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Writing Centers and the New Racism

Writing Centers and the New Racism: A Call for Sustainable Dialogue and Change

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 303
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  • Book Info
    Writing Centers and the New Racism
    Book Description:

    Noting a lack of sustained and productive dialogue about race in university writing center scholarship, the editors of this volume have created a rich resource for writing center tutors, administrators, and scholars. Motivated by a scholarly interest in race and whiteness studies, and by an ethical commitment to anti-racism work, contributors address a series of related questions: How does institutionalized racism in American education shape the culture of literacy and language education in the writing center? How does racism operate in the discourses of writing center scholarship/lore, and how may writing centers be unwittingly complicit in racist practices? How can they meaningfully operationalize anti-racist work? How do they persevere through the difficulty and messiness of negotiating race and racism in their daily practice? The conscientious, nuanced attention to race in this volume is meant to model what it means to be bold in engagement with these hard questions and to spur the kind of sustained, productive, multi-vocal, and challenging dialogue that, with a few significant exceptions, has been absent from the field.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-862-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION: A Call to Action
    (pp. 1-14)
    Laura Greenfield and Karen Rowan

    At the 2005 joint conference of the International Writing Centers Association and the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, Victor Villanueva (2006) challenged the writing center community to examine the language, rhetoric, and material reality of racism that shapes our work. In his exegesis of the “new racism,” which “embeds racism within a set of other categories—language, religion, culture, civilizations pluralized and writ large” (16), he reminded participants that writing centers, like the institutions in which they are situated, are not racially neutral sites of discourse and practice. His keynote address, later published in The Writing Center Journal,...


    • 1 THE RHETORICS OF RACISM: A Historical Sketch
      (pp. 17-32)
      Victor Villanueva

      I want to make a convoluted claim. The claim is that though there has always been a distinction that contemporary eyes might view as racism, racism is relatively new. There have always been ways of distinguishing the usses from the thems and of ranking the usses as superior to the thems, but racism in the ways we tend to think of the concept hasn’t always been the means whereby that discrimination has been made. A claim I don’t wish to make is that there has been some evolution or devolution that has led to racism. Whereas George Frederickson sees something...

    • 2 THE “STANDARD ENGLISH” FAIRY TALE: A Rhetorical Analysis of Racist Pedagogies and Commonplace Assumptions about Language Diversity
      (pp. 33-60)
      Laura Greenfield

      In a recent first-year seminar on language diversity in contemporary America, I began the term by having students read the first chapter in Rosina Lippi-Green’s (1997) English with an Accent, in which the author presents five “linguistic facts of life” for novice linguists to consider. I chose this text precisely to help the students in the course begin our discussions with a common set of premises—a grounding in assumptions about the nature of language upon which almost all linguists, regardless of their politics or subspecialties, agree. I broke the students into small groups and asked each group to tackle...

      (pp. 61-72)
      Vershawn Ashanti Young

      Cultural critic Stanley Fish (2009d) come talkin bout—in his three-piece New York Times “What Should Colleges Teach?” suit—there only one way to speak and write to get ahead in the world, that writin teachers should “clear [they] mind of the orthodoxies that have taken hold in the composition world.” He say don’t no student have a right to they own language if that language make them “vulnerable to prejudice”; that “it may be true that the standard language is a device for protecting the status quo, but that very truth is a reason for teaching it to students.”...


      (pp. 75-100)
      Nancy M. Grimm

      Fifteen years ago, the writing center I direct was staffed by knowledgeable, articulate, respectful, helpful, and friendly white people. Every February, we participated in NCTE’s African American Read-In. That was the only day of the year when people of color were a significant presence in the writing center. We decided to sponsor new varieties of read-ins, namely a Native American Read-In, which attracted maybe five Native Americans and a lot more white Americans who had embraced new spiritual ideas loosely connected to native traditions, and a Latino Read-In, which attracted students in Spanish language classes who were required to attend....

    • 5 BOLD: The Everyday Writing Center and the Production of New Knowledge in Antiracist Theory and Practice
      (pp. 101-123)
      Anne Ellen Geller, Frankie Condon and Meg Carroll

      “We’ll need to prioritize hiring consultants of color for fall,” Anne says to Davia. All four new consultants who are about to begin work in the writing center are white.

      “Do you really think about that?” she asks with her Jamaican lilt.

      “Yes, I do,” Anne says. “Don’t you think it’s important that we think about it?”

      “I guess,” she replies. She shrugs. “I don’t know. My country is one color.”

      Davia tells Anne she goes home after this conversation, calls a friend in Austin, Texas, and asks him if he thinks she’s the “affirmative action chick” who was hired...

    • 6 BEYOND THE “WEEK TWELVE APPROACH”: Toward a Critical Pedagogy for Antiracist Tutor Education
      (pp. 124-149)
      Laura Greenfield and Karen Rowan

      This chapter is grounded in two primary assumptions. The first is that writing centers are always already raced. By this we mean that the work of and in writing centers is always implicated in the institutional racism that shapes all our work in higher education. This is true, we argue, whether or not we resist, acknowledge, or even observe racism in our writing centers. In 2005, one of many contributors who spoke out in a writing center listserv discussion against efforts to sustain a conversation online about race narrated her own hard work in combating racism in other contexts of...

    • 7 ORGANIZING FOR ANTIRACISM IN WRITING CENTERS: Principles for Enacting Social Change
      (pp. 150-174)
      Moira Ozias and Beth Godbee

      Despite an interest in antiracism, those of us in writing centers often have difficulty imagining ways to make broad social change within powerful institutions. The emphasis on individualized instruction can leave us mired in feelings that systematic change lies beyond our power as writers, instructors, researchers, and administrators. Much potential exists, however, for enacting social change, particularly when we acknowledge the necessarily collaborative and complex nature of this work. As the above geese analogy suggests, there is power not only in numbers, but also in shared leadership and collective action. While only one goose leads the V-formation, all members of...


    • 8 BIAS IN THE WRITING CENTER: Tutor Perceptions of African American Language
      (pp. 177-191)
      Nancy Effinger Wilson

      In The Study of Literature, George Watson (1968) notes that “Tibetan tea, which is partly composed of rancid butter, is revolting to Western tastes if considered as tea but acceptable if considered as soup” (73). Watson uses this example as commentary on the influence of reader expectation upon reader reaction. It is also an apt corollary to my discussion of African American Language (AAL) in that the westerners’ taxonomy for what tea should be shapes their reaction to alternatives (note that they find the tea not simply different but “disgusting”) just as a belief in what English should be has,...

    • 9 DIVERSITY AS TOPOGRAPHY: The Benefits and Challenges of Cross Racial Interaction in the Writing Center
      (pp. 192-210)
      Kathryn Valentine and Mónica F. Torres

      In November of 2006, the executive board of the International Writing Centers Association approved a statement in which it announced a major diversity initiative. This statement opens with an acknowledgement of writing centers as “inherently multicultural and multi-lingual sites that welcome and accommodate diversity.” It strikes us that one goal of this collection is to consider the ways in which racial diversity operates in writing centers and to examine whether they have, or have not, “welcomed and accommodated” that diversity. The emphasis on accommodation, both in writing center scholarship and in the International Writing Centers Association statement on diversity, implies...

      (pp. 211-227)
      Michelle T. Johnson

      James held high hopes for his first semester in college. He desperately wanted to believe that the diversity marketed to him as a high-school senior would in fact be the norm across the university campus. He was excited about the diverse enrollment in his racial literacy course: African American, black, white, biracial, multiracial, Hispanic, Native American, and Filipino. Taylor remarked that she chose to register for Freshman Seminar 116: Racial Literacy because she wanted to step out of her comfort zone. She was curious and studious, often encouraging the white female who sat beside her to “ give the class...

      (pp. 228-252)
      Jane Cogie

      In attempting to foster diversity in my writing center, I, perhaps like many other well-intentioned white writing center directors and tutors, have found it difficult to leave behind the imprint of my First Worldism (Butler 2004, 46). Such an imprint can follow us in our writing center work whether we attempt to avoid racial inequities through remaining race neutral, believing that race need not be an issue if everyone is treated as an individual, or we attempt to actively address those inequities. Yet it can help to know, when deciding between the two approaches, that the consequences of our actions...


    • 12 “THE QUALITY OF LIGHT”: Using Narrative in a Peer Tutoring Class
      (pp. 255-272)
      Ann E. Green

      I brought Audre Lorde’s (1996) quote above into my Writing Fellows: Theory and Practice of Peer Tutoring class in the middle of the semester in order to diffuse what was an increasingly tense classroom atmosphere. We had been talking about race/racism, gender/sexism, and sexuality, and a certain portion of the class felt alienated by the discussion. In fact, alienated is not quite the right word: part of the class was angry that we were talking about “controversial” issues, and part of the class felt that the conversations were important and were angry at the part of the class who felt...

    • 13 CAUGHT IN A FIRESTORM: A Harsh Lesson Learned Teaching AAVE
      (pp. 273-289)
      Barbara Gordon

      Note found under my office door November 21, 2002:

      If you would like to know what or better yet, how a black person writes, then maybe you should focus your time and efforts into something a little more worthwhile than a guide or checklist to critique them on.

      Who are you to tell a certain people what is acceptable for them to write, think, or express themselves as? You are merely a tutor. Nothing more, nothing less. Just a little fragmentation fo yo ass.

      Obviously, it is not okay for anyone to use double negatives, cut off words, or phrases...

    • 14 ON THE EDGES: Black Maleness, Degrees of Racism, and Community on the Boundaries of the Writing Center
      (pp. 290-299)
      Jason B. Esters

      I’m an untenured junior faculty member, and I am building a writing center. Right now, I spend a significant amount of time sitting in the room that will become our writing center (we call it the “Writer’s Studio”) in the basement of my department’s newly renovated edifice. The lights are off most of the time. The room looks less empty that way, less harsh. Even in its unfinished, partially renovated state, it is already a great place to think and to daydream. Even write. And while I have been thinking about implementing our strategic plan, securing funding, and training tutors,...