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
When I was at IWCA a few weeks ago to present on “What Makes a Space Raced: Exploring Whiteness in the Writing Center,” I noticed how conferences—despite the tales of elitist performances and pretentious discourse—provide young and emerging scholars a space to present their research and receive productive feedback. In my rush to get published, I find that conferences allow me to think about my research, to explore ways to expand and exhaust the research, and to nuance the arguments I posit. In other words, conferences allow me to continue being student, which I believe is integral to both teaching, research, and scholarship. Publishing never feels like a learning practice. It feels like a finality: an imagined end goal. Publishing functions as a way of (1) Espousing knowledge, (2) Critiquing knowledge, or (3) Drawing attention to new knowledges. It is a space for experts, not necessarily learners.
What conferences provide young and emerging scholars that is much like the publishing process— if a manuscript reaches external review—is an instant type of peer review. Young, emerging, and established scholars all attend conferences and tend to attend panels in which they are interested. Therefore, what happens when young scholars present is a type of low-risk (ideally) review that can further push and urge a scholar to explore, nuance, and better articulate their research and ideas. For more established scholars, hearing from young and emerging researchers can also serve as a way to better refine, rethink, and nuance their current research. As someone interested in Writing Center research, as well as research in Comp/Rhet, the IWCA conference is an ideal space to present research concerning race, language, and identity in writing center spaces. I never leave a presentation unsatisfied as the questions, suggestions, and resources audience members provide are invaluable in this early stage of my research.