In this episode, Graham Stowe answers a question from a Slow Agency listener: I have a question that I was hoping to get some guidance on: as a lecturer, I find it easier to implement antiracist writing practices (e.g., being accepting of all language varieties) than I do in the writing center. Mainly, I find it hard to be open when other instructors might not be. Do you all have some actionable steps I can take to make this much less of an issue?
The content of this episode was based on Dear CWCAB, October 2022.
Transcript of “Episode 20: Implementing Antiracist Practices in Writing Centers: A Dear CWCAB Episode”
Esther Namubiru: Introduction Segment
Graham Stowe: Hi there, I’m Graham Stowe and today’s question comes from, Anthony. He writes:
I find it easier to implement antiracist writing practices as a lecturer ([such as] being accepting of all language varieties) than I do in the writing center. Mainly, I find it hard to be open when other instructors might not be. Do you all have some actionable steps I can take to make this much less of an issue?
These types of questions keep me up at night. But there are ways to engage with instructors who may not hold anti-racist values.
For instance, not enough people realize the obvious truth that there’s no such thing as right and wrong when it comes to grammar and language. When presented with faculty comments that reflect a lack of openness to language varieties, I turn to my tutors and train them to have that language conversation with students. I regularly teach my tutors the four Cs Statement on Students’ Rights to Their Own Language,” and we have a banner of the four Cs statement on our Writing Center wall.
I also teach them that there’s a great deal of research in linguistics and writing studies that shows that languages are flexible, fluid and evolving. I share Nancy Grimm’s essay from Writing Centers and the New Racism. In it, Grimm challenges the motto we “make better writers not better writing”. She shows how that motto emphasizes a hegemonic version of “good writing” in a world where multilingual writers are more and more common. Rather than continuing to emphasize what the academy calls good writing, writing centers can shift the conversation to broaden what good writing is.
I share with tutors that many instructors in other fields are not familiar with this perspective and are still following a certain way of thinking about language. This way, my tutors are exposed to the conversation and tensions and do not feel they’re perpetuating a standard language ideology. Then, tutors and students can work on language accuracy or corrections in order not to jeopardize the student’s grade in the class.
I also advise my tutors to question the writing center minimalist approach which insists on no proofreading. Grimm argues that strict “no proofreading” policies ought to be a thing of the past. Instead, consider how proofreading or editing work can be useful to a variety of students. Policies that prohibit consultants from holding a pen or typing for a student are ableist, and many students can benefit from a tutor taking notes or transcribing their ideas.
I work hard to teach tutors that writing centers are no less culpable in systemic racism than anywhere else. But still, I ask myself, “Am I doing enough?” And the answer is always no. This is a long game.
I return to Grimm who challenges some other common pieces of writing center lore. First, she challenges the nondirective tutoring approach, stating that it does not fit every student. Some students, especially those from outside the western world, are far less likely to engage with their work than those from the United States. Even first-generation students may have less “training” for how to talk to people in positions of authority.
Secondly, Grimm suggests that writing centers’ tendency to argue that they exist to create “independent” writers is harmful. The notion of creating independent writers goes against much of the writing center’s emphasis on writing as a conversation and dialogue, not to mention basic composition theory. Writers of all levels have a need for feedback and conversation about the writing process.
Virtually no one in our field continues to believe in the myth of the solitary genius, writing brilliant work alone and then revealing it to the world. Yet, this idea persists outside composition, sometimes even in English departments. It’s important, then, to offer a corrective to the myth when the opportunity arises.
Now, I know these are big issues. And often writing center directors, staff, and tutors don’t have the institutional standing to make changes of this size, let alone stand down the cultural forces we face.
We can, however, make small changes in our informal conversations with colleagues and students. Even the questions we get from those outside the academy, when a friend says something about how hard it must be to teach “kids these days.” We can chip away at the stereotypes that lurk, seemingly innocuous, around and beyond our field. None of this is a quick process. However, changing minds on these issues is among the most important things we can do as educators.
I’m Graham Stowe.
Graham Stowe: This episode of Slow Agency is based on the DearCWCAB article written by me, Graham Stowe, for October 5th 2022. Esther Namubiru produced the episode. The podcast’s theme song is by provided Emmanuel Mubiru.
Visit WLN journal dot org forward slash blog for the episode show notes and the article on which this episode is based.
Thanks for listening!
Advertisement: This is Noreen Lape. Just wanted to let you know about the upcoming special issue of W L N A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship that I co-edited with my colleague, John Katunich. The special issue focuses on the lessons learned during these pandemic years about writing writers, writing centers, and writing tutoring. We’d love for you to check it. To do so, please subscribe to wln at wlnjournal . org.
The “Slow Agency” Podcast
Created and hosted by your CWCAB editors, the goal of this podcast is to open up time and space in this productivity-saturated culture to slow down and dialogue with leading thinkers and practitioners in writing studies worldwide. The title of the podcast is inspired by Micciche, L. (2011) For slow agency. Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators, 35 (1), 73-90. Our inaugural episode features WLN’s journal editors whose wisdom and hard work make this journal and the blog possible.