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CCCC Statement on Community-Engaged Projects in Rhetoric and Composition

Conference on College Composition and Communication
April 2016 (replaces the CCCC
Position Statement on Faculty Work in Community-Based Settings, November 2014)


The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) represents teachers and scholars of writing and speaking whose work in and beyond colleges and universities regularly extends to sites for online learning, professional workplaces, and both near and far-flung communities. This statement provides guidelines for understanding, assessing, and valuing the community-engaged work colleagues may undertake across career stages, ranks, and roles. As such, it underscores the worth community-engaged work can have for individual participants, participating campuses, and disciplines associated with CCCC. As a resource for both faculty and administrators, this statement, we hope, will serve to credit teachers, researchers, and programs appropriately for their contributions to university-community partnerships that are anchored in rigorous scholarship and designed to enhance community capacity. This statement echoes others in related fields, which offer similar frameworks for valuing and evaluating academic community engagement.

Defining and Validating Community-Engaged Work

We define community-engaged projects as scholarly, teaching, or community-development activities that involve collaborations between one or more academic institutions and one or more local, regional, national, or international community group(s) and contribute to the public good. We use the word project to denote well-conceived activities pursued over time to provide reciprocal benefits to both academic and community participants. Effective community-engaged projects can take many forms, shaped by local resources and needs, and can yield a variety of outcomes, including interactions, events, or artifacts of public and intellectual value. Interactions and events might include teaching exchanges, community writing or tutoring arrangements, and facilitated public discussions about pressing issues of local concern (Flower; Goldblatt; Grabill; Peck, Flower, and Higgins), artistic performances (Heath; Jolliffe, “Shakespeare”; Long, Fye, and Jarvis), or policy debates. Artifacts may include publications by incarcerated writers (Jacobi), rhetorical histories of African American, Latinx, Jewish, and immigrant communities (Grobman; Lathan; Pritchard; Ramirez), digital humanities projects about local civil rights efforts (Carter and Dent; Mutnick), oral histories and digital storytelling projects and with local, historically underrepresented groups (Carter and Conrad; Jolliffe, “Arkansas Delta”; Kinloch; Licona and Gonzalez; Mutnick), newspapers about issues related to homelessness written by homeless individuals (Mathieu), or community publications about local, contemporary issues written by neighborhood activists (Parks; Kuebrich), as well as scholarly publications that articulate, theorize, and/or assess these efforts and their (potential) value to both the discipline and the community. Some community projects are long-standing and sustainable, while others are ad hoc, time-limited, or open-ended.

Many community-based projects are intensely local, and many blend pedagogical and scholarly methods and methodologies, making it difficult at best to define community-engaged work in general or establish set evaluative criteria. The Carnegie Foundation’s Community Engagement Classification offers one resource; the Imagining America initiative (Ellison and Eatman) instigated by the White House Millennial Council offers another. These and individual institutions’ articulated guidelines (Provost’s Committee, Michigan State; Phelps; “Engaged Scholarship,” UNC-Greensboro) model ways of acknowledging and rewarding discipline-driven community-based projects for the ways they build and reflect disciplinary knowledge, produce new, hybrid forms of theoretical and applied knowledge, and promote connections among universities and different communities. One constant in evaluating community-engaged projects is evidence of discernible, specific contributions such projects make to the public good.

Principles for Evaluating Quality, Rigor, and Success

“Off-campus” or “engaged” projects are often labeled and undervalued as merely service. As CCCC members, we agree with Ernest Boyer that engagement is a critical aspect of community responsibility,1 and that, when done well, community-based work blends traditional divisions of academic labor: namely, teaching, research, and service. When community projects are well developed and executed, those divisions are in constant interaction and reinforcement. When they are working poorly, they are imbalanced.

One of the most important aspects of effectively and fairly evaluating community-engaged projects is to recognize the incredible scope and variety of activities that constitute quality, rigorous, ethical, and successful examples. Some projects are easily identified as such because they result in familiar professional genres. For example, some community-engaged scholars work with social agencies to compose innovative curricula distributed through localized publications or popular websites for nonacademic audiences. Still others—responding to the needs of a wider public that includes employers, citizen groups, legislators, and general readers—promote or advocate for research-based approaches to literacy development in blogs, videos, newspapers, newsletters, public interviews, or testimony before government officials.

Additionally, some community-engaged work in our field involves partnerships with organizations situated outside of the academy, such as community nonprofits, faith-based groups, museums, hospitals, prisons, tutoring centers, and English as a Second Language programs. Working in such contexts requires not simply a volunteer ethos but also considerable disciplinary expertise. Likewise, the production of effective community interactions, events, and artifacts that differ from traditional scholarly modes of communication involves both deep disciplinary knowledge and extensive critical and collaborative intellectual labor.

CCCC therefore encourages each higher education institution to establish criteria and processes appropriate to its culture and region for accurate, fair, and informed peer evaluation of community-based projects. Such criteria might include consideration of important but not fully tangible outcomes, including the following:

  • How reciprocal was the project? To what extent did all the stakeholders involved (campus and community constituencies, which may include students and community members) benefit tangibly or intangibly from the project, its process, and outcomes?
  • How well was the project informed by the significant and growing body of scholarship on community-based writing projects in our field? To what extent might this project potentially extend this scholarship?
  • How open to self-evaluation and criticism are the stakeholders involved in the project, especially if the project is intended to grow or continue in the future? Specifically, are community members included in the feedback and evaluation process in meaningful ways? By what mechanisms is the project evaluated and community feedback solicited and reviewed? In what ways do the stakeholders work together to address concerns raised in the feedback and evaluation process?
  • How ethically grounded was the project? Were appropriate permissions gathered to conduct community-based inquiry? Did the project take care to credit all participants and treat marginalized groups respectfully and fairly?2
  • To what extent is new knowledge developed? New knowledge can take any number of forms, including published artifacts, performance events, media for community organizations, new teaching curricula, or new opportunities for community-university dialogue. To whom is this new knowledge valuable, and how can we know?
  • (For long-range projects) To what extent is the project built to be sustainable? Does it have sufficient infrastructure and scaffolding? What resources provided by university and/or community stakeholders are available in the short and long term? What resources will be needed, when, and by what mechanism(s) will they be sought?

The application of such criteria will necessitate that graduate students, faculty members, and staff involved in community-engaged work carefully document each phase of their projects.


This statement offers extensive information and guidance for administrators who evaluate community-engaged work in our field. It is also signals the importance of community-engaged work along with the people and programs that undertake it and stand to be evaluated. Given the ubiquity of traditional teaching-scholarship-service distinctions, we urge colleagues who do community-engaged work to attend to the complex, rhetorical contexts in which their efforts will be assessed and to respond accordingly. On campuses where community-engaged work may not be understood or valued robustly, we recommend (to whatever degree possible), colleagues translate their work into locally available, meaningful terms. Doing so supports the ultimate goal of this statement: to make visible and measurable the intellectual richness and value community-engaged work brings to academe. In the most productive settings, the evaluation of community-engaged work will engage teachers and scholars in dialogue with not only administrators but also community members themselves: the individuals for whom the “success” of any given project is a matter of lived consequence.


1. As Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser write: “The 1990 report authored by Ernest Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, and the 1999 report of the Kellogg Commission, Returning to Our Roots: The Engaged Institution, are frequently credited with initiating the discussion of ‘engagement’ in the higher education community” (1).

2. To this end, we refer readers to the important CCCC Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Research in Composition Studies.

Works Referenced

“Carnegie Community Engagement Classification.” New English Research Center for Higher Education. New English Research Center for Higher Education. n.d. Web. 20 March 2016.

Carter, Shannon, and James H. Conrad. “In Possession of Community: Toward a More Sustainable Local.” College Composition and Communication 64.1 (2012): 82–106. Print.

Carter, Shannon, and Kelly L. Dent. “East Texas Activism (1966–68): Locating the Literacy Scene through the Digital Humanities.” College English 76.2 (2013): 152-70. Print.

Ellison, Julie, and Timothy K. Eatman. “Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University: A Resource on Promotion and Tenure in the Arts, Humanities, and Design.” Paper 16. Syracuse, NY: Imagining America, 2008. Print.

“Engaged Scholarship in Promotion and Tenure Guidelines.” Office of Leadership and Service Learning. University of North Carolina, Greensboro. n.d. Web. 20 March 2016.

Flower, Linda. Community Literacy and the Rhetoric of Engagement. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2008. Print.

Goldblatt, Eli. Because We Live Here: Sponsoring Literacy Beyond the College Curriculum. Cresskill: Hampton Press, 2007. Print.

Grabill, Jeff. “Infrastructure Outreach and the Engaged Writing Program.” Going Public: The WPA as Advocate for Engagement. Ed. Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2008. 15–28. Print.

Grobman, Laurie. “‘I’m on a Stage’: Rhetorical History, Performance, and the Development of the Central Pennsylvania African American Museum.” College Composition and Communication 65.2 (2013): 299–323. Print.

Heath, Shirley Brice, dir. Art Show. Partners for Livable Communities/PBS, 1999. Film.

Jackson, Rachel C. “Locating Oklahoma: Critical Regionalism and Transrhetorical Analysis in the Composition Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 66.2 (2014): 301–326. Print.

Jacobi, Tobi. “Slipping Pages through Razor Wire: Literacy Action Projects in Jail.” Community Literacy Journal 2.2 (2008): 67–86. Print.

Jolliffe, David A. “The Arkansas Delta Oral History Project: A Hands-On, Experiential Course in School-College Articulation.” Going Public: What Writing Programs Learn from Engagement. Ed. Shirley Rose and Irwin Weiser. Logan: Utah State UP, 2010. 50–67.

—. “Shakespeare and the Cultural Capital Tension: Advancing Literacy in Rural Arkansas.” Community Literacy Journal 7.1 (2012): 77–88. Print.

Kinloch, Valerie. Harlem on Our Minds: Place, Race, and the Literacies of Urban Youth. New York: Teachers College Press, 2009. Print.

Kuebrich, Ben. “’White Guys Who Send My Uncle to Prison’: Going Public within Asymmetrical Power.” College Composition and Communication 66.4 (2015): 566–590. Print.

Lathan, Rhea Estelle. Freedom Writing: African American Civil Rights Literacy Activism, 1955–1967. Urbana: NCTE, 2015. Print.

Licona, Adela C., and Sarah Gonzalez. “Education/connection/action: Community Literacies and Shared Knowledges as Creative Productions for Social Justice.” Community Literacy Journal 8.1 (2013): 9–20. Print.

Long, Elenore, Nyillan Fye, and John Jarvis. “Gambian-American College Writers Flip the Script on Aid-to-Africa Discourse.” Community Literacy Journal 7.1 (2012): 53–76. Print.

Mathieu, Paula. Tactics of Hope: The Public Turn in English Composition. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 2005. Print.

Mutnick, Deborah. “Inscribing the World: An Oral History Project in Brooklyn.” College Composition and Communication 58.4 (2007): 626–647. Print.

Parks, Steve. “Strategic Speculations on the Question of Value: The Role of Community Publishing in English Studies.” College English 71.5 (2009): 506–527. Print.

Peck, Wayne, Linda Flower, and Lorraine Higgins. “Community Literacy: Can Writing Make a Difference?” The Quarterly of the National Writing Project and the Center for the Study of Writing 16.2-3 (1994): 1–14, 34–35. Print.

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Learning about Scholarship in Action in Concept and Practice: A White Paper from the Academic Affairs Committee of the University Senate.” Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University, 2007. PDF.

Pritchard, Eric. “’Like signposts on the road’: The Function of Literacy in Constructing Black Queer Ancestors.” Literacy in Composition Studies 2.1 (2014): 29–56. Print and Web.

The Provost’s Committee on University Outreach. “University Outreach at Michigan State University: Extending Knowledge to Serve Society.” 1993. East Lansing: Michigan State U, 2009. PDF.

Ramirez, Cristina Devereaux. Occupying Our Space: The Mestiza Rhetorics of Mexican Women Journalists and Activists, 1875–1942. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2015. Print.

Rose, Shirley K., and Irwin Weiser, eds. Going Public: What Writing Programs Learn from Engagement. Logan: Utah State UP, 2010. Print.

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