Putting Writing at the Center of Inclusivity

The UW Tacoma Writing Center's new antiracism and social justice statement aims to confront practices that are systemic throughout academia.

[The UW Tacoma Writing Center's "Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center," highlighted in the story below, has been misrepresented by issues-oriented blogs based in other states. Read more: "Response to Inaccurate Reports about the UW Tacoma Writing Center."]

The UW Tacoma Writing Center has taken significant steps towards standing against racism in the field of writing. With its new antiracism and social justice statement, the Center starts a conversation on the discrimination and alienation that often go unnoticed in academia. As the statement urges, “there is no inherent ‘standard’ of English,” and with this in mind, the Center aims to ensure that through compassion and careful consideration, staff do not inadvertently embrace racist practices.

Spearheaded by Writing Center Director Dr. Asao Inoue—who is also an associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences and director of university writing—the statement is very much influenced by Inoue’s research on racism in writing assessments. In his 2015 book, Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future, Inoue considered the many ways in which racism becomes apparent in academia, as well as proposed that only through the acknowledgment of structures of racism could they begin to be dismantled. Dr. Inoue, who has received two Outstanding Book Awards—the first in 2014 for Race and Writing Assessment and again in 2017 for Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies—from the Conference on College Composition and Communication, has dedicated his career to the study of rhetoric and composition, in order to better understand and work to solve racial inequity in academia.

Every student, regardless of their background, comes to college with a different collection of experiences, said Dr. Inoue. “The anti-racism statement is a document that took over a year to collaboratively create with writing center professional staff and student writing consultants. It was officially put up and incorporated in our work in the fall of 2016, so we are just beginning.” Dr. Inoue contends that in order for something to become anti-racist, there must first be an earnest discussion of how racism has produced certain standards of education or systems themselves. As a result of the pervasiveness of racism, Inoue argues, its presence must be acknowledged on a systemic level, and thus this statement was born.

“It is a founding assumption that, if believed, one must act differently than we, the institution and its agents, have up to this point,” said Inoue. While overt racism is usually easily identified, more elusive are microaggressions, forms of degradation which manifest on a subconscious and casual level. As the statement reads “Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society,”

Ultimately, the statement exists in the hopes that by understanding racism and imparting students with a critical thought process, that they may be better prepared not only to develop as writers but also to achieve their highest possible level of success.

Dr. Jill Purdy, vice chancellor of undergraduate affairs and an advocate for the writing statement, notes that it “is a great example of how we are striving to act against racism. Language is the bridge between ideas and action, so how we use words has a lot of influence on what we think and do.”

UW Tacoma Writing Center with anti-racism statement wall banner.

In the fall of 2016, the statement was printed on a large, permanent banner and hung on a wall in the UW Tacoma Teaching & Learning Center. Dr. Purdy notes that action has seemed to promote a sense of inclusivity in the space. “Students coming into the Teaching and Learning Center often pause to read the banner, and they walk away smiling or looking thoughtful,” she said. “That’s exactly what a university should do—respect divergent ideas in the interest of advancing knowledge and learning.”

As the statement becomes an ever present agreement for all staff in the writing center, Dr. Inoue and his staff have integrated it into on-going training and it is also a persistent point of conversation. Dr. Inoue firmly believes the commitment to an inclusive and anti-racist space begins with discussion. He hopes that “having these kinds of open and brave discussions on campus and in more classrooms will be a progressive change at UW Tacoma.” Ultimately, even if it is just the beginning, “I see explicit discussion of antiracism as a triumph.”

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Written by: 
Zak Kaletka / February 17, 2017
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu