The Peer Review, Volume 1, Issue 2, Fall 2017
I am acutely aware of the fact that I am “outing” myself to my academic peers simply in the writing of this publication—an intentional and important decision in establishing my writerly identity. With this fact comes the acknowledgement that as a bisexual cis-gendered white male, I can “pass” in social situations and have a great deal of privilege as compared to many other members of the LGBTQ+ community. For instance, a black lesbian woman must confront not only issues related to her sexuality, but also the coded cultural discrimination associated with her intersectional identity as a racial minority and woman. Throughout much of my life I’ve experienced several issues of microaggressions in which either my language choices or bodily gestures were made fun of for being “gay” or “feminine.” These types of microaggressions expose the heterosexism present in the dominant society, and in the case of bisexuality, often leads to “bi-erasure” and the tendency to oversimplify sexuality in terms of the homo/hetero binary. I too, like so many others, have experienced the fear and apprehensions associated with same-sex dating and relationships. Worries about how others will perceive you and of potential looming physical danger in public settings creates a constant sense of unease for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
I’ve intentionally chosen to use the acronym LGBTQ+ throughout this article, not only to acknowledge lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer self-designations, but also to concede to the limitations of language to capture the complexity of gender and sexuality beyond the confines of these labels. While LGBTQ+ individuals face commonalities in existing on the margins of a predominantly heterosexual society, their individual experiences and difficulties differ. What LGBTQ+ students do have in common is a need for emotional support and physical safety. The term “safe spaces” has been used among social justice advocates and academics to denote places where anyone can go to fully express themselves, without fear of being made uncomfortable or unsafe because their sex, gender, cultural background, or other minority statuses that face discrimination. However, many scholars, such as Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens (2013), have advocated for use of the term “brave spaces” over “safe spaces,” asserting that the term “safe space” fails to acknowledge the impossibility of removing risk from difficult encounters that may arise around controversial issues (p. 136). While much of the scholarship on these terms have been discussed in relation to composition classroom and other formal academic settings, scholars have yet to adequately address these terms within the context of writing center practice.
As Bonnie Sunstein (1998) notes, writing centers “defy spatial definition” (p. 9). Writing centers occupy liminal spaces within a larger academic setting, existing as intimate spaces within larger public buildings, such as libraries, dorms, and administrative offices. These liminal spaces engage with writing across disciplines and provide services to a wide range of individuals from different backgrounds and cultures, often making these concentrated spaces of diversity. The very fact that writing centers serve such diverse populations allow them to be excellent spaces to explore, teach, and engage with social justice issues, as well as serve as starting places to combat discriminatory rhetoric that appears both orally and in writing. However, due to the variety of writing center services and spaces, not all writing centers have a working area that can be designated as a truly “safe space.”
Conceptualizing and creating “safe spaces” or “brave spaces” for LGBTQ+ students within the writing center presents unique challenges. These students need to feel safe from negative repercussions based on their gender and sexual identity. They need to feel welcomed within the writing center, while also having a space in which to discuss and develop their writing and personal writerly identity. As an often invisible minority within the college campus setting, LGBTQ+ students have specific concerns that need to be addressed in order to ensure a productive, safe environment in which to work and learn. At the same time, writing centers must also be committed to upholding values of higher education and promoting equitable academic access for all students. Addressing LGBTQ+ concerns in the writing center serves not only these minority students, but also opens opportunities for all students to engage in critical societal discourses and build critical thinking skills.
By first examining the terms “brave spaces” and “safe spaces,” this article will expose the differing pedagogical goals behind these terms, apply the goals to the specific needs of the LGBTQ+ community, and finally discuss how we are working to meet these goals within the University of Kansas Writing Center. This article is divided into three sections: 1) Defining “Safe Spaces” and “Brave Spaces,” 2) LGBTQ+ Issues and the Writing Center, and 3) The University of Kansas Writing Center. Culminating in the discussion of The University of Kansas’s Writing Center, this article will discuss how to provide support for LGBTQ+ students through pedagogy, practice, and ongoing training of student employees and staff.
Defining “Safe Spaces” and “Brave Spaces”
The term “safe space” was originally used to indicate that an educational setting, classroom, or teacher does not tolerate harmful rhetoric and forbids harassment, violence, and other forms of discrimination—that these learning environments can foster a sense of security and safety. However, “safe space” as a metaphor has continually been re-shaped, re-evaluated, and critiqued since its use in the 1970s. As “safe space” terminology has increased in usage, it has increasingly drawn criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Safe space rhetoric has exploded into conservative arguments about safe spaces as violations against free speech, notably seen in recent news focusing on Milo Yiannopoulos, a British conservative and noted provocateur, and his incendiary comments on safe spaces. On the other side of the political spectrum, Jonathan Chait, a writer for the New York magazine and liberal activist, has taken an anti-P.C. position and heavily criticized safe space terminology. Even South Park, an adult cartoon television show, had a 2015 episode entitled “Safe Space.” Rarely does academic rhetoric draw this much attention in mass media and popular culture; perhaps in part this serves as a driving force for the push to abandon the metaphor that has taken on all manner of warped connotations.
Even from the early uses of the term “safe space,” academics have disagreed about the actual meaning of the metaphor. In an influential article entitled “‘Safe Spaces’: Reflections on an Educational Metaphor,” Robert Boostrom (1998) writes that “. . . ‘safe space’ is an emerging metaphor in classroom life, according to which (1) we are all isolated, (2) our isolation is both physical and psychic, (3) we can become less isolated by expressing our diverse individuality, and (4) students thrive in a classroom in which individuality is freely expressed” (p. 398). Boostroom’s attention to both the “physical and psychic” need for safe spaces is an important one, and stresses the view that LGBTQ+ and other minority groups need not only physical spaces in which to come together, but also need safe social spaces in which to freely express themselves. These spaces can be both “literal and metaphoric” and “the safety can be from physical or psychic harm” (Boostrom, 1997, p. 4-5). In contrast to Boostrom’s definition of safe spaces, Lynn Holley and Sue Steiner (2005) state,
The metaphor of the classroom as a “safe space” has emerged as a description of classroom climate that allows students to feel secure enough to take risks, honestly express their views, and share and explore their knowledge, attitude, and behaviors. Safety in this sense does not refer to physical safety. (p. 50)
Holley and Steiner, along with many other scholars, have acknowledged safe space rhetoric within the classroom setting as a risk-taking venture that engages with students’ contrasting views in the classroom and serves to facilitate learning. The acknowledgement of the inability to create entirely safe spaces free from physical harm within the classroom setting is certainly true in that educators cannot entirely control the ideas of their students—nor should they attempt to do so. However, this does not preclude the need for physical spaces for LGBTQ+ free from judgment, persecution, and harassment. Part of the issue with the term “safe space” is that it often exists without a real assessment of the physical spaces that the rhetoric was originally intended to denote.
In an effort to reframe the discussion of safe spaces, scholars such as Arao and Clemens (2013) have pushed for the adoption of the term “brave spaces” over “safe spaces,” asserting that safe space rhetoric creates “a conflation of safety with comfort” (p. 135). The assertion that safe spaces conflate safety with comfort is particularly problematic from the vantage point of marginalized individuals. LGBTQ+ and other minority groups rarely view or even pretend to acknowledge that these types of educational interactions are somehow “comfortable” and the types of classroom activities that Arao and Clemens discuss, while meaningful for creating dialogue about social justice issues, only work to further safe space rhetoric from its original meaning.
In Arao and Clemens’s article they discuss the “One Step Forward, One Step Backward” activity, also known as a Privilege Walk, to focus on the bravery needed when students are discussing issues of social justice in the classroom. This is an activity that I have used in my own composition classroom with varying degrees of success. In the activity, students line up in a row and the instructor reads statements regarding issues of diversity and privilege. Participants then take a step forward or backward based on their own lived experience. The activity, while certainly an oversimplification of issues of privilege and diversity, does create a visual representation for students to see how intersectional identity—combinations of gender, sexuality, race, class, and other factors—create less opportunities for individuals. However, like Arao and Clemens, I have mixed feelings about the activity. It provides an excellent learning opportunity and grounds for discussion, but the possibility of revictimizing or singling out minority students still exists—as it often does when bringing in any personal experiences related to social justice in the classroom. I often work to mitigate the discomfort by sharing information about my own background and status as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. However, the question remains—who do these types of activities serve? These types of activities are never surprising for minority students; instead, they work to expose patriarchal white heterosexism and the privilege that surrounds it. Thus, minority students are not conflating “safety with comfort” as Arao and Clemens assert; but rather, the majority becomes uncomfortable with the acknowledgement of their own privilege.
The term “brave space” then presents entirely different connotations for minority groups of students in contrast to the privileged majority. Arao and Clemens promote the term “brave space” and call for “A collectivist approach, wherein all participants have the opportunity to shape the group norms and expectations, [which] is more consistent with the overall goal of social justice education than one in which the facilitators dictate the terms of learning” (p. 143). Likewise, Alison Cook-Sather (2016) acknowledges that brave spaces are places where “painful or difficult experiences will be acknowledged and supported, not avoided or eliminated” (p. 1). I agree with the sentiment that social justice education can never be entirely devoid of risk and the need to acknowledge difficult lived experiences; however, the application of brave space terminology problematically shifts the intellectual and emotional labor of social justice education onto the shoulders of the already disenfranchised minority. Lily Zheng (2016), a Stanford University student, echoes this sentiment in The Stanford Daily stating that this type of dialogue becomes “a one-sided stream of narratives, trauma, critical theory and lived experiences going from the marginalized to the not-marginalized, a ‘brave’ space for privileged people to challenge their own preconceptions” (para. 5). In addition, we might consider how this type of intellectual, educational risk is inherent in nearly all the day-to-day interactions of the lived experiences of trans, queer, and other marginalized individuals. For the disenfranchised minority, every space must be a “brave space.” Despite its rhetorical inadequacies, the label of “brave space” does allow for a direct acknowledgement of the need for discourse on social justice issues.
The dichotomy between safe space and brave space rhetoric then exposes two very different types of spaces: 1) Safe spaces, in which the physical and emotional safety of the marginalized individual is the primary concern, allowing students to discuss, vent, and share encounters with sexist, racist, homophobic, or other types of discriminatory actions or rhetoric away from the repercussions present in the dominant society, and 2) Brave spaces, in which social justice education is the primary concern, and the acknowledgement that these higher-risk spaces cannot be separated from the institutional and cultural contexts that define them. Regardless of the misconceptions and rhetorical short-comings of both terms, they highlight essential institutional needs for supporting the well-being and academic success of minority students, as well as educating all students on social justice issues to foster an awareness of societal and cultural inequity. The title of this article, “Brave/r Spaces Vs. Safe Spaces for LGBTQ+ in the Writing Center,” intentionally reflects the artificial binary present between these two terms in the scholarship, when in fact, writing centers need to provide both brave and safe spaces to support minority students, as well as engage with social justice issues in writing at a larger global level.
LGBTQ+ Issues and the Writing Center
While writing center scholarship has focused on many critical discussions of social justice and pedagogical issues concerning class, multiculturalism, and disability, little scholarship has directly addressed issues of sexual identity in the writing center. Although scholarship has explored gendered interactions between men and women in the writing center, these discussions often contain an unconscious heteronormative bias that excludes trans individuals and others of who may not fit into the stringent male/female binary. Andrew Sihn and Jay Sloan state, “We believe this silence on LGBTQIA issues has plagued writing center scholarship for far too long, resulting in the marginalization of LGBTQIA communities through omission, exclusion, and invalidation.” LGBTQ+ issues must be discussed in the social justice discourse of the writing center, and with this call for inclusivity in scholarship comes the acknowledgement that the LGBTQ+ community faces unique challenges distinctly different from those of race or other matters of identity. Forming brave and safe spaces means recognizing the concerns specific to the LGBTQ+ community. In this section, I wish to draw attention to three specific LGBTQ+ issues in relation to the writing center: 1) Understanding that one’s writerly and sexual identities are intertwined, 2) Combating heterosexism and homophobia, and 3) Avoiding issues of misidentification.
In late high school and early college, as young adults often move away from home for the first time, their personal identites begin to be further refined, explored, and articulated. For LGBTQ+ students who are working to articulate and understand their sexual identity, this can often be a confusing and anxiety-inducing experience (Lopez & Chism, 1993, p. 98). At the same time as this personal/sexual identity development, many students who enter college are working to insert themselves into the discourse of academic writing. As Harry Denny (2010b) discusses in his article “Queering the Writing Center,” “As students learn to construct essays with an attention to audience that forces them away from safe confines of the personal and local, their ways of knowing confront a complex interplay of the dominant, the oppositional, the subversive, and the self. On top of those negotiations, students must also examine the lenses through which they are viewed” (p. 103). The act of writing is an intensively personal experience, and as a cultural product, it is often viewed (albeit, problematically) as a sense of self-worth. Expressing their individuality and developing their own voice can be particularily difficult for LGBTQ+ students who are entering a written discourse of what Jonathan Doucette (2015) calls “compulsory heterosexuality” (p. 346). This raises several questions for LGBTQ+ individuals—When should I disclose my sexual identity or gender in writing? How will my audience perceive my writing based on my sexual identity or gender? What does it mean to be an LGBTQ+ writer?
To further understand how writing and sexual identity is intertwined, we might consider the body as “a text at risk of being misread, misconstrued, or misinterpreted by its readers” (Rihn, 2014, para. 11). As social and cultural construction, we constantly perform our gender. Gender theorist and scholar Judith Butler (2004) writes,
Gender is not passively scripted on the body, and neither is it determined by nature, language, the symbolic, or an overwhelming history of the patriarchy. Gender is what is put on, invariably, under constraint, daily and incessantly, with anxiety and pleasure, if this continuous act is mistaken for a natural or linguistic given, power is relinquished to expand the cultural field bodily through subversive performances of various kinds. (p. 910)
Our bodies exhibit social cues based on gender and sexuality that influence how we communicate and interact with others. For LGBTQ+, both the physical and metaphorical body serves as a complex space that works to subvert traditional heterosexual norms. These liminal bodies, existing both within and outside of the dominant culture, both explicitly and implicitly, shape their identity and the interactions within the environment in which they reside.
To maintain a sense of safety, LGBTQ+ individuals must constantly negotiate how they choose to perform their gender identity within differing social and cultural contexts. While lesbians or gay men may be able to “pass” within a predominately heterosexual environment or institutional setting, others who subvert gender norms, such as many transgender individuals, may not have the option.
Regardless of visibility, LGBTQ+ students should have the right to choose when, where, and if they want to disclose or discuss their gender or sexual identity. Since campus climate can often feel hostile or threatening to their physical well-being, students should not be forced to disclose such information. Typically, students will only discuss these issues of personal and sexual identity under conditions in which they feel safe and comfortable (Lopez & Chism, 1993, p. 102). In the writing center, this means creating a safe, comfortable space in which students can feel free to discuss issues related to their personal identity and writing. However, this also means that a consultant should never ask a student about their gender or sexual identity, unless the student first prompts the consultant to do so. Unintentionally “outing” a student creates an awkward situation between the consultant and student resulting in unease or anxiety, and it can shut down or interrupt productive discourse about writing. LGBTQ+ consultants, on the other hand, often must negotiate these tricky personal and professional boundaries. While disclosing their identity to some students may be alienating, to others it may serve as a productive tool for building rapport and discussing the use of personal identity in writing.
As stated by Gill Valentine and Tracey Skelton (2003), the process of “coming out” to family and friends is often an emotional one and results in a “period of confusion,” while being unable to come out due to social pressures can result in “low self-esteem, loss of confidence, delayed emotional development, depression, and self-hatred” (p. 850, 852). As writing consultants and administrators, we must acknowledge the social pressures placed on our LGBTQ+ students and must recognize the role that emotional strain may play on the academic achievement of these students. Building rapport is often a staple part of the openings of writing center consultations, and the possibility exists that a student may wish to share some of the issues that may be infringing on the progress of their paper. Should these instances arise, consultants must be equipped not only to discuss these issues in a respectable, appropriate way with the student, but they should also have the ability to refer these students to counseling and other services if needed.
Besides providing emotional support, writing centers can (and should) function as subversive spaces, spaces in opposition to the homophobia and heterosexism of the dominant culture. Questioning heterosexism benefits not only the LGBTQ+ community, but also reinforces critical thinking skills and opens teaching moments in which the consultant and student can engage in active learning. Denny (2010a) states,
By making conferences potential spaces to challenge what’s natural or not, conventional or not, received wisdom or not, out pedagogy makes possible and internalizes widely transferable critical thinking and active learning, both of which lead to stronger, more engaged staff and students, vibrant intellectual communities, and better citizenship, whether on campus or beyond. (p. 110)
The ability to question pre-conceived notions and assumptions rests at the heart of social justice education. In this context, consultants enact a sense of “bravery” in addressing controversial issues with writers. At times, consultants may come across offensive rhetoric in writing, such as referencing “the gays” in a paper or using derogatory slang such as “tranny.” In addition, gender and sexuality analysis papers are common topics for freshman and sophomore composition and other humanities courses, and students may make offensive or unenlightened arguments about the LGBTQ+ community. It is important to note that most of instances of discrimination in writing happen out of ignorance or a lack of rhetorical skill, rather than a malicious act. Often, the student does not even realize they are using offensive language or making a problematic argument. In these instances, consultants should address these issues and use the opportunity as a teaching moment. Re-positioning the discussion in terms of audience is a useful strategy: How might someone who is gay view this argument? Is this language creating a professional tone?
While most instances of homophobia or heterosexism in the writing center appear in writing and are often unintentional, a deep-rooted hatred for the LGBTQ+ community and blatant homophobia certainly exists. In the rare case that a student is hostile to an LGBTQ consultant, for instance, decisive action must take place and administrators should be notified. If a tutor is for any reason uncomfortable with a controversial consultation, co-consulting or other strategies may be viable options as well.
The final issue that I wish to draw attention to regarding LGBTQ+ concerns in the writing center is working to avoid misidentification. This is a major concern for both transgender students and tutors, and instances in which incorrect pronouns are used or assumptions are made about a student’s gender can lead to alienating and uncomfortable situations. Neil Simpkins (2013), a transgender graduate writing center instructor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reflects on his experiences:
As a transgender tutor, I am frequently misgendered in sessions, and given my role in the session and the limited amount of time I have, I usually don’t take the time to correct my students about my gender. Occasionally, students ask me questions about transgender identity in the session that are not relevant to the task we are working on; in one session recently, a student asked me if Neil was a gender neutral name and what my “real gender” was at the end of our time together.
Neil’s experiences as a transgender student here draw attention to the fact that tutors do not always have the time to address issues beyond the confines of the paper, and such discussions can detract from the productivity of the session. However, these instances might also serve as a learning opportunity for the student. Ultimately, addressing such issues is at the discretion of the tutor. In the next section, I will discuss the University of Kansas Writing Center and provide some strategies that we have used, both at the tutor and administrative level, to address some of these concerns.
The University of Kansas Writing Center
As we have seen, writing centers can serve as subversive spaces within the larger context of campus communities and the culture at large. Perhaps now, more than ever, the need for constructing both brave/r spaces and safe spaces is vitally important. The national political climate and Trump presidency have empowered hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community and hate crimes against transgender people have spiked. The University of Kansas (KU) is far from immune to the national and political climate. Traditionally, Lawrence and KU have existed as progressive and liberal space amidst a primarily red state; however, waves of conservative resistance and ideology have recently provided greater pushback. On October 13, 2016 a chapter of the conservative student organization Young Americans for Freedom, a group who openly works to end the practice of “intellectual safe spaces,” was founded on KU campus. On the other side, tensions on campus have led to the creation of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group, who aim to “discover and inform our campus community of patterns of discrimination, including lack of respect, inclusion, and equity in our educational and research environments and social communities” (Hoyt, 2016). Additionally, faculty, staff, and students brace themselves as the state exemption for the University of Kansas regarding conceal-and-carry policies has expired, allowing guns on campus later this year. Political activism and protests have become a daily occurrence in an increasingly turbulent campus environment.
However, amidst the current turbulent national and campus climate, the KU Writing Center has positioned itself as a subversive space that works to combat homophobia, sexism, racism and other issues of discrimination. The KU Writing Center has embedded this mentality within its larger Diversity Statement, in which we “work with others to pursue justice and remedy current and historical inequities in higher education” (KU Writing). Due to the extensive outreach of our services and multiple “Writer’s Roosts” on campus, some spaces constitute “safer spaces” better than others. In our main location on the 4th floor of Anschutz Library for instance, we occupy a space with multiple tables and chairs in which to work with the roost open to the foot traffic of students passing nearby in the library. In this sense, the physical space cannot entirely constitute a safe space in that it is not always free from the eyes and ears of others in that space. However, our writing center offices are located only a few feet away and can provide a more isolated environment in which to address personal concerns or a student in need of a “safe space” can meet with a tutor or administrator.
In practice, part of how the KU Writing Center fulfills its Diversity Statement is by actively educating our consultants on social justice issues within the context of writing center pedagogy. Part of my job as the Administrative Intern at the KU Writing Center has been to help facilitate, design, and lead training and what we call “consultant development groups.” These consultant development groups are small groups of consultants (typically consisting of 4-5 people) that meet bi-weekly to discuss the on-goings of the writing center. In addition, we often have readings or activities assigned to complete before the meeting on a given topic. For instance, in the Fall 2016 semester we focused on issues of disability in the writing center and looked at strategies for how we might provide better accommodations for students with cognitive and/or physical disabilities. These types of consultant development trainings helped to open critical dialogues about social justice, discuss writing center theory, and allow our consultants to share stories and concerns they experience in the writing center. In an interview with one of our LGBTQ+ consultants, she told me, “Short of the physical space, I really do feel the writing center is a safe space because of the training we’ve had and who we are as Jayhawks.” Consultant development groups and other forms of training are useful tools in creating the sense of community and inclusivity our writing center wants to embody, and better trained consultants allow us to help foster the sensitivity and diversity awareness we wish to instill in our students.
Beyond training, the KU Writing Center is also actively working to reduce instances of misidentification by making use of gender-neutral pronouns. The KU Writing Center uses the WCONLINE appointment system. When students first create a profile on the system, we have them select their preferred pronoun usage. During the Fall 2016 semester, we had 13 clients that identified with they/them/theirs, 2 clients who preferred ze/zir/zirs, and 11 clients who marked “other” and provided us with their own pronoun usage. In addition, all consultants have a placard on their table during their shift which lists both the consultants name and major, as well as the consultants’ preferred pronoun usage. One consultant noted an instance where she found the pronoun system useful: “I noticed that the student preferred third person pronouns. I felt like I was better prepared to help the student and understand where they were coming from.” Giving pronoun options and displaying them for consultants might seem like a small gesture; however, avoiding issues of misidentification is important for non-binary individuals, and it helps create a safer, more welcoming environment for our LGBTQ+ students.
Another way in which we provide support for our LGBTQ+ and other minority students is through active recruitment. The Associate Director of the KU Writing Center, Brianna Hyslop, stated that “A key need of minority students is the whole idea of representation and inclusion. They need to know that the writing center is a space where they are welcomed. Part of the way we do this is through writing center administrators’ active efforts to recruit minority students and create a population representative of the student body.” These recruitment efforts work to create a diverse space of consultants, which means having tutors that are diverse in terms of race, class, disability, gender, sexuality, language, and even major. While it is much harder to recruit LGBTQ+ students as an often “invisible minority,” there are options and ways to reach out to these students, such as through collaboration with LGBTQ+ student organizations and services. For the KU campus, this means becoming better connected with such resources as the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department, The Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity, Spectrum KU, and other groups on campus who can connect with LGBTQ+ students.
This focus on the active recruitment of minority students in our hiring practices has positively influenced the feeling of inclusivity and sensitivity among our consultants. We have diversified both our staff and clients, as well as improved our accessibility to all students. In our End of Semester (EOS) surveys that we give to our tutors, they frequently draw attention to the diversity of our writing center, stating that “we are far more diverse than the campus as a whole” and “I honestly think that the staff we have is quite diverse, I feel like none of us come from exactly the same background or share the same life experiences. I also have personally tried my hardest to make sure every single client feel welcomed and supported, and I have observed the same drive and sensitivity in all my coworkers as well.” In addition to the positive feedback from our consultants, they have also become even more active in the shaping of writing center policy and reform. Their EOS responses indicate a desire for more opportunities for training, such as Safe Zone training, and a further collaboration with other student resources, such as the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Academic Achievement and Access Center (AAAC). Utilizing other campus resources in our mission, as well as encouraging further adoption of a queer administrative practice among other campus entities is still needed, but we can start by serving as a positive example to the rest of the campus community.
Consultant education, implementing gender-neutral pronouns in our data, and the active recruitment of minority consultants have all positively contributed to shaping the spaces at the KU Writing Center. In our 2016-2017 Safety Survey, a survey designed to assess the climate of our writing center regarding safety concerns and training, we asked the question “Overall, how safe do you feel at KU Writing Center locations,” in which 92.86% of our 28 consultants indicated feeling “Very Safe” or “Safe.” This is highly significant when comparing this number to the 67.86% of consultants who indicated “Very Safe” or “Safe” in response to the question “Overall, how safe do you feel on campus?” These percentages exhibit that our data shows a greater feeling of safety among our consultants at our writing center as compared to the campus as a whole. While this survey is limited in scope and only provides data from our staff, we hope this preliminary data is indicative of a larger trend in our mission to improve safe and brave spaces at our writing center locations.
However, these are only preliminary steps in making sure that the writing center adequately accommodates and supports LGBTQ+ students. Social justice education, consultant training, and administrative assessment of writing center practices must be continuous. While much of this article has been largely anecdotal in nature and has served as a cursory overview of concerns specific to the LGBTQ+ community, empirical research is also needed in writing center scholarship, so that we can accurately assess how to better serve these students. We must acknowledge that minority students need multiple types of support in the spaces they occupy, and while purely safe spaces may never be realistic, striving for the construction of safe spaces is a necessity. Likewise, writing centers should also strive for brave spaces in which to open up a larger dialogue about social justice issues; however, we must consider who is doing the labor of social justice education within these spaces. Regardless of the terminology, minority students need social justice advocates and allies among the more privileged majority, and they also need spaces in which to express their concerns and have emotional and intellectual support. Only through first acknowledging the current lack of support for these students and the gap in writing center scholarship, can we work to provide more equitable support within the communal spaces we occupy.
About the Author
Jacob Herrmann is a doctoral student in English Literature and a student administrator at the University of Kansas Writing Center. During his time at the writing center, he has served in a variety of roles, including working as a graduate consultant, administrative intern, and most recently, the workshop programs coordinator. His interests in writing center scholarship include issues of social justice, spatial theory, and program assessment.
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