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.

One thought on “Navigating Anti-Racism discussions in the Writing Center

  1. Hi Spencer,

    I was also perplexed by the situation in Diab et al. that you mention in your post. I wish the authors had given us more detail about the scenario – in this particular case, I think that the way the tutor brought up the racist connotations of “primitive” would be extremely crucial. In general I find that the best way to approach language that I find questionable is to do just that – question it, simply and without judgment. This usually leads to some kind of discussion about the student’s motivation for using such language, which often results in self-reflection and clarification of the student’s intentions. I wonder if such an approach on the hypothetical tutor’s part might have allowed the student that Diab et al. describe to maintain her confidence while revising her argument and genuinely reassessing her thoughts about the topic.

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