared a survey to analyze the attitudes and beliefs of consultants in the main WC location on campus, Bessey Hall, the location where we both currently work, Holden Hall, and labeled the last category, “A different satellite location”. The results indicated that there were 26 consultants who participated and gave feedback on the survey we created using Qualtrics survey monkey. The questions asked consultants to give feedback for each category: 2 questions on community and space, 1 about location, 2 of best practices, and finally, 2 questions asking for feedback on the workshop MSU’s WC prepared for the last conference (MiWCA 2016).
Furthermore, preparing and finding time to allot for this research study was challenging, but worth the commitment. Christian, and I loosely divided the responsibilities for the presentation according to who had time to do what, while also meeting to discuss and sort through our findings because we both were often occupied with school, and work schedules. I am anticipating graduation in May 2018 for Professional Writing with the College of Arts and Letters at MSU. Presenting at the 22nd Michigan Writing Center Association Conference has been a great professional experience where I was extremely thrilled to meet and network with many faculty and staff from other college Writing Centers in Michigan. The students of Oakland University were so welcoming, I immediately felt a part of the community while presenting, and watching other presentations during my visit. In the future, I hope to continue studying more of best practices while working with Multilingual students.
Written by Kiera Williams
At the 2017 MiWCA conference, Cristian Lambaren and Kiera Williams presented on the affect and effect of the Writing Center space on multilingual learners seeking assistance from writing center tutors at the MSU Bessey writing center and its 5 subsequent satellite hubs. This panel showed that while clients like the welcoming feel of the Bessey writing center, it seems busy, having a lot of miscellaneous objects around that are not or do not seem conducive to writing or giving one impetus to write. However, clients were similarly critical of the satellites décor, noting they were bare, lacking, and without any accoutrements to help relax writers. While this difference is stark, and in large part due to how the neighborhood satellites are contracted out to the writing center, it is clear that multilingual clients conclude that each writing center space, no matter which one they attend, lacks balance. As such, the MSU writing center should begin to think of ways to balance the look and feel of the writing center across both its main hub and its subsequent satellite locations.
Written by Wonderful Faison, PhD Candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant in Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures (WRAC)