By:  Dr. Jenny Staben, Faculty Coordinator, CLC Writing Center

On March 11, 2020, two SUVs with nine CLC peer writing tutors and me left from the parking lot of CLC’s Grayslake Campus to head to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the 2020 Midwest Writing Centers Association (MWCA) conference.  One professional CLC tutor planned to drive down the next day.

I wasn’t just involved as a participant with my staff. As the MWCA Board Vice Chair, I had been part of the planning committee for the last year and a half.  Also, Jess Cole, a longtime peer tutor in our writing center, had designed the conference logo, which was featured on both the conference website and the program.

Before we even left Illinois, the specter of Covid had been taking its toll on the conference.  At the beginning of the week, the MWCA Board had discussed cancelling the event due to Covid concerns, but logistical issues prevented us from doing so. Over the next few days, a number of participants as well as several MWCA board members had to pull out, many because their universities had issued a ban on any off-campus travel earlier in the week.  Three CLC tutors who had planned to come changed their mind and stayed home for health reasons.

As we were driving across western Illinois in the dark, NPR announced that Tom Hanks and his wife had been diagnosed with Covid. About 45 minutes later, as we crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa, College of Lake County cancelled all non-essential travel for its employees.  We were 90 minutes from our destination and it was 10:30 pm, so we kept going and in the morning, I got permission for my group to stay and attend the conference.

However, as you might have guessed, the conference did not go on as planned though the day started out promising. While my peer tutors attended one pre-conference workshop from 1:00 – 4:00 pm specifically for peer tutors, I facilitated the other pre-conference workshop, “Empowering Multilingual Writers Through TESOL-Writing Center Cross-Talk:  The Importance of Tutor Development,” for a small group of writing center directors. However, when we emerged from our workshops, we found out that the conference had been officially cancelled as more and more universities and colleges were not allowing their students and staff to travel.

Everyone was disappointed but since it was already late afternoon, my tutors and I decided to stay the night in Cedar Rapids and drive home the next day.  We walked along the Cedar River, took pictures with the miniature Statue of Liberty, and I treated everyone to dinner (the last time many of us have eaten inside a restaurant!).


It’s strange to look back now and realize how much the world was about to change—masks, social distancing, and lots and lots of loss.  However, at the time, we were just happy that we had gotten the chance to hang out together, happy that we had gotten to get away for two days, and happy that on the way home, some of us were able to find toilet paper at the Hy-Vee in Iowa City.

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