You Can Never Go Home: Musings on CCCC 2018

On August 15, 2017 I read and signed the “Joint Statement on the NAACP Missouri Travel Advisory” on behalf of the CCCC Feminist Caucus. That was easy. But trying to reconcile the various discourse surrounding the convention afterward consumed my scholarship, teaching, service, and personal advocacy efforts throughout the year.

Cs has long been my disciplinary home. Participation in the conference as a high school teacher initially got me interested in graduate work, and I’ve come nearly continuously for my entire career (with the exception of when I skipped Las Vegas because: eight months pregnant + Las Vegas). I have long found it inspiring and exhilarating at exactly the time in the semester when I need it – that mid-semester slump.

In August 2017 I was in the midst of a collaborative scholarly project examining what conference participation means, and, in particular: What is the role of conferences in our understanding of disciplinary time? We examined how the development of our field is reflected in the splintering off of new disciplinary meetings, creating new conference “homes” for folks. Such analysis demonstrates how the disciplinary center shifts and turns as needs are met/not by various communities. Cs 2018, for instance, demonstrated that something has changed in our conference attendance, that something has changed with Cs, and, most clearly for me, that something has to change with Cs.

In my graduate class, I asked students to use discourse analysis and digital content analysis tools to make sense of the discourse surrounding the conference. I watched how, like me, they struggled to find a voice in the discussion. As scholars new to the field they saw much to critique, but they felt unsure about to level such criticisms. They felt uncomfortable, and some of them felt implicated in the problems they saw. Me too.

In my home state in the South, legislation that threatens the health and safety of folks frequently comes to the fore, and in my personal activism I am constantly torn over the “right” thing to do, the “right” thing that will best support colleagues and friends most acutely impacted. But like the response to SB 43, most of these decisions are not simple.

My residential home also complicates my thinking about conference sites. As a white woman, I have the privilege of feeling relatively safe traveling across the country. As a tenure-track faculty member, I am privileged to usually have the conference funding to travel across the country, even if it’s in relatively far-away places that don’t have the same discriminatory bills come up in their legislatures as they do in mine. But in the South our salaries are generally lower than on the coasts and in the North; our travel funding is generally more limited; and many of my colleagues, particularly contingent faculty, simply don’t have access to conferences that aren’t in driving distance. Access is complicated, safety is paramount, and participation is fraught, fraught, fraught.

My decision to attend CCCC 2018 was impacted by the decisions of sibling caucuses, Asao Inoue’s thoughtful leadership, the encouragement of the local NAACP chapter, the EC’s “strategy of engagement,” and the efforts of the SJAC. In the conference’s aftermath, I am simply left with a desire to do something “right” without any clear strategy forward. I will continue my scholarship, my teaching, my service, my personal activism. But I am left with questions: What does access really looks like for a conference? How can Cs help all members feel safe? How can Cs value the experiences of those who have been excluded? Cs is certainly an imperfect home, and this year, more than any other time, I saw this more clearly than I had before. I hope that in the coming year we can listen to those who were not there at Cs 2018, who weren’t safe, and I hope that we can all let some discomfort set in, marinate in that a while, and let us, as a field, be changed by this year’s discourse and our colleagues’ experiences.