Watson Conference History

The Watson Conference in Rhetoric and Composition is a biennial event hosted by the University of Louisville English Department and funded by the Thomas R. Watson Endowment. Begun in 1996, the conference is now approaching its fourteenth run; the most recent (2021) conference, held April 21-23 over Zoom, was titled "Toward the Antiracist Conference: Reckoning with the Past, Reimagining the Present"; it was preceded by three days of workshops (April 14-16) for graduate students on topics related to writing, research, and professionalization. 

At the 2021 conference, we strove to interrogate existing academic conference policies and practices and reimagine them to foster antiracism in how conferences are conceived, organized, and staged. (The Fall 2022 issue of Writers: Craft and Context features essays that emerged from presentations at the conference.) The conference theme issued from a series of compounding harms committed by a Watson invitee in 2018 and Watson organizers in 2018 and 2020. In our statement "Watson and Anti-Black Racism," we narrate the events and reflect on how the Watson Conference has perpetuated white supremacy. Specifically, we recount a racist incident at the 2018 conference and its aftermath in 2020, and we analyze and apologize for the harms we inflicted. We then articulate commitments to fighting anti-Black racism at the 2021 conference and all subsequent Watson events.

"Watson Conference 2021: Racial Equity and Inclusion at the Conference" responds to the commitment to publish "a public post-conference report that discusses the lessons we have learned from the mini-conference, makes recommendations for future Watson conferences, and revises our commitments to future Watson conferences as needed" ("Watson and Anti-Black Racism"). Although there are a number of audiences for the report, one is future Watson Conference attendees, who may be interested in how we are working to live up to our commitments and in the lessons we’ve learned from the 2021 event.