Like any other part of the institution, academic support centers have been shaped by (and have responded to) forces of inequality. The ways that students have been historically sorted (into a hierarchy) and stigmatized can be found in the structures, policies and messaging of our centers. Though much has changed to move writing centers away from this historical shaping, ghosts of those days remain in what we say (messaging) and what we do (policy). Therefore, we adopt the following stances to guide our actions.
1. No Remediation
We will strive to remove the narrative of remediation from our practices. Writers do not come to our center because they have problems, are deficient in some way, or need their language fixed. They are already whole and their language beautiful. They come to our center as hard workers who are especially engaged in the activities of language and communication development. We have real conversations with these writers, learn about their situations, and share our expertise to support them in their journey. We ask that instructors not require or incentivize students to come to the writing center. A participatory culture is voluntary.
2. No hierarchy
It is conventional to think of language and especially language development in terms of hierarchies. (Examples: “Good/bad grammar,” “Proper/Improper ways of speaking and writing” “Appropriate for academic discourse versus inappropriate” and so on.) This kind of language both reveals the existing hierarchies of an institution while at the same time reinforcing and perpetuating that inequality. Assertions that certain language traditions are more “formal,” “appropriate” or “academic” are all code-words for superior. Language can liberate and transform, but it can also sort and stigmatize. We are working to find and share words which promote the liberatory and transformative power of language. We want students to successfully negotiate the realities of a racist institution, but not internalize those hierarchies. We also want to develop better ways of talking about language and writing development that will create a more inclusive environment for the community. We will work on this goal by continuing to read scholarship on antiracism, translingualism, gender inclusivity and disability justice, engaging in workshops in which we develop a generous and good-natured mindfulness and intervention into our language habits and practices. All the while, we will commit to helping students with the existing realities that surround their language backgrounds.
3. No orthodoxies about practice
We see writers as doing the best they can under a wide variety of circumstances. We recognize that students do not enter the academy on equal playing field in terms of preparation and understanding the codes of the landscape around them. Blanket policies such as “no line editing,” “only the student should hold the pencil,” and “minimalist / indirect tutoring” privilege students who only have a short journey to take to success in academic culture. We hire well qualified individuals and work to develop our theoretical and practical understandings to a high level. Our consultants are capable and encouraged to adjust their consulting practices to be of most benefit to each writer. There is no need for us to withhold clear and explicit assistance to writers when it is needed. We will continue to develop a wide range of mediating techniques, and if a practice will help the writer to develop and to more fully participate in academic culture, it is appropriate practice. Through frequent reflective practice chats we will work out the dilemmas of such a flexible approach to build coherence and critically evaluate our practice.
We commit to remunerating staff for all efforts to develop a justice-oriented practice.
In our efforts to further our understanding and continue the conversations, we will collect and share research and scholarship on justice approaches to writing center practice, the teaching of writing, and writing assessment. We will regularly incorporate these resources into our professional development and in the curriculum of our Writing Center Theory and Practice course.
We will create collaborative, reflective professional development workshops to support inclusive and liberatory practices. We will also have regular practice chats to share perspectives and check in with the community.
A more diverse community
Each of us are situated and have limitations as to what we can see and understand. Therefore, it is our goal that our CEW staff community be as diverse as our student community. This means we seek to hire students from different racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, national and linguistic backgrounds. Consultants who have experience overcoming adversity, coping with learning differences, or studying outside of their native languages, add to our overall ability to welcome and support all UB writers. We hope too that all writers, regardless of background or circumstance, will become part of the CEW community. Recognizing and appreciating the diversity of our existing community, we will nonetheless actively seek to create more diverse representation in our community of staff and the writers that come to work with us. We will adjust our messaging, conduct more and targeted outreach, as well as conduct assessment to find out who are we not reaching and why. Also, we want to find out how writing center activity is experienced by diverse members of the community. We can find this out through targeted surveys and focus groups.
We will think of ways to include more people in our community with special events such as writing groups, poetry readings, and English Conversation Groups.
Protecting our community
We recognize that systemic racism and other forms of inequality hurt people in a variety of overt and subtle ways. For this reason, we resolve to be a community that is protective of people.
Protecting colleagues: We recognize that our consulting experiences will be different depending upon our identities and backgrounds. For example, multilingual consultants and consultants of color might find their schedules populating more quickly, sometimes inequitably so. They might find that writers who identify with them enter into more vulnerable conversations and require more emotional support. As our community grows more diverse and our competencies for supporting diverse students improves, this problem will diminish. However, we should look for solutions if colleagues are overburdened and see what we can do to support them or lighten their load. We must create regular opportunities in one-to-one, small group and large group formats for colleagues to express concerns and speak out about their experiences.
Protecting writers: Because we have one-to-one conversations with writers, we might discover that they are in a difficult situation, have been mistreated in some way, or are feeling alienated from the academic community. In this case, we should determine if there is any way that we can support the student. Conferring with each other in practice chats, talking with writing center leadership, and ultimately reaching outside of our community for external guidance, we may be able to help.
Seeking feedback and pushing out change
Just as an individual can have blind-spots, our community may as well. We are making our initiative transparent so that we can get feedback, engage with other communities on campus, and incorporate expertise from outside our Center. Please reach out to us with feedback or to connect with us in our shared mission. Our hope is to join streams of conversation about justice and writing instruction and come to mutual understandings.