I found this year’s Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC, or 4Cs) to be somewhat less rewarding than in past years, largely because of the organizing committee’s pre-planned material-technological and discursive constraints on interactions within the online conference space. Like many others I saw in the online conference space, I was confused by the way the conference was organized and presented, not just buried but hidden in the CCCC website’s bizarrely hermetic navigation. Once I navigated the 4–5 clicks (try it yourself! can you find it?) into the conference itself, presented as a sort of meshing of the NCTE site (cccc.ncte.org), the conference proposal site (aievolution.com/NCTEevents), and the actual event space (app.forj.ai/CCCC22), I found—as many did—that the search function was unreliable and the sessions were extraordinarily difficult to navigate among.
I want to emphasize that this was clearly a planning issue, and not a matter of things going wrong in the moment: like Steve Krause, I’m talking about “how the online experience could have been better” since “the folks at NCTE generally seem pretty stressed out and overwhelmed. . ., and it kind of feels like any kind of criticism, constructive or otherwise, will be taken as piling on.” The stuff I’ve already described is characteristic of the CCCC leadership’s ongoing inability to manage the public face of scholarship for the discipline’s flagship conference, but what really made this year worse than others in the past was the clear decision by the organizers to prevent the majority of presenters from easily engaging in the conversations usually associated with academic conferences, and to create a two-tiered system wherein those selected to present synchronously had the opportunity to engage with their audiences, whereas those relegated to “on-demand” status had no opportunity to engage with their audiences within the space of the conference. In other words: if you were presenting or viewing an “on-demand” session, CCCC wasn’t interested in you talking to other conferees about it. In a conference with this year’s theme dedicated to social justice, the comparative proportions of BIPOC conference participants who were silenced by the myopic two-tier system seems to me to contravene rather than support the priorities expressed in Dr. Staci Perryman-Clark’s CFP. Or, OK, even more bluntly: I don’t know about the current CCCC leadership, but I go to conferences for the chance to learn and ask questions, and I had a problem with the exclusion of all of the presenters in the “on-demand” sessions from the ability to ask questions.
As Steve Krause puts it, the CCCC leadership’s conference planning this year seems most interested in
trying to prevent the possibility that anyone anywhere could share a link to my presentation materials. Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t that kind of the point of scholarship? That we present materials (presentations, articles, keynote speeches, whatever) in the hopes that those ideas and thoughts and arguments are made available to (potential) readers who are anyone and anywhere?
Yes, Steve, it is! In fact, Dr. Perryman-Clark emphasized that idea in her CFP, noting that “systems of power and privilege enable certain folks to send the invitations and vet guest lists, determining who is worth inviting and who is not,” and proposing as a consequence that CCCC participants and leadership
hold ourselves accountable for the gate-entry and gate-keeping we practice with our students and each other. For if we don’t, not only will our ethical reputation be at stake but we also risk being so exclusive that our relevance becomes extinct and shifting demographics may potentially lead to a decline in the membership we once treasured, protected, and justified the exclusivity of in the spirit of protecting rigor and the academic integrity of writing studies.
This year’s conference, as insulated as it was from current events by preventing conversation and requiring materials to be completed weeks ahead of time, seemed to me to venture into that territory of exclusivity.