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From the Arizona Communication Association to the Southwest Communication Association

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Brant Short & Dayle Hardy-Short

Northern Arizona University

Our first connection to the Arizona Communication Association was in 1997. ACA had successfully been providing outlets for student conference presentations for several years, primarily under the auspices of the annual Student Scholarship Showcase. We had had previous experience with state and small regional associations in Indiana, Texas, and Idaho and were eager to attend the association’s meeting and find out more.

The Arizona Speech and Drama Association had been meeting at least since 1952; its November 1, 1968 revised constitution stated that “the purpose of this organization shall be to unite these persons of the State of Arizona with an academic or professional interest in the field of speech and drama for the promotion of their mutual interests and the advancement of their common field.” The first volume of the Journal of the Arizona Speech and Drama Association was published in Winter 1971, and touted its appearance as “a most optimistic sign of the state of the profession in Arizona,” highlighting the need to “nurtur[e]… “a strong professional association.” The Journal provided an outlet for scholarly and editorial faculty opinion. The association was renamed the Arizona Communication and Theatre Association via a new constitution in May 1975, and the association’s publication became the Journal of the Arizona Communication & Theatre Association. In 1985, the Arizona Communication Association was born as theatre faculty formed their own association, and the journal was renamed the Arizona Communication Association Journal. Beginning with the Fall 1989 issue, the ACAJ editors announced, the journal would become an “annual publication designed primarily for research conducted by students—graduate and undergraduate,” and with few exceptions, this focus has continued to the present.

In April 2001, after vigorous discussions at the previous October Arizona Communication Articulation Task Force meeting (COM ATF), Dr. Michael Dues, Chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona, hosted a small group of interested college and university faculty to discuss the future of the Arizona Communication Association. Held at Pima Community College East, attendees included faculty from Glendale Community College (representing the Maricopa Community College system), Northern Arizona University, Pima Community College, and the University of Arizona. 

Michael was very blunt. The ACA was in financial trouble and had run a deficit. If those of us at the meeting thought a state association was important and would commit to its future, he would help manage the finances. The group agreed and a core of individuals stepped forward to plan annual meetings. Many individuals have been involved over the years since, but with faculty members from GCC, NAU, and UA taking the lead.

Those of us who attended that first meeting in 2001 believed that our students would benefit from having an opportunity to participate in a scholarly conference with panels of competitive papers, poster sessions, workshop sessions, and including a keynote lecture. We also wanted to make the meeting a single day so it was accessible for anyone in the state. To finance the association, we turned to departmental memberships. As a result, there are no registration fees for students or faculty members from any of the supporting departments. The group also decided to host an annual public speaking contest with financial support from book publishers for trophies and cash prizes. Under the leadership of  Dr. Pam Joranstaad of GCC, the contest has been a great success. 

Based upon our collective memory, we believe that from 2002 until 2019, three ACA meetings were hosted by NAU, two meetings were hosted by ASU-West, two meetings were hosted by UA, and GCC has hosted the remaining meetings. GCC has been generous in its hosting, and has provided a location easy to travel to and from in a single day.

In April 2015 the leadership of ACA decided to rename the association as the Southwest Communication Association as a way to enlarge our footprint in the region and encourage participation from surrounding states. In 2016, the new visual mark for SWCA appeared, featuring the southwest’s notable blue and gold colors, mesas, and bright sun.

The ACA/SWCA has served an important role for communication education in the state for the past two decades. Many of our NAU students (undergraduate and graduate) presented research papers at their first professional meeting and have had opportunities to share their ideas with other students and scholars. While most of the NAU students who participated in the ACA/SWCA had no interest in pursuing a career in communication education and/or seeking an MA or PhD degree, many often expressed great appreciation for the opportunity to share their work and to meet others with the same interests.

ACA/SWCA has been an important part of our academic life in Arizona and we value the friendships that emerged over the years in working with our colleagues. Although many people contributed each year to the association’s success, we want to offer a special thanks to Dr. Jim Reed and Dr. Pam Joranstaad of GCC for their hard work and commitment to the successful meetings each year. We also want to thank Dr. Marie Baker-Ohler of NAU for her leadership, enthusiasm, and long-standing commitment to her students and colleagues and the friendship she offered us. Finally, we gratefully acknowledge and thank Dr. Michael Dues and his vision for keeping the ACA alive and making it a valuable experience for students and faculty members in the state.

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