Four Days of Four Cs in Kansas City

While I have been actively vocalizing my concerns for the field’s (in)ability to deal with issues of racial disparity, I ultimately decided to attend this year’s conference. I did so because I felt like my presence in the organization’s governing body would allow me to vocalize these concerns more strategically, and it would also allow me to support local activists there, thanks to the initiatives of the Social Justice and Activism Task Force. I’m writing this post on the 4th day of 4Cs to offer my reflection on the conference, and what I perceive to be the next steps we should take.

Image of the author presenting at 4C, taken by Cruz Medina
Image of the author presenting at 4C18, taken by Cruz Medina

Today, I presented my exercise of decolonial multimodal composition through oceanic borderspaces, which focused on Puerto Rican celebration of Taino indigeneity, as a way to foster coalition with Indigenous communities. Christina Cedillo opened the session by theorizing in/visibility of marginalized communities by attending to roadside shrines as decolonial composition. Cindy Tekobbe expressed concern about the way in which sexual assault cases are often treated by continuing to put the onus on the victim in the creation of apps to “mitigate” potential rape incidents, calling on the audience to reflect about how education institutions are “handling” cases as opposed to addressing the problem of sexual predators. Though we had an opportunity to exchange ideas about our work with the audience at the end, I could not help noticing that the room was mostly empty.

This is the second year that I am part of a panel that is scheduled for the last session of the conference. There is, of course, no way to please everyone, but scheduling sessions about and by marginalized communities should be a priority for an organization that has increasingly been called into question about its efforts to increase diversity and inclusion. However, as these year’s events make apparent, diversity and inclusion are not enough: we need equity, and most importantly, justice.

To reflect on this year’s conference is to think about the work that lays ahead.

There were numerous moments in which I had conversations about the ways in which the organization was able to bring the voices of those who were missing, whether because of a real feeling of threat by a police state, or in solidarity with those who called for a boycott. In fact, it was not difficult for me to notice how on the first day of 4Cs there was an arrest made in front of the hotel where the conference was being held. Nevertheless, as Kansas City activist Tamara Jones made clear, the Black Lives Matter chapter in Kansas City has been working to highlight the injustice and violent treatment of Black communities, while also highlighting the importance of educators’ sensibility towards having conversations about race. There seemed to be some miscommunication, and her session, also including Ersula Ore, Elaine Richardson and David Green, was not broadcasted to those who paid to watch the session remotely.

As I think about my experience during these 4 days at 4Cs, I am thinking about the ways in which next year can improve the good efforts that begun this year. While there have been important initiatives towards improving accessibility, the far away spaces between events made mobility around the conference difficult. While there were sessions that included the voices of local activists, more work could have been highlighted. I believe there are concrete ways in which we can ensure there is more equity and concrete steps toward justice that can be taken in future conferences, and in our organization more broadly. Thankfully, I met a lot of good people who have been thinking about these problems, and who voiced a commitment to coalition building in the future. I’m looking forward to working with the Executive Committee to make sure these coalitions happen.

Reverberating Latinx Voices: Steven Alvarez

Image result for steven alvarez

Cs in Ciudad Kiansis was my seventh.

The gente de Ciudad Kiansis 🇲🇽 #4c18

A post shared by Steven Alvarez (@stevenpaulalvarez) on

I was conflicted about attending, but when it came down to it, I wanted to be there for St. John’s students presenting, and for my favorite ceremony, the Scholars for the Dream awards. Nevertheless, there was a moment where my partner Sara Alvarez and I felt nervous. On our way to get barbecue, our taxi driver was sporting a t-shirt with white supremacist insignias. We tried to stay cordial, but I felt sick–especially when he mentioned that next week he would be starting his new job: as a police officer.

This happened before the conference started, and during the conference, we encountered no problems, thankfully. I was active on Twitter (@chastitellez) and Instagram (@stevenpaulalvarez) throughout. But I was also floating around as @tacoliteracy on both platforms. Along with my colleagues Santos Ramos, Jaquetta Shade, and Consuelo Salas, I presented on “Languaging foodways: community approaches to land, food, and literacy”.

We had a fantastic turnout, and we did some great hands-on work with attendees exploring arts-based research methods for thinking about foodways and our relationships to land through writing and drawing.

Overall, the Cs was memorable, though I missed seeing some of mi gente who chose not to attend. I respect their decision not to, and support this as well. As a colleague in the Black Caucus said during a discussion, the organization has some work to do to win some folks back.

Here are a few of the highlights for me:

Hello #KansasCity #4c18

A post shared by Steven Alvarez (@stevenpaulalvarez) on

A Latinx Graduate Student Reflection: Raquel Corona

Image of Raquel Corona, graduate student at St. John's University
Raquel Corona, graduate student at St. John’s University

I decided to attend 4Cs because I was unsure as a graduate student, after being accepted to present, if I could somehow really say “no.”  As a graduate student glad to have gotten in and hoping to go on the job market at some point in the next couple years, I felt like I was not in the best position to say, “let me pick and choose if I can go to 4Cs.”  There was also a part of me that logically knew that most of the time I travel for conferences unless it’s held in a major metropolitan city with a semblance of diversity, as a woman of color, I don’t feel safe.  Besides, as a plus-size woman, having to travel on planes, already sets in motion numerous concerns.  I also worked hard collaboratively with a group of graduate students at my institution – despite it being my second time at 4Cs, I didn’t think it was fair to say “no” to my peers who were looking forward to the experience.  Although we had discussed it as a group and tried to have an honest conversation about it, I didn’t want to hold us back.  Moreover, I hate to be so blunt – again, there’s no guarantee I’ll be “comfortable” or “safe” at any large national conference.  I thought, if anything does happen, at least in this particular instance I’ll have the backing of an entire organization that attempted to have a larger discussion about the ramifications of holding a convention in a place like Missouri.

In preparation for my upcoming oral comprehensive exam and to get a “refresher” on some of the feminist rhetorics content, I opted to focus my interest at 4Cs this year on attending feminist research sessions.  This was one of the main reasons I registered and attended the day-long pre-convention workshop held by the Feminist Caucus.  I was impressed by the diversity of the presenters not only in identity-make-up but in research content.  There was a nice balance of research content as well as seasoned and newer scholars in the field.  They also broke up the presentations with mini-workshops focused more on pedagogical subjects.

In that room of about 25 to 30 attendees however, I would say there is still some work to be done for racial diversity and the make-up of the feminist caucus.  I met and spoke to maybe one other graduate student of color.   But, that room was mostly still white women.  However, this may be one of the only concerns I had.  It was really quite wonderful to see such a diverse panel of presenters and critical important discussions about intersectionality and methodology.  One of the critical questions that came from our conversations after the presenters was to consider exactly how the concept of positionality–being able to understand and clearly delineate one’s position as a scholar to the research one is trying to conduct–can become more of an epistemology.  It seems as though the field of feminist rhetorics and methods has begun to fully understand and integrate the notion of looking at identity in an intersectional manner and that it requires a certain level of self-awareness as a researcher about one’s relation to the research.  However, during the session we discussed how often this is not always taken further to actually consider what this means for the factors affecting research participants or the conclusions made by the researcher.

In a similar fashion, I imagine though, as I push for more diversity in the room, I also have to account for the various factors that do not allow for that to be the case.  Some may include:

  1. The cost of an additional day of pre-convention workshops is nearly equivalent to the cost of registration for the conference as a graduate student.  Moreover, an additional day at a conference involves an additional cost of hotel.
  2. With the number of social justice-oriented sessions and the myriad of workshops available, people could have chosen another session to attend.
  3. In general, there are fewer scholars of color in the field.

I also attended another session with some of the big names in feminist rhetorics:  Cheryl Glenn, Shirley Logan, Andrea Lunsford, Krista Ratcliff, and Jacqueline Jones Royster.  This was an intense and timely session in response to our current “Trump era.”  It was equally balanced as the slate of presenters at the pre-convention workshop in regards to content and presenters. I also appreciated the balance on research and pedagogy as a good reminder for us to continually develop our teaching practices taking into account our current political climate.  It was in this moment that I saw hope for the future of feminist research.  If these established scholars could be as thoughtful and intentional about their contributions to the field, then they’re modeling what the future can and will continue to be.

Honestly, if that wasn’t inspiration enough to get me through my studies and upcoming oral exam, I met and hugged Jacqueline Jones Royster during another session at 4Cs.  I wrote a poetic tweet about how she made eye contact with me during the presentation at some point and then literally led me into such a warm and invigorating embrace as I approached her at the end.  As a woman of color, to get just that kind of acknowledgment from another woman of color, is just hard to find in the spaces we navigate within higher education.  So, I’m happy to have gotten the opportunity to see her and so many other inspiring people of color at 4Cs.

Representing Graduate Students: A Call for Feedback

As I close my 4 Days @ 4Cs in Kansas City blog, I want to end by reiterating that I am starting my term as Graduate Representative in the CCCC Executive Committee. Although I will be graduating in May, I will continue to serve in this position for the next two years. Therefore, I want to extend a call for graduate students in the field to reach out and express your concerns and priorities in relation to next year’s conference. I’ve already articulated a few of my concerns above, but I would like to emphasize my deep commitment to listening to what graduate students in the field deem important.

The best way to reach me would be via twitter, which is how I recruited Raquel Ríos to write about her own experience at 4Cs this year. In addition, you can email me (karriesoto@gmail.com), or send me a message via Facebook. In other words, you can use any kind of social media to let me know about the concerns you would like me to communicate to the EC.

I’d like to end with a reflection on my experience as a graduate student in the field in order to provide a short testimonio about how to create spaces of collaboration and mentorship. As a graduate student, I have found that there are many junior and senior scholars who are willing to mentor those who are not directly their students. It’s been my experience that groups like the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Writing (CFSHRW) aim to provide spaces for feminist rhetoric enthusiasts to gather and exchange ideas. It has also been my experience that Standing Interest Groups (SIGs) are a great space to network with like-minded individuals who share scholarly interests and pedagogical priorities. As evident in this page, the Latinx Caucus is a community that supports each other, and I know that other identity-based caucuses engage similar efforts. This year, I was fortunate enough to also receive a Scholars for the Dream Travel Award, which has introduced me to a great community of scholars who have shared similar struggles of access in their careers.

I look forward to the friendships I will continue to build in this field, and I hope you reach out some time soon. Hasta entonces, be well my fellow grads.

Advertisements