Vol. 3 No. 1 (Winter 2022)
Kimberly Le, Writing Center Consultant, Seattle University
Finola Schmahl-Waggoner, Writing Center Consultant, Seattle University
We would like to begin by introducing ourselves and giving a little background on how we came to be writing center consultants and how we came to join the first Canadian Writing Centres Association/association canadienne des centres de rédaction (CWCA/ACCR) Anti-racist Reading Circle.
My name is Fin, and I am a third-year undergraduate at Seattle University, majoring in cell and molecular biology with a minor in international studies. I visited the writing centerduring the fall quarter of my freshman year, 2019. My consultant had been so helpful and kind to me that I was inspired to join the center, and I applied a couple of months later for the position. I received and accepted an offer in spring of 2020 to work at the center, and I enrolled in ENGL 3090, our tutor writing course required for training. While we transitioned online, I learned a lot from our writing center director, Dr. Hidy Basta, about decolonizing the writing process and how to assist clients while also accepting and inviting in multiple ways of thinking, processing, and writing. I worked as a writing consultant online for the last academic year, 2020-2021 and applied to return in the summer of 2021. When Dr. Hidy Basta sent Kimberly and me the offer to join the CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle, we agreed excitedly and started reading Felicia Rose Chavez’s The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How To Decolonize the Creative Classroom (2021), which is how I ended up at the reading circle this past summer.
I am Kimberly, a fourth-year undergraduate at Seattle University, majoring in theatre with a double minor in ethics and psychology. I started out early in my freshman year helping my friends look over their papers and making comments, suggestions, edits, and most importantly, asking questions. Being that we were fresh into college with little in our pockets, most of my friends had joked that they wished they could pay me. And when my friends and I found out that the writing center was accepting applications, they urged me to throw my hat into the ring. Just like Fin, I was offered a position and enrolled in the required class. I can confidently say that what I thought it meant to be a writing tutor has completely changed for the better, thanks to the writing center. And it is because of this team that opportunities like joining a reading circle across the border became possible!
Fin and I were among a handful of CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle participants who were student writing consultants/tutors. The rest of the participants were writing center directors and staff. Getting to read The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom (2021) and sharing our thoughts and ideas with others was one of the best decisions we made during our time working at the writing center. Students in a predominately white institute (PWI) are racing to achieve a standard built upon inaccessibility for non-white students. This is why Chavez’s book is important. The work of affirming and recognizing students and professors of color is not only essential for white individuals to develop empathy and compassion and become advocates, but also because people of color endure adversity daily and deserve safe and supportive spaces. As radical as it may sound, if we could require all in academia to read this book, we would do so in a heartbeat. We cannot stress the impact and importance that this book has had on our confidence, challenging authority and believing in our capability to make change.
The CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle
Writing centers are on a journey for change and growth, seeking an inclusive and actively anti-racist vision. Chavez’s book is both autobiography and manifesto, as Chavez navigates the classroom as a Latine woman, educator, wife, mother, and disrupter. Throughout the book, Chavez remains humble and hopeful for her audience and classrooms of future change-bringers and writers/artists. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Chavez’s book is her ability to converse with the reader through text and, more importantly, to provoke questions for readers to continue their own reflective journeys into being anti-racist. Chavez has contributed much to the conversation of anti-racism as it is realized in today’s society. Chavez’s work has permeated conversations in academic circles/spaces, prompting inspiration for collaborative book clubs and workshops that honor her brilliant, present-thinking philosophy for English-centered departments, including writing centers.
During the summer of 2021, member writing centers wanted to reflect on the implications for their services and practices with support from their professional organization, the Canadian Writing Centres Association/association canadienne des centres de rédaction. This form of reflection manifested into a reading circle. Despite the association’s location the invitation was extended beyond Canada, and the Seattle University Writing Center (where we are currently writing this from) was eager to participate. During these monthly meetings, members from across writing centers engaged in hour-long conversations regarding assigned chapters and the ideas that resulted from reading Chavez’s words. The meetings led up to a special Q&A session with Chavez herself, inviting members to further their understanding of decolonization in their classrooms, whether student or professor, camera on or off.
The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop takes the reader on a step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter journey into Chavez’s process to create a curriculum to support antiracist writing workshops. Not only is every chapter supplemented with rich insight on what it means to respect your students as people and writers, Chavez’s writing is both anecdotal and inspiring. Every chapter includes questions and exercises that Chavez uses to compel the reader to consider their own practices―How might we ground ourselves? How can we work towards anti-oppression in our classrooms? And, for our purpose as writing centers, what are the writing center’s expectations versus the actual services provided to students? What do students want versus what professors assume is necessary for students to learn? The power dynamics between students and professors is a major theme in Chavez’s story, and she invites the reader to walk in her shoes as she experiences both roles in the classroom. Throughout the book, Chavez is honest and real about owning her style of teaching and learning, even as it conflicts with the institution.
Anti-racist work in Seattle University’s writing center
As a writing center consultant at Seattle University, it was not until reading Chavez’s book that I (Kimberly) realized the importance of having conversations surrounding writing practice. Conversations about decolonizing the writing center are incredibly difficult and necessary both because the change is much-needed and because writing centers face challenges working [against universities’ misconceptions] universities. The writing center is often stereotyped by those outside of its staff and faculty as being a place to ‘fix’ writing, help with achieving an ‘acceptable’ grade, or even a place that can edit students’ work to make it sound more ‘academic’―code for sounding more in line with traditional, white-supremacist standards of academic writing, grammar, and structure. These are all difficult expectations to manage when we are trying to make change. We are here to engage students in enriching conversations about their writing and the writing process itself and to collectively heal from harmful patterns taught in academic classrooms with the ultimate goal of changing those patterns. In referencing Felicia Rose Chavez, taking up antiracist writing practices means incorporating flexibility, kindness, and recognizing multiple Englishes, and an approach that treats everyone as an individual with gifts to offer to and in writing. We suggest that by taking up these approaches that writing centers can become places that work to change existing white supremacist patterns in academia.
To assist in the process of change, we work by centering clients’ concerns and ideas, helping change the thought process of right and wrong, especially in reference to grammar. Instead of stating that a grammatical error or issue is incorrect, we say that it does not match the expected convention of the paper, and encourage the use of other Englishes, other languages and literacies of grammars, and playing with conventional narratives to create one’s own voice (confidence) in the paper. Personally, I (Fin) have found that many students are a bit confused when we use the word convention instead of rule in the writing centre, and I have had a handful of conversations explaining the reason the writing center uses convention. This involves explaining our work to deconstruct white, academic English by recognizing not only the multitude of forms English takes, but that there are multiple Englishes and thus multiple grammars. While a little confused at the beginning, students tend to appreciate the explanation and are even fired up by the discussion to change the way they approach writing in a way that suits their own style, not the English pushed upon them. We also have posted links to anti-racist resources, academic resources, and services for mental health provided through other areas at Seattle University on our website alongside our tutoring and services for writing.
Finally, we provide a service for faculty to send in their assignment writing prompts. The consultants read over the prompts and give feedback on what they may find confusing or difficult and suggest how to improve the assignment. We are not perfect by any means, but we are making steps forward in dismantling harmful patterns and encouraging an atmosphere full of respect for different perspectives, room for everyone’s writing and voice, and removing the idea of good or bad writing that is dependent on the proximity to a Standardized English.
Moving forward as undergrads, working toward post-grad plans and aspirations, we take from The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop the impacts of radical change. Our work as writing center tutors extends to what it means to offer a service to our peers―to lend our hands in helping others grow. Not only can we uplift others in their work, but we can do so with a greater awareness of how history has molded us and decide to break free from traditional boundaries to create something entirely new and more applicable to us as a diverse group of people. From Chavez we take this lesson: we do not need to submit to how it has always been done; we can see what happens when we humanize ourselves and never settle for less. Whether we are scientists, artists, lawyers, writers, or reaching for any career ambition, the future of these paths lies within our choices and disrupts the systems of racism ingrained in us.
I (Kimberly) am an upcoming graduate of the class of 2022, seeking to enter the field of performance (whether acting or behind the scenes). I do this not only for the pure love of the theatre or to keep the arts alive, but to dismantle the unhealthy, capitalist, and racially charged practices that happen within theatre spaces, which are often ignored, hidden, or romanticized in the public eye. Chavez’s book has inspired me to challenge the tradition of professional and academic theatre wherein growth is not determined by the individual themselves. My work aims to achieve a more holistic space for future artists.
I (Fin) am predicted to graduate in 2023 and plan on pursuing a master’s degree in genomic medicine after graduation. After my master’s, I plan on diving into the personalized medicine field of biology, which means creating medicine targeted for one specific person or group of people based upon their DNA. I want to pursue this field, not only because I’m a nerd and enjoys genetics in general, but also because I want to intervene in the crooked imbalance of medicine prioritizing middle-aged, white, cis men (the traditional makeup of focus groups when testing new medicines) to create medicine more equitably and serve a wider range of people. Chavez’s book has inspired me to create an equitable space in biology and other neighboring STEM fields, to encourage a wider variety of students to bring their own perspectives and lives into the field to change it for the better.
Kimberly and Fin
his experience of the CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle has been so enlightening and joyous for us as student tutors, and being able to talk with others who care about the future for generations after us feels amazing. We would like to thank CWCA/ACCR for extending their invitation to the SU writing center to participate. Especially Julia Lane, our editor, who has invited us to write this blog post and has given us her utmost patience and support throughout this writing process. We would also like to thank Hidy Basta, Director of the SU Writing Center, mentor, and friend to all of her staff. Most of all, we’d like to thank Felicia Rose Chavez for taking the time to join the CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle for a Q&A―and especially for being vulnerable in sharing her story and what it takes to be a change-bringer.
– Kimberly Le and Fin Schmahl-Waggoner