Sí Se Pudo: Retelling the Stories of Our Consultant-Led Linguistic Justice Projects

Genoveva Vega, Washington State University
Liliana Silva-Vazquez, San Diego State University
Matthew Louie, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Abstract

At our undergraduate University Writing Center (UWC), the push towards linguistic justice was not only because conversations in the field were drawing attention to the topic, but also because it was necessary to support and reflect both us, as three BIPOC consultants, and the predominantly first-generation (71%), multilingual (70%) student body we served while working together at our undergraduate institution. Inspired by scholarship that reflected our experiences with language (Anzaldúa, 2012; Cavazos, 2019; Rosa & Flores, 2017; Shapiro et al., 2016) in addition to calls for action towards linguistic justice (Baker-Bell, 2020), we engaged in WC consultant-led linguistic justice projects and initiatives to give a voice to us, the BIPOC undergraduate consultants, who share similar language experiences to the student body. This article shares our stories of the consultant-led linguistic justice projects we did at our center. We also pose reflective questions for other WC practitioners to consider when engaging in consultant-led linguistic justice projects in their centers. The goal of sharing our stories and these questions is to offer our perspectives and hopefully inspire other WCs to do similar linguistic justice work, or build upon the work they are already doing, through the addition or expansion of consultant perspectives in linguistic justice conversations and projects. 

Keywords: consultant-led writing center projects, narrative/storytelling, linguistic justice, linguistic diversity 

Introduction

At our undergraduate University Writing Center (UWC), the push towards linguistic justice was not only because conversations in the field were drawing attention to the topic, but also because it was necessary to support and reflect both us, as three BIPOC consultants, and the predominantly first-generation (71%), multilingual (70%) student body (Center of Institutional Effectiveness [CIE], 2021a; CIE, 2021b) we served while working together at our undergraduate institution. In our attempts to work towards incorporating practices that strove to celebrate our linguistic backgrounds and those of the students we served, we engaged in consultant-led projects as a way to promote linguistic justice and celebrate linguistic diversity in our UWC. These projects played a large role in the development of the linguistic justice initiatives in our UWC given that they were completely developed and spearheaded by us, as BIPOC undergraduate consultants (many of whom have faced linguistic discrimination), and we believe that sharing these stories could provide others inspiration to do or continue doing similar projects in their contexts. We recognize that having undergraduate consultant-led projects focused on linguistic justice is not new nor unique, but we are inspired to share our stories to contribute to what Kathy Yan and Faith Thompson (2024) discuss in their conversation shaper in this issue regarding how “less is known about how tutors internalize and apply Linguistic Justice principles in practice” even though “[consultants] are the ones charged with enacting these principles and interacting with speakers of marginalized languages every day.” We hope that our stories and reflection of our experiences offer new perspectives for addressing the experiences consultants bring to WCs regarding linguistic justice in practice. In addition, we would like to highlight how these consultant-led projects can inspire consultants from across multiple disciplines to learn about and invest in linguistic justice and, maybe, even inspire them to join the field of rhetoric and composition to continue to pursue linguistically just writing practices.

In this paper, then, we plan to share our experiences of the various consultant-led projects we engaged in and pose some questions for practitioners (both administrators and consultants) to consider if engaging in consultant-led projects focused on linguistic justice. We will conclude with how these experiences inspired all of us to join the field of rhetoric and composition and suggest how these activities respond to Yan and Thompson’s (2024) call that WCs “have the capacity to promote inclusive languaging practices to dismantle white linguistic hegemony.” In other words, we hope our projects show how consultant voices can help make Writing Centers (WCs) loci for action towards linguistic justice.

Overview

In sharing our work, our discussion starts with a brief contextualization of our campus context as we believe this is important to share where our work was situated and the constraints or lack thereof that we were working within. We then situate our work within the scholarship that informed us throughout our work and shaped our understandings of key terms in writing studies like linguistic justice. Our attention then shifts to the main section of the paper: our stories. 

The consultant-led projects that we did at our center were inspired by or initiated from stories. For example, the workshop series (discussed later) was inspired by and developed out of us sharing stories of our experiences regarding linguistic justice at a staff meeting. We use this approach to structure this section given that stories brought us together to make these projects a reality. For this section, then, we start each discussion of our consultant-led linguistic justice projects with a story about our experiences developing those projects. We see this approach as forefronting our lived experiences as the driving force behind our argument that consultant voices and lived experiences are valuable, which maps onto WC scholarship that details how storying can be a way to complicate WC lore (Baldwin et al., 2018) and open conversations about the influences of “the structure of the Center and its institutional and disciplinary constraints” (Brooks-Gillies et al., 2022, para. 15). 

In addition, we also have questions for WC practitioners to consider. Adding questions is informed by our recognition that sharing our successes does not necessarily translate to the respective contexts each WC is situated in. This utilization of questions is informed by scholars who have developed heuristics which have inspired us in rethinking our anti-racist practices. Most specifically is Inoue’s (2015) anti-racist writing assessment ecology heuristic detailing considerations teachers can take when building anti-racist assessment ecologies. While our questions are not as comprehensive as Inoue’s (2015), we hope our questions invoke similar considerations about consultant-led linguistic justice projects that we were met with when looking at his heuristic.

Taken as a whole, our approach seeks to affirm the value of our lived experiences from these projects through our stories, extend our experiences beyond our context by providing more general questions for practitioners to consider, and place ourselves within larger conversations informing our linguistic justice projects through our takeaways detailed at the end of each section.

Campus Context

The context of our undergraduate UWC played a large role in how we operated our center. Specifically, our center is situated at the University of California, Merced (UCM) which is located in the San Joaquin Valley of California (abbreviated to Central Valley). The Central Valley is a rural and underserved community with little access to healthcare along with “chronically low levels of educational attainment in the region” (UCM, n.d.). This community is also home to many marginalized social groups as the ethnic demographics are primarily BIPOC, with the largest group being Hispanic/Latino (50.2%), and low income, with many of the counties in the Central Valley having the highest percentage of residents in California living below the poverty line (U.S. Census, n.d.). This diversity is reflected in the student body as UCM is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI), and Minority Serving Institution (MSI). Further, the linguistic proficiencies and life experiences students come in with are often underrepresented within academia with 71% of students being first-generation college students and 70% of students being multilingual (CIE, 2021a; CIE 2021b). 

Given this diversity in our student body, the actions we took at our center necessitated different considerations and approaches to ensure that our students would be both represented and accounted for in our values and beliefs. Firstly, because of the large student body of underrepresented students, there was a need for consultants who reflect these students and share similar lived experiences. Luckily, our center has consistently been composed of consultant cohorts that reflect the student body with us being examples of this. Genoveva (Gen) comes to the project as a first-generation, multilingual student (first languages: Spanish and Mixteco) whose experiences being negatively judged when learning and writing in English have motivated her to join the field of rhetoric and composition to empower students who have faced linguistic discrimination. Liliana (Lily) comes to this project as a first-generation Latine who is fluent in Spanish, learning Punjabi, and dedicated to challenging linguistic discrimination in and outside of academia, especially after learning about her indigenous roots that have almost been completely cut due to Spanish and English settler-colonialism. Matthew (Matt) comes to the project as neither a first-generation college student nor speaking multiple languages but is still committed to linguistic justice because of the “No-Chamorro” (English-Only) policies and Chinese-American assimilation practices that have influenced his and his family’s perceptions of their native languages. 

In addition, the prominence of large underrepresented groups in our student body was something that made our director, Dr. Erin Goldin (Erin), provide us with more agency on how the center was run as she recognized we better represent the student body than herself, which allowed for the lived experiences of consultants to be utilized to foster a more inclusive environment for consultants. This combination of having groups of consultants who reflect the student body and share similar lived experiences combined with Erin having the center set up more collaboratively resulted in the development of projects informed by the interests and goals of the consultants. In this case, our experiences and understanding of our student body had us focus on linguistic justice.

General Theory and Practice Informing Our Work

When we started at the UWC, we were all new to the field of WC Studies (and rhetoric and composition) so we didn’t have a lot of scholarship from the field itself that guided our approach to our projects nor were we versed in the conversations surrounding linguistic justice. Because of this, a lot of our work started with us jumping into practice with the scholarship we were familiar with from our respective fields. In addition, the terminology we used to describe our work was rather flexible as we often utilized linguistic diversity and linguistic justice interchangeably. As we got more acquainted with the field of rhetoric and composition and decided to join the field, we started to see the larger conversations that had similar approaches and took from the same scholarship we took from our fields (like Freire, 2005) alongside showing us the conversations surrounding linguistic justice and linguistic diversity which helped us further delineate between the two. In this section, we plan to outline the theory and practice that guided our approach to and the development of these projects and then identify how we came to better understand how our practices were engaging in discussions of linguistic justice.

Our Experiences Prior to Writing Studies

In our prior experiences in the disciplines we engaged in–including Psychology (Gen and Matt), English (Lily), and Sociology (Matt)–alongside the writing studies courses we were taking, there were several theories and practices that informed how we engaged in these projects. Regarding theory, we were most prominently exposed to Freire (2005) and Anzaldúa (2012). Freire’s (2005) idea of problem-posing education–or the practice of rejecting hierarchical dynamics like teacher-student (and in this case director-consultant) for a model that promotes the circulation of knowledge from everyone in the learning community rather than a unilateral one (e.g., WC director telling consultants what to do)–most prominently informed how our center was run both because we wanted to bring our knowledge of topics to the center and also because Erin has read his work and shared in the belief of running the center with an approach that utilized the knowledge of everyone in the learning community. Freire’s (2005) work served as the baseline for the initiation of our projects because it gave us, as the consultants, the power to bring in our knowledge and develop projects based on what we were learning in class as well as what we bring from our lived experiences. 

Anzaldúa’s (2012) work builds on our emphasis on lived experiences as her theory of borderlands–or the liminal space in between “unnatural boundaries” (often developed and reinforced by dominant groups) where those who do not fit on either side are pushed/exist–helps further complicate the hierarchical structures and divisions as the idea of borders gave us the language to identify the divisions we were seeing at a relational level (e.g., Director-consultant, consultant-student/consultee) as well as at a structural/institutional level (e.g., Academic-home knowledge, professional-personal identity). In this identification of borders, we were able to make visible the ways in which these divides impacted the development of our center’s, our students’, and our identities. This visibility allowed us to explore ways to incorporate practices and approaches that promoted linguistic justice and diversity in the UWC. 

Informed by these theories, our practice was most heavily informed by Adler-Kassner and Wardle’s (2015) threshold concepts of writing alongside Cavazos (2019) and Shapiro et al.’s (2016) discussion of linguistic diversity.  Adler-Kassner and Wardle’s threshold concepts, and the promotion of metacognition surrounding them, are what really guided our approach to our linguistic justice projects. They prompted us to promote metacognition surrounding ideas of writing to offer our students a perspective to make visible the ways of understanding their experiences with writing including those experiences that connect to being perceived as other because of their linguistic background. For example, as we will discuss later, we used the “writing is informed by prior experiences” (Adler-Kassner & Wardle, 2015) threshold concept to discuss why students, particularly our primarily minoritized student body, might not have the best experiences with writing because they were judged against White Mainstream English. In our linguistic justice projects, we were adamant about ensuring our projects allowed both students and ourselves to critically think through their writing and language experiences and how they are impacted by dominant language standards. 

Cavazos (2019) and Shapiro et al.’s (2016) work is where we were first introduced to discussions of linguistic diversity. Their work gave us insight into how first year composition classrooms have engaged in discussing student perceptions of linguistic diversity in addition to some practices and recommendations that the scholars across the two articles have implemented regarding linguistic diversity, including seeing language abilities as resources, audience/context awareness, and multilingual student agency. Seeing these more practical recommendations and implementations helped us get an idea of how we can develop our linguistic justice focused projects in a way that helps with critical writing and language development.

How we Came to our Understanding of Linguistic Justice

As discussed, we were new to the field of rhetoric and composition when we first started our linguistic justice projects, so we used linguistic justice and linguistic diversity interchangeably as we were not yet familiar with the scholarship which helped us understand the difference between the terms. As we further progressed into the field, we were exposed to more scholarship that helped us understand the difference, such as Horner and Trimbur (2002) and Matsuda (2006), who discuss English-only policies and the myth of linguistic homogeneity, or the assumption that all students are native-English speakers. We see this work as seminal discussions of linguistic diversity as they highlight the underlying linguistic homogeneity within education. We now understand linguistic diversity as spaces where a variety of language experiences are present as well as the encouragement to use all languages equally when speaking, reading, or writing. 

Regarding linguistic justice, Baker-Bell (2020)  forefronts our introduction into the topic as her work discussing anti-Black linguistic racism is crucial to the discussion. For our work, Baker-Bell’s (2020) discussion of White Mainstream English (WME) holds an important place given it helps provide us with terminology to discuss how the English we have been taught throughout our educations (Standard Academic English) is one that represents a certain racialized habitus and oversimplifies how language functions. Further, our understanding of linguistic justice is also informed by Young’s (2010) work on code-meshing and critical discussions about academic discourse and how racialized students are perceived by instructors. In addition, Rosa and Flores (2017) discuss how the perception of racialized students, regardless of their adherence to “Standard” or White Mainstream English, will always be through a lens that marks them as the “Other.” These works, then, help us understand linguistic justice as the practices and theories that demand the identification of and actions that reject the racism and discrimination that exists in languaging practices. While we did not have this formal introduction to these topics when we first started, we believe our work still falls under that of linguistic justice as our work had a heavy emphasis on discussing how racialized experiences (both our own and the students we work with) inform our understanding and relationship to writing and language.

Our Stories

In the following sections, we discuss our consultant-led linguistic justice projects. We will start with the mini-conference presentation that brought us together. We then move to the workshops that we did both at staff meetings and for other students. After we discuss our inclusivity statement, we conclude with our participation on the hiring committee. These projects are organized (roughly) in chronological order, however, given that we’re from three different consultant cohorts (Matt, hired Fall 2019; Lily, hired Spring 2020; Gen, hired Fall 2020) there are some inconsistencies in the timeline as we came to specific projects at different times. To navigate these inconsistencies, we will take a third person approach to writing to ensure it is clear whose experiences are being discussed.

Our “Origin Story:” Presenting at Southern Oregon University

After the invitation went out to present at an online mini-conference at Southern Oregon University (SOU) regarding linguistic justice and diversity, Matt, Lily, and Gen all had their reservations for wanting to join. For Matt, it was not being sure if his voice, as he only speaks English, was valuable; for Lily, she didn’t have the scholarship to back up her experiences/voice; for Gen, it was that she felt too new to the UWC and the field (as a psychology major) to contribute to the conversation. Despite all our respective hesitations, we all found enough courage to join and at the first meeting to discuss how we were going to address the audience of “high school teachers from southern Oregon…[who] do not reflect the demographics of students of color and/or English Language Learners of their schools” (Lundahl, personal communication, March 15, 2021). We started to feel much more comfortable by hearing each other’s hesitations in addition to our experiences. Lily and Gen were able to bring their lived experiences into the conversations about how to address the audience we were presenting to, and Matt was able to provide some perspectives about what would be helpful to know for people who haven’t faced any or as much linguistic discrimination. The conversations at the following meetings to discuss the presentation followed similar patterns with each of us leveraging our strengths and coming together to read and learn as a group. 

While the nerves of joining the project were gone, the presentation itself was a whole different beast, particularly for those of us with social anxiety (Matt and Lily). Our presentation, which we titled “Sí Se Puede” (We Can Do This), was the last of the panels of the day and we watched much more experienced teachers talk about all the projects they were doing in their classrooms. While intimidated by all the cool things others were doing, we were able to share our takes on linguistic justice and diversity by synthesizing our perspectives, developed over multiple meetings, and connecting these perspectives to scholarship we found, including Shapiro et al. (2016) and Cavazos (2019). Our presentation was met with ample positive feedback from those who attended who found what we shared as novel and provided them with new perspectives to the topic. This was a big confidence boost for us as teachers expressed that our work was valuable, which really reassured us that our voices matter and our lived experiences can help contribute towards linguistic justice. While, looking back, the scholarship we found was limited and focused more on linguistic diversity, we felt that the incorporation of our experiences helped us emphasize the need for linguistically just practices to our audience. In addition, this project, while again small, served as the point that brought us together as a group alongside helping us see the value of our lived experience in an academic context and connect said lived experiences into larger conversations that we didn’t know existed.

With our experiences in mind, we pose the following questions: 

  • For WC consultants:
    • Regardless of your language experiences (if you believe they have been privileged or you don’t believe you can contribute because your experiences have been privileged), how might the WC be a space to discuss the value of everyone’s experiences?
    • How might the WC also facilitate discussions with everyone’s perspectives coming to a synthesis about reframing people’s perspectives about their own experiences (so they recognize all language experiences are valuable) and/or help others see how they can be allies/accomplices in advocating for linguistic justice (even if they feel their language experiences have been valued in academia)?
  • For WC directors:
    • Given the rise and engagement with linguistic justice in the field, are there opportunities to discuss or present on linguistic justice that you can share with your consultants? In addition, are there any community partners or collaborators you can work with to open discussions about linguistic justice?
    • If you have already offered opportunities to consultants or worked with community partners, how might you formalize some of the opportunities or strengthen connections? In other words, can you create lists, calendars, or other organizational tools so consultants can easily identify opportunities? How might you sustain community partnerships and collaborations?  

These questions are informed by Anzaldúa’s (2012) work, which argues “if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself” (p. 39). In our case, we have all questioned the value of sharing our language experiences as we have faced judgment based on our linguistic identities or have been taught, through hundreds of years of colonialism and assimilation, that our languages and dialects are inferior to White Mainstream English (Baker-Bell, 2020). Having a space that affirmed the value of our voice gave us pride in our language experiences so we could take pride in ourselves. In these questions, attention is turned to imagining how consultants can reflect on their language experiences, good or bad, to see how they can be better allies in advocating for linguistic justice. The questions also share how directors can identify opportunities for their consultants to help provide them with platforms and introduce them to scholarship surrounding linguistic justice to help situate their experiences with existing scholarly conversations.

Continuing the Convo: Workshops For Consultants and Students

Building off the interest in linguistic justice fostered through the SOU presentation, we wanted to continue to learn about and discuss linguistic justice in the UWC. To create this outlet, Erin invited us to present at staff meetings to talk about linguistic justice supplemented by information we were learning in the classes we were taking in our respective disciplines. During our time as consultants at the UWC and the COVID-19 Pandemic, which shifted staff meetings towards online tutoring practices, we each led linguistic justice staff presentations at different points. The one overlap in our presentations, however, was how we intertwined our interest in linguistic justice and its connection to our respective fields (Gen and Matt in Psychology, Lily in English).

With the confidence of the SOU and staff meeting presentations, we pounced on the opportunity to take up a student-facing workshop project that UCM’s writing program wanted to do with the UWC. The topic was flexible, but was focused on first year composition students who might currently be struggling in the course. Matt and Lily both wanted to take up this project because around this time, they were just introduced to Adler-Kassner and Wardle’s (2015) Threshold Concepts of Writing, and wanted to put their own twist on them to account for the lived experiences of themselves and the greater UCM student body. The threshold concepts were something new to Gen, but she was excited to see how we were able to add our takes on these ideas to challenge misconceptions of writing (such as writing is neutral and writing is strictly communicative) and empower students to see the value of their language experiences and proficiencies. In our meetings to discuss our plans, Matt and Lily shared potential threshold concepts of interest and Gen, alongside the fellow consultant working with us, added other concepts or agreed with the ones that were proposed. At the presentations, we shared our experiences and how we connected them to the threshold concepts to make sure they opened critical conversations about language experiences.

The presentations all followed this format, but one that we all felt was the most impactful was when we discussed “writing is informed by prior experiences” (Lunsford, 2015, p. 54). Given that we were talking about prior experiences, there was a need to be vulnerable, starting with us. At the beginning of the presentation, we shared our experiences with language (all the messiness included). Matt was particularly worried about sharing his experiences initially as he was unsure of how the students would respond given that his experiences were different than most students at UCM as he was more privileged regarding his linguistic experiences in academia. For Lily and Gen, this presentation was something they really wanted to share given that they both saw how their perceptions of writing were informed by their prior experiences and the linguistic discrimination they faced. In addition, they knew from some of their consulting sessions that many students had similar experiences, so having the opportunity to be vulnerable and share their stories was hopefully something that could help shift others’ views of their writing, their linguistic repertoires, and themselves especially if their prior experiences had been bad because of linguistic discrimination. In sharing this vulnerability, they were all met with students who shared similar experiences (even those like Matt who were not able to learn their parents’ languages because of assimilation) which helped build community around the UWC. With this in mind, we pose these questions to WC practitioners:

  • For WC consultants:
    • What knowledge do you have from your lived experiences, classes, or other avenues that inform your understanding of linguistic justice? How might you utilize and blend this knowledge to promote discussions of linguistic justice either (or both) amongst your fellow consultants or other students? 
    • Are there any workshop series, brave space conversations, or other activities you can think of that can facilitate conversations about linguistic justice? In thinking of these projects (either that you already have or plan to do), how will you engage your other consultants, outreach to the community, and sustain the projects even after you graduate/leave the WC? 
  • For WC directors: 
    • In what ways can you make space in your WC and beyond (e.g., time at staff meetings, collaborations with instructors) for consultants to initiate projects to discuss linguistic justice to both their fellow consultants as well as the rest of the campus community? How might you be able to support your consultants in the projects they come up with? 
    • If you are already making these spaces, how might you future-proof these to consider consultant turnover? Additionally, how might you engage with your consultants to support them while not directing the projects yourself?  

The focus of our questions for both consultants and directors is guided by Yosso’s (2005) idea of community cultural wealth which highlights the importance of the knowledge that students bring with them to the classroom. In our case, our focus is on how WCs can foster the wealth of knowledge that consultants bring to the center with their lived experiences surrounding language. Our questions, then, look at the ways in which consultants can leverage their lived experiences as something they can share with other students in hopes of building community and how directors can support consultants in the ideas they come up with.

Defining Our Identity: Consultant-led Statements

Nearing the end of Matt’s time at the UWC, Erin, Matt, and Lily met to discuss transferring leadership of the different consultant-led projects as Lily was taking over some of them, now in a lead consultant position. In addition to transferring some materials to Lily, Matt talked about some of the things that he wanted to do, one of them being an inclusivity statement. Matt, who was much more confident now given he had led multiple WC projects by this point, was adamant about trying to create an inclusivity statement after seeing the University of Washington, Tacoma’s Inclusion and Anti-Racism statement as he felt it was a perfect addition to the mission statement that he and two other consultants wrote a few years prior. While he eventually was told he couldn’t because he was about to graduate, Lily also found the topic interesting but was, again, hesitant because she wasn’t confident in herself being able to carry the project. To instill some confidence into Lily, however, Matt proudly shared some resources and other activities he created with the other consultants on the mission statement team that they used to build the mission statement. These resources and the mission statement itself reassured Lily that consultants did have the power to develop the UWC’s identity. 

Taking from the resources Matt gave her from the mission statement, Lily began replicating their statement writing process and adapting it to create a statement that advocated for linguistic justice within the UWC. When presenting the project to the rest of the UWC team, Lily was surprised at the number of consultants (one of them being Gen) who were interested in joining. Gen was excited to be working with Lily again to continue building on their similar linguistic background and experiences working together on the SOU presentation and workshops. Gen joined the team alongside other consultants coming from a variety of disciplinesacross the humanities and STEMand who were connected by similar experiences as many of the consultants on the team were first-generation, BIPOC, multilingual, and from low-income backgrounds, which matched the demographics of UCM’s student body.  

With this team to lead, Lily felt a huge responsibility as the most experienced consultant to provide structure for the project. With her imposter syndrome kicking in, she became very committed to the project (much like Matt was trying to be) by developing a reading list (Camarillo, 2019; DeBruin, 2020; Green, 2018;  McNamee & Miley, 2017), holding biweekly inclusivity team meetings, writing the statement, drafting and workshopping the statement, etc. Seeing all of this further inspired Gen and the others to take the project seriously despite all the other commitments they had. 

When it came time for Lily to graduate, there was a drafted inclusivity statement ready to go. Gen, being the last person on the inclusivity team who didn’t graduate with Lily, felt the responsibility to complete the project especially since the goal was to have it done by the time Lily and the rest of the consultants who worked on the inclusivity statement graduated. Left with the statement draft with comments from the team, Gen went to see the project through, rounding up a new set of consultants and taking up the role Lily did (minus the imposter phenomenon). Excited to continue talking about linguistic justice (which was something she was starting to be interested in researching) with a new group of consultants who weren’t as familiar with the topic, Gen brought back the SOU presentation to share with the new consultants and offered the same readings and structure that Lily provided her. After another full academic calendar, Gen and the new inclusivity team were able to finish and publish the final statement (see Appendix A).

Being able to have such a large contribution to building the identity of the center as well as establishing its beliefs surrounding linguistic justice was an important step for the UWC and ourselves as it forefronted the students representing the center and the school at large. These projects live on at UCM’s UWC and, hopefully, serve as points of reflection for the center’s commitment to supporting our student body and respecting their language experiences. The questions we pose for practitioners are then as follows:

  • For WC consultants:
    • What kind of statements, if any, does your WC have posted that discuss linguistic justice? Do you think these statements could be developed or revised to fit your WC team’s collective values or commitments? If not, how might you and the rest of your WC team collaborate to work on writing or revising these statements to fit these values?
  • For WC directors:
    • Are there any statements that identify your WC’s values or commitments to linguistic justice? Were they made by consultants, administrators, or other WC stakeholders? Do you think it represents your consultants and student populations? If not, how might you invite those who better reflect the student population into conversations about how to develop or revise these position statements of the center to reflect your student population? 

The questions we pose in regard to statements surrounding linguistic justice focus on if there are any statements and if there are, if they are focused on accounting for the student body within the campus’ local context. Our focus on this is to emphasize the importance of having consultant voices in the process of creating and revising statements, especially for linguistic justice to have a better account for students’ lived experiences. This emphasis on having consultants participate in the development of statements extends the work of Cirillo-McCarthy et al. (2016) who, in discussing “collaboratively reframing” mission statements with tutors, emphasize how tutors help “unearth” the “nuances with working with student writers” and make “visible the often invisible conversations that tutors have with students in the writing center” (p. 67). In addition to getting insights from the students they work with, as Cirillo-McCarthy et al. (2016) suggested, we believe our work expands upon this idea by also embodying similar lived experiences as the student body. In other words, by having consultants who reflect the student body’s language experiences participate in the development of linguistic justice statements, there is the potential of making visible some lived experiences students have but might not be actively articulated. 

Setting Up the Future: Participating in Hiring

At the end of each of our times at the UWC, we all participated in the hiring team. These teams were collaborations between Erin and us, as consultants who wanted to continue shaping the identity and values of the center. Given he was the eldest consultant of us three, Matt was first up on the hiring committee. Now that he was feeling legitimized as a part of the field of rhetoric and composition (by being accepted to an MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies) he was ready to help select the next cohort of consultants to try and bring in a group of students who would continue to make the UWC a space that supported our campus community as well as the consultants. Specifically, Matt argued strongly for the interview committee to engage in  reading practices that focus on trying to look past Standard Academic English (SAE) or White Mainstream English (Baker-Bell, 2020) norms often embedded in the assessment of application materials. So, while he didn’t have as active of a discussion of linguistic justice with the prospective consultants, like Lily and Gen did in later years, he tried his best to ensure that students, especially those who might better represent the lived experiences of the student body in regards to language, were not excluded.

Just like Matt, Lily wanted to continue implementing interview strategies that were inclusive by focusing on potential consultants’ language experiences. She felt that the best way to make the interviewees comfortable talking about their experiences was to show them the draft of the Inclusivity Statement and ask them which statement resonated the most with them. Unsurprisingly, Lily saw that the top chosen statement was on the acceptance and encouragement of linguistic diversity within the UWC and heard the interviewees’ stories of why this statement was meaningful to them. After listening to their experiences with language and the passion they felt for the statement, Lily knew that these potential consultants would be moved to pursue this project alongside current consultants to continue improving our UWC’s hiring practices and commitments to linguistic justice. 

The sense of accomplishment brought by finalizing the Inclusivity Statement made Gen feel proud to implement them into the interview process during her year on the hiring committee. The Inclusivity Statement represented the culmination of two years’ worth of work and also allowed Gen to see how future consultants would interact with the identity of the UWC that she contributed to. Similar to Lily’s year, Gen utilized the finalized Inclusivity Statement to ask potential consultants to talk about which statement most resonated with them in addition to how they would uphold it. Much like Lily, hearing the responses of interviewees was impactful for Gen, especially hearing how they would navigate supporting multilingual/multidialectal writers in their sessions based on their language experiences. Leaving behind the finalized Inclusivity Statement that embodied the work that all of the UWC consultants who were engaged in linguistic justice conversations helped Gen feel reassured that there were foundational statements and materials future consultants could continue building off of.

Much like the statements, the process of being part of the hiring committee was a significant opportunity for us as it is one of the projects in which our values are carried on in the UWC beyond our time there. It also reflected the high level of trust between us and Erin in knowing that we were all striving to do what we believed was best for the center. With this in mind, the questions we pose are as follows: 

  • For WC consultants:
    • How might you utilize your language experiences if you were on the hiring committee? What characteristics do you think prospective consultants might show that can lend to supporting and respecting your student body’s language experiences? What knowledge might you leave behind after participating in hiring to help future consultants learn from your experiences? 
  • For WC directors:
    • What is the composition of the hiring committee? Does the committee account for consultant perspectives that involve linguistic justice and diversity? If not, how might you adjust the committee to ensure consultants have a voice in the hiring process? 
    • If you already have consultants as a part of the committee, what feedback can you get from them to build resources that can help future consultants prepare and consider best practices when participating in hiring?

The questions we posed here take inspiration from Ratcliffe’s (2005) idea of rhetorical listening, or the process of engaging in a form of listening that promotes cross-cultural understandings of the relations between an individual and a “person, text, or culture” (p. 17), in addition to those who complicate or build off her work (García, 2019; Nichols, 2019) for our questions for two reasons. 

Firstly, the composition of the committee is important for directors to consider because, despite their ability to listen rhetorically, they can potentially still overlook how the prospective consultants are representing themselves. This is because, as García (2019) argued, rhetorical listening can leave “the ‘other’ on the other side of an already asymmetrical relationship” (p. 13) which can result in those in positions of power claiming authority over topics because they have listened to others’ lived experiences. In this case, as we understand García’s (2019) work to be arguing that listening rhetorically is not enough as one can never fully understand the lived experiences of others. While bringing on consultants who come from diverse backgrounds cannot completely resolve this matter, as no one shares the same lived experiences, having a committee coming from diverse lived experiences with language can help respond to Nichols’ (2019) calls for “listening with intent to hear how this man was constructing himself and his society” (p. 8). In our case, listening with the intent to hear how the prospective consultant constructs themself and their language experiences. Different perspectives on this construction, co-created by each hiring committee member and the prospective consultant, can help offer multiple ways of listening to prospective consultants’ beliefs on linguistic justice. 

In addition, given the rise of laws preventing hiring practices to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion, these listening practices–with those who have lived experiences with linguistic discrimination–can allow for a greater “reading between the lines” to hear how prospective consultants value language experiences and how they might support those with various experiences.

Challenges

As we engaged in writing about our experiences, many considerations of “what if,” “hypothetically,” and other thoughts came up about the various contexts that other practitioners might find themselves in. With these considerations at the forefront of our minds, we wanted to discuss some of the most notable challenges with this model that we have faced but also know others might be facing. While we pose some potential workarounds when possible, we recognize that they are not exhaustive, but we hope they can contribute to other potential options.

The most notable limitation across contexts is budgeting and resources. For context, all the work that we did for these projects was compensated primarily through the UWC (with the exception being the SOU event in which we were paid an honorarium by SOU). We were compensated for these projects both because we were unionized consultants, in which everything UWC related needs to be compensated for, and because of our context, which lent itself to us having the time to engage in these projects. In our campus and UWC context, we had a small student body and there were often lulls in how many appointments are scheduled at a given time. The non-session time during these lulls, then, gave us the opportunity to do these projects during our scheduled shift hours. Additionally, Erin had funds set aside for project work that we had outside of our scheduled hours. We recognize that this amount of non-session time and additional funds is not something that exists in all contexts and, with full transparency, we are unsure of what to propose as potential workarounds. We do affirm, though, that this work needs to be compensated as these projects are intensive labor. Considering the ways in which consultants can be given opportunities and get compensated for said opportunities is a potential step in affirming a commitment to linguistic justice, though we acknowledge asking for a larger budget is difficult.

The other notable constraint we want to highlight is consultant interest and investment. In our case, there was significant interest and investment for us and these linguistic justice projects given our lived experiences. This, however, does not mean that all consultants are interested in linguistic justice projects–even if they share similar experiences to us–or potentially have the time and energy to invest in doing this work. We want to make clear that, while it is necessary for discussions of linguistic justice to take place in WCs, additional projects should not be forced onto consultants as these kinds of projects are large responsibilities, especially for undergraduates. With this in mind, we think BIPOC consultants in particular may have complex relationships with the topic which can result in more emotional labor compounded on their undergraduate status because of their potential experiences with linguistic injustice. Additionally, these projects are long term investments, so allowing for flexible timelines is important to ensure that consultants are not overworked and are putting forth something that is best representative of their values and work. 

While we recognize there are more limitations to our work (e.g., institutional constraints, state laws, etc.) we focus on these as they feel the most prominent across most contexts.

Conclusion

As we end this discussion, we want to acknowledge that in crafting our stories, there was so much we had to leave out that sheds light on the nuances of these experiences as well as could have helped tie up the takeaways and impacts of these projects for us. With this in mind, we plan to try and best encapsulate these discussions here, recognizing some things will inevitably be left out.

Overall, these projects mean so much to us. They brought us to the field, they showed us there is a space for our voices in academia, and they left a large impact on the UWC we have now left behind. We wanted to share these projects with a larger audience as we believe these experiences can have a similar impact for other consultants. Our takeaways from these consultant-led linguistic justice projects, then, are as follows. 

For Gen, these projects were a critical part of her origin story as they–along with her experiences with languages and the consultants and students she worked with–affirmed her belief that she wanted to be in an environment where linguistically just practices were fostered. She believed that moving into rhetoric and composition for graduate school was the path that would allow her to get to this space and continue to work towards having linguistically just practices in other spaces outside of her undergraduate institution. 

For Lily, she felt that these consultant-led projects represented not only her experiences with language but also those of her fellow consultants and students. Working on and creating her own projects gave Lily the confidence to continue her education, put herself in new subfields within rhetoric and composition like professional writing, and, ultimately, always be an advocate for those who have experienced linguistic discrimination inside and outside of academia. 

For Matt, he feels like the opportunity to do these projects gave him a chance to find himself as discussing experiences surrounding language (including not speaking languages other than English because of colonization) helped him see how WCs and writing classrooms, while often being spaces of assimilation, can be spaces of intervention. This made him confident that he wanted to work in these contact zones (Pratt, 1991) by pursuing graduate studies in rhetoric and composition to continue developing intervention practices that help students maintain their language experiences while navigating the university. 

Broadly, we hope our stories of our consultant-led linguistic justice projects speak to the larger conversations of linguistic justice and linguistic diversity taking place both within the WC conversations happening in this special edition, in WCs, and beyond by emphasizing the importance of consultants and students’ lived experiences in these discussions. Specifically, for this special edition, we think about Yan and Thompson’s (2024) conversation shaper emphasizing the gap in research regarding listening to the voices of tutors (in our case, consultants). They emphasize that “Individual tutors have the powerful opportunity to look beyond an academic bubble and recognize the diverse nature of English” (Yan & Thompson, 2024) but are faced with the challenge of the limitations of a tutoring session where tutors have to deal with “the uncomfortable dilemma of supporting a tutee’s voice and making sure their language is shaped towards the expectations of the professor or publisher.” In our case, then, our work perhaps highlights the opportunities beyond the tutoring session that consultants can engage in, which serve as potential spaces less limited by audience expectations. For example, our workshops, while through the UWC, gave us a space to talk about linguistic justice without the immediate audience a paper in a tutoring session would have. These spaces we created, where consultants still bring their expertise but are less constrained by an immediate audience a course paper might elicit in a session, offer opportunities “beyond an academic bubble” to promote genuine critical dialogue about writing and language with students.

For the broader field conversations and beyond, we think about Baker-Bell’s (2020) call for linguistic justice and her continued advocacy for action against linguistic discrimination (Baker-Bell & Duchscher, 2024) to consider how we, as consultants and students, can play a role through bringing in our own experiences and engaging in projects that (re)build our respective WCs’ identity and values that will hopefully live on in the center after we leave. In other words, we want to consider how we can take up Baker-Bell and Duchscher’s (2024) call for action in our space of WCs. With this in mind, we hope that our stories and questions either inspire new or contribute to established linguistic justice projects at your WC with the goal of showing how WCs can be sites where campus communities can engage and learn about linguistic justice in addition to empowering consultants. 

So, to end this paper, we start with the phrase used in our SOU presentation title which ultimately brought us together: Sí Se Puede (We Can Do This). We, as WC practitioners, can do this. We can promote linguistic justice to empower other WC practitioners and our communities.

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Appendix A

Inclusivity Statement

As writing consultants at an institution with a diverse student population, we collaborated on creating an inclusivity statement for the University Writing Center (UWC) to demonstrate our values. An inclusivity statement establishes the UWC’s commitment to building the relationship between students and the writing center. We believe it is important to incorporate inclusivity into our tutoring and writing practices to ensure a brave and diverse space for all. 

We strive to cultivate all writers’ perspectives without judgment by: 

  • Empathizing and listening to fellow writers through welcoming and open conversation. 
  • Providing a comfortable and secure environment for all writers.
  • Celebrating unique thinkers and different opinions from the full spectrum of humanity.

We will continuously reflect on our practices and hold ourselves and our biases accountable by:

  • Staying aware of current social issues and their intersections with UWC research.
  • Empowering students’ sociocultural identities and belief systems.
  • Remaining open to and encouraging student feedback.

We, at the UWC, aim to welcome students from all disciplines by:

  • Sharing common ground with students to acknowledge our shared identities.
  • Incorporating flexible writing strategies into our sessions that can be applied to all writing from all disciplines.
  • Emphasizing outreach to all disciplines.

We are committed to creating a brave space for all writers by:

  • Embracing students from various backgrounds.
  • Supporting student development for all writers regardless of their perspectives.
  • Respecting student choices and freedom with regard to their writing.

We acknowledge and advocate for students’ right to use their own languages and dialects by:

  • Hiring multilingual and multicultural consultants.
  • Engaging in professional development based on anti-racist pedagogies and scholarship.
  • Incorporating linguistically diverse tutoring practices.