By Mary Hanrahan ’22 and Abby Leyson ’22
On September 5th, the Writing Colleagues program held its first professional development workshop of the year with a focus on antiracist pedagogical practices. The five-hour long program involved remarks given by various members of the program, several group activities, large group discussions, and a presentation by visiting speaker Alex Hanson. The large group discussions were led by current writing colleagues, Litzy Bautista ’22 and Nuzhat Wahid ’22.
The workshop was organized by Writing Colleague program directors Professor Hannah Dickinson, Professor Amy Green, and Professor Ben Ristow, of the Writing and Rhetoric department, along with the assistance of the Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, Ingrid Keenan and Writing Colleague program intern, Ani Freedman. The program addressed the urgent need for a change in writing colleague practices to adapt to a reforming curriculum centered around antiracism.
As articulated by Writing Colleague program director, Hannah Dickinson, this workshop was an essential step in the reformation of Writing Colleague practices, redefining and reinforcing the antiracist ideals that serve as its foundation. “In many ways the Writing Colleagues program, at least when I started working with it in 2011, has always had antiracist and social justice commitments. Students that take the Writing Colleagues seminar are exposed to issues of language, justice, and conversations about the ways that standardized English can work to exclude people. Questions of power in education have always been central to our work,” said Dickinson to the Herald.
These changes to the pedagogical strategies have been in gestation for a long time, but the program desires to have these antiracist practices instilled in the Writing Colleague philosophy to serve as a more explicit foundation to the program. “It was really the demands of the Rising Panthers and the growing student activism on campus as well as committee efforts from multiple groups of faculty members such as FEMCOC, COVID on Campus, the CET, and especially the proposal for revising the first-year experience,” Dickinson told the Herald. “All of that together made me realize that antiracist and other social justice aims of the Writing Colleagues program, while they may be clear in my head, may not be explicit in the heads of Writing Colleagues and faculty in the ways that I think life in 2021 requires.”
This semester, 24 out of 28 Writing Colleagues are in Freshman Seminar (FSEM) placements, highlighting the importance of the program’s influence on the first-year experience at HWS. At the beginning of the workshop, the demands of grassroots student activist group, the Rising Panthers, were projected on a screen for the program to clarify the needs of the community within a cultural context.
Per the opening statements of the workshop, “It is out of this context that we find the exigence for this workshop: as a program we are hopeful that the larger institution will take seriously the Rising Panther’s demands and will make some progress in all areas, particularly those related to the first-year experience of which Writing Colleagues are such an integral part.”
Following the setting of intentions and ground rules, the Writing Colleagues set to work in groups to discuss values they felt were important to strengthening antiracism within the program through the lens of pedagogy. Topics of discussion included linguistic justice, resisting standardized English and its associated hegemonic linguistic ideology, and the long overdue modernization of rhetoric used to address multilingual writers.
Prompted by facilitators Litzy Bautista ’22 and Nuzhat Wahid ’22, the group addressed scenarios of how to employ antiracism in a conference setting and within the context of the revision process. There was also discussion surrounding a Writing Colleague’s responsibility to reduce harm in the conference setting for both themselves and their students. Amidst discussions with Bautista and Wahid, the notions of linguistic discrimination and its damages were a significant concern. Resistant to the colonial practices of standard English was emphasized as the theme for the day.
Alex Hanson, doctoral candidate for Composition and Cultural Rhetoric at Syracuse University, presented upon these notions. Hanson provided the Writing Colleagues with updated rhetoric, a definition of linguistic justice, and a PowerPoint outlining the oppressive nature of stigmatizing accented English, standardizing white mainstream English, and marginalization of multilingual writers.
Education, as depicted by the directors of the Writing Colleague program, can be a space for both liberation and oppression. On the aims and outcomes of this workshop, Dickinson emphasized Writing Colleague action, stating to the Herald, “One concrete outcome of the workshop and our work this year will be an action plan from the Writing Colleague program and an articulation of our antiracist values that will be collaboratively authored with the writing colleagues.” The important outcomes of the workshop will take form through resistance to oppressive forces within the education system, including ongoing efforts to employ antiracist values as a community.