Critical Reflection and Questions about 4C18 and Future Conventions

Of all major academic conferences, 4C has always been the convention at which I feel most “at home.” When I attend 4C, I am assured that there are many scholars and students who share my pedagogical passion, value my work, and hold similar commitment to rethink and re-theorize what it means to teach rhetoric, literacy, and writing through multimodal and global lens. I see 4C as a welcoming and progressive space that welcomes untraditional perspective toward challenging hegemonic Eurocentric paradigms, histories, and pedagogies in our discipline and classroom. This year, however, I feel ambivalent about the conference, and as I am writing this blog, I remain conflicted about my attendance decision: To not attend the convention.

On the one hand, I am concerned about the NAACP’s travel advisory about Kansas City, and I am particularly worried about what message we might be sending as an organization when we choose to meet in a location that has proven to be discriminatory and dangerous to African Americans and other minorities, and not the mention: Missouri has been historically hostile to people with non-normative genders and sexualities. At the same time, I understand that suspending the conference may not yield a desirable social justice outcome, but worse, it can take away counter voices and space for contestation in a city and state that desperately need frank, critical, and peaceful discussion about race, sexualities, and social justice. Having 4C in Kansas thus opens up a space for people to question, examine, and discuss identity issues and how they underpin literacy, rhetorical, and pedagogical practices in our field and communities at large. Yet, the risk and discomfort that some scholars may feel must not be downplayed, so I appreciate the effort of many caucuses and groups such as the Coalition of Women Scholars in Rhetoric and Composition to call for the 4C Executive Committee to rethink the conference site and to offer alternative avenues for participation for scholars who are not comfortable attending the convention.

At the same time, my ambivalence about 4C this year makes me wonder: What social justice work at the ground, classroom, and organizational level do we need to continue to prioritize, support, and implement? Relatedly, what initiatives or programs might we build to make 4C a conference that does not only reflect diversity but remain an openly critical and productive venue in which diversity remains a core paradigm to orient how we choose and un-choose conference site, make important decision, build convention programs, create access, and recalibrate our perspectives–theoretical, pedagogical and social?

Most pressingly, as we move to plan 4C19, given that several caucuses and groups have decided to hold their meetings virtually this year as a way to contest the conference venue and to include attendees who are concerned about their safety, we need to continue to think about how we might use technology to encourage participation and presence in the future. Just a day before 4C18 began, I met with a doctoral mentee during office hours to discuss her dissertation progress and professional development. She opened up to relate that her religion, role as a mother, and cultural, gender, and religious norms in her tradition make it challenging for her to attend conferences without a male guardian. Traveling to 4C or other convention is often out of the question for her. What structure and opportunities, then, are in place to enable people like her and others who may have cultural, gender, physical and financial issues to continue to be active and present at 4C? How might we continue to use technology to open up spaces for inclusion and participation for minorities and others? If we are seriously committed to inclusion, then we must prioritize creating an infrastructure and opportunity for access/accessibility at ALL conventions–not just Kansas City.

And even though I have always felt welcomed at 4C and even though the convention remains my favorite conference, I must admit that I have felt awkward or uncomfortable in sessions in which I noticed I was one of the few minorities. I have also been perplexed why years after years panels on non-Western rhetorics and sponsored sessions of the Asian/Asian American Caucus often do not draw a large crowd and are typically attended by scholars of color. As a first-generation Thai immigrant who speaks English as a second language and as a researcher of non-Western rhetorics and digital writing, my 4C experience and my own scholarly work often lead me to wonder: To what degree has diversity really been taken up in our field, pedagogy, paradigm, and organization? The debate about this year’s conference site makes this question even more pertinent and pressing for all of us who values the importance of researching and teaching to trangress (hooks).

Ultimately, the questions and ambivalence I continue to feel about 4C18 serves as an opportunity and reminder that we need to further press and take into serious consideration issues about race, culture, diversity, and accessibility in our own professional discipline, organization, institution, classroom, and everyday life.