Srividya Natarajan, King’s University College
Wenqi Cui, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Krista Speicher Sarraf, California Polytechnic State University
In the last few years, within writing center studies and praxis, there has been a deepening of interest in anti-oppressive frameworks. Disciplinary change tends to be uneven, affecting some aspects of research, practice, pedagogy, or philosophy more quickly than others. Often, the unexamined, taken-for-granted, commonsensical, embodied, everyday assumptions and practices of a field—its commonplaces—are the slowest to change. In drafting the call for proposals for this special issue, we hoped to curate articles that addressed the question of how our commonplaces are changing in response to our new collective emphasis on equity and justice, and how we are communicating these changes to stakeholders. As writing centers embrace liberatory political stances, and as their users become more diverse and more aware of social identity as a key factor in written or verbal communication, critical investigation of commonplaces can reveal the contradictions writing center practitioners navigate: contradictions between the tendency to standardize language and institutionally approved practices, on the one hand, and the aspiration to adopt radical practices that value diverse identities and resistant stances on the other.
Writing center studies have always had a solidly pragmatic side, and we have ever been a community of practitioners willing to learn from each other. As editors, therefore, we were interested not only in presenting articles that researched or reflected on everyday contradictions, but also in inviting scholar-practitioners to share their stories of success and struggle as they resolved these contradictions or as they communicated to others the urgency of undertaking emancipatory projects.
As we began our editorial discussions, outlining our perceptions of our own roles as editors to each other, we consciously set ourselves the task of critical reflection on the commonplaces of editorial practice. In meeting after editorial meeting, we found ourselves fascinated and troubled by how riven with contradiction the act of collecting and editing the work of our colleagues could be, at every stage of the process. In the earlier stages of the process, we struggled with criteria for inclusion and exclusion. The commonplace expectation of scholarly excellence and rigor could all too easily lead to the rejection of critically important work that did not conform to rigid norms defined by scholars already well-established in the field. We realized that we needed to be editorial “inclusion activists,” to invoke a phrase used by Kelly Blewett and colleagues (2019):
To be inclusion activists, editors must be aware of how power relations operate in a field, be willing to challenge operations that exclude and diminish the experience and knowledge of some while propping up that of others, and be supportive of those who have not traditionally had access to or representation within field conversations. (pp. 274-275)
Eventually, we were able to include the voices and experiences of authors from diverse demographic, educational, and professional backgrounds. We also considered supporting and mentoring our authors to be part of our inclusive editing practice. Asking our peer reviewers to be guided by the practices listed in Anti-Racist Scholarly Reviewing Practices: A Heuristic for Editors, Reviewers, and Authors, and ourselves taking the suggestions in this document to heart, we worked with some of the authors who had submitted drafts, helping to interpret peer reviewers’ comments or to overcome those phases of self-doubt that are all too familiar to writers.
Throughout the editing process, we played whack-a-mole with contradictions. We had interesting conversations that uncovered the connections between the editorial approaches we wanted to take and our positionalities or language backgrounds. For instance, as a first-generation college graduate, a contingent laborer for many years, and a white native English speaker (with all the layers of complexity that “native” speaker entails), Krista proposed that the editors enact the social justice approach to editing outlined by Sam Clem and Ryan Cheek (2022). Adopting their inclusive editing paradigm, she argued, would be a way of welcoming linguistic diversity. Vidya wryly acknowledged that her concern about how authors would be received if their work was not “polished” reflected the grip that standard academic English has on the field of scholarly publishing, and the anxieties and risks of publication for those who identify as racialized or linguistically minoritized. In the process of building our editorial consensus about the degree to which authors’ written accents could be retained, we had to seriously reinvestigate academic editorial commonplaces. There were no easy answers. Our editorial work, therefore, reflects small steps, not giant leaps, toward the liberatory practices to which we aspire.
THE ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE
The articles in this issue problematize such tutoring and administrative commonplaces as session schedules and appointment time-blocks, use of physical and online space, hiring and training of tutors, editing or the fear of it, professional reporting obligations, relations with entities beyond the writing center—other units within the university and community hubs beyond the walls of academe—in light of educational equity and justice and the building of sustainable and ethical relationships. The papers showcase a range of methodologies: empirical research, conceptual inquiry, theory-to-practice approaches, and narrative research that draws on counterstory. They consider the field’s theoretical and practical commonplaces from various professional standpoints: those of tutors, those of writing center administrators (WCAs), and those of student writers. They reflect a range of positionalities, including those of authors from minoritized and underserved communities.
The articles consider how access to writing centers becomes complicated when the student bodies they serve become more diverse. Services must adapt if they are to meet the needs of students with disabilities, students from raciolinguistic minorities, students following non-traditional academic paths. In “Expanding Writing Center Space-Time: Tutoring Modality, Access, and Equity,” Kyle Barron and colleagues present empirical research comparing service uptake across different tutoring modalities. Their research tracks how the addition of virtual tutoring modes and face-to-face modes like abbreviated “flash” tutoring sessions to traditional WC appointments drew in writers who identified as racialized or first-generation students, many of whom may not have used the writing center if it offered nothing but face-to-face sessions. In a similar vein, in “What’s on Our Landing Page? Writing Center Policy Commonplaces and Antiracist Critique,” Srividya Natarajan and colleagues consider how the enactment of white habitus in writing centers, through rule-making and through rule-enforcing website language, can result in a failure to address the specific needs of students (like Tian Yang, one of the authors) who identify as English Language Learners. Approaching the question of how language frames our commonplaces from another angle, Michelle Marvin’s “Under the “We” Umbrella: Inclusive and Exclusive “We” Language in the Writing Center considers how writing center practitioners might move from using “we” in a way that assumes a facile consensus and unproblematically shared practices to using this collective pronoun with enough awareness of difference to accommodate nuance, questioning, and resistance on the part of staff and writers.
No writing center is an island. In “Challenging Writing Centers’ Commonplaces: An Emerging Director’s Take on Complicity and Social Justice and its Place in the University,” Sherwin Kawahakui Ranchez Sales describes how a stance of listening and vulnerability has helped him stay grounded as he attempts to persuade academic gatekeepers in other departments to value antiracist approaches to “writing, standardized English, and education.” While Sales harnesses the power of composite counterstory to capture his experiences as a new WC administrator, Allie Johnston and colleagues use narrative inquiry in “Extending Our Boundaries by Empowering Our Community” to advocate for collaboration between writing centers and student support units like Disability Offices in order to ensure insightful and comprehensive wrap-around care for neurodivergent students. In “Writing Center Reporting Strategies That Subvert Institutional Absurdities,” narrative is validated once again, as Erica Cirillo-McCarthy et al., faced with the commonplace institutional demand for documentation to justify funding, argue that complementing quantification and number-crunching with storytelling allows writing center pedagogy, expertise, values, labor, and lived experiences to shine through and shed persuasive light on the requested budget. And surveying the scene beyond the university’s walls, in Providing Community Writing Support Beyond Writing Center Spaces: Institutional Barriers to Sustainable Engagement, Elizabeth Geib Chavin and Allison Wade argue that institutional rules, roles, research protocols, and timelines become barriers to the establishment of community-facing writing support services that center the needs, and mold to the lived experiences, of vulnerable individuals, thus building sustainable, reciprocal relationships between town and gown.
Four articles address tutoring as a field of labor relations, as a place for challenging pedagogic commonplaces, and as a practice fraught with contradictions. In “Do You Even Know What You Are Doing?”: A Racial Other Professional Writing Tutor’s Counterstory of Imposter Syndrome,” Dawn An looks back at an early-career moment when a white male student’s microaggressions telegraphed his reluctance to accept her expertise as a writing tutor. She asks if the tutor’s ethical response in such a situation should include open antiracist intervention. Megan Connor and Mackenzie Clinger recognize that creating a cohort of tutors reflective of diverse student demographics not only involves modifying hiring practices, but also involves rethinking approaches to tutor education, to scheduling, and to pay scales. In “Beyond Numbers: Interrogating the Equity and Inclusivity of Writing Center Recruiting, Hiring, and Training Practices,” Connor and Clinger offer writing center administrators a template and process for making this shift. Also discussing tutor education, Lisa Bell, in “Empowering Tutors and ELL Writers by Examining Commonplaces,” reports on a three-year action research project that sought to inculcate critical awareness about deficit thinking and academic power relations in native speakers who tutored English Language Learners at a predominantly white institution. Carlee Shimek’s “Through the Eyes of an Introvert: Playing it Safe” rounds out this set of articles by reflecting on how the writing center theories and praxis that were part of her own professional preparation helped her find her zone of comfort and productivity, and how writing centers may be hospitable to introverts like herself.
Finally, two important articles engage the commonplaces of writing center pedagogy. In “Listening to Diverse Voices: A Liberatory Writing Pedagogy for Empowerment and Emancipation,” Elaine Khoo and Xiangying Huo report on a mixed methods study whose participants were students identified as having low English proficiency who were taking a writing skill-building course. Khoo and Huo offer a detailed and robust account of how a liberatory, antiracist, caring, learner-centric, dialogic and culturally responsive writer-facing pedagogy can have remarkable positive outcomes. Focusing on tutor-facing pedagogy, and referencing the distinction between acculturation (which is assimilative) and enculturation (which presents elements of a culture to learners and helps them master it without becoming absorbed into it), Matt Rahimian, in “Using Enculturation as an Inclusive Tool in Writing Centers,” discusses how a consciously decolonial tutor education program can help tutors dialogically deploy academic enculturation as part of scaffolding support for writers.
We hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as we enjoyed bringing it together.
Anti-racist scholarly reviewing practices: A heuristic for editors, reviewers, and authors. (2021). Retrieved from https://tinyurl.com/reviewheuristic.
Blewett, K., LaVecchia, C.M., Micciche, L.R, & Morris, J. (2019). Editing as inclusion activism. College English, 81(4), 273-296. https://ocul-uwo.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01OCUL_UWO/t54l2v/cdi_proquest_journals_2215485872
Clem, S. & Cheek, R. (2022). Unjust Revisions: A Social Justice Framework for Technical Editing. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 65(1), 135–150. https://doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2021.3137666