Lessons from RSA 2018

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Last week I wrote a bit about the plenary talk I had the honor of delivering at this year’s RSA meeting, brilliantly arranged by incoming President Kirt Wilson with assistance from Christa Olson, Roxanne Mountford, and Bill Keith. Their efforts—along with those of many others who helped out—paid off big time with a program packed with exciting speakers and panels. As always, I learned a lot from attending, and it was especially fun to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization and to look back to 1968, the year of its founding, and trace the accomplishments of RSA over the decades.


And talk about an embarrassment of riches: I didn’t get to see 10% or even 5% of the panels I would have liked to attend since there were probably a dozen at every time slot that I knew I would be interested in. But here I will mention a few that I particularly learned from. “Teaching and Writing about Demagoguery in Dangerous Times” featured talks by Jennifer Mercieca, Michael Steudeman, and Paul Elliott Johnson: I took copious notes on how teachers of writing could help students build “rhetorical citizenship,” on how to deal with “asymmetric polarization,” and on how to focus on explaining rather than arguing, especially in tense or potentially agonistic settings.


In a session on “Reinventing Rhetoric through Undergraduate Research,” Jenn Fishman, Jane Greer, Sean Patrick O’Rourke, Trish Roberts-Miller, Dominic DelliCarini, and Jack Selzer inspired me with their descriptions of the kinds of research projects undergraduates are carrying out at their schools. Refusing to accept the view of college and college writing classes as “preparation” for something that comes later, these scholars view colleges as a “site of practice” where students are doing research that can help to shape disciplines and disciplinary knowledge. I felt very pleased to know that Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric shares this view of student research and to see that it is spreading across the country. Far from the old “research paper” that I did in college, or the kind of assignments that ask students to use a pre-chosen set of sources as a basis for research (perhaps as a way to combat plagiarism?), the assignments this panel discussed were far-ranging, sophisticated, and often carried out in the field.


Brad Lucas, Scott Mitchell, Jess Boykin, and Valerie Gallagher and Keon Pettiway presented “Remembering and Remediating the Civil Rights Movement,” which was especially poignant given this 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Especially intriguing was Gallagher and Pettiway’s description of North Carolina State University’s Virtual MLK Project, which immerses attendees in the sounds and sights of part of the Civil Rights Movement, including a recreation of King’s “Fill up the Jails” speech in Durham, NC, of which no known audio recording exists. Hearing about this project, and the amazing opportunities it offers to students at NCSU and elsewhere, made me want to get down to Raleigh as soon as possible to take it in.


In “Looking Forward in Latinx Rhetorics,” Jaime Mejia, Sonia Arellano, Ana Milena Ribero, and Ruben Casas held me spellbound as they talked about the challenges facing Latinxs attempting to “assimilate” into the academy; about “tactile rhetoric” and its instantiation in the Migrant Quilt Project, based in Tucson and memorializing migrant deaths; about how “undocumented” youth are using rhetorical strategies in their resistance and resilience; about how MigraZoom—a project that began in 2013 and distributed Kodak cameras to migrants and asked them to photograph their journeys—captured the everyday, sometimes mundane but almost always beautiful landscapes, people, animals, and other quotidian objects captured on film. All of these talks challenged those of us in the audience to re-think or re-imagine the ways we use technology in our teaching and learning.


I could go on and on, about the two-day seminar on Diversity and Rhetorical Traditions sponsored by the American Society for the History of Rhetoric, about the panels celebrating 50 years of RSA history and featuring many luminaries of our field, about queer identities and queer worldmaking, and so much more, so much more. For those who weren’t able to attend the conference, I hope this post gives you some idea of the riches available there as well as some names and topics to find out more about. As always, I came away wanting to share insights and to bring them to bear on writing program curricula and pedagogy.


I can be critical of Aristotle sometimes, but I do think he was right in arguing that learning is among the greatest joys of life. So thanks to RSA for reminding me of that fact!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2316268 by Broesis, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.