Shifting the Center: Towards an Ethos and Practice of Social Justice

Celeste Del Russo, Rowan University
Sharada Krishnamurthy, Rowan University
Donna Mehalchick-Opal, Rowan University


In order to disrupt standard writing center norms and shift to an inclusive and socially just space, writing centers need to re-envision their culture and tutoring practices. In 2016, we embarked on a transformative journey through a multilevel effort to shift the ethos of the writing center to be more inclusive and supportive of diversity in all forms. Informed by theories of translingualism, multiliteracies, and social justice, this article narrates our journey in developing hiring, training, and outreach initiatives to transform the writing center. In addition, we reflect on our successes and challenges and offer our future directions to serve as an example for centers wishing to create more racially and linguistically just multiliteracy centers.

Keywords: social justice, translingualism, multiliteracy, community of practice

Shifting the Center: Towards an Ethos and Practice of Social Justice

In 2016, our writing center received a seed grant to develop a multiliteracy resource center within our writing center space. Founded on principles of translingualism and social justice work, our center would take a rhetorical approach to composing and learning that recognizes and supports the inherent value of meaning-making across modes, genres, languages, and other literacy practices. We embarked on a multilevel effort to change the ethos of the writing center to be more inclusive and supportive of diversity in all its forms and align with our newly developed mission “All Bodies, All Texts, and All Voices”. We wanted to develop a multiliteracy center that would meet the needs and sustainability of our rising R2 university identity with an increasing enrollment of first-generation college students, international students, students of color, and neurodiverse students while providing the support infrastructure to ensure their success. Procuring the seed grant allowed our center to begin envisioning how we might meet a variety of current and emerging needs for our campus community by building on the changing campus climate and our commitment to social justice. In this article, we narrate our journey to a multiliteracy center committed to social justice and multiliteracy pedagogies, starting with our motivation to transform the writing center, description of the various aspects of the transition, our challenges in changing attitudes and practices, and our plans for the future based on our experiences.

Author roles and positionalities

While all three authors have experience with writing center work, as individuals, we came to this project at different stages and in different roles. Celeste, the writing center director, has been documenting the writing center’s shift towards an ethos of social justice ever since she and a colleague, Rachael, received the seed grant to support the development of a multiliteracy center. As the former director of the writing center, Sharada, has helped to provide perspective on the center’s long-standing status as writing resource for all students. Sharada is writing her doctoral dissertation on writing tutors’ understanding and enactment of translingual practices. Donna, a former ESL instructor, joined our staff as a tutor coordinator and multilingual coordinator, collaborating with tutors in a community of practice model and guiding them towards a more socially just center. Although playing very disparate roles in the writing center, all three of us are united in our commitment to helping shift the writing center to a more inclusive and equitable space that supports a diversity of language practices and learning abilities.

Impetus for change

Our goal of changing our writing center practice was driven by a number of factors, such as the shift in campus climate, expectations of writing centers, the extant literature in the field urging a transformation towards more inclusive and equitable writing center practices, and our commitment to social justice.

Campus climate

From 2008-2018, enrollment at our university increased drastically by 83% with a 190% increase in its enrollment of underrepresented students, with 30% of our current enrollment representing under-represented groups, and 65% of undergraduates receiving some sort of financial aid (Rowan University, 2018). Additionally, the campus climate seemed well-positioned to tackle social justice work, introducing the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution (SJICR). SJICR is committed to providing mentorship opportunities for minoritized students, facilitating anti-racist and diversity inclusion workshops, and prioritizing research in support for students of color, LGBTQ+ students, first generation students, and students with disabilities.

These campus initiatives aligned with Celeste’s commitment to shifting the writing center space to one focused on social justice and equitable language practices. Given our institution’s evolving research mission, expanding student body, and goals for greater internationalization, our writing center had much to offer by transitioning to a multiliteracy center—that is, a center that integrates digital media and other modes of communication (Sheridan & Inman, 2010; Praxis, 2012) and is conceived from the outset from principles derived from translingual and social justice scholarship (Canagarajah 2013; Horner, 2015). Our center would serve diverse students for whom a multiliteracy center rooted in translingual and transmodal values would best harness and support their literate agency.

Expectations of writing centers

To understand the ethos shift that we underwent in our center, an examination of the broader writing center expectations is needed. Many faculty and even students on campus have viewed the writing center as a place that could fix “bad” writers with “significant issues” in language use, those “ill-prepared for the demands of academic writing,” or students with learning disabilities. This perception is a common concern for writing center directors. All three of us, in our roles as writing center directors and tutors, recalled having to explain to discontented professors who had sent students with writing assignments to be “fixed” that the writing center was not in the job of “fixing” bad writing. This pattern certainly reflects the scholarship that addresses the struggle of writing centers trying to shake off their identity as a “remedial” space to fix poor writers and writing (Carino,1985; Grimm, 2; North, 1984; Salem, 2016). While we were certain that making these students’ papers readable for their professors was NOT our purpose as a writing center, students using the center and our tutors were continually pressured by this expectation.

This damaging expectation of the writing center exposed some conflict over how our tutors viewed their roles. Do we work with students to foster their own voices and identities in their writing, or do we help them get the “A” from their professor? Are we tutoring to develop confident writers, or are we tutoring to please a professor? Unfortunately, this conflict often shaped how our tutors responded to “challenging” student writers, often mimicking the deficit language of faculty and students in addressing their concerns or complaints. This need to meet faculty demands of “fixed” papers, and student expectations of good grades is also rooted in the belief that standardized English practices are the norm and inherently superior, and that they need to be followed (Olsen, 2013; Greenfield & Rowan, 2011). To move to a more social justice-oriented and equitable writing center would involve shifting the ethos by way of shifting tutors’ perspectives.

In order to make that shift, we collaborated to develop a multiliteracy center with the goal of providing resources for writers across ability, language differences, and diverse writing experiences. In the next section, we describe the scholarship that informed our journey shifting to a multiliteracy center based on translingual and social justice principles.

Translingual practices and social justice principles

In order to challenge monolingual and racist practices in U.S. higher education, scholars propose translingualism as a theory and practice to combat this monolingual ideology (Canagarajah, 2013a: Horner et al., 2011). In addition, scholarship on multiliteracy and community of practice models helped guide our transformation to a writing center committed to multiliteracy and social justice. In the section below we present the theories and models that guided us on our journey.

Translingualism and transmodality

Translingualism recognizes and affirms the advantages of language diversity, noting that all language users draw from a variety of linguistic resources (Canagarajah 2013a; Horner et al, 2011). Horner et al. (2011)’s concept of a translingual approach is one that confronts English “monolinguistic expectations” through research and teaching, and acknowledges that English language users are a global, diverse, heterogeneous group who can adapt/mold/use language to suit their needs. Translingual writing allows for fluidity and agency in writing and is inclusive of diverse types, modes, and languages unavailable in more monolingual or bilingual views of writing and language (Canagarajah, 2013b; Lu & Horner, 2013).

Translingual writing is also inclusive of multiple semiotic resources such as color, images, and symbols, and constructed in time and space by writers and readers shaping the meaning. Adopting translingual approaches for tutoring would help us shift to a multiliteracy center capable of supporting multi-linguistic and multi-modal ways of writing. Transmodality, similarly, recognizes that monomodal composing is rare, rather than the standard or norm (Horner, et al., 2015; College English, 2016). When we expand tutoring and writing opportunities to recognize and make use of the full spectrum of meaning-making resources, across languages and modalities, we are better prepared to support our diverse student populations.

Multiliteracy and social justice

We understood that multiliteracy centers can take many different forms dependent on the local contexts (Praxis, 2012; Sheridan & Inman, 2010) and that students using the center would learn and compose in a multitude of ways. We wanted to account for this range by making space for minoritized students in our mission and practice. We thus draw from scholars in disability studies and neurodiversity, where access to multiliteracies is, in fact, a social justice issue (Dunn, 2002; Hamel, 2002; Hitt, 2011, Naydan, 2013). Additionally, we understood multiliteracy as attentiveness to linguistic diversity in all its forms. The New London Group (1996) define a multiliteracy pedagogy as one that “accounts for the context of our culturally and linguistically diverse and increasingly globalized societies, for the multifarious cultures that interrelate and the plurality of texts that circulate” (p. 61). Since the New London Group, multiliteracy scholarship has been put into action, with scholars reinventing writing centers to account for the complex literacy work of contemporary higher education (Praxis, 2012; Sheridan & Inman, 2010; Balester, Valerie,, 2008) and expanding the notion of “text” to include not only traditional academic papers but multimodal projects that integrate writing, speaking, digital media and other modes of communication such as slide presentations, posters, videos, social media, public speaking, and more (Sheridan & Inman, 2010; Trimbur, 2010).

Community of practice

Our commitment to supporting a diverse student population was also informed by the community of practice model. This model has been described as a potential catalyst for mobilizing institutional change and for shifting writing centers towards social justice work (Geller, et al., 2007; Grimm, 2011). Grimm (2011) reflects on the influence of Wenger’s theory of a community of practice model in application to writing center spaces, “(i)f a community of practice wants to encourage learning, it must focus on ways to increase opportunities for participation, and in doing so, it must change itself” (p. 96). This model relies on multiple voices to contribute to a common goal or vision—it is dependent on an equally distributed level of investment in a space in contributing to the common core values and mission.

In braiding translingualism and multiliteracy using a community of practice framework, our writing center hoped to expand tutoring and writing opportunities to recognize and make use of the full spectrum of linguistic and semiotic resources so we are better prepared to meet the communicative goals and challenges of our students.

Our journey of transformation: Developing a writing center ethos committed to social justice

Shifting to this mode of diversity and disruption of standard writing center norms requires active preparation and support of tutors for such transformative work. Inspired by the voices of scholars in multiliteracy whose centers had undergone similar revisions to “evolve [their] identities” (Balester, et al., p. 218), we focused our first year on staffing, hiring, and tutor training in alignment with our new mission, All Bodies, All Texts, and All Voices. A social model of learning, this community of practice model for writing center work realizes and values multiple positionalities and knowledges in the development and implementation of writing center work. In this section, we describe our approach, informed by translingual principles and the community of practice model, to staffing and hiring, tutor training, and professional development, such as reading groups.


In our first year of receiving the grant, we hired two new multilingual tutor coordinators and one multimodal coordinator. Underlying the decision was our belief that a translingual approach to tutoring writing was necessary to create a multiliteracy center because translingualism recognizes all language practices as valid forms of communication and meaning-making and would help tutors support writers from all backgrounds and levels. Canagarajah (2013) uses the term “translingual” to describe a writing practice and an approach to writing that “moves us beyond a consideration of individual or monolithic languages to life between and across languages” (p. 1). Drawing from these translingual principles and practices, our multilingual coordinators, Donna and Leticia, served as point persons for tutors needing support and mentoring, sharing strategies for tutoring multilingual students, and expanding our programming for international students, multilingual students in first-year writing, and graduate students. They offered both social and language support for these student groups (such as English conversation workshops and game nights), and supported tutors and student writers to create long-term goals for their writing and communication. They also developed our All Voices tutoring writing modules, including sessions such as, “What Tutors can Learn from Multilingual Writers” and “English Language Learners in the Writing Center.” Both Donna and Leticia provided the vision of language diversity as an asset in order to move our center away from deficit-based models of languages. For a fuller description of these workshops see the section on Training.

Additionally, in the first year, we hired a multimodal tutor coordinator, Mikaela, who acted as a resource in the area of multimodal writing, learning, tutoring, and communication development. The multimodal tutor coordinator role was informed by ideas of multiliteracy as rhetorical, adaptable, and accessible and helped tutors develop an understanding of the composing process and the rhetorical adaptability of communication in a range of modes and media (Hitt, 2012; Naydan, 2013; Sheridan & Inman, 2010). The multimodal coordinator worked with Celeste to develop our module of All Texts, designing and implementing tutor training sessions such as: “Tutoring Multimodal Projects: Strategies for Invention,” “Multimodality and the Tutor’s Role,” and “Tutors as Rhetoricians: Providing Feedback Using Visual Spatial Awareness.” These workshops built upon tutors’ knowledge base around rhetorical aspects of text, such as audience, purpose, and context, to introduce new concepts related to design, including the integration of alternative modes such as sound, color, and images. (For a full description of multimodal training sessions, see section on Training below and also Del Russo and Shapiro, 2019).


Our approach to hiring was influenced by our goal of diversifying our staff across identities and positionalities to ensure a representation of our diverse student body. Hiring tutors from diverse backgrounds played an important role in shaping our writing center mission, values, and transformation as we sought to draw from the experiences and existing knowledge of our tutors in shaping the future of the center. In the first year of receiving the grant, we cultivated relationships with campus partners that would eventually lead to student interest in working in the center. For example, we made an active effort to work with our campus partners—the SJICR, who support minoritized students; the Academic Success Center, who support neurodiverse students; the International Center for international students; and the ASCEND program for first-generation college students—to recruit new tutor hires. We incorporated our call for new tutors into our campus outreach with these groups. We also relied on our tutors to recruit new candidates, and vetted the candidates’ interest in tutoring, by having them participate in tutoring appointments and in our tutor meet and greet as part of the application process. We also began conversations that would expand our own understanding about what makes a “strong” writing tutor besides the requirement of being an excellent writer and considered other characteristics such as adaptability, critical thinking, openness to learning from others, and empathy. As a result, we had a wider range of applicants to draw from, including multilingual tutors, neurodiverse tutors, tutors of color, and LGBTQ+ tutors, to better represent our writing center’s student writers. Once part of our staff, we called upon tutors to engage these identities and experiences to inform their tutoring, professional development, and engagement in the center. In promoting identities of participation, Grimm (2011) writes that, “learners develop identities of belonging to communities of practice to the extent that they can participate in that community’s authentic practices, imagine a trajectory for themselves within that community, and align their efforts with the work of the community” (p. 95). It was important that our staff be invested in the center’s transformation, thus our goals for hiring were to provide the foundation for this type of community of practice among our tutors. Diversifying our staff also allowed for otherwise underrepresented voices to emerge in the co-creation of our center’s statements on language diversity and social justice.


Our two-day orientation began our year of professional development. By way of community-building, we took time addressing tutors’ past experiences with writing, and how this might inform their assumptions about our student writers and their own tutoring practices. As part of this conversation, the importance of valuing writers’ identities, backgrounds, and experiences with literacy emerged.

We also provided a strong framework of social justice from the start, drawing from our foundational goals of All Bodies, All Texts, All Voices. Collaborating with the SJICR and translingual scholars on campus, our core workshops for orientation included topics such as, “What is the meaning of Social Justice,” “Introduction to Translingualism,” and “Tutoring Across Modes.” Experienced tutors facilitated workshops in the opening training, setting the tone for the collaborative work environment, while guest speakers allowed tutors to see the bigger picture of the university’s landscape, providing important context for their work with student writers.

These foundational training modules around All Bodies, All Texts, All Voices provided the framework for our cultural shift towards social justice in the center. After our orientation, our professional development continued weekly. We focused our first year building on these three themes, All Bodies, All Texts, All Voices, to align with our vision for the new multiliteracy center founded on principles of social justice, inclusivity and diversity, and multimodality. Our training under All Bodies included modules delivered in collaboration with our campus’s SJICR. Sessions on “The Meaning of Social Justice,” “Facilitating Difficult Dialogues,” and “Multicultural Competency in the Classroom” introduced tutors to concepts such as privilege, institutional racism, cultural humility, socio-economic factors as barriers to higher education, and how writing is impacted by identity. They participated in workshops examining their own privilege in relation to literacy and learning experiences and addressed their roles in navigating topics of gender and race as they emerged in tutoring sessions. More experienced tutors helped to facilitate these sessions with our experts on campus and created working groups to develop diversity and socially just vision statements. These modules ultimately provided space for tutors to explore concepts of social justice in relation to their tutoring.

We also developed sessions alongside our campus partners in the Academic Success Center and the Disability Resource Center, with topics such as “Tutoring across Physical and Learning Differences,” “Valuing Learning Differences and Tutoring Students Across Ability,” and “Creating a Welcoming Space: A Lesson in Universal Design.” These workshops introduced tutors to terms such as neurodiversity, universal design, and asset-based approaches to working with students from a range of learning differences.

Our training around All Voices included workshops from translingual scholars Sharada and Rachael and our multilingual coordinators Donna and Leticia. These workshops included topics such as “What Tutors can Learn from Multilingual Writers” and “English Language Learners in the Writing Center” led by Donna and focused on building upon tutors’ skills for working with multilingual writers while working to shatter notions that writing and tutoring writing was rigid and employed a deficit model. As tutors warmed up to the idea that mandated read alouds and grammar correction were not the bedrocks of writing center practice, they opened up to other possibilities. This included activities designed to further challenge their concepts of how we think about languaging such as Lippi-Green’s Language Concept Map activity and Green’s (2016) discourse communities activity. “All Languages: Building a Language Diversity Statement” with Celeste and Rachael introduced tutors to principles of translingualism and named the damaging assumptions of monolingualism, calling for action for tutors to consider the writing center’s position in valuing language difference as an asset. Sharada’s workshop “Translanguaging and Translingual Literacies” gave the tutors an opportunity to engage in discussions of codeswitching and translanguaging, and understand how enacting translingual literacies in the writing process connects to the writing center’s commitment to inclusive and anti-racist practices.

Our training around multimodality or All Texts included workshops developed alongside our multimodal tutor coordinator such as “Tutoring Multimodal Projects: Strategies for Invention,” “Multimodality and the Tutor’s Role,” and “Tutors as Rhetoricians: Providing Feedback Using Visual Spatial Awareness.” Beyond introducing design concepts, the workshops also engaged tutors in the invention of multimodal texts, first by using found material objects to create and brainstorm ideas for posters, promotional materials, and other visual resources for their tutoring and then by experimenting with technological software such as Canva or Photoshop. These sessions demonstrated the ways in which multimodality is accessible, and provided space for tutors to experiment with new tools that our students also use to develop projects in their own courses, such as infographics, blogs, websites, posters, etc. Ultimately, the goal was to engage tutors in the creation of multimodal texts to then define strategies for tutoring students with multimodal projects, which was accomplished by relating tutors to their previous knowledge base for tutoring as a rhetorical practice and their experience and creating multimodal texts.

Our weekly tutor training sessions combined brainstorming, discussion, small-group work, and hands-on activities that engaged tutors in the syllabus topics. Scenario building also provided tutors to develop and practice strategies for participating in discussion respectfully and with their own identities in mind. Sessions were co-led by Celeste, the assistant director, and experienced peer tutors as part of their own continued professional development. As our experienced tutors began to carve out areas of special interest, their role in facilitating these weekly sessions became increasingly more visible.

These tutor training sessions helped our tutors actively participate in challenging linguistic norms and underlying racial and ableist bias in the field of writing and tutoring writing. Greenfield and Rowan (2011) start with two assumptions—firstly, that writing centers are always raced regardless of whether one chooses to acknowledge it or engage with it, and secondly, that when we question tutor education, we are challenging the fundamental assumptions of the writing center field. Other scholars in the writing center field have pointed out the inherent bias and discrimination in tutoring approaches that are based on monolingual standards of Standard Written English or that focus on student errors with no understanding of students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds (Barron & Grimm, 2015; Blazer, 2015; Grimm, 2008; Suhr-Systema & Brown, 2011). Tutoring sessions in our new multiliteracy center would focus on the value of different approaches to writing and learning and not on “fixing” the student writer. Using a more inclusive translingual approach to tutoring that views the diversity of discourses that students bring in as assets would help change the way we tutored. According to Griffin and Glushko (2016), translingual approaches to tutoring can help “make the writing center a safe space where students can write without fear as they begin to reflect on their language and rhetorical practices in an academic context” (p. 169). Translingual tutoring approaches would include composing rhetorically, making appropriate use of modes, languages, and other resources across a range of genres and purposes, and collaborating with writers in inclusive and asset-based ways.

Reading groups

In subsequent years, we sought to take a deeper dive into social justice issues by implementing a third level of professional development for our tutors: reading groups.

Reading groups support students’ independent learning and active participation (Railton and Watson, 2005). Studies show that being in reading groups helped students engage with the readings and understand the material better (Parrott and Cherry, 2011).The reading groups were designed with the goal of fostering dialogue around race, literacy, and education among tutors in ways suggested by Greenfield and Rowan (2011) and Geller et. al. (2007). Many topics—Multimodality, Translingualism, Neurodiversity—that emerged from our foundational training were tutor driven. Tutors self-selected these groups which were provided with a set of readings. Reading groups supported each other in unpacking issues of social justice related to their chosen topic, developing areas of specialization to connect to their own personal tutoring practices, and to act as a resource for other tutoring staff and students.

One such reading group was on multimodality in the writing center. Our motivation for this group was to highlight approaches to multimodal tutoring and underscore the role of multiliteracy in the center. By choosing readings such as David Sheridan’s “Words, Images, Sounds: Writing Centers as Multiliteracy Centers” and Joy Bancroft’s “Multiliteracy Centers Spanning the Digital Divide: Providing a Full Spectrum of Support” we hoped for tutors’ dialogic engagement with the ideas related to rhetorical adaptability, writing across modes, and accessibility in communication and technology. We believed that understanding these concepts would help tutors engage with student writers, encourage discussion, and co-create resources to support student writers.

What we observed

We imagined a cultural shift where our center understood the range of languages, knowledges, experiences, and other resources of a diverse student body to be assets in the learning process; all aspects of our shift, including hiring, staffing, and tutor training would emphasize helping student writers translate those assets into practical application in order to grow and achieve as effective writers and communicators. What we did well was valuing language diversity, valuing many modes, valuing learning differences, and creating a supportive community of practice. Here are some anecdotes to show how we were successful in achieving this.

Anecdote 1

After having several workshops in translingualism, our tutors set about developing a language diversity statement. Some tutors wanted to learn more about a language diversity statement, and so they found examples from other university writing centers. They poured over these statements, reviewing the language and the purpose. One tutor shared our First-Year writing program’s language diversity statement. Another tutor grabbed a whiteboard and started taking notes as ideas were discussed. Someone else started putting those notes in a shared Google Doc. The composing of this draft, which, after feedback from our full staff, was eventually shaped into our language diversity statement, exemplifies the collaborative nature of our community of practice model.

Anecdote 2

Sitting on the couches, after our weekly workshop, some tutors shared what it was like for them to navigate academia and learn how to become a self-directed learner. When the talk turned to reading groups, one tutor said that he had chosen First-Year Writing and not Neurodiversity or Translanguaging as his reading group because he did not understand the purpose of those groups. Donna wanted to chime in, but before she could, his fellow tutors began to explain: “Do you know what it is like to be told you are less because you are different?” “It is standing up against ‘othering’ the people we are here to help” “It is celebrating what they know and can do.” This informal and encouraging conversation that led to knowledge building clearly drew from our workshops on translanguaging and neurodiversity.

Anecdote 3

In crafting client report forms for our student writers, our tutors provided empathetic responses that also echo the center’s goals for amplifying agency and voice: “Hi! I had a great time meeting with you today! We discussed different instances in which you could insert your own voice and opinions more. I know you were concerned about your grammar, but you’re on the right track and you are doing a great job! Make sure you cut those two quotes down a little bit and think about putting your own thoughts in. Good luck in the writing process!” These examples showed how tutors learned to value the diversity of student voices.

Anecdote 4

As a result of our staffing, hiring, and training choices, we found our tutors more engaged in outreach to student groups including international students, neurodiverse students, and first-generation students. Tutors volunteered to develop social events, provide specific small group development such as English conversation workshops, and encourage recurring tutoring appointments for students. More tutors came forward with interests to collaborate with university support program staff by producing tutoring tips, mini-lessons, and other resources to aid in multilingual tutoring and working with neurodiverse writers. Tutors also incorporated what they learned into mentoring sessions with their colleagues, co-tutoring, and sharing their experience with “what works,” not only in terms of general tutoring strategies, but “what works” with individual student writers they have encountered.

Some challenges

These are just a few examples that demonstrated how tutors were embracing the shift to a more equitable and socially just writing center space. However, we also observed challenges. While tutors seemed to embrace concepts of translingual practices, they struggled to balance these concepts in relation to their role as tutors, resulting in some tutors falling back on standard tutoring practices that reinforced monolingual norms of standardized written English. For example, one tutor’s feedback included language such as “we fixed a few grammatical errors” and a suggestion to “cut out all uses of first person” reflecting a lack of acceptance of diverse language practices. Similarly, during multimodal sessions, we noticed some tutors still tending to matters of written text over focusing on rhetorical choices in modalities. While focusing on written aspects of text such as audience, purpose, argument, and context are important, tutors remained reluctant to engage students in conversations regarding genre, modalities, and elements of visual or oral text. We also mentored tutors, who continued to struggle when confronted with racism and bias in student writing, by showing them how to respond and react to this content in constructive ways. These challenges made it clear that our work to transform the writing center is far from over.

Furthering our commitment to social justice

In our aim to build an inclusive site for learning that welcomes tutors and writers of all abilities, genders, sexualities, religious identifications, and other identities that make our student body rich and diverse, we must also consider the limitations we continue to face and how we might proceed moving forward. We must acknowledge that even though we are committed to an asset-based framing of writers with non-standardized language practices, too often we give in to faculty expectations and adhere to institutional standards of writing. We need to empower our tutors to challenge those language standards because “(w)hen writing center tutors are not empowered to work with students to question the institution, question the teacher, question the assignment, or have agency over their own educational progress, such centers are engaged in conservative politics” (Greenfield, 2019, p.116). We need to re-conceptualize tutor education so that we can help tutors build translingual tutoring practices that treat multiliteracies and non-standardized language practices as the norm and engage with writers in challenging monolingual racist assumptions of standardized language norms.

One such initiative that we are implementing is portfolio writing by tutors suggested by Garcia (2017) as “a meditational and reflexive activity of decolonial action” (p.50). We believe this reflective practice can help tutors engage with issues of race, language, and power as it plays out in their own tutoring sessions, the writing center, and even in the world. Tutors can choose to share their reflections with their peers during weekly meetings and in Professional Development. We believe that portfolio writing is particularly suitable for the current situation of remote learning and tutoring, and can help mitigate the absence of in-person conversations.

In a time of such turmoil and change due to the pandemic and the social justice movements, we believe that it is even more vital that the writing center’s culture and tutoring practices reflect an understanding of the issues of linguistic and racial inequalities, and a willingness to learn and grow. To develop as a center, we must continue to have difficult conversations about race, identity, language, and how these intersect in daily interactions, not only in the writing center, but beyond. As Greenfield (2019) states:

For the writing center field, a radical politics would compel us to reject the inevitability of our own marginalization, to be courageous in explicitly naming our ethical values and commitments, and to be hopeful about the possibility of our work to effect tangible change within our institutions and the world beyond. (p. 175-176)

We need to shift to a radical writing center paradigm where anti-racism, anti-ableism, translingualism, and social justice do not just move to the forefront of writing center missions, practice, and ethos, but become the very fundamental purpose of writing center work.


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