The writing center works from two essential truths that are crucial to helping writers succeed in a racist society.
1) Languages are living systems that are always changing with the people who speak and write them.
All spoken and written language, including styles, accents, and dialects, are rooted in culture and identity.
Linguistic and writing research has demonstrated that there is no inherent “standard” of English (or any other language).
Our feelings about what makes language good, acceptable, or correct are attitudes we have learned from family, teachers, and society.
We operate under the belief that students should not have to change the way they speak to be listened to. Deep thinking happens in all forms of English, and we encourage our students to communicate their values and ideas in whatever ways feel comfortable.
2) Due to the systemic nature of racism in American society, racism influences our attitudes and judgements about language, both spoken and written. Let us first acknowledge that:
While racism is not always intentional, its ramifications are far reaching and detrimental
racism is the status quo
racism is built into the systems, structures, and expectations of our society
We know that academic institutions, writing centers included, have traditionally upheld racist structures. We are also aware that white linguistic supremacy has deep emotional, psychological, and educational impacts on students. As writing consultants we often have to prioritize students' grades over their linguistic justice, and this area of conflict was our inspiration in writing this statement.
Because we all work within an inherently racist system, the consultants in the writing center help students become more critical of academic language expectations as they affect students’ writing and the judgment of that writing. Our aim is to cultivate our space into a collaborative learning environment where we learn to analyze, critique, and communicate at deeper and more productive levels. We affirm that an awareness of structural racism offers writers the best chance to develop and succeed on their own terms.
Tutors and staff pledge to speak up against racism in the writing center and the campus community. Because this is a learning environment, we will strive to build bridges and enter into healthy discourse with people who are willing to grow. We also know that racism causes deep and lasting damage. Moreover, we will not allow hurtful speech with ill intent to be shared freely without opposition. It is our belief that these two ideas – of learning and of defiance – can and must co-exist.
We promise to be reflective and critical of our practices and address the ways that we perpetuate racism or social injustice. The writing center staff strives to cultivate an environment willing to be disturbed into action. For instance, we promise to actively engage in the following anti-racist practices:
Be aware of our language practices (what we say or allow to be said)
Dismantle microaggressions that make people feel uncomfortable or inferior
Openly discuss racism and social justice issues as they appear in writing sessions
Emphasize the needs of the writer to meet assignment expectations over the demands of grammatical “correctness”
Help writers understand grammar as a system of meaning, rather than a list of rules
Support writers’ agency to choose non-conventional word choices, idioms, and colloquialisms in academic writing
Advocate for a safe, welcoming, productive, and proactive writing center
Conduct on-going assessments of the work of the writing center, looking specifically for patterns of inequality or oppressive practices that may be occurring
We also realize that racism is connected to other forms of social injustice, included but not limited to classism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and heteronormative assumptions. We promise to address these issues within our writing center in a continuing conversation. We invite students to enter this space expecting to be challenged, and to challenge us in turn. We are your peers, and we learn just as much from you as you do from us.