A Spark Ignited: What’s Going On with Composition and the HBCU

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By Faye Maor‌ and Jason DePolo‌ of North Carolina A&T State University.


So, where are we?

We have been and are creating spaces for ourselves through innovative ideas and creative partnering. One result from this work was the Symposium on Composition and the HBCU in 2014 on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University (NC A&T). This symposium came about through conversations with Jimmy Fleming of Bedford/St. Martin’s in 2012-2013 — conversations that started with discussions about textbooks and ended up with talks about the unique context of composition at HBCUs and the need for that work to be heard and spread abroad. We at NC A&T argued that faculty at HBCUs needed opportunities for research partners and mentoring because continued underfunding of our institutions left us little to no resources for research and travel. We teach, and our work, in many ways, can help our colleagues at all institutions!  Jimmy asked how Bedford could help. We told him. After more conversations with Bedford, and our then Dean, Dr. Goldie Byrd, the idea of a conference morphed into a much more manageable one-day regional symposium on HBCUs and Composition. The symposium was held at North Carolina A&T State University on April 2, 2014.

Over 50 participants from as far north as Baltimore and as far south as Georgia converged on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University to share and learn that they were not alone in the work, innovation, and struggle of teaching writing at an HBCU. At the symposium, HBCU faculty were able to engage with scholars such as Andrea Lunsford, Gesa Kirsch, Vershawn Ashanti Young, and Staci Perryman-Clark: scholars who came to talk to them, who wanted to know their experiences and challenges. As a result, these teacher/scholars were able to get a glimpse of the work done in this context. Specifically, students were able to hear and exchange their thoughts with Vershawn concerning code switching in a packed auditorium full of sharp thinkers who challenged what they heard in ways that not only impressed Vershawn but everyone in attendance. Workshops were held, and community was built. It was a special moment in time. It was also a spark.

Since that symposium, more of our colleagues in composition at HBCUs are engaging in continued research and its presentation to institutional- and discipline-based conferences and workshops. Collaborations and other connections are blossoming. We are inserting the need for our involvement in STEM education. We are working together and planning to do more symposia and conferences to make our voices and work known and useful to all of us who care about and do this work. We have always been here, but we are striving for and obtaining a stronger voice and presence.  We can no longer afford to be a small part of the conversation or an afterthought. Our context is similar and unique. Our challenges are similar AND unique. 

Ultimately, we believe Writing Program Administrators and Composition Faculty at HBCUs traditionally face limited resources, excessive teaching loads, and few opportunities for research productivity. The aim of the 2014 Symposium on Composition at the HBCU was to provide a platform for these underrepresented voices to participate in a teaching and learning colloquium. The goal was to provide professional development activities through workshops conducted by specialized, nationally recognized faculty. In addition, it was our hope to engender an enduring dialogue and encourage teachers to continue collaboration on pedagogy and research relevant to teaching writing at HBCUs, leading to future symposia and conferences.

The spark has ignited a flame. In Spring 2018 at Howard University, one of the oldest and most prestigious HBCUs in the United States, the collaboration will continue. We are delighted and excited! We are coming, and we will lift as we climb!