The anti-racist writing center: How Felicia Rose Chavez is changing the conventions of white-centric academic writing

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.

Finola Schmahl-Waggoner

Finola Schmahl-Waggoner
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.

Kimberly Le

Kimberly Le
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 text
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.

Kimberly
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.

Fin
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

 

via Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

Creating writing centres in neocolonialism

Vol. 3 No. 4 (Fall 2021)

Brian Hotson, Editor, CWCR/RCCR
Stevie Bell, Associate Professor, York University
Guest editor: Lauren Mackenzie

In 2008, the then CWCA/ACCR president participated in “setting up of the first writing centre” in India (Holock, 2009, p. 6) through the University of Ottawa. In a piece in the 2009 CWCA/ACCR Newsletter, Writing into India: Setting up the first Writing Centre in the country, Holock describes his experience at Parvatibai Chowgule College of Arts and Science in Gogol, Goa, India in a travel diary style recounting,

On Friday, June 27, 2008, we step off of our fifteen-hour flight in Mumbai, my boss and I, and immediately feel the weight of our endeavour. It is not only the heat and thickness of the air, but the realization that we have finally arrived to start work on Monday, in a country and an educational system that neither of us have ever been exposed to. (Holock, 2009, p. 6)

Continue reading “Creating writing centres in neocolonialism”

Regional Writing Centre Associations in Canada: Spotlight on the Alberta Writing Centres Association

An image of Alberta Wild Roses

Vol. 3, No. 3 (Fall 2021)

An interview with Sarah-Jean Watt, Athabasca University Write Site Coordinator, and AWCA contact

Liv Marken, Contributing Editor, CWCR/RCCR


Liv: Could you please explain for our readers what the Alberta Writing Centres Association is and what it does? How is it different from the Campus Alberta Writing Network (CAWS)?

Sarah-Jean: The AWCA began as an informal connection between institutions that participated in eTutor Alberta, an online tutoring service modelled on BC’s WriteAway. eTutor Alberta was formed in 2014 as a consortium of institutions, each of which lent a certain number of tutor hours per week to the service. Students from these institutions could submit written assignment drafts through an online system and receive feedback from a writing tutor. Helping us to build the system was the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, which shared its code. Continue reading “Regional Writing Centre Associations in Canada: Spotlight on the Alberta Writing Centres Association”

If you could say anything to faculty about academic integrity…

Vol. 3, No. 2 (Fall 2021)

Stephanie Bell, Associate Professor, York University Writing Centre; co-founder, CWCR/RCCR

A clear-cut strategy for undermining the writing centre’s relationship with student writers is to become reporters, adjudicators, or punishers of plagiarism and cheating (Bell, 2018).

In its heavy-handed discourse around academic dishonesty, the institution draws a divide between itself and students. Students arrive on campuses to find themselves positioned as likely criminals, and their work is policed by AI that scans it for infractions. Ironically, the institution’s academic dishonesty rhetoric can so undermine the institution-student relationship that it fosters academically dishonest student behaviour (see Strayhorn, 2012). To fulfill their missions, writing centres must carefully navigate the issue of academic dishonesty and the institution-student divide it constructs. Continue reading “If you could say anything to faculty about academic integrity…”

A Short History of CWCA/ACCR: Fifteen years on

Vol. 3, No. 1 (Fall 2021)

Brian Hotson, CWCR/RCCR Editor

Introduction

Volume 1, Issue 1 Halifax Gazette, March 23, 1752

Although writing centres in Canada date to the mid-1960s (See Table 1) (Proctor, 2011, p. 418; Bromley, 2017, p. 35), writing tutoring and writing instruction, of course, didn’t begin with the first writing centres. Writing instruction has a progenitor dating to the first European colonizers in what is now called Canada (Halifax Gazette, 1752). Because the Canadian writing centre field is young, many of the key founders and figures in its development continue to add to its literature and practice. These writing centre practitioners in the past thirty years have created a significant body of work, including publications, repositories of information, modes of practice, national and regional associations and conferences, and proactive advocacy and social justice work. While there have been times in the past where shifts in writing centres in Canada have caused worries about centre funding and importance, writing centres will not disappear from  Canada’s  education field. In fact, writing centres will continue to grow in importance, as writing centres Continue reading “A Short History of CWCA/ACCR: Fifteen years on”

Centre Spotlight: The ECP Tutoring Centre

Vol. 2, No. 3 (Winter 2021)
Stephanie Bell, CWCR/RCCR Co-Editor


Editor’s Introduction

The CWCR/RCCR’s Centre Spotlight series showcases the diversity of Canadian centres of writing support across education institutions. Beginning with Kristen Welbourn’s exposé on one of Nova Scotia’s first and only high school writing centres, this series takes a snapshot of our community today and prompts us to ask questions about the historical forces that have shaped its development.

This Centre Spotlight casts light on a tutoring centre embedded within the writing-in-the-disciplines program founded by Robert Irish in 1995: the Engineering Communication Program or ECP. Interestingly, the ECP originated, in part, from a Writing Centre (see: Weiss, Irish, Chong, & Wilkinson, 2019). In this way, it may be considered a model of success in terms of the vision that Canadian leaders in writing studies had when they turned away from the American trend toward First-Year Composition.

P. Weiss, R. K. Irish, A. Chong, & L. Wilkinson, (2019), We Have Changed: Reflections on 20+ Years of Teaching Communication in Engineering. 2019 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (ProComm). pp. 286-287. doi: 10.1109/ProComm.2019.00064

Continue reading “Centre Spotlight: The ECP Tutoring Centre”

BCWCA “Director’s Day Out”: Meaningful Collaboration Online

Screenshot of collaborative Padlet.

Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter 2021)


While the pivot to a remote environment has created significant disconnection and isolation, it has also opened unexpected and creative possibilities for collaboration. Our boundaries are no longer so firmly institutional or geographical.

Previously, our British Columbia Writing Centres Association’s (BCWCA) “Director’s Day Out” events were planned and hosted by one institution, and often at what was deemed to be a more central geographical location. 2020’s virtual event was necessitated by pandemic restrictions and made possible by our increased familiarity with collaborative writing tools. Continue reading “BCWCA “Director’s Day Out”: Meaningful Collaboration Online”

Honest Discussions in Graduate Writing Cafés

Visual representation of the program described in the text.

Vol. 2, No. 4 (Fall 2020)
by Keith O’Regan

Keith O’Regan is the Graduate Writing Specialist at the York University Writing Centre. He has published on disparate fields such as Post-Graduate Writing Education, Film and Aesthetic Theory, and the Poetics of Escapism. His monograph, a comparative analysis of the poetic and theatrical work of Bertolt Brecht and William Blake will be published with Brill in the Spring of 2021.


Whether it be in the nature of the workshops offered, the limitations of a typical 60-minute appointment, or in the attention to the concrete tasks associated with short essays, current forms of writing centre support are not always best attuned to the needs of graduate student writers working on longer form projects  such as masters’ theses or doctoral dissertations.

With increasingly stretched supervisory faculty, the writing mentorship graduate students receive beyond the writing centre can be limited, slow and delayed. This mentorship is sometimes structured as top-down paternalistic programs often organized around bureaucratic or financial incentives. Continue reading “Honest Discussions in Graduate Writing Cafés”

Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 19, 2020

CWCR/RCCR editorial team
Liv Marken, Stephanie Bell, & Brian Hotson

Over the previous two posts, our colleagues spoke to the adaptation and changes they’ve made due to COVID-19. In this third instalment, writing centres from northern Manitoba, Québec, Ontario, and Alberta speak to their experiences.

If you have a story you want to tell about your experience responding to COIVD-19, please send 2-3 paragraphs to cwcr.rccr@gmail.com. Enter “COVID-19 response” in the subject line. Thanks.
Continue reading “Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 19, 2020”

Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 18, 2020

CWCR/RCCR editorial team
Liv Marken, Stephanie Bell, & Brian Hotson
Vol. 1, No. 7 (Winter 2020)

From the previous post, there are common themes and processes centres are following. What is apparent is the ability to adapt and pull together programming quickly. With so much uncertainty, we’re all planning for the best while looking at all the unknowns.

We asked twenty writing centres from coast to coast to coast to provide a short description of their centre’s response to COVID-19. We will publish these responses in parts by the day they were received, from March 17th to March 19th.

Below is a snapshot of our colleagues’ writing centres from March 18, 2020. Continue reading “Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 18, 2020”

Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 17, 2020

CWCR/RCCR editorial team
Liv Marken, Stephanie Bell, & Brian Hotson
Vol. 1, No. 6 (Winter 2020)

As Heraclitus continually reminds us, everything changes, constantly, but the tempo and severity of change from COVID-19 has overwhelmed and challenged us all in our writing centres. We wondered how other institutions around the country are coping with the fallout from COVID-19.

We asked twenty writing centres from coast to coast to coast to provide a short description of their centre’s response to COVID-19. We will publish these responses in parts by the day they were received, from March 17th to March 19th.

Below is a snapshot of our colleagues’ writing centres from March 17, 2020. Continue reading “Canadian writing centres respond to COVID-19 – March 17, 2020”

A deeper understanding of writing: A reflection on advocacy

GIF of Stephanie Bell saying cheers with her coffee mug.

Vol. 1, No. 5 (Winter 2020)
By Stephanie Bell, Co-editor, CWCR/RCCR

With guest editor,
Holly Salmon, CWCA/ACCR board member, Coordinator and Instructor, Learning Centre Instructor, English Department, Douglas College


How do you describe the role of writing centres in higher education? I find that my efforts to articulate a narrative that moves beyond descriptions of programming and pedagogy are centred on advocacy and education about the nature of writing. What is good writing? This question has high stakes for higher education, and writing specialists located in writing centres have the expertise required to shape the answer. Continue reading “A deeper understanding of writing: A reflection on advocacy”

How Ryerson is leading Canadian universities in multimodal writing support

Animated GIF that reads "creators welcome"

By Stephanie Bell & Brian Hotson
Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter 2020)

An interview with John Hannah and Tesni Ellis from Ryerson University’s Student Affairs Special Projects & Storytelling team


Despite a dramatic rise of plug-and-play applications for producing and publishing multimodal web content, their migration into higher education classrooms has been slow. Likewise, support from Canada’s writing centres has remained fixed on traditional genres of writing, such as the research paper, lab report, and literature review. While researching for our forthcoming book on the future of multimodal digital writing support for students by Canadian writing centres/programs, we’ve been unable to find many programs of tutoring multimodal writing and production in university writing centre contexts. A noteworthy outlier is the Multiliteracy Support Appointments program listed on Ryerson’s Writing Support website.

We contacted John Hannah and Tesni Ellis at Ryerson to chat about their multimedia supports. John is Director, Special Projects in Student Affairs and former director of the Writing Centre, English Language support, and Graduate Student Support. Tesni is Coordinator, Student Affairs Storytelling within Student Affairs, and a former Writing Consultant at Ryerson’s Writing Centre herself.


Stephanie: Hi John and Tesni – thanks for agreeing to talk with us. Given that there seems to be slow uptake on this front, we’re interested in how your program got started. Can you tell us that story?  Continue reading “How Ryerson is leading Canadian universities in multimodal writing support”

Resource | A Presenter Prepares: Preliminary Research, Editing, and Practice

By Dr. Joel Benabu
Vol. 1, No. 3 (Winter 2020)


Dr. Joel Benabu’s research interests include English Renaissance drama (Shakespeare’s writing practices for the stage, specifically), theory of drama and performance, and Ancient and early modern rhetorical theory. At the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (University of Toronto Mississauga), he has helped hundreds of students to hone their critical thinking and writing skills: “My writing pedagogy is less about imparting information and more about giving students the tools they need to excel in their academic writing. This can be achieved most effectively by building a diverse and robust skill set and confidence over time.”


Introduction
This in-class exercise asks students to identify and then categorize a range of actions a presenter might take at different stages in the development of an oral presentation (OP). I believe that the exercise facilitates good learning because it translates a complex, and, for many students, an opaque task into a set of practical, goal-oriented activities. Furthermore, the exercise helps to instill the notion in students that composition of any kind is a process (a distillation of sorts), over which greater control can be exercised through careful research, revision, and practice. Continue reading “Resource | A Presenter Prepares: Preliminary Research, Editing, and Practice”