From the President - Embracing NCA’s Paradigm Shifts

Roseann M Mandziuk
May 10, 2022

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

—Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Translation by Philip Gabriel; New York: Knopf, 2005

The focus on Communication and grief in this new features collection is timely, sobering, and thought provoking. Like the metaphorical storm about which Haruki Murakami writes, the events of the last two years have swept over us with devastating consequences. Few of us could have imagined the destruction of families wrought worldwide by the virus, that so many precious lives would be lost, and that so many of our personal bonds would be irretrievably severed. In this first and most primary sense, we grieve deeply and are forever changed by these losses. 

But there are other aspects of the pandemic that also lead us to mourn what was and will not be again. The ravages of the COVID pandemic are unfathomable; the pandemic exacted extreme tolls upon our personal, social, and political lives. We experienced profound changes in the texture of our relationships across the spectrum of locations and practices that many of us previously believed were unalterable. We adapted as our homes and workplaces became merged; we wrestled to come to terms with teaching and learning enacted across small panes on our computer screens; we both marveled at and worried about the ease with which our mobile phones served as our lifelines to the world. Yet such alterations are paradoxical. While we paused to grieve past circumstances, we also came to recognize the inevitability of change that loss brings and rose to meet the challenges. Indeed, as Murakami writes, after weathering all of its trauma and ravages, we are not the same after we walk out of the storm. We can take comfort in Murakami’s metaphor in many ways, as the image of the storm also depicts a moment of possibility, that in surviving one storm, we are equipped to manage others. Change can evoke feelings of loss and pain, but it also can be dynamic and transformative.

As we engage in our first comprehensive strategic planning process in ten years, NCA has the extraordinary opportunity to chart our future. We can emerge from our own challenges both different and stronger, as storms are disruptive but also regenerative. I believe that we are at a crossroads not only because of the pandemic, but also in relation to the many changes we have experienced together over the past decade. As I wrote in my first Spectra column in February, we are not the same association that we were a decade ago. It remains to be determined which priorities we will choose as we move forward and how we will work together to enact our vision for the future. In addition to NCA’s expansion of internal structures, increased external outreach, and reckoning over diversity and inclusion on which I previously reflected, I propose that we are experiencing three paradigm shifts that will shape and inform our association’s next steps: generational, technological, and representational.

If there is one truth in the life of associations, it is that the face of leadership inevitably changes as the years pass. However, as we undertake our strategic planning process this year, NCA truly is undergoing a generational paradigm shift. Having been an active member of NCA for nearly 40 years, I am inspired by the commitment of the emerging leaders who are taking on the responsibility of moving us forward to embrace what lies ahead. In particular, I am honored to be engaging in this strategic planning process with the most diverse Executive Committee that NCA has ever had, and I am grateful that this group of committed and visionary members are willing to give their time and talents to our association. Additionally, throughout our divisions, sections, and interest groups, we have a new generation of leaders emerging. They are pushing NCA to engage with questions of inclusion, diversity, access, and equity, to embrace innovations, and to embark in new directions. The membership in our long-standing caucuses is growing, and we also have added three new ones in just the last two years (Indigenous, South West Asian/North African, Middle East Caucus, and Caribbean Communication) that further reflect the intersectional needs of our members and serve as platforms for their shared interests. I am excited about this paradigm change, as these new voices are essential to choosing NCA’s future priorities.

This transition in association leadership significantly converges with a drive to explore how technological advances already are moving our discipline and association forward, with much more left to achieve. The necessity of turning to our computers and electronic devices during COVID’s ravages has opened new paths to access and inclusion. The possibilities of what can be achieved in this technological paradigm shift to bring us together across different abilities and diverse spaces are provocative. Yet, our embrace of new technologies also raises significant questions about what will be altered, reshaped, and even abandoned in their wake, as well as those who would be left behind due to the digital divide. As the technological paradigm shift drives transformations worldwide, we are called to consider how NCA will choose to harness these new communication tools and practices. For example, what should our journals look like, and how should they be promoted and distributed? How will technology transform the experience of our convention? How will our communication pedagogy, research, and practice be reimagined? As NCA continues its strategic planning process this year, these questions will be central in how we prioritize our future goals and objectives.

The new voices engaged in NCA and the capacity of technology to enable new relationships that traverse diverse borders contribute to a third paradigm shift regarding the role and function of our association: Who and what will NCA represent? As we consider our strategic priorities and directions, we will need to reflect on the mission of NCA, both in serving our members and as a professional organization that is engaged in communities of many kinds. Our association has a long history of advocacy to advance the discipline, but NCA also has a legacy of taking stances related to political and social issues, which has often culminated in policy statements, and on a few occasions, even led to the relocation of our convention site. As we undertake the task of drafting our new strategic plan, we will need to consider persistent questions about NCA’s role in advocacy, the extent of our outreach efforts, and the importance of internationalization among our priorities. 

In the midst of these paradigm shifts and in the aftermath of the pandemic, NCA can seize this moment of possibility and choose our new directions. Every member will have the opportunity to participate in the NCA strategic planning process and share their perspectives about our goals for our future. This is an exciting time for our association, and I invite you to add your voice to this significant conversation. 

We already have completed some initial steps. The members of the NCA Legislative Assembly and NCA Councils have surveyed the environment and examined our strengths and largest challenges. Informed by that foundation, the NCA Executive Committee has begun the process of drafting new mission and vision statements and a comprehensive set of goals and objectives for NCA’s future. The work of refining those goals will continue throughout the year, including member review and comment. The target is to have our new strategic plan completed by October 1 and subsequently adopted by the Legislative Assembly in November. NCA is strong and resilient, and I am confident that together we can navigate our storms and emerge with a renewed and transformative vision of who we are and what we aspire to achieve.