Call for Papers: Rhet-Comp HBCU Symposium

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Rhetoric and Composition HBCU Symposium

Call for Papers: Remembering Our Pasts. Re-enVisioning Our Future


Please submit your abstract proposals to no later than November 10, 2017.

Your abstract proposal should be no more than 350 words and should note whether this is an individual or group submission and what form it will take.  Official invitations will be emailed by early December for accepted presentations. Please keep in mind, we are planning to develop a series of publications from the topics discussed at the conference, and your work may contribute in that manner. The Symposium will take place March 29-30 2018 on the campus of Howard University and the United Negro College Funds headquarters in Washington, DC. You contact if you have any further questions about the call or the Symposium.


As teachers, researchers, and administrators, we often imagine our work within Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and our collective interests in language as work linked to people and communities often marginalized by the current social order. We understand that the world will make judgments about our students’ potential in a particular field based on their knowledge base and their skin color, gender, class, and language. Many of us imagine our work with writing, rhetoric, and literacy as part of a long tradition of professional uplift and social change, but how might our work continue to address this “changing same” with an eye toward newer technologies, shifting views on language and identity, or a growing understanding of space and situation? How might our work begin to address concerns and shifting dynamics connected to labor, training, and values? How might we use our collective training and expertise as teachers of writing, language, rhetoric, and literacy to cultivate a conference that allows us to think critically, historically, and with vision about our collective positions and goals within the larger Rhet-Comp community? How might we continue to serve our students at HBCUs that value the tradition of writing instruction and a changing view of expressive literacy?


HBCUs represent a vast network of some of the richest and inspiring literacy and language traditions within higher education. Because tradition can always serve as an empowering force, a temperate view of the present, or a way for us to process change and envision a different future, this call seeks to build on the work that began with the first HBCUs and Composition Symposium held at North Carolina A&T in 2014. At that symposium, organizers, presenters, and attendees discussed a vision for Rhetoric and Composition training at HBCUs.  Because HBCUs have trained a number of minority students to use critical approaches to navigate social, professional, and intellectual spaces often not designed for them but in need of their presence, HBCUs represent unique spaces for rethinking rhetoric and composition and the type of work important to our changing student populations. As we get ready for a second symposium on HBCUs and Composition, we would like to construct a space for those working at HBCUs, or simply predominantly Black colleges or minority-serving institutions, to begin to think about the conversations and locations that most need our unique and creative responses.


Prominent graduates of the HBCU experience such as Louise Thompson Patterson, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, Jr., Katherine Coleman Goble, Michael Thelwell, E. Ethelbert Miller, and thousands more thinkers of distinction highlight the possibilities of our students and the value of the critical thought and creative problem-solving connected to these institutions and to composition more specifically. Given the rise and changing dynamics of Rhetoric and Composition as a profession, it has become imperative that teachers, researchers, and scholars invested in the HBCU experience begin to think critically and together about the roles that technology, politics, anti-racist and culturally sustaining teaching, feminism, gender and sexuality studies, as well as labor studies play in the way students are trained to write, think, and compose in the 21st century.  Furthermore, a collective reflection on the history of HBCUs as spaces that led conversations about educating other minority communities (historically Native American and Latinx groups) provides a pathway and vision that should be used to take greater ownership of our contribution to Rhetoric and Composition studies.


Therefore, we call for deep consideration of the contributions, possibilities, and problems of composition studies at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions and ways we might better address them. We invite you to propose panels, workshops, posters, short papers, roundtables, teaching demonstrations, TED talks, blog posts, or virtual dialogues. Feel free to propose topics of your own interest or use the questions below to aid your proposals:


  • What role does a fluid and multi-vision of literacy play in the teaching of rhetoric and/or composition?


  • How do we begin to examine the histories of literacy, language, and rhetorical studies at HBCUs to build on visions for future work in these areas?


  • One HBCU scholar once described managing student literacies and the technological resources afforded HBCUs as “trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.” How might we shift the conversation on technologies and literacy at HBCUs in ways that acknowledge sound media technologies and apps as central to the education of students?


  • What roles do writing centers at HBCUs play in students’ views about their identities and how their literacy practices are connected to them?


  • What possibilities for collaboration across HBCUs exist? How might we better frame this work as central to the broader Rhet-Comp field?


  • What oral and written histories exist about HBCUs that we might begin to curate, reframe, and build on as scholar-teachers working in these spaces?


  • The digital humanities is a field of study that blends an interest in technology, media studies, and computational methods with humanistic and rhetorical inquiry. How can relationships with predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and other institutions shape the way HBCU researchers and faculty collaborate to take advantage of shared resources?


  • How do the curricula and structure of first-year writing programs impact students’ perceptions about the role of language and literacy in their lives?


  • How does the structure of writing across the curriculum programs at HBCUs influence students’ views of literacy and language practices?


  • Literatures of the Diaspora often pepper and comprise much of our English curricula. Recent theories of translingualism, multilingualism, and globalization provide avenues for rethinking the role of literature in our writing classrooms. In what ways might we use these theories to rethink our Rhet-Comp curricula?


  • Job security, lack of financial resources, and support for writing instructors and writing centers remain a serious concern at many HBCUs. How might we address concerns about labor and institutional practices that undermine growth at our respective universities?