Category-Consciousness

While thinking about this week’s readings, I realized that our Writing Center takes demographics on race and gender, but not sexuality or socioeconomic status. Why? Are these categories “less relevant” in characterizing the writing process and/or the Pomona academic discourse? Do these questions make students feel uncomfortable? Wouldn’t learning more about the sexuality or socioeconomic status of students who visit the Writing Center allow us to make it a more inclusive and comfortable space?

I will focus on SES more than sexuality because I feel like I am better able to talk about SES. I agree with Bielski that SES is often harder to see. Assumptions—whether positive or negative, correct or incorrect, implicit or explicit–about race or gender are usually made when we first see someone. However, SES is easier to hide. People are surprised when I talk about identifying with the Quest community (which includes low-income and first-generation college students), but not when I talk about my identity as a Korean American. I apparently don’t look or act like I’m Quest, whatever that might mean. I don’t think I’m actively trying to hide my socioeconomic background, but it seems to be less obvious than my Asian and feminine physical features.

I’m also not sure how much my SES directly influences how I write. For example, my Korean American identity changes how I explain concepts; I often use a more roundabout or nondirective approach instead of getting straight to the point. However, I never thought about how my socioeconomic identity changes how I write.

Unlike Bielski, I was very lucky to have what I consider a well-informed high school education. Although my family is working-class, my high school was in an upper-class neighborhood with many resources and students with the goal of pursuing higher education (and families to support them in their endeavors). Also, my teachers were very dedicated to their subjects and effective in the classroom. I was able to learn what the dominant English academic discourse should sound like through my white, male, upper-class, abled, cis-gendered, heterosexual English teacher (although looking back, his classes pushed many of us to reject or exclude different aspects of our identity in order to fit the dominant discourse). Therefore, I never viewed my SES as a significant influence in my ability to read or write.

However, I am a special case. Most students who come from lower SES families do not get the privilege of attending a good high school. And maybe that’s the problem. It’s hard to identify trends within and across SES categories because each individual’s experience and spectrum of identification are different. But, shouldn’t this be true for all aspects of identity? There are so many nuances even within racial or gender identities. Is there a commonality between all students who identify as Asian American that is more apparent than students who identify as upper-class? What you yall think?

It’s not what you know…

My father’s—and uncle’s and grandfather’s—favorite phrase, when discussing the educational and research opportunities I’ve been afforded, is: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And what really bothers me is that they seem to be right. The summer before freshman year, my dad got me a job sterilizing operating rooms an oral surgery office. The summer before sophomore year, my uncle convinced his friend (a robotic surgeon) to let me shadow him in the ER. The summer before my senior year, my grandfather’s fellow rotary member contacted a former postdoc to get me set up in his lab. Now looking towards graduate and medical school, I’m well-equipped to send out my résumé to all the programs I’m interested and hope something good happens.

In her essay, My Hidden Class-Consciousness, Monica Bielski discusses the difficulties that college students from traditionally “lower” or working class backgrounds face. Namely, not having the built-in knowledge and connections that professional parents tend to afford. As someone who comes from a position of class privilege, I am embarrassed by my own culpability in avoiding the topic of socioeconomic status (SES) with my peers. By ignoring the education and income disparities that exist within Pomona College’s student body, I contribute to the isolation that low-SES students sometimes feel. And that’s wrong.

But I’m not sure that I agree with Bielski’s assessment of why I, as a high-SES student, continue to avoid discussions about class with my peers. Bielski hypothesizes that it’s because I’m ashamed of the advantages I have over my fellow students—and she’s right. But it’s not just about the economic advantages I enjoy. It’s that I’m a white heterosexual male who has economic advantages because of my white heterosexual male-ness. It’s that race and gender are intimately tied to income inequality and SES.

Bielski notes that “Many studies have shown that women and people of color face barriers when they enter the academy, but I never hear discussion of the obstacles that working class students must overcome” (217-218). In fact, she “see[s] class as being more difficult to address than race or gender” because it is readily concealable (219). I disagree. Studies on the “education gap” faced by women and people of color necessarily address SES. Nine-year-old black students, on average, have significant math and reading deficits just by virtue of growing up black—and SES is the principal mediator. Class, in this sense, is not concealable because class is inherently racial. It is a variable in the equation that relates race and educational achievement.

I admire what Bielski is doing in her essay, I do. And as a straight, privileged white boy, I’m the last person who should be critiquing her. But I don’t think you can have a discussion about “just class.” An honest discussion about class necessarily involves race and gender. Because in a sick, twisted way, “It’s not what you know, it’s what you look like.”rothstein1

Can Stereotypes Help Us?

Disclaimer: This blog is only looking at statistics and stereotypes among men. There are many other statistics and stereotypes among many groups that we should continue to focus, but for the sake of this blog and the article written by Margaret O. Tipper, the focus is mainly with regards to men.

I hate stereotypes. Especially reading stereotypes that are being reinforced by research. It makes me cringe, and I get more upset the more people hold stereotypes true. That said, I can appreciate what Margaret O. Tipper is doing in her article, Real Men Don’t Do Writing Centers. Aware of the many stereotypes among men, women, and Writing Centers, Tipper decides to take a different approach. Instead of completely omitting stereotypes as a possibility to student behavior for visiting the Writing Center, she basically says, let’s pretend that these stereotypes are completely true. And if they are true, how do you address them and conform the Writing Center to these specific stereotypes? Most importantly, how do you uphold the mission and value of the Writing Center, while catering to the needs of male students.

By holding stereotypes among men to be true, Tipper is able to address high school, male students and their view on achieving academic success, and receiving “help” at a writing center. She also incorporates their competitive attitude, and their need for direct assistance rather than indirect. Tipper is then able to provide solutions such as group consultations, and having students stay in the center to work on their paper once they are given specific advice. For example, instead of simply telling the student to work on smoother transitions, and then ending the consultation, the tutor will have the student stay in the center to work on smoother transitions after the direct feedback is given. (35-37) Tipper has addressed stereotypes to increase the foot traffic in the Writing Center at an all-male high school.

But would Tipper’s process work at Pomona College? How would we address male students at a coed, liberal college? Can these male stereotypes be applied here?

Looking at last year’s reports, about 30% of students who visited the Writing Center were male. I’m not sure which of these students were forced to come to the Writing Center as recommended or advised by their professors, received the feedback and assistance they were looking to receive, or if they are repeat customers who totally defy all male stereotypes. Either way 30% is a pretty low number.

I don’t want to apply stereotypes, but should we, just once, pretend that these stereotypes do exist in order to effectively market, and communicate what we do at Pomona College’s Writing Center? What stereotypes do we look at? And how do we address these stereotypes? Most importantly, how do we defy these stereotypes?

What are your thoughts? What stereotypes to you feel hold more truth than not? And how do you feel we can address/defy these stereotypes in the Writing Center?

 

Inclusivity, flexibility, and “momentary” activism

I found two things to unite this week’s readings: inclusivity and flexibility.

How can a writing center, composed of a mere sampling of the wide range of identities one finds on a college/university campus, be inclusive of all students, regardless of their race, nationality, class (Bielski), gender (Tipper), sexuality (Rihn & Sloan), dis/ability (Hitt), and academic discipline (Fitzgerald and Ianetta)? There are simply too many distinct identities to think we can function as a microcosm of the student-body at large, yet we must strive to be welcoming to all those who walk in our doors. The answer offered both implicitly and explicitly in this week’s (and last week’s) readings, is, I think, flexibility.

To look specifically at disciplinal diversity, I was interested by Fizgerald and Ianetta’s distinction between specialist and generalist tutoring strategies. A tutor who is a subject area “expert” will be more inclined toward specialist tutoring, they assert, while a subject area “non-expert” will tend toward generalist tutoring strategies. This made me think about my own experiences with lab reports and my ID1 students’ essays, my areas of “non-expertise” and “expertise,” respectively. Of course, I’m not an expert in colonial American history (far from it), but as a history major, I’m familiar enough with the discipline that when I meet with my ID1 students about their papers for First Person Americas, I know the form for which they should aim and sometimes the content as well.

Lab reports on the other hand… Well, let’s just say that until this semester, I hadn’t written a lab report since 11th grade. And the ones I’ve written this semester haven’t gone particularly well. Luckily, I’ve only had one lab report consultation, with two biology students in October. I can safely say it was one of my less-satisfying consultations, simply because I felt tremendously unhelpful. From my consultation report: “I read through their results section a couple times and was at a bit of a loss feedback-wise. They seemed to be confused about what to include in results vs. discussion, so I tried to clarify that. One student suggested that they might have an easier time with results after writing their discussion section, which I thought was quite possible. So I ended up suggesting they work on their discussion section in the Writing Center, and ask me any questions they might have in the process…In the future, I might ask students to explain to me their lab report step by step, take notes as they do so, and then show them that that’s their results section.”

So, flexibility. We’ve read about it in the context of the writing center before. When working with students from diverse academic disciplines, Partners must be comfortable shifting between varying ratios of specialist and generalist strategies (Fitzgerald and Ianetta write that multiple scholars have “ultimately argue[d] for a middle ground,” that is, “blending specialist knowledge with generalist strategies” [149]). In Tipper’s case, flexibility was realizing she needed to change the image and the nature of the Gilman writing center so that more male students would attend (I’m not entirely sure how comfortable I am with Tipper’s premise of “manly men” and the writing center as a feminine space, but her article demonstrates flexibility nonetheless). Flexibility is being able to begin a conversation about homophobia, racism, sexism etc. if a student comes in with an “offensive” or “controversial” argument (Rihn & Sloan). And it’s also being able to take care of oneself, knowing that there’s only so much we can do when a student is not willing to participate in such a conversation.

Flexibility isn’t just the ability to work with students of various identities and needs; it’s also about rejecting complicity when homophobia, racism, sexism etc. crop up in a student’s writing, as Rihn & Sloan, and other scholars have advocated. But flexibility can transcend that, too. A few weeks ago, we read Bawarshi and Pelkowski’s paper, which argued that writing tutors should help develop “critical consciousness” of acculturation in students whose racial, national, or class identities may exclude them from the traditional academic discourse community. Gender and sexuality, on the other hand, do not in-and-of-themselves put individuals at a disadvantage in the academic discourse community when it comes to form; however, the voices and stories of women and the LGBTQ+ community have historically been peripheralized. I love the way Rihn and Sloan put it: “How might tutors discuss identity in these “momentary” sessions…? Alexander and Wallace note the importance of simply “[i]ncluding the usually excluded, speaking the unspoken, and saying the words gay, lesbian, homosexual and transgendered without blushing.” Writing centers thus become sites where we can participate in the slow work of shifting our societal discourse to be more inclusive.

Of course, we won’t have the opportunity to practice this “momentary” activism in every consultation—I’ve been racking by brains to remember if any of my consultations have presented the opportunity—but I think each one of these articles demonstrates that there are numerous ways to be inclusive, that no students are “beyond help” (Hitt 383), and that we must be flexible and take the opportunity to practice inclusion when it presents itself.

Socioeconomic Status and Prestigious College Education

I don’t know how I feel about Monica Bielski’s article, “My Hidden Class Consciousness”, because of the way she forms her ideas about socio-economic status and its effect on college students’ social identity. Her position on the matter seemed privileged, yet filled with grievances against a seemingly good system. For example, she was accepted into Oberlin College, which she seemingly presents as a college that is rigorous, difficult, and a somewhat prestigious institution because of these faculties. If it is so rigorous and difficult, and prestigious, how did someone like herself get accepted into the school, if receiving a public school education and growing up in a middle-class family is such a drag? And why does she seem to think that because of her background of experiences that formed her social identity, she is somehow disproportionately affected by this system?

Monica defines Oberlin as a liberal arts private school that has a mission of talking about gender and racial inequality (213). Monica then argues that she began to notice how her social identity affected her academic experiences, and presents this to the reader by describing how socioeconomic status and its marginalizing effect upon social identity (which is somewhat accurate, but not entirely). I noticed that Monica focuses on social identity’s effect on academic experiences because she illustrates how “rich kids” at Oberlin wore “‘thrift store clothes’”, along with students of lower class families who could only afford to purchase clothes from thrift stores (213). And it seems this choice of clothes somehow corresponds to the fact that students from families of high socioeconomic status feel guilty for their lucky chances to be raised in families with wealth (218). The thrift store clothes, then, seem to symbolize this rich-guilt; and this symbolization becomes a metaphor for the prolific statement, and ironically lacking dialogue at Oberlin, about social identity and its transitive effect upon the academic status of the student.

I do not quite understand this argument about social identity’s effect on the academic experience of a student. Monica claims coming from a blue collar family affected her ability to more readily transition to college life than her peers from more wealthy / marketable white collar families; because her parents did not know about the process of applying for college, and were of therefore no help to her (216). In this way she equates socioeconomic status to social identity. However, in the same paragraph, she claims her father encouraged her to work hard in school. Does this not contradict her statement, that her parents did not know about the process of applying for college? Sure they might not have known much about the entire process, but they knew well enough to encourage their daughter to take advantage of the public education she was receiving in order to get into college. And did this not have a better effect on her than on some of her peers of an ostensibly better social identity? After all, she became class valedictorian, and got accepted to a college she describes as prestigious.

But wo to Monica: for she had noticed the strife of college when her reading and writing skills were not up to par for the level of rigorous work Oberlin assigned- and it must be because her social identity provided her no previous assistance or know how that was good enough (217). But that is the reality of prestigious, rigorous universities. Often the skills you learned before you get there are no longer good enough, and it requires years of work to improve them (isn’t that the point of college? You’re not supposed to be ready right out the gate, otherwise you wouldn’t need to go to college). It has nothing to do with a middle-class social identity. Sure, your socioeconomic status definitely has an influence upon whether or not you can get extra help from private schools or private tutors. But, that does not mean wealthy students don’t also struggle tremendously in college environments, which I have seen firsthand. I know first year students from wealthy families, who lived in Manhattan, or San Francisco; they’re damn wealthy, which allowed them the opportunity to have attended private schools all their lives. But they struggle too- they are up to four or five in the morning a few times per week, trying to catch up to the level of academic experience required from them to succeed. And these students for sure did not get to where they are now solely because of their parents. Sure, their parents must have been a major asset, but if they had not put in the work to get into college, than they clearly would not be there.

I come from a blue collar, working class family. I, too, went to public school. I also did not have many of the opportunities my peers had, who came from wealthier white collar families. And I had more opportunities than students I knew that were poorer than me. But I worked hard to get to where I’m at, Pitzer College. It was hard work, and I may have had to work a smidgen harder than some very wealthy students. But I noticed that my social identity, when juxtaposed along with a wealthier or poorer peer’s, is not the sole reason for why I got to where I’m at, or for why others succeeded or did not succeed.

I am not stating that open dialogue about socioeconomic status and social identity is a bad thing, or that this open dialogue does not have a positive effect on academic cultures. What I’m saying is Monica’s argument about for why she thinks colleges should have this conversation, based on her own middle-class experiences presented in her article, is a little vapid. Monica seems to have been privileged: she had a family she claims was wealthier than most white collar families, just less marketable; she had a family that encouraged her to work hard in her academics, which is more than most can say about their families (hell, mine encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, do well in school or don’t do well in school, as long as I was a reasonable and good person). And because of these reasons, Monica became her class valedictorian and therefore received financial aid from Oberlin (she claims it’s hard for middle-class blue collar families to pay for schools like Oberlin without aid, but if everyone received aid from such a prestigious university, how would the college get money to give out?) It seems to me that, by taking advantage of the public school system, and by having a fairly intuitive support network, her social identity did not affect her ability to enroll in college, at all. And therefore, socioeconomic status in regards to families like hers, are not the sole effect to which middle-class students could experience enough cultural friction to affect their academic performance. Clearly, it worked for her, and it worked for me. And it’s worked for many people I know from middle-class blue collar backgrounds. And therefore, social identities like hers are privileged compared to most.

The real people we need to wholeheartedly discuss are students and families of lower socioeconomic status, who are disproportionately disenfranchised in this way because of their race and gender. This causes enough cultural friction to effect social identity and academic experiences, because of the strife that follows systemic living conditions such as these.

So I get Monica’s point, but I don’t really understand Monica’s focus or reason for writing her article. It seems to not quite get the whole picture.

Honest Conversations – How?!?!?!?!?!?

This final week’s readings are very interesting especially as two of the 3 texts pertain to my identities. Since high school, I have been learning about my gender and socio-economic identities. Going to a private high school with teenage boys that were both extremely smart and tremendous athletes, I couldn’t help but feel lesser in both respects. It was neither my teachers nor our Writing Center fixed either of these problems. Rather, it was more painful and awkward – it was through hard and often one-sided conversations with my male and often more well off peers. It was telling them that I could not go skiing during Spring Break because I had to work. It was telling them that I needed to wait until my birthday for new cleats to play soccer or that no, I couldn’t “just” play in my sneakers – I didn’t have multiple pairs of shoes. After these “conversations”, I would have to ask myself what Rihn and Sloan ask, “Is confrontation alienating? More alienating than homophobia?” but in my case more alienating than addressing their microaggressions?

Rihn and Sloan’s point on “curious silence” is a very interesting one that affects people across all identities. It’s the fear of the unknown that makes it easier to observe from a distance as a bystander instead of intervening/ speaking to the aggression marginalized people receive from others. Therefore, marginalized people must “come to tolerate and cope with [aggression] as a grudging cost of existing in an otherwise often hostile world,” when we should be striving to make our world accepting to all people. Instead of thinking about how to use the privileges we have to help others, we use our privilege to stay away from honest conversations that make us uncomfortable.

Bielski’s article hit many points that I would like to address about class consciousness here at the Colleges – sorry about the tangents. Earlier this semester I read a research paper by Annette Lareau (Here’s a link to her research paper: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3088916?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents) about ways in which class affects the child raising methods parents use. One child raising method, concerted cultivation, requires a lot of money and time on behalf of parents for organized activities to ensure their children learn valuable skills that will prove useful in adulthood, including prolonged discussions with their children to develop their opinions, judgments, and ability to express themselves. On the other hand, accomplishment of natural growth is centered around the notion that as long as kids have the basic needs met, food, safety, and love, they will develop well. While working-class parents would like to enroll their kids in organized activities, they simply do not have the time nor money to make sure their kids can participate in such activities. Working-class parents clearly establish that they are not to be questioned or challenged by their children and they do not engage in long discussions with their children that would develop their child’s ability to express themselves more clearly. Due to many factors such as language and education, many working-class parents pass onto their children their mistrust and sense of powerlessness towards dominant institutions like colleges and universities. Because my parents raised me using the accomplishment of natural growth method, regardless of the skills I picked up at my private high school – both academic and life skills- I will still lack some skills/ confidence/ knowledge that come to my middle/upper-class peers as second nature because of their upbringing.

Last year, when I was a freshman, Quest Scholars organized an event called Money Matters – a week-long campaign that encouraged all students to talk about class. Quest Scholars, a chapter of QuestBridge and a community of 1st gen and/or low-income student at Pomona, hosted different types of events for a week but only once did a few students who did not identify as low-income showed up. The rest of the events were filled with low-income students and you cannot have a fruitful conversation in an echo chamber. It was then that I realized that although Pomona and the other Claremont Colleges were fairly liberal and open to talking about race and gender, still tiptoed around conversations on class and I’m sure many other conversations. Being part of Quest leadership this year, I’m helping plan Quest’s Money Matters event in the Spring and the planning committee is stuck on Bielski’s advice on talking honestly about class. As I mentioned in class last week, you cannot have a conversation if the another party is not willing to listen or participate. So how do we start full conversations instead of one-sided conversations? How can we get people to go one step past curiosity and join the conversation? And, further, how do we get them to take action? What role can professors and the Writing Center play?

Oh Really? “Real” Men?

I found Tipper’s article interesting in that it highlighted and examined a pretty real phenomenon that we tend to see in Writing Centers these days: writing tutors and tutees are usually female. She voices her concern that “there are many obvious and subtle ways in which we create and reinforce the ‘feminizing’ of our writing centers,” which is partly due to the trend that Writing Centers’ “selection of tutors is influenced by a preference for tutoring approaches which are more stereotypically feminine” (34).

Tipper goes on to explain that, as one might expect, this often dissuades male writers from seeking help from Writing Centers. After all, “reading, writing, sitting down and talking: these activities probably would not appear on most guys’ list of top ten ways to spend an afternoon” (34). Moreover, Tipper is keen to note that male students tend to seek less help since, to them, it often feels like a sign of weakness.

I was particularly impressed with the action-oriented plan implemented at Gilman in hopes of bridging the gender gap. For instance, Tipper explains that tutor training begins with outdoor challenges and team-building activities focused on the the dynamics of help, and tutors also began tending to supervised writing time during one-on-one conferences with students in order to give “more concrete ‘help,’ even though [the students] have made the revisions themselves” (37). These, I think, are tangible steps in the right direction — but I also think they have their limits.

While tutor training sessions with obstacle courses create a fresh and cooperative environment for tutors to internalize what they learn about giving and receiving help (among other great training topics, of course), these same sessions don’t bring the same level of awareness to (usually male) tutees. Sure, it’s great for tutors to better understand gender and power dynamics, but if the students to which the WC caters are still entrenched in their help-resisting attitudes, they still won’t come and seek it. I do think, however, that additional community-building activities open to the community on campus could add to the conversation and reel in everyday student writers — of any gender, really — who tend to resist seeking help.

Regarding the second point, Tipper explains that “rather than letting the client walk away with the advice to ‘smooth out the transitions,’ the client will actually spend time in the conference room or at a computer, writing transitions for his paper and running them by the consultant” (37). With this method, the student is able to see the immediate results, or the “action,” so to speak. But Tipper’s example seems almost too easy, especially since the main things writing partners dwell on do not necessarily consist of smoothing out the transition. We talk about ideas, the bigger picture, how the pieces of one’s argument fit together. Sure, we can talk about transitions too, but what happens when we sit there as the student re-writes his whole intro paragraph, shows it to us, and asks, “So is it correct now?”

And there’s one last thing. Although I understand that Tipper’s acknowledgement of masculine stereotypes better emphasizes the contrast between men’s versus women’s approaches to writing and the resulting gap in the Writing Center (as well as in attitudes toward the Writing Center), I do notice that the way in which she phrases her ideas tends to reinforce these same stereotypes. For instance, Tipper presents the following with a factual, absolute tone: “Guys like action. They can relate to it. They understand how it works” (36). Hmm… could this potentially imply that girls, on the other hand, don’t understand or don’t like “action”? As if girls and women are more wishy-washy? Also, in asking, “Is it too obvious to say that boys are competitive?”, Tipper gives us the impression that this statement is almost too factual, too “obvious” that perhaps it doesn’t even need mentioning. But there are competitive women as well, and laid-back, uncompetitive guys who would rather go with the flow. Perhaps my questioning Tipper’s word choice is besides the point of her argument, but in any case, I believe that tangents on perceptions of gender still warrant consideration.

All in all, I think there’s a lot of insight in the types of trends that Tipper brings up, especially since much of it comes from her experiences at Gilman. I also think there are some promising ideas here, but it’s nevertheless important to look at them with a critical eye. In my opinion, Tipper hasn’t reached a spark with pieces of flint despite her efforts — or at least she hasn’t done so just yet — but she has at least added some logs to what could eventually become a promising fire.

Navigating Anti-Racism discussions in the Writing Center

The collaborative piece by Diab, Godbee, Ferrel, and Simpkins lay out a fairly good pedagogical ethos for a difference-responsive writing center. I found the hypotheticals particularly useful, mostly because some of the texts I’ve read on this topic tend to divorce themselves from concrete action such that their ideas are practically unuseable.

Also useful from this text is its warning against the essentialization of student groups. While it’s often necessary for cogency’s sake that some assumptions about a “typical ________” student be made, this can lead to treatment of groups as monolithic. Some pieces, I think, tend to offer a model for “how to help an ESL writer” (or some other “how to”) that can lead to a consultation in which that negotiation takes the forefront. It is surely important to understand where people are coming from and be sensitive to how those identities manifest in their writing. However, no consultation is limited to topics that “typically” affect those groups.

But I mainly want to discuss the situation in which an unequivocally more privileged tutor was put in the position where he had to identify and explain damaging language in a POC consultee’s paper. He let the student know about the problematic connotations of her word choice, but she effectively shut down afterwards. It is clear that she needed more help understanding why, given that the substance of the argument was left unchanged. I wonder how the authors of this article would have advised the tutor to proceed, since they don’t seem to address the aftermath of the tutor’s correction. Given the piece’s message as a whole, I assume they would have suggested that he continue to explain the connotations of that particular word, and how it carries with it a history of discrimination. But how does one avoid rearticulating racial power structures if the student does not seem at all receptive to criticism? In a way, forcing that discussion only reifies the power differentials between the two. But to not have that conversation is to, as the article says, strive for political correctness rather than for actual anti-racist work in the writing center.

Am I Engaged?

When I signed up for this class, I didn’t realize how much we would be talking about interpersonal skills. Therefore, I think this week’s readings are very valuable, especially in acknowledging that there so much more to teaching than being able to transmit content.

I especially like Diab and friends’ emphasis on “embodied and engaged pedagogy” because I feel that helping others always begins with being present and involved in what they have to say. Especially as an introvert, being present with others, especially strangers, can be very draining. I don’t particularly enjoy making small talk and sometimes feel uncomfortable when obliged to do so. However, I often view my consultations as some of the most rewarding human interactions I have. Having an agenda during a specific time period allows me to very intentionally build a relationship with someone I may have just met. We also usually end with a tangible sense of future direction or growth as well, which is very rewarding.

I also really liked that Diab et al. and Moussu talked not only about international students, but also students who identified as American, but were multilingual. I feel like readings in the past often talked about assuming the capabilities of international students, especially from Latinx or Asian backgrounds. However, many students who were born in America or identify as American still learn English as a second language because their parents may be multilingual.

As an immigrant, I was put into ESL classes in elementary school. Because I was young, I don’t remember struggling much with learning English, and I now have a pretty innate sense of English grammar. However, I still struggle with putting words together in a way that might seem awkward or smooth to a native English speaker (especially with prepositions!). I’m also unsure of how my proficient, yet not always natural English skills relate to my personal identification as Korean American. According to my outer appearance, I’m stereotyped as foreign, and therefore, not as capable in English and writing. Although I refuse to be confined by the stereotype (and feel like it shouldn’t exist at all), I occasionally find myself wondering how others and I would view my abilities if I were Caucasian, born and raised in the US.

This nuance in my (and others’) racial/ethnic identity was well-explored by Suhr-Sytsma and Brown. Focusing on the multi-dimensionality and intersectionality of identities, Suhr-Sytsma and Brown really highlight the importance of viewing each student as a multi-faceted human being who cannot be summarized by a single category. All their descriptions of everyday oppression point back to Diab and friends’ “embodied and engaged pedagogy.” We can’t properly engage with those we are trying to help if we compartmentalize them before they get a chance to show who they are.

Practically speaking, I’ve once again been reminded of the importance of engaging with others through asking questions that may seemingly have nothing to do with the writing itself. Questions like how was your day/week aren’t simply to make small talk; they may reveal a lot about the background and personality of the writer. Although I often try to avoid small talk and more extraverted interactions in general, I feel that getting to know and engaging with the student is a very important part of consultations. For me, this is and will continue to be one of the biggest challenges and goals for my consultations: am I engaged?

How much does grammar matter?

A few weeks ago, I had a great consultation with one of my ID1 students: she had come with a really interesting first draft in which she unpacked how much of a badass feminist icon the antagonist of a graphic novel series was. She came into the session concerned about her balance between plot and analysis (and, like most first years, it was evident that too much space was given to plot). Through reading some paragraphs out loud and discussing what she cared about most in her essay, we were able to reallocate more space to her important analysis and create a revision timeline. I was happy with her enthusiasm for her essay and the reorganization plan we built. But in the last minutes of our session, she casually mentioned that she had a difficult time understanding verb tenses, as time is indicated separately from the verb in her first language. Yes, I had noticed that the verb tenses were inconsistent and awkward; however, those scattered errors did not prevent me from understanding and appreciating her original analysis. I had simply viewed those little mistakes as first draft typos that would be quickly corrected before the final draft.

How much does grammar matter? In this case, I had breezed over the occasional misuse of various tenses—they had not at any point caused me to stumble over or reread passages. As an ID1 intern, at what point should I provide guidance/strategies/resources for grammar improvement? If the ideas are still clearly communicated, would stepping in suggest that certain writers/voices should be privileged over others? As long as the paper communicates effectively, is there much value in putting value on “proper grammar”?

Also, mini-tangent on the literary present: last week, I went to a really interesting English department talk about the different forms of the present tense (literary present included). One of the points in favor of the literary present is that it gives the reader a sense of proximity to the work as it unfolds—the literary present is conveyed as intuitive. Yet to push against this notion of intuitiveness, I think of one of my ESL students. The use of the literary present was not intuitive to her at all: in recounting past events, the past tense was the more logical option (still not entirely logical, however, as time and verb were not inherently connected from her perspective). To what extent is the claimed intuitiveness of the literary present linguistically exclusive and not universal across cultures?