This is Part 1 of a series on the Conference on College Composition and Communication.
In late March or early April of each year, a large portion of the WRAC faculty members and graduate students disappear for several days for something they call the “CCCC”. The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC, or 4Cs) is a professional organization dedicated to the field of collegiate writing. For many, including WRAC faculty and students, the CCCC is the defining conference in their field and many go out of their way to attend every year. The conference is a venue where scholars of rhetoric and writing gather to learn about the work of their colleagues and to present their own work to the community. Each conference has a different theme, selected by the program chair, which is intended to serve as a frame for all of the presentations.
This year’s program chair for the CCCC is WRAC’s very own Dr. Malea Powell. Her responsibilities as chair include organizing the conference, acting as assistant chair of the organization, and having a seat on the executive board of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). To help her try to manage the daunting task of organizing the conference, she enlisted Rhetoric & Writing PHD student Daisy Levy to assist her.
This year, the CCCC is being held in Atlanta, GA, from April 6th to April 9th of 2011. The theme of the conference is “All Our Relations: Contested Space, Contested Knowledge,” which is inspired by Native American philosophy and meant to reflect an interconnectedness between relationships of humans and all living things – that all living things are important and should be treated as relatives. This philosophy encourages an understanding of an individual’s place in the “larger web of meaning.” For this conference, Malea asks “all our relations” to come and learn how to balance knowledge and space, which are often disputed; in addition, she hopes it will bring the organization together to encourage greater connections outside of higher education, connections constantly affecting the work being done by members on all levels.
Malea had been approached several times to run for election for program chair of the CCCC. She turned down the offer repeatedly, busy with directing the graduate program at Michigan State and with her other scholarly obligations. After being approached by the previous program chair, she finally agreed to run and was subsequently elected. Her election provided her with opportunities to make major changes within the organization, changes based on her belief that scholars in composition and communication work within multiple spaces:
“No one works in those categories that they [the CCCC] ask us to submit to. People work at intersections. A lot of people whose work is really important to folks who are in the classroom teaching writing every day weren’t being seen at the convention because they felt like the conference wasn’t a place for them, a place for their work to be seen or heard. They felt unwelcome, so they stopped coming. My goal has been to get those people back and to also raise some excitement among new scholars, graduate students, and beginning assistant professors about the possibility of what the field could be, instead of what it has always been.”
A call for proposals went out last spring designed as an attempt to address these concerns. Malea created a new category–113 Contesting Boundaries–to solicit proposals that don’t fit within traditional categories. Some disagreed with the creation of this new section because of the broad range of topics it invited into the conference. However, the call produced the highest number of submissions to one category ever in the history of the CCCC and was the second highest number of submitted proposals in the past ten years. Malea is enthusiastic about the tremendous response to this new category and hopes that the changes she has implemented will help the CCCC better meet the needs of the entire field.
Other changes made in the conference include having those she calls “emerging scholars” present as featured speakers and in featured sessions, rather than having only those famous in the world of college composition. These “emerging scholars” may be advanced graduate students, beginning assistant professors, or may not even work within a university. This allows people who have not had the chance to speak at such a major event to play prominent role in shaping the learning environment of the conference.
This year, there will be panels on current studies such as the definition of digital humanities and the impact of Arizona’s immigration laws on ethnic studies education. The conference will also feature men and women of Cherokee descent in featured sessions and demonstrations in the exhibit area. All of these sessions and panels work to reflect the conference theme, an attempt to “connect the past and present to really push people to think about the future of the discipline, in a really different, more complicated way.”
Malea’s overall goal is for this conference to be a reconsideration of what defines college composition and communication. She hopes to inspire educators and learners to think outside the box of how writing is currently thought of and to work together, across boundaries, to inspire the best work possible.
This is Part 1 of a series on the CCCC. Part 2, a behind-the-scenes look at the planning of the conference, will be coming in early December. In March, look for a complete report of WRAC’s presence at the conference.