Nooses and Balancing Acts: Reflections and Advice on Racism and Antiracism from Black Writing Tutors at Predominantly White Institutions
Over the past 10-15 years, writing center scholars have acknowledged the significance of race to writing center work and examined the ways racism manifests within writing center spaces and practices. More recently, conversations have shifted from acknowledging racism to how to combat it through antiracist activism. However, due to the demographics of the field, the voices most often contributing to these conversations are white scholars, many of them directors at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). This study positions Black writing tutors as individuals with expertise to share on how to engage in antiracism through writing center work that stems from their experiences as tutors and as Black Americans. It argues that tutors’ identities as Black students on predominantly White campuses are relevant to their tutoring work and must be considered when making decisions about how to encourage and support tutors in antiracist writing center work. It also challenges professionals in the field to acknowledge the racism still prevalent in writing centers, which also continues to shape writing center dialogue and practice. The study presents a grounded-theory analysis of two rounds of semi-structured interviews with nine current writing tutors, self-identified as Black. Participants included eight women and four first-generation Americans. The argument is presented through a three-part analysis that first examines institutional culture and climate around race for the Black participants, including their interactions with other students and institutional agents, as well their experiences with racially charged events on campus. The second part of the analysis considers how the racially tense and often oppressive environment of the broader campus is mirrored in that of the writing centers where the participants work, where their experiences of racism lead them to filter their words and actions. In the final part of the analysis, I offer the participants’ perspectives on writing centers’ potential for antiracism, as well as their views on responsibility for racism, perspectives rooted in their experiences as Black tutors, students, and Americans. I conclude that while writing centers have the potential to be sites for antiracism, they currently remain tense and unwelcoming spaces for many Black tutors. I argue that White administrators must be more aware of broader campus climate and how it affects their center and staff, and must willing to breakdown the status quo, in their centers and in the field, to make writing centers as spaces and as a discipline more inclusive.
Denny, Purdue University.
African American Studies|Higher Education Administration|Rhetoric
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