Challenging Writing Centers’ Commonplaces: An Emerging Director’s Take on Complicity and Social Justice and its Place in the University

Sherwin Kawahakui Ranchez Sales, California State University, Dominguez Hills


This article explores my experience as an emerging writing center director of color. I reflect on how I navigate the power and its influence on my new position as well as the different ways I had to learn and grapple with discussions of race, language, and writing. Using a composite counterstorytelling approach, I consider how these types of counterstories personalize conversations of race and power, particularly how writing centers, and those who occupy these spaces, are often complicit in upholding standardized English.

Keywords: Writing Centers, counterstory, antiracism, language discrimination, social justice


I’ve worked in writing centers for nearly a decade, and one of the challenges I continually struggle with is communicating with individuals outside the center the type of work done within it. Many, if not all writing centers professionals, have had to explain to some of their colleagues across campus that writing centers aren’t just “a tutorial facility for those with special problems in composition,” (North, 1984, p. 434) nor a space down in the basement or in a secluded corner of campus where students can go for “the grammar and drill center, [or] the fix-it shop” (North, 1984, p. 437). Through time, I’ve been accepting of this incongruency and have developed ways to navigate these conversations. As my experience in the writing center and teaching in the college classroom grew, so did my understanding of race, language, and power. These concepts naturally permeated in the writing instruction I was doing, and I wanted to explore how they manifest in writing center sessions. Throughout my Ph.D. program, I began to recognize “racism—not unbiased unfamiliarity with linguistics—is the driving force behind their rejection of linguistic evidence” (Greenfield, 2011, p. 38) and how the writing center could be “a place to make a more immediate, different impact than conventional activism” (Denny, 2010, p. 21). Toward the completion of my Ph.D. program, I started to recognize the commonplace ideas surrounding writing centers shifted from convincing my colleagues and students that the writing center doesn’t correct grammar to encouraging them to “develop a critical consciousness of the effects of their choices at an individual and institutional level” (Greenfield, 2011, p. 58).

I’m entering my second year as a tenure-track faculty member and writing center director, and not only that, but I’m also a recent Ph.D. graduate. That means I’m coming at some of these experiences new, particularly those experiences of being a leader, supervisor, and ambassador of writing across campus. I suppose there’s something novel and a little invigorating about being the “new face” of the bunch, but really, as many if not all new faculty members can attest to, it’s also utterly terrifying. Not too long ago, I was the student tutor telling students, “Oh, you know what? You bring up a great question—here’s the director’s email. Why don’t you ask her about it? I’m sure she’ll be able to better answer your questions!”

And now, I’m said director. With all the answers—right, wrong, open-ended, and all. Even my lack of answers are answers.

But as my title suggests, it’s not so much of the student questions that worry me, although in my short time as a director, I’ve responded to quite interesting and thought-provoking ones, but it’s more so how I stay true to the ideologies I study and believe in when faced in front of the entire university community—faculty, staff, and students—who question such viewpoints regarding writing, standardized English, and education. I’ve been mulling over for some time now the ways I’ve been complicit in perpetuating academic conventions as well as the moments I’ve been subversive when I wanted to challenge or push back on the ideas or practices that went against my pedagogy. As a fairly new member of this university community, I’ve thought a lot about how my writing center, with its various policies and charges, can continue to be brave about discussing the linguistic diversity and power of students.

With this article, I explore my own navigation of the writing center commonplaces I’ve experienced and how I’ve navigated being an emerging scholar of color who has recently stepped into a leadership role. As someone who now holds some authority in the creating and sustainability of an antiracist writing center, it’s important I recognize that power and influence when engaging with my student workers and with faculty across campus. I believe that my experiences teaching in the classroom and tutoring in the writing center have prepared me for this director position, especially from a pedagogical standpoint, but I also recognize the ways I need to learn and grapple with having discussions about race, language, and writing at a more global level—a level that extends beyond one-to-one sessions and composition classrooms and into campus engagement such as cross-department meetings and widely distributed emails. The moments where I’m required to defend antiracist pedagogies often require a willingness to be vulnerable. This vulnerability is often my rhetorical maneuver when I communicate my center’s antiracist pedagogies, and I want to be brave and open toward my colleagues across campus, my student tutors, and myself on uncertainties surrounding socially just teaching practices. Although vulnerability can sometimes be seen as helplessness, I see it more as a time for deliberation and honesty that can lead to understanding.

Honestly, it’s scary. I’m hesitant to even admit that, given my research and position. However, every new situation contends with such uncertainty, and just as I’ve grown from my past experiences in teaching and writing centers, I’ll also grow from where I sit now. I believe reexamining and reflecting on the commonplaces I had been exposed to in the past can in turn create a less blurry vision of how anti-oppressive writing practices look like and function in the center. Also, being in a leadership position inevitably situates me to answer to various stakeholders around the university who may not share such ideologies. How well am I staying true to my core values? In what ways am I perpetuating commonplaces that have been historically damaging to minoritized communities, yet how am I also working within my constraints to further the calls to justice and diversity our field has strived for?

Compounded in these questions are my feelings of doubt. Balancing this and cultivating and communicating our writing center’s approach was challenging for me at first because I’m a young professor of color and was self-conscious of others’ perceptions of me and my ability to do the job. This wasn’t a fault to my new institution, however, but rather a trauma I’ve taken with me from years working and teaching in a predominantly white space—both locally and intellectually. If someone is coded—whether that be because of their race, gender, class, or any other countless ways—they’re “inevitably forced by the reactions of others to inhabit such categories authentically” (LeCourt, 2004, p. 31). We’re internalizing others’ perceptions of a particular identity through language—spoken, written, and embodied—and we act accordingly. In the writing center and in academia more generally, my identities are constantly intersecting, and I’m aware that I take them with me in each writing center consultation, class, or faculty meeting. They pull in different directions as I attempt to simultaneously “convert, pass, or cover” certain aspects of them like Harry Denny (2010) says most minoritized individuals must do (p. 19). I’m aware of my racialized body, and I understand that it holds certain performative demands. Denny (2005) writes that “for many people of color and women, their bodies encode their identity and speak for them” (p. 107).

Being Vulnerable With Counterstory

With this article, I’ll be using aspects of counterstory, which is a method and methodology that has its roots from Critical Race Theory (CRT)—what Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (2012) define as a movement by “a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power” (p. 3). CRT challenges individuals to be critical of one’s own experience with race on a systemic level rather than an individualized one. It raises awareness of how policy shapes the lives of people of different races and ethnicities. Some of CRT’s tenets include challenging dominant ideologies, centralizing the experiential knowledge and/or unique voices of color, and a commitment to social justice (Martinez, 2020). Within education, these tenets “represent a challenge to the existing modes of scholarship” (p. 74), as Tara Yosso (2005) writes in “Whose Culture has Capital?” While it counters dominant ideologies, CRT also centers people of color’s experience.

CRT, then, aims to “shift the center of focus from notions of White, middle class culture to the cultures of Communities of Color” (Yosso, 2005, p. 77). Counterstory is a tool commonly used to work toward this objective and used to uncover stereotypes and injustices while also offering “additional truths” prompted by the researchers’ personal experiences (Martinez, 2020, p. 17). Counterstory, therefore, “is a method for telling stories of those people whose experiences are not often told” and as a methodology, it “serves to expose, analyze, and challenge majoritarian stories of racialized privilege and can help to strengthen traditions of social, political, and cultural survival, resistance, and justice” (Martinez, 2020, p. 26).

Grand narratives of cultural groups don’t tell a full story, and as Morris Young (2004) argues, highlighting minoritized narratives “provides people of color with a means for inserting themselves into American culture, to participate in the cultural work of social change by disrupting dominant structures that act in various forms of oppression” (p. 183). Victor Villanueva (2004) also acknowledges that “the narrative of the person of color validates” (p. 15), and that “the personal…does not negate the need for the academic; it complements[.]” (p. 14).

Because counterstory hinges on the experiential knowledge of minoritized people, its usage throughout this article provides validity to my experiences. I specifically employ composite storytelling to demonstrate how I’ve experienced the presence and complicity of standardized English in and around the center. Composite counterstorytelling often utilizes contexts or characters that are “abstractions representing cultural or political identities” (Martinez, 2020, p. 24). Martinez (2014) also differentiates composite counterstorytelling from fictional storytelling as it “critically examin[es] theoretical concepts and humanizing empirical data while also deriving material for counterstory’s discourse setting, and characters from sources” (p. 37). I find the use of composite characters useful as “they do not have a one-to-one correspondence to any one individual the author knows” (Martinez, 2020, p. 25); instead, they’re “crafted to embody an ideology” (Martinez, 2014, p. 39). In the following counterstory, my meeting with this composite colleague represents the challenges writing center professionals and writing instructors confront when engaging with their campus community who question antiracist writing pedagogies.

Are We Seeing This Eye-to-Eye? A Composite Counterstory

I put my coffee down on the floor as Professor Thompson, the instructor I was meeting with, explained his concerns regarding his class. He had reached out to me a couple of weeks ago asking if we could meet to discuss writing strategies that would benefit his students.

“As you see, our students can’t write,” Thompson said simply while handing me a stack of sample literature reviews from his class.

“Hm, what do you mean? I see writing here on these samples.” I replied, sifting through the papers. “I’m not sure I understand what you’re implying.”

The instructor gestured to the papers I held.

“See for yourself! Look at them! The writing is incomprehensible. They have trouble writing a simple sentence.”

I looked at the sentences, and they made sense to me, and I suspected where this conversation was headed.

“Well, it looks like…”

“It looks like they need an editor!” he interrupted.

“Well, maybe, but don’t we all?” I joked. Thompson gazed up from the papers he was looking at behind his desk but said nothing.

I continued. “Uh, right, so I think what you’re meaning to say is…”

“I get it, alright?” He interrupted again. “These students come from a background of not knowing English. I get it—we’re a Minority Serving Institution, but that doesn’t excuse them from just not knowing how to write academically.”

Internally, I boiled. I held my tongue and listened. He continued.

“I’ve noticed, too, that most of these writing issues come from black and brown students.” With this, I raise my eyebrows, which he noticed, and he instinctively tempered his statement.

“I want them to succeed,” he said quickly, “They’re not going to make it far writing the way they do. Do you think this is good? Do you think this is going to get them a job? Into graduate school? Their writing skill at its current level will hold them back. There needs to be some sort of standard we hold them. They never learned how to write correctly, and now we’re going to pass them into their future as if they can. Can you, in good conscience, be alright with awarding them a degree with this skill level in writing?”

“Maybe it’s worth considering what they need to succeed in the type of writing you’re expecting” I responded. “Maybe if we revise how we think—”

“What do you mean?” He interjected. “They need to write academically. I mean, you should know how it is. Do you think you’d be here teaching if you couldn’t demonstrate your competency in English?”

There was a silence between us as I thought for a moment before responding. I tried to understand his perspective. I tried to think about what he was saying. I searched for his compassion through the cutting words, but as I looked down at the papers he has handed me, I also saw my own hands. Brown. Just like the students he had criticized. What hurts more is that these concerns lasted longer than when I stepped into his office. These words had been spoken, thought, and articulated long before my arrival. And not just by him but by many others. I wonder if those words were ever directly at me when I was in school. Maybe it isn’t a matter of if but more so how often. I wonder if those thoughts are still there in the heads of my university colleagues as they see me occupying this position of authority as a person of color.

 “So, as I was saying.” My colleague said, “they need an editor.”

I resisted nodding so he doesn’t misconstrue my intention behind the motion. He continued regardless.

“But it’s just not equitable. Not everyone can afford an editor.” He said, bringing us back to that topic. “What are we supposed to do? What does the writing center do about this type of thing? What do you do when students need this much help?”

“Well,” I began, “I don’t necessarily think they need editors. Like you mention, that would be pretty expensive for most students.” I paused for a moment because I didn’t quite know how to say the next part nicely. Diplomatically.

“Perhaps, if we change the way we view the languages and knowledge our students bring in, we may be able to embrace them as strengths and locate the ways they can be used in the academic discourse you’re trying to enculturate them in.”

He sat for a moment before answering and then said, “What do you mean? They aren’t writing good enough to even be here.”


I remember feeling like I didn’t deserve to be here—academia. Especially regarding the type of language I thought I should be using in this space. In fact, I’ve spent much of my life believing that I should be speaking and writing in Standardized English instead of the English I’ve been accustomed; frankly, I’d rather be communicating in my city-boy, Long Beach-basketball playin’, hip hop, bboy-millennial livin’ slang. My “home” dialect brings out parts of me that make me feel right in my own skin. Coming from a Filipino-Hawaiian household, I was encouraged to utilize different languages. However, I also come from a racial legacy that prioritizes a language other than our own. Many immigrant communities also see Standardized English as superior which explains why some children of immigrants—like myself—do not speak the language of their ancestors. Not to mention that some countries like the Philippines, after years of being under Spanish rule, were colonized by the United States who in an act of “benevolent assimilation”[1] wanted to civilize and educate the Filipino people. One of the United States’ acts to help their “little brown brothers”—establish English as one of the official languages.

So, when someone says that students don’t belong in spaces that have historically built-up barriers, it angers me. Before, though, I thought I just had to work harder. Working in the writing center served as a legitimacy marker when I first started tutoring. The first center I worked at prioritized “fixing” student writing, with a structure that had students completing packets focused on writing and grammatical concepts such as commas and subject-verb agreement. Yes, we helped with understanding prompts, organization, and thesis statements–aspects of writing that may be considered higher order—but many students came in looking for grammar help as they believed this indicated mastery (or decency) in writing. The institution supported this too by making visits required. I’m a product of this structure, and I quickly bought into the persistent narrative that maintains that writing centers help students fix their writing, eliminating all grammatical mistakes because God forbid we have a comma splice in our writing. I thought knowing grammar showed my competence in the English language. The knowledge of prescriptive grammar seemed to induce prestige. In every college class (especially English major courses), I wrote in Standardized English because I felt that’s what professors expected. Abiding by these rules meant “professionalism.” It didn’t occur to me this “professionalism” meant “white.” Asao Inoue (2019) describes this phenomenon to his audience in his 2019 CCCC Address as the “steel cage of White language privilege that we exist in today, both in and outside of the academy.” As a person of color who wanted to be accepted into this discourse—to be legitimate—I believed and perpetuated this way of writing and thinking. Working at that first writing center reinforced values associated with Standardized English and cultivated those values by making it part of our job to be proficient at recognizing standardized conventions of writing. In hindsight, I don’t remember if I necessarily became a stronger writer who felt confident in what I had to say, but I did learn grammatical conventions and how to explain them to students. I find value in that experience despite its shortcomings, and my training within that space has formed me as a writer to the point where I’m hyper aware of the grammatical conventions I may utilize (or not) in my writing. I also think of all the students I helped whom I might have stifled because I was too hung up on standardized English. I feel like I listened and cared for them as individuals, but I wasn’t fully hearing their experience, language, and culture. Those were muffled.

Coming from this legacy complicates my current feelings regarding my engagement with faculty. I recognize there was a purpose behind those grammar packets or else they wouldn’t have been created. I can’t say if they came out of misplaced kindness or if it was a collaboration with concerned faculty. Or both. Nonetheless, I can hear what frustrated faculty are trying to say; I’m a part of it, after all, since the writing center functions within an institutional structure. When working at that first writing center, I have told students they shouldn’t use commas to separate two complete sentences; I’ve mentioned pronoun-antecedent agreement errors, and I felt good about pointing them out. In my head, I felt this was going to help them. People will listen to you now, I would think. Hidy Basta and Alexandra Smith (2022) point out in “(Re)envisioning the Writing Center: Pragmatic Steps for Dismantling White Language Supremacy,” that “framing the work of the writing center as a site to help students better perform within the expected standardized English is haunted by assimilationist practices” (p. 60). I think folks get stuck on this standardized English thing insofar that they don’t think it haunts. Assimilate to understand the game! Where’s the harm in that?

I’ve learned from my experience at that first writing center, that the fix-it shop mentality and structure only uphold Standardized English in a similar way that English Only laws existed. And even though my current institution doesn’t have this structure, I’m willing to bet that many faculty wouldn’t be against it. I’m grateful in some ways I was able to work in a center like that, however, because it demonstrated the structure at work. I was experiencing the system in action. Moreover, I hadn’t even realized the harm. What was cultivated was a mindset that We, the writing center, had the tools, and we bestowed those tools to the students who wanted to be “better” writers. Those working there also fell into believing this is what good writing looked like. We became proud grammarians. And though we touted higher order concerns over lower concerns, the way the center was run (with emphasis on the [s]kill and drill) was a constant reminder that that’s what students and faculty wanted. Looking back, it just seems like a cyclical process that perpetuates itself. In all honestly, I wouldn’t have minded discussing (not necessarily fixing) grammar if it was accompanied by some sort of interrogation of it. Faculty, like the one characterized in my composite counterstory, sometimes use “the metaphor of assimilation…as inclusive and comprised of empowering strategies to share the language of power,” yet on the other hand, faculty may rarely question “the racist and colonialist structures that make Standard English the language of power” (Basta & Smith, 2022, p. 60). I can’t say I absolutely love the idea of packets, but I recognize some centers are coerced into creating and promoting them. In some cases, it’s their main source of traffic, essentially, paying the bills for the center. To keep the doors open, some writing centers might have to take on practices that are adversative to their core beliefs. Yet, if worksheets and packets are going to be used, I wonder how discussions about their contents can be handled and if there is flexibility in which they are used and disseminated.

Where does this put me now as a new writing center director who must meet with folks who care nothing about these legacies of language discrimination? Or if they do, they view it just as an obstacle that requires an individual to overcome with hard work and perseverance. What I struggle with, which I’m even afraid to admit here, is essentially this: how do I stand up for my morals and pedagogical ideologies without pissing someone off? How do I say, “hey, y’know, your attitudes about a community’s language are racist” and then offer them a bookmark that encourages them to send their students to the writing center? In my short time as a director, I’ve had to consider my own complicity. Why am I playing too nice and do the gloves need to come off? I worry that burns a bridge that could otherwise be fruitful and one that leads to more structural changes. While I encourage and believe in the power of the personal, I understand it must work in tandem with other structures. Frankie Condon (2007) proposes that “begin[ning] anti-racism work in the writing center with structural rather than personal transformation” is increasingly important as we continue to push against what outside perceptions see as the writing center (p. 31). This “organizational learning and leadership” is key in “implementing anti-racist structural change, [but it also] builds lines of public responsibility and accountability” (Condon, 2007, p. 31-32). It moves us from mere good intentions, as Condon (2007) writes, toward the visible and intentional intervention of “deeply embedded and racially invested individual ways of seeing, being, and doing” (p. 32). However, structures are created and maintained by individuals, so it makes sense to also focus on the personal and how “cultivating emotional intelligence” and working collaboratively with others “moves us toward institutional change” (Diab et al., 2013, p. 2).

Conclusion: A Move Toward Vulnerability

“So, you don’t edit?”

“That’s right.” I answer.

“And you don’t talk about grammar?” he prompts.

“Well, not exactly.”

“So, if a student comes in with a bunch of grammar mistakes, you just ignore them?”

“I don’t know if my staff would just purposefully ignore students,” I said smiling. “What I mean is that we won’t go through with a red pen and mark up their paper. That’s actually quite traumatic for students.”

“Okay, well what is it that you actually do?”

“Well,” I begin. “That’s a loaded question.”

I think answering the larger question “what does the writing center actually do?” is part of writing center folklore and will continue to be part of it, so I’m not going to beat it over the head. We already know students and faculty alike may go or send their students to the writing center with the expectation that papers will be fixed. What is encouraged at my center, however, is a willingness to discuss the power dynamics associated with language. This, undoubtedly, is jarring for some students and writing tutors as that conversation may not be regularly cultivated. While my writing center staff has had professional development that engages with scholarship that speaks to language discrimination and race, it doesn’t automatically translate to immediate application—I embrace this step of building critical consciousness. I think it’s easy to point to my center’s Philosophy of Antiracism, but it takes courage and time to put it into practice. For example, one of our guiding principles is that we recognize and affirm there is no single standard academic writing, but what does this actually look like and how does it manifest in a session where the writing tutor is also grappling with this notion themselves? I think there’s room for discussion at that moment, and as writing tutors continue to work through these ideas with students, more students will be exposed to and share this approach. That sharing could be as simple as telling their classmates that we don’t correct grammar, or it could even extend to a discussion with their instructor. This sometimes leads the campus community to me.

My center’s philosophy of antiracism grounds our pedagogy and engagement with the campus, and the tutors have taken steps to support students, valuing their agency, and applying assets-based pedagogies in their practice. However, like I have mentioned above, to do this work, tutors must be continuous members and contributors to the conversation. Their education of writing center practices, race, and power go beyond a “week twelve approach” (Greenfield & Rowan, 2011, p. 132) and is present in the different charges and activities we partake in. The tutors have had to be courageous and vulnerable when thinking through the development of our Statement of Support for the LGBTQIA+ Community. They had to sit uncomfortably with how to move to action after words and support have been shared. Each session they conduct comes with some sort of vulnerability in a way, especially if they share our philosophy explicitly. They leave themselves open to questions and reproach. Still, perhaps what guides them through is trust.

This is the case for me as well. When I first started as a director, I was extremely fortunate that I was able to join a writing center that had already established an antiracist framework and was eager for a new director to take over with their own vision for its future. The previous interim directors had done such great work, and as they handed it off to me, I hoped that I could continue their legacy. I believe in our antiracist framework, and I still want to make it known that I not only stood by it, but that its concepts and ideologies run deep in my own scholarship. I worry (still) how that comes off to folks, especially being a person of color. I’m learning how to be braver and “refuse to be forced to see myself through the eyes of anyone else but my own” (Green, 2018, p. 28). I admit, though, that that’s challenging on some days. Much like Neisha-Anne Green (2018) mentions in “Moving Beyond Alright,” I’m still figuring out how to be a writing center director of color.

As a relatively new director, I’ve found certain practices and approaches helpful when engaging with colleagues who may not have a similar ideology that includes an openness to challenging standardized English. One such strategy that I’ve embraced more openly during my time as director is a willingness to be vulnerable. This sounds simple enough, but my willingness to be vulnerable constitutes bravery, especially in moments where I feel immediate actions are expected from me. My embracing of vulnerability in academia is influenced by the rhetorical strategies explored by Krista Ratcliffe’s rhetorical listening (2005), Cheryl Glenn’s work on silence (2004), and Jacqueline Royster and Gesa Kirsch’s feminist rhetorical practice of strategic contemplation (2012).

In moments similar to that of my composite counterstory, I find it helpful (yet difficult) to not jump into solutions right away and instead yield time to “take as much into account as possible but to withhold judgment for a time and resist coming to closure too soon” (Royster & Kirsch, 2012, p. 85). This is challenging when engaging with faculty as they sometimes are looking for a quick remedy or a concrete answer that explains why their students are struggling. Included during this time is my own listening to their concerns, the students, the consultation of scholarship I read and believe, and my honest feelings. All of these must be tapped into so that I can provide my most honest and productive answer. I imagine this can be unsettling for some, and truthfully, it is for me at times, but allowing time for reflection gives me space to “negotiate troubled identifications that haunt many rhetorical exchanges” (Ratcliffe, 2005, p. 27). This pause, however, leaves me vulnerable to critique. I’m self-conscious that I’ll be seen as slow to act. There is pressure to prove myself. Yet, this space offers more time for understanding from both sides. In my director position, I have let situations similar to the composite narrative marinate for a while before engaging again. I’ve called mentors for guidance. I’ve written down what to say beforehand. I’ve anticipated faculties response, and I’ve crafted answers to those imagined questions. I’ve been open about struggling with some of these challenges with not only department colleagues but my student staff, showcasing that this work can be overwhelming and difficult. Being vulnerable with these people has built my vocabulary in having these conversations more often. For instance, when confronted with faculty who don’t understand assets-based pedagogy, I can allow myself time for contemplation regardless of the faculty’s impending demand for immediacy. The next logical step for me would be to share resources; however, what might be more valuable is having an individualized discussion regarding their ideas around education.

I’d like to conclude with an email encounter I had with a faculty member in another department. They had reached out to me during my second semester as director to inquire about our services and whether or not we offer editing assistance (sound familiar?). I responded with my assets-based pedagogy spiel and a mention of challenging and engaging with standardized Englishes. The faculty replied politely and wrote they would be sending their students to outside thesis editors instead. Afterward, I felt terrible. I felt I had failed to build a bridge where there could have been one. I felt I failed to portray the center as a space where writing—all kinds—are welcomed and discussed. I reflected openly with my team and myself on how I probably should have approached it and the push and pull I felt with the decision I ultimately came to.

Days later, I received a follow-up email from the faculty member, asking again for our support, and I jumped at the chance to create a bridge. The emails that followed included how certain industries don’t value language differences, how one of their parents was an English teacher who filled their house with Zora Neale Hurston and Shakespeare and challenged this faculty member to think about inclusive writing practices. We exchanged Langston Hughes poetry and pointed to his poem “I, Too” pondering how many black and brown students feel relegated to the kitchens of academia. We talked about how we were also those students.

In these moments, we made ourselves vulnerable. We gave each other time and patience. Perhaps this is my next step: to begin being vulnerable and brave with those who question the antiracist practices. They often come to me with questions about how to improve student writing—and if they’re not satisfied with my answer, where do we go from there? There will be frustration as I don’t have all the solutions, but once we move past that, can we then move to growth? It’s hard to say, but in the moment maybe we’ll both recognize we’re vulnerable, and for the sake of our students, perhaps that can move us toward change and understanding.


  1. President William McKinley used the term in the Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation of 1898 to defend and justify the colonization of the Philippines.


I would like to thank all the Writing Associates and Writing Professionals at the CSUDH Writing Center, who not only helped me think through my ideas for this article, but who inspire me on a daily basis.

Author Biography

Sherwin Kawahakui Ranchez Sales received his Ph.D. in English Rhetoric and Composition from Washington State University and is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Writing Center Director at California State University, Dominguez Hills. His research utilizes counterstory to center discussions of race, particularly as they concern Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and to call greater attention to the racial experiences that accompany such identities. His other research interests include writing center studies, composition theory, and antiracist pedagogies.


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