Amanda Brobbel, Jenna Goddard, Julia Lane, and Holly Salmon
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 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.
During a time when Zoom fatigue, email exhaustion and disconnection characterize our every day, we were able to work across institutions to set the priorities for our gathering and to function as a productive collective of writing and learning professionals.
Our virtual-enabled collaborative approach emerged as particularly helpful for making headway on our 2020 agenda item: our commitments to anti-racism policies and practices. We knew from experience that the challenges are immense and the feelings of overwhelm are real. But, we resolved not to stall out on such important work. So, we did what we encourage students to do:
Define your goal(s).
Break. It. Down.
Take the problems step by step.
Focus on the first thing you are able to get clarity on and begin to address. Then, focus on the next thing.
This approach to collaboration across institutions has the potential to bring structural change to our work. The following account of our collaborative virtual work in 2020 provides a possible road map for virtual-enabled community building between writing and learning centre professionals across institutions. And, as we bring our attention to questions of racism and antiracism, we are aware that structural changes are needed.
On June 26th, Holly Salmon sent a brief email to colleagues Amanda Brobbel, Julia Lane, and Jenna Goddard: “Do you think we should get together? And, have you checked out Frankie Condon’s Pedagogue podcast on antiracism in writing centres?”
We did want to get together, and we did want to check out that podcast. We also realized that we were all desperately seeking a space in which to have vulnerable conversations about the issues raised in Condon’s podcast: how to use the positions we have and how to leverage the leadership and collaborative relationships at our own institutions to bring forward antiracist practices.
This email sparked a flurry of collaborative planning among our impromptu committee: responsibilities were divided, agendas and schedules created, and virtual spaces readied as we planned for our Writing Centre “Directors’ Day Out” on August 14th, which then led to another event in late October.
As we planned, we focused on the support we can draw from each other, and how to emphasize that in our conversations. This focus came forward in the structure of the gatherings, as well as in the topics we raised and the activities we planned.
Knowing that some participants might potentially feel depleted as they worked to provide online services to students for fall, we tried to keep both events focused on possibilities for development, and actionable items. We modeled our actions and the sessions on the support we give to students tackling these sorts of big projects. Having defined our goal, we found the first thing we could then tackle together: listen to the wisdom of another (Frankie Condon).
The first half of the August gathering encouraged participants to share ideas around building community to keep our tutors, learners, and Centres connected; developing our tutors in the online environment; and big ideas we were excited to implement. The second half focused on debriefing the Condon podcast and discussing antiracism in the Writing Centre. Major themes of that discussion included:
- Recognizing and grappling with the overlap between racism and notions of Standard Academic English.
- Acknowledging the role of the writing centre as an “in between space” and working to create change from the source of our power. Condon articulates the tendency of writing centres to say “we think your language is perfectly fine, but we know that that professor over there won’t agree.” She calls this being “functionaries for racism.” We wanted to think about how we can get out of this bind.
- Considering how we can centre antiracism in all facets of our work in the writing centre.
We all have different experiences with racism and antiracist work, and we know that these conversations are difficult. We used Padlet, an online brainstorming tool, during this initial discussion of anti-racism to invite everyone to share their ideas and questions anonymously. This was a helpful way to “break the ice” in this necessarily challenging conversation about our own entanglement with systems of racist oppression.
At the end of the session in August, we realized that we weren’t finished and resolved to gather again.
In the fall, we were keen to follow up on the discussions we started in the summer and get more specific about centring antiracism in our Centres, as Condon suggests. As part of a strategy to bring forward the knowledge already within the group, we scheduled the first part of the day as a silent collaboration of writing and reflection under three prompts that asked participants to centre antiracism in their work, present and future:
- What’s one way you’d love to see your Writing Centre becoming antiracist?
- What’s something you’ve done to centre antiracism in your work?
- What are you planning to do but haven’t found the way into yet?
To encourage concrete next-steps, both events closed with our own commitments to move forward. The first session asked participants to record commitment statements in response to the question: “What is one thing that you can commit to doing when you leave here today?” Similarly, the second session wrapped up with a discussion of specific ideas, such as developing antiracist assignment guidelines for faculty, to build our capacity to support antiracist work on our individual campuses through collaboration among members of the BCWCA.
Developing a statement
As we all find ways to move forward in our individual Centres, the BCWCA is also solidifying as a regional affiliate of CWCA and taking action. Our first action was committing, as a group, to posting a statement of commitment to antiracism. After our August meeting, John Hill from Vancouver Island University graciously offered to work on a draft to be shared back with the rest of the group for feedback. Based on the feedback received, our impromptu organizing committee, with John’s support, got to work wordsmithing.
We often reflected to each other what a joy it was to work together on this task. We all felt passionate about the commitments we were making with the document and also all recognized the power of language and the importance of choosing the right words. Of course, there are no words that can erase the violence of racism, but we are aware that being careful and caring with our language can help us to become more conscious of the ways that language shapes our experiences and encounters and can be used to support or to challenge racism. The importance of this writing task presented us with significant challenges in wording, in determining inclusion criteria, and in being thorough and specific without becoming (too) long winded. We appreciated the opportunity to work collaboratively toward those goals together.
As a result of this work, a new draft of the BCWCA statement of commitment to antiracism was presented to our members prior to our fall meet up. The statement commits the BCWCA to working from an antiracist framework and to supporting our member institutions to do the same. This statement has been presented to our larger professional association, CWCA, at their November Board meeting. We encourage others working on similar statements to feel free to adapt the work we’ve done and to share your ideas our way.
Writing a statement is never the endpoint for the work. We now must live up to the commitments made in the statement. To that end, we look forward to further strengthening BCWCA as a regional affiliate group because we know that the task of creating antiracist writing centres cannot be accomplished alone. We invite other writing centres who are working on establishing regional affiliate groups and/or writing statements of commitment to antiracism to be in touch with us. When we pull together, we are able to move forward with more ease.
Resources used in planning and meeting
Wood, Shane A., host. “Episode 28: Frankie Condon” Pedagogue, episode 28, 2020.
Yousefi, Baharak “On the Disparity Between What We Say and What We Do in Libraries”. Feminists Among Us: Resistance and Advocacy in Library Leadership. by Lew, Shirley, and Baharak Yousefi, 2017. Print.
Inclusive and antiracist writing. Simon Fraser University Library, 2020.
Additional antiracism resources brought forward at our gatherings
Cole, Desmond. The Freedom to Learn: Confronting Anti-Black Racism with Desmond Cole. Colleges Ontario, 16 Nov. 2019, Webinar.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Dimensions Pilot Program. Government of Canada, 2019.
Inoue, Asao B. (2020) Teaching Antiracist Reading, Journal of College Reading and Learning, 50:3, 134-156.
Inoue, Asao B. Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future. The WAC Clearinghouse; Parlor Press, 2015.
Kendi, Ibram X., How to Be an Antiracist. New York: One World, 2019.
Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.
Time Traveler. Merriam-Webster, 2020.
Amanda Brobbel, Senior Manager of Writing and Language Learning Services, UBC-Okanagan
Jenna Goddard, Writing Centre Coordinator, Thompson Rivers University
Julia Lane, Writing Services Coordinator, Simon Fraser University
Holly Salmon, Learning Centre Coordinator and Instructor, Douglas College