‘Small’ Work: Bringing Translingualism Out of the Writing Center

Tejan Green Waszak, Columbia University
Isabel Ortiz, Columbia University
Barbara Paulus, Columbia University
Seth Cosimini, Columbia University
Wally Suphap, Columbia University
Jason T. Ueda, Columbia University
Gabriella Etoniru, Columbia University
Elaje Lopez, Columbia University
Michael Schoch, Columbia University


The Columbia University Writing Center formed the grants and events subcommittee of its Racial Justice Working Group in 2021. Central to the group’s focus is to avoid what Sarah Ahmed (2006) describes as the institutional trap of “…writing documents or having good policies [become] a substitute for action” (p. 117). Instead of theorizing and proclaiming its commitment to translingual and inclusive policies, the Writing Center wanted to show the merit of those policies by expanding them beyond the walls of the Center. Because consultants most often discuss and apply translingualism during their sessions in the Writing Center, it is possible for them, and those with whom they work, to misconstrue it as a niche concept, only relevant to writing studies. In the spirit of “pushing and pulling at the naturalized ideas that writing centers are cozy and maverick spaces,” as Jackie Grutsch McKinney (2013) does in Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, we wanted to create a culture of inclusion among the most visible and prolific student writers on our campus–the staff of Columbia’s 20-some student-run publications. We planned and held a workshop to extend our conversation about linguistic justice beyond the Writing Center. While we were initially successful in achieving this goal, our efforts to sustain it have taught us valuable lessons about how we find and manage the all-important resources of time, money, and interest. 

Keywords: Translingualism, anti-racism, linguistic justice, inclusion 

While the Columbia University Writing Center works with approximately 7,000 students during the academic year and runs a series of student-facing workshops each semester, its impact on the culture of the institution as a whole can at times feel hidden or small. There are material realities to this perception of writing center work, due in part to enduring stigmas that writing centers are sites of remediation. One of the many unfortunate consequences of this relationship between colleges and writing centers is that tutors “need to meet faculty demands of ‘fixed’ papers, and student expectations of good grades,” which are “rooted in the belief that standardized English practices are the norm and inherently superior, and that they need to be followed” (Del Russo et al., 2020, para. 7). As anywhere, many of these antiquated perceptions are alive and well at Columbia University and are at times amplified by the competitive culture of the student body. 

However, this isn’t to say that writing centers are inevitably conscribed to a fate of existing on the periphery and in fact, some of the alienation that writing centers experience may be self-perpetuated by what Jackie Grutsch McKinney (2013) calls the “writing center grand narrative,” which goes something like this: “writing centers are comfortable, iconoclastic places where all students go to get one-to-one tutoring on their writing” (p. 85). McKinney points out that from “very early on in writing center scholarship, scholars have insisted that writing centers should and do operate outside the mainstream of academe probably stemming from the physical placement outside of the classroom structure” (p. 7). Our sense of ourselves as “maverick” and “cozy” spaces are tied to our sense that writing centers are defined by “the idea that one-to-one tutoring for all students is or should be the primary work of writing centers” (p. 7).

Further problematizing the orthodoxy of one-on-one tutoring, in “Retheorizing Writing Center Work to Transform a System Advantage Based on Race,” Nancy Grimm (2011) sees that writing centers’ one-on-one model inadvertently “races” the writing center as a white space, making it “inhospitable to students who are not white” (76). Wonderful Faison and Anna Treviño (2017) echo this point as well by noting that writing centers are rife with “hidden assumptions that middle class white domestic comforts are neutral and therefore desirable to POC, as well as people from lower classes” (para 42). They go on to argue that “… not only does WC design reflect the middle-class comforts of the dominant culture, it also dismisses the possible different cultural, racial, and ethnic middle-class comforts of POC, essentially rendering them invisible” (para 43). Neutrality is always a dangerous quality for social spaces to claim, as Jason B. Esters (2011) notes when he writes that, “a race-neutral writing center is as much a myth as the colorblindness of cyber-space because the operation of each depends largely on what its stakeholders bring to the sites of engagement” (p. 299). 

Compounding the effects of these raced assumptions, Grimm (2011), aligning with Victor Villanueva, contends that the individualized model of support distracts our discourse such that systemic problems are coded as individual problems that they must overcome for themselves or else face the criticism that they just aren’t trying hard enough (p. 78). As such, Grimm urges us to move beyond individualized support and make changes at the systemic level, the level of culture or “social structure of the writing center itself” (p. 76). She raises a question to move us from a one-on-one model to a systemic one: what changes would address the foundational assumptions that structure our work (p. 78)? 

One way is to follow in the tradition of cross-campus collaborations and partnerships initiated by writing centers, particularly those that promote inclusive writing practices (DeJoy & Smith, 2017; Martini, 2022; Perryman-Clark, 2023; Prohn et al., 2023), and export important ideas from writing studies and applied linguistics into the broader college community. For many academic departments and programs, reckoning with practical on-the-ground questions of linguistic justice is new. By contrast, translingualism, linguistic justice, and a deep concern for the ways that classrooms and other institutional spaces can become sites of hierarchy and harm has long been a central concern for writing center administrators and consultants. It is more useful and important than ever for writing center administrators and consultants to share the lessons they’ve learned while operating at a periphery that may or may not be imagined, and bring it before their colleagues.

A Call to Action for the Undergraduate Writing Program

In February 2020, the Writing Center held a staff meeting on linguistic justice and anti-racism. Energized by examples of anti-racist statements from the University of Washington, Tacoma, the staff saw a need to write a statement to represent the Columbia community, but also saw a need to read more of the relevant scholarship. Thus, the Writing Center formed an inquiry group devoted to reading anti-racist scholarship and incorporating the ideology into writing consultations and the anti-racist statement.

Our work took on new urgency when just a few months later in May of 2020, George Floyd was murdered. The inquiry group’s charge shifted to drafting and posting the anti-racism statement, complete with a list of actionable commitments for the coming academic year. In the fall of 2020, the UWP formed the Racial Justice Working Group (RJWG) to include not just the Writing Center, but first-year writing instructors and staff as well. The working group made smaller cohort groups to divide the work: curriculum and policy, staff development and resources, and cross-campus partnerships and grants. Some of the projects undertaken by the RJWG included revising the Writing Center’s anti-racism statement and updating and annotating linguistic justice readings used by instructors and consultants. Most sections of UW include readings that foreground issues of translingualism and linguistic justice, including essays by Cathy Park Hong, Zadie Smith, Vershawn Ashanti Young, and Gloria Anzaldúa, among others.

While these accomplishments reflected significant work and effort, the group also wanted to be careful not to succumb to the institutional pitfalls outlined by Sarah Ahmed (2006) in “The Nonperformativity of Antiracism.” Ahmed demonstrates how institutional speech acts such as race-equality documents and diversity statements are useful, not because they commit a university to be diverse but because they expose the discrepancy between what institutions write about themselves and what they actually do (p. 105). This is because, as Ahmed argues,“such speech acts do not do what they say: they do not, as it were, commit a person, organization, or state to an action. Instead, they are non-performative” (p. 104). Our statement drafting process was taking place in the context of the tensions that Ahmed describes between empty institutional signifiers and meaningful praxis. We wanted to make sure that whatever we wrote would have a real impact.

Our Writing Center’s antiracism statement declares that we do the following:

The Writing Center welcomes your unique language knowledgefrom your homes, communities, and countriesand supports your right to your own language choices (Kinloch, 2005; Smitherman, 1995). Together, we’ll consider “how language functions within and from various cultural perspectives” (Young 2010) to help you make informed decisions about your writing. (Columbia University Writing Center, 2020, para. 1)

We are welcoming, we consider, we help. But how exactly? How do we, to use Ahmed’s language, take up our statement? How do we act on those words?

Writing centers specifically are places of practice, and we felt that if we didn’t find a clear and satisfying way to practice our statement we would fall into the trap of having our commitment to antiracism function as a perverse performance of racism: “‘you’ are wrong to describe us as uncaring and racist because ‘we’ are committed to being antiracist. Antiracism functions here as a discourse of organizational pride” (Ahmed, 2006, p. 111). Such commitments give the impression that antiracism work is important to the organization even when minimal action is taking place.

Striking a balance between this commitment to antiracist work and the perpetuation of a “grand narrative” about such work has been of longstanding importance to writing center scholars. For example, in “Unmaking Gringo-Centers,” Romeo García (2017) suggests that writing centers engaged in anti-racist work need “to make an explicit commitment to addressing race and power” (p. 48). García asserts this practice as a necessity, saying: “Let me remind you, this space has been historically, culturally, and rhetorically marked by whiteness and white culture” (p. 48). This is especially true in a Primarily White Institution (PWI), where writers from various backgrounds all grapple with the white upper middle class agenda and aesthetic differently, and thus may be more or less aware of it, more or less alienated by it. Reflecting on her own time as a student, Neisha-Anne S. Green (2016) writes: “There seemed to be no vocabulary that I was aware of within any of the discourse communities that I ‘belonged’ to, especially ours in the writing center, that adequately summed up and fully described what I felt deep within my being” (para 6). In light of such experiences, are writing centers, as McKinney suggests, offering a “cozy” refuge to all students? Are they only offering a space for feedback and collegiality with peers? Or also creating space for writers to explore and re-think their relationship to language and literacies?

One way the Writing Center and UWP began to take action was by directly petitioning the English Department for resources to start a BIPOC thesis writer’s group in 2022. After now graduated peer fellow Briana Wood noted that her decision to not write a thesis was founded from a lack of institutional support, the Writing Center created this thesis writers group inviting BIPOC students and those writing about BIPOC expression, experience, and scholarship to attend six Monday evening study halls with hot food and snacks. More importantly, the group offered a dedicated space and time slot for the writers to meet and work on their individual projects.

Demand for the BIPOC thesis writer’s group persists, allowing it to become a yearly event. Here, Briana’s experience can show us, in concrete ways, how we can do anti-racist work: beyond the abstract, there are actionable, imaginable, and direct ways students can expect to get support in completing their theses, which will likely advance their prospects for graduate school and employment. If our center is to be an anti-racist one, we need to make it clear to our community that this is a space for BIPOC writers and research.

Hoping to build off of these successes, the Racial Justice Working Group (RJWG) formed a grants subcommittee for the express purpose of procuring funding and interdepartmental partnerships to host discussions and workshops related to translingualism and antiracism. Specifically, the RJWG wanted funding to enact linguistic justice in spaces outside of the Writing Center which would enable us to extend our reach. In doing so, we aimed to move beyond the conventional one-on-one teaching structure, and challenge the white middle-class-coded culture of writing pedagogy at our university. To influence systemic change toward linguistic plurality and, therefore, harbor a wider sense of social justice over universal coziness, we realized we would need to collaborate with the university’s foremost linguistic influencers to question assumptions about language, race, and power.

Thus it was almost too perfect when, in late 2022, a call for proposals was sent out by Columbia’s Arts and Sciences Equity and Diversity Activities Program. The two thousand-dollar “Diversity Matters” grant was offered by the College of Arts and Sciences as part of its larger initiative to “create and sustain an inclusive, antiracist community.” This seemed like an exciting opportunity to explore some of the ideas that the group had been discussing amongst itself and share them with the broader Columbia community. However, the question remained: what exactly did we want to share?

Student-run Publications at Columbia University

During a grants subcommittee brainstorming session (composed of undergraduate and professional consultants, graduate instructors, full-time lecturers, and the writing center’s assistant director), undergraduate writing center consultants Elaje Aminololama Lopez and Marcus Cooley mentioned that they both had experience editing at student-run publications. They noted that inclusion was critically important to staff members of many student-run journals, but that there was also a lack of guidance and conversation around those issues. They agreed that their exposure to translingualism while consulting in the writing center proved valuable when editing on-campus publications; however, the vast majority of their fellow staff members didn’t have the same opportunities. This got the entire group thinking about the best way to distill and introduce translingualism to a population that may be unfamiliar with writing center practices. 

There is, seemingly, little research into or discussion of the relationship of writing centers to student-run publications. And in our anecdotal experience, writers and editors for student publications don’t often make writing center appointments, even if they do make appointments for academic assignments or cover letters. This is an interesting discrepancy because staff writers and editors would seem like natural candidates to be recurring writing center visitors. Whatever the potential reasons, as Lori Salem (2016) outlines, this disconnect between the writing center and the most prolific and visible writers on campus felt like an opportunity to extend the conversation around Standard Language Ideology and translingualism to a wider audience. 

Columbia University is home to over 20 student-run journals, papers and magazines, run by students representing an array of linguistic backgrounds and contexts. However, rigid paradigms of so-called proper English in academia and professional settings reproduce biased language standards that have their roots in “white language supremacy” (Inoue, 2019, p. 355) and impede writers from making rhetorical decisions that reflect their backgrounds (Alogali, 2018; Curry & Lillis, 2017; Hultgren, 2019; Soler, 2019). 

Student-run publications, both undergraduate and graduate, at Columbia University are almost entirely staffed by the students themselves, in turn creating a high turnover rate as senior staff graduate and leave. As a result, many student-run journals do not have the continuity of leadership needed to implement policies or committees devoted to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Similarly, Columbia has no designated spaces for staff members of publications to converse with each other about inclusive or anti-racist approaches to managing, editing, and translating, which ultimately hampers the efforts of newer organizations to implement inclusive policies.

In other words, editors of student-run publications represented a population of writers who were deeply invested in practical issues of linguistic justice and were well-poised to enact them, but lacked the support or infrastructure to address these issues in an organized or enduring way. In Talkin That Talk, Geneva Smitherman (1999) writes: “Students need to see how language is not something decreed from on high but an evolutionary dynamic, fluctuating according to the dictates of its users” (pp. 127-128), which is a perspective that seems especially important for student editors who may feel pressure to conform to all kinds of discipline- and publication-specific standardizations and style guidelines. Student editors are driven and enthusiastic, but their desire to take their editing seriously can lead them to zealously adopt harmful standards if they do not have alternatives into which they can channel their efforts.

The RJWG agreed that it should propose a translingualism workshop or training for the “Diversity Matters Grant,” but the issue of consistency and longevity needled at us. Because student editors experienced such high rates of turnover, what difference would a single workshop really make? Many of the students who attended in the Spring semester would have graduated or left the publication by the following Fall and by that point our grant money would be used up. As we started to craft our grant proposal, we realized we wanted an event that could be useful even after it ended.

Because the grant needed to be used within one semester, we needed to propose a single event. However, we were wary of one-off initiatives that, while adding lines to the CVs of Writing Center staff, would be of minimal or temporary benefit to student writers. As a result, we settled on a “training the trainers” model, in which we would introduce editors to key ideas in translingualism and provide strategies for them to continue that conversation amongst their staff. Ideally, this would mean that discussions of translingualism would constantly be refreshed as veteran staff members prepared to leave and new staff came aboard.

We pitched this idea to the Arts and Sciences Equity and Diversity Activities Program and were delighted when we discovered we had been awarded the grant.

Planning the Event

For our instructional materials we leaned heavily on the work of the Writing Center’s director, Sue Mendelsohn. Specifically, we adapted Dr. Mendelsohn’s (2023) slide deck on American Englishes that introduced translingualism through a linguistics lens, quoting from linguist Rosina Lippi-Green (2011) and her pathbreaking work English with an Accent. We chose to begin our workshop by explaining translingualism from a linguistic perspective, rather than that of social justice or anti-racism, in order to dispel the misguided sense that being linguistically inclusive is a generous or “nice” thing that gatekeepers can do for writers. Rather, the work of Lippi-Green, John McWhorter, Suresh Canagarajah, Vershawn Ashanti Young among many, many others reiterate and confirm that the very idea of a standard language is a misunderstanding of how languages evolve. 

Thus, we began our presentation with Lippi-Green’s observation that “the least disputed issues around language structure and function, the ones linguists argue about least, are those which are most often challenged by non-linguists, and with the greatest vehemence and emotion” (p. 6-7). We used this point to highlight that it is a misunderstanding of what makes a sentence “correct” that helps to perpetuate biased and often outright racist standards.

We also included a diagram from Lippi-Green that lists sentences in various English vernaculars and denotes whether linguists or laypeople found each sentence comprehensible versus whether they thought it was grammatically correct (2011, p. 11). The diagram illustrates that Black English Vernacular and the many other forms of English spoken around the world are, in fact, correct according to linguists because they are internally consistent and reflect socio-linguistic conventions of the groups that use them.

We wanted the student editors to understand that enacting translingualism isn’t a matter of accepting or tolerating other vernaculars despite their deviation from a norm. Rather, as John McWhorter argued in his 2016 essay “What’s a Language, Anyway?” a public-facing reminder of his claims in the landmark 1997 article “Wasting Energy on an Illusion” (p. 9), that “all languages are dialects” and all Englishes are vernaculars with their own standards. Teaching, tutoring, editing, and writing in a way that acknowledges this non-hierarchical relationship between vernaculars should not be seen as a hypothetical ideal, but a fact of language. 

We then illustrated that this idea wasn’t relegated to Englishes, but to all languages. Here we refer to the work of Suresh Canagarajah (2011), which shows that colonialism has insisted on constructing hierarchies between the languages (including English) of the Global South versus the Global North. 

Following the brief presentation, participants engaged in group discussions and freewriting exercises that prompted them to investigate the explicit and implicit standards by which they and their publications judge written work. After they finished writing, participants engaged in guided discussions with staff from both their own publication and others about the ethical and logistical challenges they faced when making their publications more inclusive. For example, one editor remarked that they would love to publish diverse pieces that exhibited translingualism, if only they received submissions. A comment from a peer prompted the editor to realize that perhaps the writers best positioned to deliver such work felt that it was inappropriate or would not be accepted. In another group discussion, editors from The Columbia Daily Spectator discussed the ethics of publishing special issues such as a “Black History Month” issue or “Pride” issue, noting that they can be perceived as tokenizing rather than giving space to their subjects. 

Lastly, participants had the chance to ask questions of two professional editors at publications with a documented history of promoting inclusivity and linguistic justice. The editors (who were also fellow writing center consultants and instructors), Joey DeJesus and Natalie Adler, answered questions, shared case studies, and offered thoughts on the steps that undergraduate editors can take towards implementing a practice of linguistic inclusivity. 

The hybrid nature of this event allowed us to avoid simply lecturing undergraduate editors and instead have participants identify issues of linguistic justice that were specific to their publications.We also had a logistical reason for this format. Many grants issued by Columbia University don’t permit recipients to use funds to pay faculty or existing employees for speaking honoraria or educational services. In addition, Columbia requires departments to rent classrooms and event spaces from the institution. Because the Columbia University Writing Center is housed in the same room as the Undergraduate Writing Program, space is limited and there was no time when we could hold an event without also shutting down the writing center. 

Thus, we knew in advance that our budget would mostly be spent on an event space and refreshments. We counted ourselves extremely lucky when Natalie and Joey, who edit Lux, a political feminist magazine, and Apogee, an independent literary journal, volunteered to discuss their experiences advocating for more linguistically inclusive practices. 

We leaned on the age-old maxim of ensuring attendance at educational events: offer free food. But as responses to our invitations flowed in, we were heartened to learn that the student editors were enthusiastic about participating regardless of sandwiches and seltzer. Because undergraduate peer fellows were both part of the Writing Center and friends with various editorial staff, they were able to casually nudge peers to attend, an ultimately much more effective method than advertising solely through official channels.

In Grants as in Life, Success Does Not Always Equal Money

We hosted our workshop, “Translingualism and Standard Language Ideology in Editorial Practices,” on March 31, 2023, for 16 student editors representing eight on-campus, cross-disciplinary publications, including The Columbia Daily Spectator, the oldest continually operating student-run newspaper in the U.S.; Quarto Magazine, a literary journal; GYNECA, a feminist literary journal; and Gray Matters CU, a neuroscience journal. It was a rousing success.

The staff of two publications, Quarto and GYNECA, contacted us after the event to tell us that it had inspired them to conduct training sessions of their own, as well as revise some of their submission practices. For instance, Quarto Magazine launched a “Quarto Creatives of Color Week” from April 10-15th soliciting “community members of color” to send in their work.

Days after the event, undergraduate peer fellows put together a post-workshop questionnaire for attendees. From this questionnaire we received quite a bit of positive feedback, including remarks like, “I really loved the free-write, then small table discussion format. As a quite shy person, I was nervous that I would feel uncomfortable talking about these very difficult subjects, but this format made me feel really safe in my group, and I feel like we built a lot of trust that allowed me to really reflect honestly.” We were thrilled to see that our multimodal format seemed to pay off. Another participant emphasized the benefits of being in community with fellow editors and building connections across campus: “Talking with students from other campus publications was the highlight of the workshop. I feel that I learned from these editors’ approaches and how those approaches may be adapted to positively influence the culture of the publication for which I am an editor. All in all, the conversations were incredibly generative!”

Buoyed by this success, and encouraged by the directors of our program, we applied for Columbia’s Office of the Provost’s Large Scale Teaching Grant, which, at $20,000, was more substantial and competitive than the original grant we had won. We proposed to expand our initial event with a series of additional workshops, a suite of digital educational materials, and funding to send RJWG members to CCCC to discuss the project. 

Ultimately, though our team rallied to produce a draft, sought feedback from the Center for Teaching and Learning, and solicited two letters of recommendation from the English Department Chair and the University Writing Director, we found out in mid-June that we did not receive the grant. We were informed that competition was fierce, as teams from every school in the university submitted proposals. The process and result of this second grant application process, prompted us to consider how to best use our time moving forward.

Not So What? but Now What?: The Merits of “Small” Work

The Racial Justice Working Group, as previously mentioned, is composed of consultants, graduate instructors, advising lecturers and two administrators–all of them have other, primary roles, and many of the members work part-time. While the “Diversity Matters” grant was a relatively quick process for a lasting reward, the more elaborate Provost’s Office Grant required more effort, in writing and logistics, and more time from members who were already stretched thin. Because it took so much of our already limited time to apply to the grant, not receiving the award stung. We gained a new appreciation for how precious our collaborative time working together was and understood that it needed to be apportioned wisely. 

In addition to re-evaluating how we managed the resource of time, we considered what we really needed the money for as well. Considering that we had to allocate funds to reserve a room and could not use it to pay honoraria to any Columbia faculty, or pay any existing UWP staff to support the event, we found ourselves searching for ways to spend the money that were beneficial to the participants, but not strictly necessary to achieve the goal of the event.

Thinking about this grant in turn prompted us to remind ourselves of our initial goal for “Translingualism and Standard Language Ideology in Editorial Practices,” which was to build a culture of inclusivity by “training the trainers.” The goal is inherently frugal and efficient. While some writing center initiatives require the kind of support that only a grant can provide, our present plan for enacting linguistic justice is not one of them. We realized, while debriefing on our Provost’s grant, that we need to be careful to balance our effort in the future because spending too much time working on projects with a low probability of success could cause us to avoid doing meaningful anti-racist work. 

Somewhat ironically, we found ourselves circling back to Ahmed’s “non performativity” trap again, even though our efforts had been motivated by a desire to avoid that trap in the first place. Specifically, we resonated with the critique of one of the anonymous diversity practitioners Ahmed interviewed,“‘you end up doing the document rather than doing the doing’” (2006, p. 117). It’s tempting, as professional educators, to conflate the affirming feeling of being a program that is worthy of obtaining grant funding with the reality of being a program that is manifestly enacting linguistic justice, and, as our statement claims, “welcomes” “unique language.”

Thus, our takeaway from the success of our event and our failure to capitalize on it with another grant has been to look for more direct opportunities to communicate and form partnerships with other campus entities. Sometimes those partnerships have yielded long-lasting, formal results. For example, a popular dissertation writing retreat that has been held each spring and summer since 2016 began as a single event that the assistant director of the writing center, Jason Ueda, managed to get funded by the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) for $3,120. The retreats have been so helpful that they prompted GSAS to open its own permanent Writing Studio which now hosts multiple writing retreats, events, and ongoing support for PhD candidates. Similarly, the aforementioned BIPOC thesis writers event began as an isolated event but has proven so successful that it will hopefully become recurring. 

Our experience trying to normalize discussions of linguistic justice outside of the writing center, Writing Studies, and the English departments that often house them has helped us see the value of reimagining the directionality of our efforts and envisioning new stakes to writing centers’ role in the project of linguistic justice. We encourage our colleagues in the field to do the same by moving beyond statements, professional development, and one-on-one work to think and grow in community. In this effort, we have found that linguistic justice is most achievable when we acknowledge and leverage how much of a collaborative space the Writing Center already is. 

At the same time, we remain open to further exploration, especially applied, field-wide “research” on how best to practice this collaborative ethic. On the one hand, we found that pursuing institutional support and prestigious grants served the vital interest of providing writers with material resources (food and space) while legitimating our endeavor to create conversation and connection between students on campus who might not otherwise have met each other. Of course, these modest resources are far from scarce at an institution like Columbia and should be freely available to the students, especially those in linguistic minorities; however, the reality is that they are not freely available and our attempts to secure them required all of the time and creative energy we could spare as contingent faculty and students. Though Columbia is unique in the resources it commands and the social stratification it supports, similar dynamics are at play in many universities and so our experience is applicable to Writing Studies more broadly. 

In encountering the double-sided nature of seeking institutional support so intimately, we have better come to appreciate just how much the discipline of Writing Studies is practiced in the infrastructure, politics and systems of the institutions that underwrite its existence. In this regard, our workshop helps illustrate the important but often overlooked connection between the intellectual work of producing knowledge within the field of Writing Studies and the practical, material work of disseminating that knowledge throughout a college campus that may be indifferent or even hostile to such ideas.

Thinking from within the system as it stands, our experience has prompted us to consider the extent to which writing centers and writing studies as a field value large, resource-intensive projects as a show or “performance” (to evoke Ahmed) of commitment. We hope that our re-evaluation of what grants mean for our department and committee is not an abnegation of our commitment to linguistic justice, but a resolution to be more intentional with our effort. We hope that by sharing our experience, we are helping to point out a, perhaps obvious, temptation for faculty and students in Writing Studies of pursuing large, visible and professionally advantageous projects at the expense of smaller but more dependable initiatives. The irony is that, while such an inclination makes sense, it ultimately risks becoming a capitulation to the very systems of power that we are attempting to undo. One of our resolutions is to bring more imagination to the form that such “small” work can take and, perhaps idealistically, to call for a discipline-wide, dispositional shift in the field of Writing Studies to from inside and cozy to outward-looking and proactive. 

Though we are under no illusions that the bias pervading much of higher education and Writing Studies will be entirely dismantled with a few events, we are nevertheless convinced that consistent effort to highlight committed writers–especially writers of color–will help us agitate the structures of our writing centers, institutions, and discipline.


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