Michelle L. Stevier, the recipient of this year’s CBW Travel Grant to CCCC wrote to the CBW Executive Board to express her thanks. We were so blown away by Michelle’s eloquence about her experiences attending CBW and CCCC and the ways she represented the conversations and community around Basic Writing that we asked her for her permission to post her letter. Our thanks to Michelle for letting us see CBW and CCCC through her eyes!
I write to express my appreciation for the Council on Basic Writing Travel Grant. Thanks to you and the other members of the CBW, I was able to attend the 2011 CBW pre-conference workshop and the CCCC. Your generosity allowed me to renew my connection with CCC and enjoy in-person, professional conversations with my Basic Writing colleagues. These are opportunities I have not had since the mid-1990s.
Both the pre-conference workshop and the conference itself were extremely valuable experiences. In the CBW workshop, I had the opportunity to learn (first-hand and from some of the best, no less) about new Basic Writing scholarship and pedagogy. I appreciated Mary Soliday’s comments about “standards anxiety” and Basic Writing’s increasing distance from composition studies, an important topic that recurred in Wendy Olson’s presentation. While Melissa Ianetta and Joseph Turner talked about the University of Delaware’s “strategy instruction,” I began to consider how my institution might usefully connect Basic Writing with one of our most popular first-year history courses. The professor for this particular course has already expressed interest in incorporating writing pedagogy into his content course; he seems like an ideal candidate to help me develop this kind of program. Michael Hill’s presentation infused the room with a fantastic sense of collegiality as well as the kind of good energy that leads to productive activism. I also enjoyed the time we spent on a Basic Writing mission statement. This work helped me think through the mission of Basic Writing at my institution. Hearing what others believe BW can and should do was illuminating and inspiring.
I’m bolstered by the fact that my BW work seems well in line with others’ ideas about best BW educational practices; most importantly, though, I’ve been challenged to reconsider aspects of my teaching and our overall program in productive ways. Among other things, I need to consider and build upon Basic Writing’s connections to other programs at Dickinson State University. At DSU, as at so many institutions across the country, Basic Writing has become “somewhat distanced from composition studies” (Soliday) and connections and networks need to be rebuilt. Basic Writing isn’t separate from composition writ large; it has to be one step within a student-oriented composition program.
Once the CBW workshop was over, I began attending CCCC panels and individual presentations, so many of which were pertinent to my work as a Basic Writing instructor and Writing Center coordinator. The Council on Basic Writing special interest group meeting was useful and energizing, not just in terms of knowledge garnered, but in terms of contacts made and friendships begun. Another particularly valuable session was the panel on the public university (“Screaming in Silence: Accessibility, the Public University, and Existential Despair”). Here, I had the opportunity to listen to and talk with scholar-teachers whose Basic Writing programs are being downsized as the result of state budget cuts. Roused by panelists Susan Bernstein and Aaron Barlow (and by the paper of Rachel Rigolino, who was unable to attend), audience members couldn’t stop talking about the importance of Basic Writing programs and ways to keep these programs available to students who need them. Come fall, I look forward to sharing these panelists’ ideas at a brown-bag luncheon with my DSU colleagues. Their work seems like an exceptionally good starting point for our institutional discussions.
On Saturday, April 9, I joined my CBW colleagues at the CCC annual business meeting, and almost had the pleasure of speaking on behalf of Basic Writing and students’ and the profession’s needs. When two lines formed behind the floor microphones, CCC chair Dr. Gwendolyn Pough asked whether any of us were rising in objection to the BW State of the House resolution. No one was, so she requested a “so ordered” call.
After the CCC town meeting concluded, I started attending sessions again, and I rounded out my CCCC experience with these: “Instructor Feedback in ESL Writing Courses,” “Underdogs and Underprepareds: Issues in Teaching Basic Writing,” “Contesting Identities in Writing Centers: Theorizing Subject Positions, Practices, and Political Contexts,” and “Pedagogies of Passion: Exploring Enthusiasm in Teaching and Writing.”
All in all, my experiences at the CBW and CCCC were incredibly enriching. Although I’ve attended many conferences over the years, I have never before been able to say that I learned something of value in every session I attended. What’s more, my conference involvement has enabled me to get to know Basic Writing and Writing Center colleagues, and I believe their mentoring will prove invaluable in the days ahead. The CBW’s greatest gift to me may well be the colleagues I met, through whom I can stay connected to the profession and maintain the all-important “support group” of which Michael Hill spoke during his pre-conference presentation. It helps so much, as he noted, to have “a group to which [one] can point and say, ‘I’m NOT the outlier. THIS is the field.’” In the CBW workshop, I was reminded that I am not alone in my BW efforts; I realized that I have a wealth of talented, energetic, activist colleagues as a support system. As tired as I am as my institution ends its academic year, I find myself excited about the summer ahead, which will be a summer of planning and preparation. This fall, in addition to developing a series of brown bag luncheons and other gatherings, all based in discussions related to Basic Writing and so-called Basic Writers, I intend to launch a program that actively recruits former Basic Writing students as Writing Center tutors. At the center of all these activities will be the inspiration, energy, and wisdom I gained from my experiences at the Atlanta CCCC.
Thank you for helping to make my conference attendance a possibility. Thank you, all.
Michelle L. Stevier
Adjunct Instructor in Basic Writing
Coordinator, Tutoring and Writing Centers & Supplemental Instruction