- The Hard Work of Imagining: The Inaugural Summit of the National Consortium of Writing Across Communities by Albuquerque, NM
On July 12–15, 2012, in advance of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 2012 Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the University of New Mexico hosted the inaugural Summit of the National Consortium of Writing Across Communities (NCWAC) in nearby Santa Fe. In attendance were twenty-four established and emerging scholars and graduate students working in (and across) fields such as community literacy, writing program administration, writing across the curriculum, and second-language writing. Of NCWAC’s twenty-seven sponsoring institutions, represented at the summit in addition to the host university were Arizona State University, University of Arkansas, Bridgewater State University, University of California Santa Barbara, Colorado State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Oklahoma, St. John’s University, Salt Lake Community College, Temple University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, and University of Utah. The purpose of the summit, like that of the consortium itself, was to bring these scholars and their respective disciplines into conversation, with a recognition that the next generation of public intellectuals must, according to Ellen Cushman, “combine their research, teaching, and service efforts in order to address social issues important to community members in under-served neighborhoods” (329).
Established at the historic Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta, Georgia, during the 2011 Conference on College Composition and Communication, NCWAC arose out of a constellation of conversations led by scholars such as Linda Adler-Kassner, John Duffy, Linda Flower, Keith Gilyard, Eli Goldblatt, Juan Guerra, Michelle Hall Kells, Elenore Long, Steve Parks, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur, to name a few; each scholar’s work, distributed along the spectrum of literacy advocacy and instruction, to coordinates—and the connections between them—overlooked or undervalued by traditional approaches to academic writing instruction. In the spirit of sustaining those conversations, NCWAC derived its name from Juan Guerra and Michelle Hall Kells’ argument for a cultural ecology approach to cultivating what Guerra terms transcultural citizenship: “adaptive strategies that help individuals move across cultural boundaries by negotiating new and different contexts and communicative conventions” (296–99). This approach manifested in 2005 in the University of New Mexico’s Writing Across Communities Initiative, which holds that “communicative competence depends upon complex strategies of shuttling between ideas and audiences, a challenging, culturally-dependent process” (Kells 96). Writing Across Communities therefore complements the notion of a writing beyond the curriculum model of writing program administration forwarded by Steve Parks and [End Page 115] Eli Goldblatt, in which students, instructors and administrators “think through and across and outside disciplines” (Parks and Goldblatt 589).
Writing Across Communities adds to this ongoing conversation an important contextual and ethical qualifier by framing literacy initiatives within a cultural ecology model, thereby “resist[ing] a culture-blind mode of document production and seek[ing] to guide students to critically respond to the cultural and symbolic systems within diverse contexts” (Kells 98). This mission requires not only that writing instruction across the curriculum must more explicitly “enhanc[e] opportunities to build identification with the cultures of the academy” but also “cultivate appreciation across the university for the cultures and epistemologies our students bring with them” (Kells 96). Writing Across Communities, then, makes an important contribution to the ongoing conversation calling for a radical re-envisioning of the academic mission in light of recent developments in fields invested in literacy advocacy and instruction. However, advocates for this re-envisioning, in performing public intellectual work in service to the most vulnerable communities within their spheres of influence, are likely to render themselves vulnerable to those forces in the academy invested in maintaining conventional modes of disciplinary knowledge-making and professionalization—modes that still hold sway over programmatic missions and tenure review boards inclined to apply to public intellectual work the pejorative service. Furthermore, this new imperative requires a breadth of interdisciplinary knowledge and administrative responsibility far beyond the pale of any one individual’s capabilities, so scholars committed to this work would need to...