Anti-Racism Meets Linguistic Justice: Lessons Learned from Committee Work and Tutor Education

Erika Gonzalez, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Antonella Pappolla, Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison


In this article, we offer reflections and insights on the process of advancing linguistic justice within the context of anti-racist practice from the perspective of two writing center tutors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center. We begin by situating the UW-Madison Writing Center’s approach to linguistic justice within current literature from critical language and literacy scholars. We then proceed with a discussion of lessons learned from our experiences as tutors and graduate students who hold positions of leadership at the UW-Madison Writing Center. Through this discussion, we propose a working definition of linguistic justice based on our understanding of the literature and our experiences with linguistic diversity at our writing center. The article concludes with three actionable recommendations for writing center professionals seeking to incorporate linguistic justice more firmly within their own institutions: One, promote collaborations between writing centers and university-level initiatives on anti-racism and linguistic justice. Two, increase racial and linguistic representation within writing center groups committed to anti-racist and linguistic justice practice. Lastly, build space into tutors’ paid time to participate in professional development opportunities and committee work. We hope this piece illuminates the importance of creating space for linguistic justice in the daily work of writing center practice and shows the complexities of that endeavor.

Keywords: writing center, linguistic justice, anti-racism, critical language scholarship

The student’s comment at the end of our labor-intensive writing session baffled me. If I recall correctly, he said something along the lines of: “I wouldn’t have expected a non-native English speaker to be so competent as a writing tutor.” He paused and then added: “No offense.” I remember feeling somewhat sad and puzzled about his comment. Should I thank him? Should I actually be offended? Should I go on and explain to him why I think I am a competent writing center tutor, complicating his linguistic prejudices? Should I get into a discussion about linguistic hegemony, perhaps? After all, the student’s backhanded compliment was a response to my decision to reveal my linguistic identity while discussing a word choice in his text. But what the student did not know is that his distrust, or skepticism if you will, about my ability to teach writing in English based on my affiliation with that language is neither indifferent nor alien to me. On the contrary, it is part of my daily battles with myself as someone who is non-English dominant in an English-dominated institution and struggles with accepting that my level of expression in this second/foreign language isn’t nearly as rich or complex as in the language I grew up speaking. But can writing be owned, or even co-opted, by a language? And is native status a necessary and sufficient condition for providing effective and impactful writing education? If so (or if not), how shall we, writing center tutors, make sense of our own linguistic diversity and respond to students’ diverse linguistic repertoires in socially responsible ways? These are some of the questions that prompted my (Antonella’s) interest in linguistic justice. 

As a White monolingual English speaker, my (Erika’s) experience with language and writing has been characterized by privilege. My work with the UW-Madison Writing Center brought me face-to-face with what linguistic privilege looks like in a higher education setting. It also presented me with the insidious nature of linguistic injustice as I sat with student after student who expressed doubt and concern about their perceived inability to write “well” or “correctly.” I began to notice how often a multilingual student would sit with me for a one-on-one session and state with conviction, “I know my writing is not good because English is not my first language. Can you help me make it better?” I questioned why so many multilingual students firmly believed their writing was “bad” or less worthy of praise than their monolingual peers. Who was spreading this message? Professors? The institution of higher education? And how could I, a member of the UW-Madison Writing Center team, help to dispel this myth? My observations and questioning compelled me to dig deeper and learn more—and my passion for linguistic justice grew.

As spaces that have been centrally involved in unveiling the hidden curriculum of written communication in higher education, writing centers grapple with questions of justice. Among their many roles and responsibilities, they act as critical mediators between hegemonic discourses –those agreed upon by an economic, linguistic, and racial majority– and the growing and rich diversity of U.S. campuses and universities. As such, they are not racially neutral sites of discourse and practice but have the potential to question harmful ideologies that continue to disadvantage linguistically minoritized students (García, 2017; Greenfield & Rowan, 2011; Villanueva, 2006). Against a background of assaults on universities’ support for diversity across the country (e.g., Bauer, 2023; Huyhn, 2023), writing center practitioners grapple with the question of how to decenter Whiteness and its linguistic norm in a way that fosters more equitable and pluralistic writing cultures in higher education. 

Writing centers across the U.S. have begun to enact actionable commitments to racial justice. To name only a few, writing center leaders and tutors have espoused the feminist practice of Comadrismo to disrupt traditional Eurocentric ways of making knowledge and forming relationships in writing center spaces that are engaged in the collaborative process of composing an anti-racist and social justice statement (Eddy et al., 2021; Fields, 2021), and they have developed far-reaching anti-racist activist groups (Faison et al., 2019). These examples demonstrate ongoing efforts to question and dismantle White supremacy in writing center spaces and move away from silence toward meaningful action. At the same time, writing programs and centers across the country have directed efforts toward eradicating monolingual ideologies and deficit perspectives underpinning the history of writing education in U.S. colleges and universities, developing initiatives to support and empower multilingual writers (e.g., Caroll, 2022; Levingston, 2022; Shapiro et al., 2016; see, also, Krishnamurthy et al., Basta, and Brooks-Gillies, as compiled in Schreiber et al., 2021). Yet, despite the ever-growing movement within university writing centers to celebrate linguistic diversity and bring anti-racist training and practices to the fore, the interconnection of linguistic justice and anti-racism in writing center work deserves further exploration. Research shows that racial and linguistic hierarchies, co-constituted during processes of colonization and nation-state formation in the United States and across the Americas, have canonized monolingualism in a standardized national language as the aspiration of all national subjects (Flores, 2013). Thus, it is impossible within the racialized, White-dominant culture of the United States and higher education to separate the linguistic experiences of students and writing center staff from their racial identities. More attention to the ways in which writing centers understand and respond to inequalities resulting from racial and linguistic hierarchies is essential to better assess their contributions to more equitable and socially just higher education spaces. 

In an effort to further examine writing centers’ awareness and efforts to tackle privilege and disadvantage, this article’s authors, Erika and Antonella, reflect on committee work and tutor education centered on anti-racism and linguistic justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s (UW-Madison) Writing Center (WC). We are graduate students at UW-Madison and currently hold two of the rotating graduate student leadership positions within the writing center: the Outreach Coordinator and the Multicultural and Social Justice Initiatives Coordinator, respectively. Prior to gaining these leadership positions, we collectively worked nine semesters with the UW-Madison WC, fulfilling roles as tutors in the main center and at satellite locations. This afforded us the opportunity to work with a diverse array of student writers across myriad departments on campus. As a self-identifying monolingual, Hispanic white woman, Erika brings a lens of racial and linguistic privilege to each writing session. Antonella, a self-identifying multilingual Latina woman, brings a more nuanced lens of linguistic privilege and disadvantage. Both of us have noted the way linguistic identity impacts tutor and student writers’ confidence during WC sessions and seek to more deeply understand the ways in which the UW-Madison WC engages with linguistic diversity. 

The main purpose of this article is to highlight the lessons we learned from our experiences at the UW-Madison WC and offer actionable suggestions for other writing centers grappling with the complexities of sustaining channels to discuss and fight against linguistic and racial oppression. After working as tutors and moving into positions of graduate student leadership, we both understand how difficult it can be to enact the many ideas for racial justice or inclusive practice that arise in the course of a semester of tutoring instruction. The time spent with students during one-on-one writing sessions is impactful and the heart and soul of the work we do at our writing center. And yet, we believe there is potential for even greater strides toward linguistic justice, racial justice, and inclusive practice when the anti-racist principles of one-on-one sessions are extended into the many other areas of a writing center’s impact on campus. With this belief guiding our intentions for this article, we begin with a brief theoretical reflection on linguistic justice, followed by our working understanding of this concept. We then describe our experiences leading and participating in committee work and tutor education geared toward anti-racism and linguistic justice. Based on these experiences, we conclude by offering three actionable recommendations for writing centers interested in building a sustainable, tight-knit platform to discuss and enact anti-racism and linguistic justice.

Linguistic Justice as an Anti-Racist Approach to Writing Education

Concerns about linguistic justice have gained prominence within language and writing studies in the United States in recent decades (e.g., Baker-Bell, 2020; Bucholtz et al., 2014; Piller, 2016; Schreiber et al., 2021), mainly in response to the various forms of disadvantage produced by schools’ endorsement of monolingualism in Standard English as the ideal way of producing national subjects (e.g., García & Torres-Guevara, 2009; Lippi-Green, 2011; Flores, 2013; Flores & Rosa, 2015). From a raciolinguistics perspective, this history of educational violence has its roots in processes of settler colonialism and nation-state formation that characterized modernity, when the language practices of White-speaking subjects and those associated with Whiteness were ideologically framed as superior (Flores, 2013; Iyengar, 2014; Rosa & Flores, 2017). College writing scholars have made similar claims regarding the history of writing programs in U.S. colleges and universities. With a critical eye, they have contended that an underlying ideology of monolingualism, tied to nationalist sentiment, has elevated the English language as the default norm and aspiration of college coursework, shaping policies of “linguistic containment” that have prevented language differences from entering higher education (Horner & Trimbur, 2002; Matsuda, 2006). A justice-oriented writing education must involve work to dismantle and redistribute the power of Standard English, or as expressed by Baker-Bell, White Mainstream English (WME), the form of the English language imbued with the power of Whiteness (2020). Rooted in the multifaceted notion of “justice,” linguistic justice has been defined broadly as “a site of social struggle” (Piller, 2016, p. 215) and specifically as “an antiracist approach to language and literacy education” that seeks to dismantle “Anti-Black Linguistic Racism and white linguistic hegemony and supremacy in classrooms and in the world” (Baker-Bell, 2020, p. 7). 

While our understanding of linguistic justice continues to expand and evolve, the contributions of the critical language and writing scholars previously cited have informed our decision to put identity-based injustices, specifically racism, at the center of our working definition. Thus, in this article, we propose a working definition of “linguistic justice” as the collective effort to decenter WME and reattribute power to the voices and perspectives of racially minoritized students in academia. As our campuses and universities continue to grow in cultural and linguistic diversity, we believe that linguistic justice work within writing centers must be essentially anti-racist, interrogating “the specific linguistic oppressions experienced by linguistically marginalized communities of color and account for the critical distinctions between their linguistic histories, heritages, experiences, circumstances, and relationships to white supremacy” (Schreiber et al., 2021, p. 5). This understanding is also grounded in our experiences leading and participating in anti-racist and linguistic justice work in our writing center, as we explain in the following sections.

The Anti-Racism Committee

The UW-Madison has committed to anti-racism through a variety of initiatives, including the formation of the Anti-Racism Committee, which was formed in the Fall of 2020 alongside the new teaching faculty hired to begin work that academic year. The new faculty felt it was important to incorporate anti-racism into the WC’s work, which led to the committee’s creation. The most recent iteration of the committee includes four people: Erika, the current committee chair; Antonella, the TA Outreach Coordinator; a career staff member; and another member of the WC’s graduate student leadership team. The purpose of the committee has not changed substantially, although membership rotates annually. The Anti-Racism Committee is one of six standing committees at UW-Madison that exist with a similar rotating membership structure: Assessment/Evaluation, Accessibility, Marketing and Communications, Madison Writing Assistance (community outreach), the Another Word blog, and Anti-Racism. 

The Anti-Racism Committee traditionally meets weekly or bi-weekly for an hour over the course of the semester. These meetings are designed to include time to debrief inequity concerns raised by the UW-Madison WC community and, time permitting, to discuss potential projects to advance anti-racism within the WC. During the 2022-2023 academic year, the Anti-Racism Committee spent a significant amount of time discussing other WC projects and initiatives that intersected with the committee’s work. For example, a new evaluation was launched last fall to assess WC instructors’ utilization of anti-racist practices during one-on-one instruction. The Assessment and Evaluation Committee took the lead on the project but consulted the Anti-Racism Committee throughout the project’s design, implementation, and data analysis stages. During the 2022-2023 academic year, the Anti-Racism Committee also spent many meetings discussing issues of inequity or bias brought to the leadership team and sought ways to address these concerns while employing anti-racism principles as a guide. Most of the bias or discrimination concerns brought to the Anti-Racism Committee were done anonymously through short Zoom surveys administered to the WC team during a fall 2022 staff meeting. It was this fall staff meeting survey that illuminated the desire among WC instructors to spend more time learning about and highlighting multilingualism and issues of linguistic injustice. 

As it currently stands, the work of the Anti-Racism Committee has been responsive in nature, meeting the needs of the WC community in real-time. Consequently, the limited time allotted to each semester’s weekly committee meetings prevents focused attention on new long-term projects or extensions of work already begun, such as the meaningful discussions and early planning of the Linguistic Justice Ongoing Education Group (OGE), a professional development opportunity for all WC tutors after their first semester. While there are plans to begin new initiatives through the Anti-Racism Committee in future semesters, time dedicated to each initiative is limited and creates competing interests. It is for this reason that inter-committee collaborations (e.g., the Anti-Racism and Assessment and Evaluation Committees) and working groups, such as the recently proposed linguistic justice working group at our WC, are important additions to standing committees. Additionally, we believe a crucial step toward the sustainability of important initiatives is to build in time and resources for working groups within a writing center’s paid hours for tutors. To offer further context for the evolution of the aforementioned linguistic justice working group, a brief overview of the spring 2023 Linguistic Justice OGE is provided below.

The Linguistic Justice OGE

Despite multiple surveys dedicated to understanding anti-racism and inclusion in our writing center, linguistic justice was not explicitly addressed outside of the Anti-Racism Committee until the spring 2023 OnGoing Education groups. OnGoing Educations, or OGEs at UW-Madison, are professional development opportunities targeting all tutors after initial training in their first semester. These groups are excellent opportunities for writing centers such as ours to build time and space for tutors to engage in reflection and discussion. This allows the tutors to expand their knowledge about writing and their toolkit for writing center work by engaging with different perspectives and collaborating with other tutors to develop resources for shared use at their centers. The OGE groups are designed and led by graduate student WC leaders and are intentionally open-ended in structure and content. The required time for the OGE is four hours and can be fulfilled according to the discretion and interest of participating tutors. In the past, this has resulted in configurations such as 2 two-hour long meetings or two hours of asynchronous work followed by 2 one-hour meetings for discussion. This scheduling flexibility allows current tutors and WC graduate student leaders to choose content and a format that is meaningful to them while minimizing the stress of adding obligations to their already busy schedules. Since OGE groups are organized and led by current graduate student leaders in the WC, they also tend to reflect the real-time interests and needs of WC tutors. The parallel structure of leadership (fellow tutors leading each other through professional development) creates a sense of comradery and openness while building the professional skills of the WC tutor leaders who organize the meetings. This is a model that can be adopted easily by other writing centers seeking to create greater tutor interest and engagement around professional development opportunities in their own centers. 

 The topics chosen by the spring 2023 OGE group leaders were inspired by the Assessment and Evaluation Committee’s anti-racism survey feedback from current WC tutors. This feedback included responses such as a request to learn “how to liaise with campus instructors to help them value linguistic diversity in their writing assignments and grading standards” and a suggestion that “anti-racism topics should also include…multilingualism, how some folks with accents get sometimes mistreated.” Additionally, nine of the 21 survey responses suggested linguistic justice or linguistic diversity as a topic of interest. The WC leadership team felt compelled to address the explicit requests for linguistic justice content immediately. Although all three graduate student leaders assigned to lead OGEs in the spring chose to focus on multilingualism or linguistic justice as a topic of discussion and learning, the Linguistic Justice OGE focused most explicitly on linguistic justice. 

The Linguistic Justice OnGoing Education group (LJ OGE) was developed by me (Erika) during the Spring 2023 semester as a discussion-based space that brought together six WC tutors to explore linguistic justice-related issues in writing centers. During March 2023, tutors met twice virtually for an hour and spent an additional two hours working asynchronously. Both meetings were held virtually, approximately two weeks apart, to allow for additional reading and reflection between meetings.  In deciding on the first meeting’s content and agenda, I found inspiration in two podcast episodes from the show “Imagine Otherwise” by Cathy Hannabach and publisher Ideas on Fire. This podcast, which is centered on bridging art, activism, and academia to build more just futures, featured scholars who made a case for the importance of expanding how good academic writing is defined, and challenged what is deemed valuable by scholars with traditional ideas about academic rigor (Hannabach, 2016-present). The podcast seemed like a great way to build interest in the topic of linguistic justice in academic spaces, and it allowed me to offer multi-modal content (as opposed to only scholarly articles) that would suit the learning needs of a range of participants. I was fortunate to have a linguistically diverse and deeply engaged group of tutors in my OGE sessions. I quickly discovered that the power in the group’s learning, especially my own, was in our ability to trust one another, be vulnerable, and share our experiences with linguistic justice and injustice in our tutoring roles. During our second and final session together, we decided to build on our previous discussion by tackling two challenging goals: defining linguistic justice and agreeing on the next steps for pursuing linguistic justice at UW-Madison. 

One unexpected outcome of the LJ OGE was realizing how much our experiences as a linguistically and culturally diverse group of writing center tutors resonated with the questions and topics addressed in the readings and podcast episodes. Some tutors, born and raised outside of the United States, shared their experiences transitioning from being linguistically dominant in their home countries to being linguistically minoritized in U.S. academia. International WC tutors with various experiences learning English described challenging writing center sessions and feeling a certain degree of resistance from students to their feedback, which they did not attribute exclusively to their non-English dominant status, but thought was related. They also agreed that when students requested only grammar feedback, the impostor syndrome hit them hard. On the other hand, as a group, we all recognized how most of our clients, but especially multilingual and multidialectal students, came to the writing center feeling severely disempowered, usually as a result of traumatic experiences with writing or a lack of confidence with standard English. We paused on a central yet complex question most writing centers and writing educators ask themselves: Should we reinforce the “standard language myth” or push back against it, or perhaps something in between? Also, what does this question look and feel like for English-dominant versus multilingual tutors? Likewise, is this question only applicable to the writing of non-English dominant students, or should it also concern the writing of students who belong to a linguistic majority? The discussion eventually gravitated toward a more essential and fundamental question: What did linguistic justice mean for each of us? We then decided it was necessary to operationally define this concept to move from discussion into actionable proposals for our writing center. 

The previously proposed questions moved the LJ OGE into actionable ideas. First, we agreed that developing our definition of linguistic justice must start by understanding the scholarly debate around the topic, so we explored linguistic justice literature we could later discuss, build on, depart from, and so on. Second, we decided that our definition of linguistic justice must reflect the specific experiences of students who utilize the UW-Madison WC. Our values as a writing center are grounded in centering the voices of students and tutors who are part of the larger WC community. Thus, the OGE platform led us to imagine a larger collaborative project to assess linguistic injustice in our WC, which we began discussing in a follow-up LJ OGE in the Fall of 2023. In sum, our experience with the LJ OGE helped us recognize that these discussion-based spaces can be a crucial lever for driving more sustainable linguistic justice commitments. 

Barriers and Actionable Ideas

Our experiences with the Anti-Racism Committee and the Linguistic Justice OGE demonstrate that conversations about racial and linguistic discrimination in higher education spaces are complex, nuanced, and taxing. Writing centers, including ours, are challenged with finding ways to advance linguistic justice work without overburdening instructors or increasing budget allocations, especially since overall budgets are unlikely to increase in the coming years for many public universities. We have therefore sought low-cost, effective ways to continue to advance linguistic justice through the UW-Madison WC’s initiatives and programming and hope to offer some insight and tips for other writing centers seeking to do the same. Below, we share some lessons learned from our experiences in the Anti-Racism Committee and the Linguistic Justice OGE. We have framed these as “Actionable Recommendations” as we believe they can be adapted to other writing centers as long as their institutional conditions permit. 

Actionable Recommendation #1: Promote partnerships between writing centers and university-level initiatives focused on anti-racism and linguistic justice

Given the evident crossover between anti-racism and linguistic justice missions highlighted throughout this piece, writing centers are encouraged to treat these ideological commitments as co-dependent parts of one overarching goal. The effectiveness and sustainability of such a framework for writing center practice will only be possible when clear communication channels exist, allowing for ongoing dialogue and collaboration among those involved in racial and linguistic justice work. Aware that UW-Madison has a deep and long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion (see, for example, Division of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement, 2023), our writing center, often through the work of the Anti-Racism Committee, seeks existing campus resources and collaboration opportunities with campus partners to build on current anti-racist work before launching new initiatives. Below, we share some highlights of our experiences promoting partnerships between the WC and university-level initiatives. 

Our partnership with the Badger Anti-Racism Coalition (BARC), initiated in 2022, allowed the Anti-Racism Committee to assess its current progress in advancing anti-racism and principles of inclusivity and justice within the WC. BARC is a campus-wide initiative begun and sustained by community-facing university professionals at UW-Madison to “advocate and agitate for concrete actions supporting racial justice and equity on campus” (University of Wisconsin-Madison, n.d.). The WC’s leadership team and Anti-Racism Committee used BARC’s rigorous 12-category rubric to assess its current status regarding anti-racist practices (see An Anti-Racist Rubric for Our Campus Units for additional information about each of the rubric’s 12 categories). After completing the rubric, the Anti-Racism Committee and WC leadership team reached out to the BARC committee members to offer feedback regarding their experience with the evaluation tool. This point of connection resulted in an invitation for the UW-Madison Writing Center to participate in BARC’s 2022 Diversity Forum presentation and reflect on their experience using the rubric. The Diversity Forum was well-attended by up to 100 staff and faculty across campus who sought advice for using the tool in their own departments. Although the WC’s participation in the Diversity Forum did not yield immediate collaboration opportunities with other departments advancing anti-racist work, it created momentum within the WC’s leadership team. Consequently, despite the shifting membership of the Anti-Racism Committee, the investment in anti-racism at the UW-Madison WC has been sustained. The evaluative information from the BARC rubric has since served as a guide for new members of the Anti-Racism committee, such as Erika and Antonella, as they seek to move the work of the 2022 committee forward. Most recently, our advancement of the work has focused on linguistic justice, which the current Anti-Racism Committee named a critical element in the effort to combat racism and promote inclusion within the UW-Madison WC. 

 Supporting DEI-related groups and spaces across campus is another way in which our WC has shown commitment to anti-racism and linguistic justice through partnership. In our roles as the Outreach Coordinator and the Multicultural and Social Justice (MSJ) Initiatives Coordinator, we have partnered with student-facing groups such as the UW-Madison Posse Program, an initiative that seeks to redistribute college opportunities for underrepresented students, and the Academic Coaching to Thrive & Succeed (ACTS) Program. The partnership project with ACTS arose in response to a need identified by the ACTS Program Director. Namely, there was an academic skills gap among first-generation and racially minoritized undergraduate students that could be partially addressed with targeted writing support in the DEI lounge spaces for students. The opportunity to offer targeted support to the student groups within the DEI office through the ACTS Program gave Erika, as MSJ Coordinator, access to the important work that is being done on behalf of racially minoritized and first-generation students through DEI programs at UW-Madison. 

Through my partnership with the ACTS Program, I (Erika) acquired invaluable insight into the importance of offering individualized support to students who often feel overlooked by general campus programming. I was also inspired to spend more time learning how university-level writing programs can become more accessible to students who do not conform to WME. This learning experience also led to conversations about the ways graduate student leaders at the WC can further support racially marginalized students in areas like grammar workshops and outreach (by acknowledging and de-prioritizing the institution’s promotion of WME). As demonstrated in these examples, campus-level collaborations can lead to large scale opportunities to engage in dialogues about anti-racism and linguistic justice or smaller, more tailored moments of connection at the student level. We believe partnership must exist at both levels to create lasting change with complex social justice issues, and it is within the capacity of many writing centers to engage at the individual and systems levels. 

Actionable Recommendation #2: Increase racial and linguistic representation within writing center groups committed to anti-racist and linguistic justice praxis

We believe that increasing racial and linguistic representation in writing center spaces is essential to making a meaningful commitment to anti-racism and linguistic justice. We can personally speak to the benefits of a linguistically and culturally diverse committee conversation after participating in the Linguistic Justice OGE. This learning community brought together writing center tutors from various racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, including tutors who identified as White and non-White, multilingual and English-dominant, and international and domestic graduate students. We benefitted from this rich racial, linguistic, and cultural diversity when we started to unpack the meaning of linguistic justice. As the conversation triggered our personal experiences tutoring and mentoring students in a predominantly White university, we realized we needed a safe space to share. As described in previous sections, multilingual tutors in our group empathized with each other around challenging sessions they had with writing center users who showed resistance or skepticism regarding their abilities to do writing center work. English-dominant tutors in the group conceptualized these experiences as “micro-aggressions,” which felt like an important interpretation of the stories that those involved had not identified. We noticed that our social identities afforded us privileges and disadvantages in our different writing center roles, and that linguistic and racial hierarchies built into higher education spaces could go unnoticed if writing centers do not actively inquire into the experiences of their diverse workforce. The Linguistic Justice OGE highlighted the need for additional opportunities for diverse committee work. We strongly believe that any discussion about an anti-racist approach to linguistic justice in our writing center can and should be mobilized by the collective efforts of dominant and minoritized groups if we are to pursue meaningful and sustainable action.  

Our recommendation of having diverse voices in discussions and projects about linguistic justice is presented with the caveat that increasing diversity within writing center spaces does not automatically create the feeling of belonging and acceptance necessary to promote a true culture of inclusivity. This second recommendation is therefore presented as an extension of the conversation begun by Talisha M. Haltiwanger Morrison and Talia O. Nanton in their article “Dear Writing Centers: Black Women Speaking Silence into Language and Action” (2020). Critically, Haltwanger Morrison and Nanton implored their writing center peers to think beyond increasing diversity among writing center tutors and to consider a deeper, culture-shifting approach to inclusivity and belonging instead. In writing center spaces, this is a “both/and” opportunity to encourage greater inclusivity on multiple levels of anti-racist and linguistic justice work. For example, the UW-Madison WC has attempted to bring greater visibility to multilingual tutors who do not conform to White Mainstream English (WME) by increasing their committee and leadership representation and featuring non-WME writers in social media posts, writing center publications, and conference presentations. For example, the WC’s Heritage Month social media posts often feature multilingual writers across campus, inclusive of faculty, students, and university staff. These featured writers offer specific tips about their writing process that may be especially empowering for multilingual students or students who speak a variety of English that is not perceived as “standard.” 

Another social media series called “Tutor Tuesdays” was begun recently by a former Writing Center graduate student leader and multilingual tutor, Diego Corona. “Tutor Tuesdays” spotlights the diverse team of tutors who work at the UW-Madison Writing Center and celebrates the incredible work they do on behalf of students across campus. It is the hope of our WC that these social media posts not only celebrate the tutors who are featured but also empower students on campus who see their own identities reflected in our tutors. Similar to the Heritage Month posts, “Tutor Tuesdays” were created and implemented during the tenure of one of the graduate student leadership roles. This is an example of the importance of both encouraging our diverse staff of writing center tutors to think creatively, as our leadership team does, but also ensuring there is time allotted for the implementation of new ideas that arise over the course of a semester. In our next recommendation, we will offer some reflections on the importance of building professional development time into tutors’ paid hours.

Actionable Recommendation #3: Build space into tutors’ paid time to participate in professional development opportunities and committee work

The third recommendation speaks to the critical need to reserve time for writing tutors to engage in formative activities outside their expected responsibilities as writing instructors. These activities would be in direct conversation with their teaching practices, such as ongoing working groups and committee participation. This recommendation arises from the knowledge that ongoing tutor education is a common and valued practice among writing centers at a variety of institutions across the country. In an interview-based review of practices for ongoing tutor education in writing centers across the nation, writing center professional Julia Bleakney (2019) found that participation in committees and ongoing education endows tutors with autonomy and authority to participate in the day-to-day running of the center, especially when committee work feeds into ongoing education. Not only can tutor education opportunities foster deep involvement in the writing center, but they also cultivate a sense of belonging to a professional organization, as tutors may want to pursue leadership opportunities and develop leadership skills after experiencing some form of tutor education. Overall, Bleakney’s 2019 study highlights the potential of tutor-centered education opportunities to “cultivate tutor buy-in,” with suggestions to encourage tutors to voice their ideas, concerns, and recommendations, participate or lead sessions, and join planning meetings.

The examples of the Anti-Racism Committee and Linguistic Justice OGE previously described illustrate tutor education opportunities that have worked well at UW-Madison. In these cases, additional hours for committee work and ongoing education were incorporated into tutor schedules at the beginning of the semester. For example, Erika’s participation in projects that support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) groups on campus, described in the first recommendation section, was made possible by reserving three hours per week of her total semester appointment as MSJ Coordinator to focus on partnership opportunities. The WC’s MSJ Coordinator position is inherently flexible to allow for meaningful writing-focused partnerships that also provide important learning opportunities for the position. Erika’s experience in this role has convinced her that the MSJ Coordinator position model offers the greatest potential for broader university impact, and that it would benefit other writing center graduate student leaders and tutors to have greater flexibility in their allotted hours. Greater flexibility would open up richer personal learning opportunities and may result in more fruitful collaborations with campus partners.

As a returning WC tutor, Antonella participated in the Spring 2023 Linguistic Justice OGE after the WC reserved four hours of her total appointment to engage in this learning community. I found this space valuable not only to explore my academic interests in linguistic diversity but also to debrief about my experiences feeling the “diverse” element in my writing center sessions. Throughout my involvement in the Linguistic Justice OGE, I confirmed that the UW-Madison Writing Center genuinely cared about tutors’ professional growth and wellness and offered spaces to do so. This realization, alongside observing that other international multilingual tutors had taken leadership roles, encouraged me to apply for a coordinating position, confirming that ongoing education can deepen tutors’ involvement in writing center work, as mentioned in Bleakney’s (2019) study. While other writing centers may utilize a different scheduling approach, the suggestion to plan ahead for the additional time needed to join committees and engage in writing initiatives outside of the WC locations is generalizable across tutoring experiences. A similar model can be applied to tutors outside of leadership roles as long as there are enough writing tutors to fulfill the needed hours in writing center locations around campus. 

Final Remarks

Since our initial involvement with the Linguistic Justice OGE, we have continued to partner on additional initiatives to advance anti-racism and linguistic justice within the WC. In order to maintain the momentum from the first Linguistic Justice OGE, we collaborated to develop and lead a second OGE on linguistic justice during the fall 2023 semester. Our goal for this OGE was to formulate an action plan to begin data collection from students and tutors about their experience with linguistic justice in our WC spaces. This OGE experience not only advanced the initial goal to understand more about linguistic justice in the UW-Madison WC, but it also allowed the previous learning and work to sustain beyond a single semester. 

For me (Erika), these linguistic justice initiatives also brought deep learning and insight about a topic that was previously understood by me at only the most basic level. As a White, monolingual English speaker, I carry linguistic and racial identity privilege with me into every writing center session. The impact this has on students’ perceptions of my skills as a tutor, and my own comfort in offering services to students who seek my support, is now clear to me as a point of contrast with my multilingual WC peers. My ability to support a student with their writing has never been questioned in response to my linguistic background, and I was shocked to discover how frequently this happens among other WC tutors. The opportunity to explore scholarship on linguistic justice and multilingualism with other tutors in the writing center has expanded my understanding of what an inclusive and just writing center looks like and opened a new passion for advancing justice both at the individual and institutional levels. I now more clearly see the person-in-context elements of writing center work that often go unnoticed during a 40-minute one-on-one session with a student. Without the time spent leading and participating in experiences such as the OGEs or the Anti-Racism Committee, I would not have reached the new levels of personal insight and growth needed to bring an inclusive anti-racist lens to all aspects of my WC role. 

As I reflect on my participation in the Linguistic Justice OGE sequence and Anti-Racism Committee, I (Antonella) recognize that these spaces have been a much-needed support for both my academic interests and personal experience as a multilingual graduate student and writing tutor in a predominantly White university. While I recognize my privileges, including but not limited to having been schooled in English from a very young age and being a light-skinned, middle-class Latina, I have been the target of my own and others’ linguistic prejudices. Being in a community with other writing center tutors discussing how our linguistic identities and those of our students impact our work has felt therapeutic on a personal level, but it is also important to plan meaningful actions against harmful racial and linguistic ideologies. One of our biggest takeaways from these learning communities is that anti-racism and linguistic justice are co-existing missions that must be locally defined based on intellectual conversations, yes, but also tutors’ and students’ experiences at the writing center and in higher education. This is the type of work we advocate for and which our recommendations seek to support within our writing center and beyond. 

As we continue to move our own work forward, we urge other writing center tutors and leadership to consider how their current practices are informed by an anti-racist, linguistically just lens. We recommend starting with the simplest of changes to move the needle on advancing linguistic justice work: consider increasing the linguistic and racial diversity of writing center tutors, acknowledge the validity and importance of multiple Englishes, and center the voices of multilingual students (e.g. via social media posts and publications), develop meaningful partnerships with other campus departments already engaged in anti-racist work, and intentionally build space and time into current writing tutors’ schedules for professional development to advance their understanding of anti-racism and linguistic justice. Our experience with these practices has demonstrated they can be implemented quickly, and without budgetary demands or cumbersome policy changes. Most critically, these recommendations are effective at shifting the priorities of a writing center into a more anti-racist and linguistically just approach to practice. 

To conclude, this article joins a long line of research advocating for the integration of racial and linguistic justice into a writing center’s mission, core values, and work. Like all writing centers, ours is compelled to move from silence to action as the growing diversity of college campuses across the U.S. continues to be the target of multiple and overlapping forms of violence. In describing our experiences as tutors and leaders engaging in conversations about linguistic and racial diversity in our WC and suggesting actionable steps for other contexts, we have attempted to show that linguistic justice work can and should be aligned with current frameworks and infrastructure related to anti-racist practice in writing center spaces. Our working definition of linguistic justice –the collective effort to decenter WME and reattribute power to the voices and perspectives of socially and racially minoritized students in academia–is still at its early stages of development but seeks to honor our intellectual conversations and the future direction of our work. We hope that reflecting on our experience and the actionable suggestions provided will put us in conversation with other writing centers grappling with similar questions about advancing more equitable and socially just writing education practices. 


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