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Writing Hub Statement Re-Affirming Our Commitments to Anti-Racism

(First published October 2020)


In this statement, we want to offer a message about the Writing Hub, our mission, and our values, and to state how we see the Writing Hub forwarding the work of anti-racism and anti-white-supremacy. 

The Writing Hub is deeply committed to using our resources to combat White supremacy in our institution; to pursuing justice within and beyond the institution; and to being held accountable for taking action. 

In many ways, we remain suspicious of statements (like this one) as performative balms for the conscience of White liberals, or as institutional lip service providing plausible cover from criticism. While we could have generated here a piece of institutional rhetoric so smooth and unimpeachable you could run your hand over it and find no dirt on your palm at the end, such a statement would be empty language. It seems more honest to say that we recognize that, no matter our intentions, because we work from and within a context that is embedded in systems of inequity, and because our own predominantly White leadership reflects inequities of access and opportunity in higher education, we are complicit in and inadvertently reproduce the systems of oppression and racism that we also hope to dismantle. We are looking for the best ways forward we can find, with vulnerability and humility. We are committed to showing up, learning from our missteps, and forwarding the process of justice. 

And that starts with recognizing the potential value of messages like this. We offer this message in recognition that the intersecting conditions of inequity – in society broadly and in our local contexts – will need to be addressed through collective and coordinated work. Messages like this, we hope, make that collective work more possible. We seek for this statement to make our internal beliefs externally legible, and to codify our intentions as explicit commitments and actions. In so doing, we open ourselves to be held accountable, to create relationships of solidarity, and to generate collective action. 

In this spirit, we offer here a starting point; a square one. We overview some of our premises, commitments, and efforts intended for racial equity and justice, with the intention to further clarify and explicate these premises, and to add new ones, as time goes on. We intend for this “statement” to be a living document, one which will give opportunity to find points of connection and opportunities for collaborative action with others on our campus who are working for racial justice. 

We hope to hear from you. What excites you about these ideas? What troubles you? What do you want to collaborate toward or give us feedback on? Please share your thoughts with or the Writing Hub Director, Matt Nelson,

Premise 1: Writing is not identity-neutral, nor objective, nor a merit-based mechanism for assessment or recognition.

Pernicious ideologies about writing – that it is an objective and merit-based tool that can and must be done “correctly” – obscure how deeply social (and flexible) it is and damage our abilities to flourish as diverse thinkers and authentic communicators. In fact, privileging “proper” writing ultimately serves to reinforce the traditions of academic discourse – traditions which were primarily conceived of and advanced by socially dominant groups who were overwhelmingly White, and which became the norm during historical periods marked by explicit exclusion and discrimination. Today, these traditions show up in the ways we talk, think, and teach about writing, and in our defending of “correct” writing, we also defend legacies of institutional racism.  

Commitment 1: What should we value and assess in writing, if not “correctness?” We believe that it is possible to create strong and empowered writers without privileging ideologies about “proper” and “correct” writing, but allow writing to be the capacious medium that it is. At the Writing Hub, we are committed to privileging clarity over correctness. That is, we seek to develop writers’ abilities to encounter their own thoughts, articulate those thoughts with power and voice, and to ensure their message is clearly understood by audiences of readers. By privileging clarity over correctness, we seek to disrupt oppressive writing practices, and to help the institution imagine and develop new paradigms for writing. We also commit to advancing alternative and equitable pedagogies of writing assessment, pedagogies that embrace the vastness of language and expression and give educators tools for thinking about and interacting with student writing. 

To actualize this commitment, we will:

  • Be even more purposeful in the education of our writing consultants, including: 
    • Educating consultants to be knowledgeable of the institutional contexts of writing in higher education, and the ways academic power relations, language, and communication practices continue to serve as instruments of marginalization, at the graduate and undergraduate student levels.
    • Educating consultants to work respectfully and empathetically with students who may also be struggling under the added burden of institutional racism, xenophobia, erasure, and exclusion. 
    • Educating consultants in the limitations of thinking about “grammar” as the best and right way to think about clarity in writing.
    • Teach our consultants strategies for recognizing and reproducing clarity in writing-in-progress. 
  • Support the development and facilitation of an anti-racist pedagogy certification for graduate student educators.
  • Develop and implement resources and expertise to anti-racist approaches to writing instruction, writing assignments, and writing assessments. 
  • Revise and re-publish the Writing Hub’s Core Principles to explicitly name anti-racism and White language supremacy.
  • Revise our internal session feedback and incident report forms, and re-train consultants to use them for reporting suspected instances of bias or discriminatory practices. 
  • Develop faculty-facing resources (through one-on-one conversations, workshops, or program interventions) in equitable and anti-racist writing assignment design, feedback, and grading practices, as well as on White language supremacy in the academy.
  • Offer ongoing and sustainable support for programs that specialize in the retention and success of graduate and undergraduate students from populations that have been excluded from or marginalized within higher education.
  • Develop asynchronous and “portable” resources related to academic writing to further erode barriers of access to our services.
  • Identify anti-racist, pro-justice core texts each academic term and devote paid staff time for reading and community discussion.
  • Use our expertise and experiences as writers and educators to engender uncomfortable conversations about how racist ideologies seep into our writing cultures.

Premise 2: Racial justice will require a paradigm shift about writing, English, and dominant language, as part of a larger re-imagining of what knowledges should be taught and learned if we are to truly pursue a just world.

Problematic ideologies about writing and language put writing centers in a complicated position. How do we help students achieve success with their writing projects, while also recognizing that the institutional contexts shaping students’ experiences with writing can often be tacitly (and sometimes explicitly) racist?

One tangible way this shows up for us is the persistent belief that there is one “standard” English when, as scholars have pointed out for decades, there are dozens of global “Englishes,” and the history of the English language intersects with colonization and imperialism. “Standard” English is an artifact of those who have historically had the power to control legitimacy in our institutions. We can think of the most institutionally-mandated form English not as a “standard,” but rather as a dominant form of English. 

If we devote the work of the Writing Hub to helping students “clean up” their language, to “fix” it, so that it comports with a mythical “standard,” because we believe that students from “non-standard” (i.e. non-White, non-monolingual) backgrounds will be unfairly targeted by graders and grading policies, we will not be protecting the students. Rather, we will be protecting the prejudice of the institution and its enforcers - graders and grading policies. If we let ourselves perpetuate the myth that some students naturally develop into successful “standard” English writers through luck of their birth, while others have then substandard Englishes that must be un-learned, remediated, removed, or relegated to use only in spaces outside the university, we help to perpetuate White language supremacy.

We have struggled with the question of how to best serve the interests of our institution: by pushing the institution to evolve, or by turning a blind eye to institutional racism and helping students navigate the institution as it is. We now recognize this as a false choice, and have decided on a third way. Our job is to serve the students in the institution as it exists now, AND to help the institution evolve. These two aims can and will be at odds, creating conflicts even within our individual selves and in our day-to-day decision making.

Commitment 2: The Writing Hub is committed to battling White language supremacy in our institution and beyond, while also creating opportunities for students to excel in this system with dignity, and to leave this institution with their value and humanity affirmed and intact. We will do this not only through our day-to-day internal decision making, but also in the ways we leverage our own resources toward institutional justice, including linguistic justice. We intend for this work to be done in partnership with departments, programs, and faculty. 

To actualize this commitment, we will:

  • Support demands of Black and Indigenous student, staff, and faculty groups and commit our own resources to pursue their ends. This includes developing partnership programming with the Black Resource Center to connect undergraduate students to academic opportunities (e.g. Fulbright Program, McNair Scholars) and provide resources to support their success in applying to these opportunities, responding to a call in the Black Student Union demands issued in Spring 2020. 
  • Regularly interrogate our own policies and practices for traces of White language supremacy, including regular audits of our consultant and professional staff hiring practices, with attention to how we recruit candidates, how we review and score applications, and how we conduct and score interviews. 
  • Revise our consultants’ bios to specifically include their language proficiencies, highlighting the linguistic fluency of multilingual consultants in particular.
  • Support the university and broader academic apparatus to interrogate norms rooted in White supremacy, develop alternatives, and transform into an institution of racial equity.
  • Explicitly name and help students understand the shortcomings of this institution, while also working collaboratively with them to develop strategies to succeed within it with dignity, and also empower them to look beyond it and leverage writing as a tool for agency.
  • Regularly broadcast our anti-racist, pro-justice efforts and actions through a quarterly newsletter, inviting ongoing community feedback.
  • Continue to subvert standard language ideology/White language supremacy in conversations about writing and writing pedagogy, and teach writing as a means of communication with diverse forms, features, and iterations.

Premise 3: Writing plays an important role in individual empowerment and collective liberation.

We have positioned the Writing Hub as a place to have generative, learning-focused conversations about writing, through which student writers will be empowered with improved strategies and capacities for perceiving, assessing, and revising their choices as writers. We take this responsibility extremely seriously; we want to respect and expand students’ agency, to help them take what they know and re-see it so they can better succeed in their current circumstances. We want to bridge them to deeper and clearer understandings of their own writing process and their writing product, while always respecting their agency over their writing. 

Commitment 3: We believe that creating a space for students to be and become writers, insulated from the authority-driven relationships of the classroom, is a powerful and potentially radical endeavor. As we go forward, we intend to better and more fully excavate this student-centered endeavor by more explicitly connecting writing to the work of anti-racism, and anti-oppression more generally. Part of our work to support students will be to help them recognize what systems and circumstances they might take action to change, and how to use writing to catalyze and sustain their change efforts. 

To actualize this commitment, we will:

  • Renew our dedication to equitable resourcing of students, faculty, and staff such that they can wield writing: to express, explore, and (re)define themselves and their communities.
  • Promote writing a tool of anti-racism and anti-oppression, including partnering with campus units and student organizations on writing-as-political-advocacy events. 
  • Create space for students to see their writing as avenues for liberation and justice through how we conduct our consultations and our group-based writing workshops and activities. 
  • Develop, in partnership with departments and units across campus, opportunities for students to write in community. This includes: 
    • Working with the Black Resource Center to re-imagine and re-design graduate student writing retreats in a way that will center the black graduate student experience, and devoting our resources to sustaining a black graduate student writing community. 
    • Leveraging Writing Hub resources, including paid consultant time, to support the Intertribal Resource Center’s new Graduate Writing Circle. 
  • Seek partnerships with campus community centers, student advocacy groups, and other campus units to develop programs/resources that meet their needs and interests.
  • Support BIPOC-owned businesses whenever possible in Writing Hub purchases and expenditures.