Tag: politics

Our Commitment to Antiracism

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Black Lives Matter.

The University Writing Center stands with our staff, colleagues, students, and community members who are protesting for social and economic justice and against White supremacy. We condemn systemic racist and violent oppression of Black people both in our community and nationwide. We recognize and pledge to act against historical and ongoing inequitable treatment of Black people.

In our own work at the University Writing Center and in our community partnerships, we reaffirm our commitment to antiracist education. Like the University and the community, our consultants, staff, and the writers with whom we work, come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Some experience the direct effects of racism in their daily lives, while others benefit from systems of white privilege. We recognize that, as an organization, we must do more than simply respect diversity. As we say on our Statement on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, we “commit to critiquing and speaking out against individual and structural oppression in an effort to create a safer, more just university for all students.”

We also see our role as an educational institution as reaffirming our ongoing commitment to antiracist education. As our statement says,

We approach this work by listening to voices that are experiencing racism and oppression and by continuing to work to educate ourselves about systems of power and inequality. We continue to work as a staff to educate ourselves, listen carefully, and reflect on issues of identity, language, and power so that we can respond as allies and advocates for writers in the UofL community. We understand issues of inclusion and diversity require ongoing, daily work that is never finished.

Such work requires listening to and reading the work of those whose voices can educate us on both systems of racism in our culture as well as the pain, injury, and inequality such systems perpetuate. Such work requires honest reflection and ongoing conversation about our roles in institutions shaped by ideologies of White supremacy.  The work is ongoing and we can and must do better.

In an effort to promote and continue antiracist education and activism, I am including links below to a few of the many resources that I hope people will find useful. My thanks to those who have done the work of putting these resources together.

Black Lives Matter Resources including teaching toolkits

Statement and Resources from UofL from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Directors

Prioritizing Antiracism inWriting Tutor Education: How We Teach Writing Tutors

Praxis: Special Issue: Race and the Writing Center

Anti-Racism Resources for Students, Educators, and Citizens

Scaffolded Anti-racism Resources

Black Lives Matter Louisville

Showing Up for Racial Justice

M4BL

 

Time, Talk, and Attention to the Individual Writer: How Learning Happens in the Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Every year I spend much of my August telling people about the University Writing Center. I go to a number of departmental and college orientations and resource fairs so I can offer an overview of our services. I tell people that we work with any member of the UofL community on any kind of writing at any point in the writing process. I talk about dscn2185our various writing groups, writing events, and the workshops and retreats we offer. And I describe, briefly, how we don’t edit papers for people, but work with them to discuss the strengths and weakness of a draft and come up with strategies for revision that will make the writer stronger yet.

Yet, I usually have only about 15 minutes to talk, at best, at these events, so I don’t get to explain much beyond that. There are any number of things I’d like to be able to say, but with the start of the new academic year, I want to take a moment to focus specifically on a few values and approaches that we have in the University Writing Center that both set us apart from other parts of the University and create distinctive learning experiences that keep people coming back to make appointments with us. These are all ideas we spent the day talking about at our start-of-the-year orientation this past Thursday.

People, Not Just Pages: We work with writers, not just on drafts. We’re not an editing service that marks up a draft with “corrections.” Instead, our focus is working with a writer to provide that person with suggestions and strategies that help the writer make the draft in question stronger, but also offer the writer ways to write more effectively in the future. We remember that we’re responding to a person, not just a set of pages. Such an approach also means that we work in dialogue with writers, listening to their concerns, offering suggestions, and emphasizing that the best learning comes from such cooperative and collaborative approaches.

Location, Location, Location: We can start with writers where they are. In a class full of students instructors have to make assumptions about what the students know and start from there. Being able to work with writers individually means we can find out what they know, what they want to learn, and adapt our responses accordingly. The reality is that no writer is always a strong or weak writer. Competence and confidence depend on the writer’s familiarity with the genre in question, whether you’re a first-year student or working on a doctoral dissertation. We tailor our teaching to the individual and the context.

Time Is On Our Side: Unlike conventional courses, we’re not bound by the limits of a 14-week semester. Our timeline for learning is up to the individual writer. Some writers make multiple appointments with us during a given writing project (writers can make up to three appointments per week). Some make regular, standing appointments each week was they work on a longer piece, like a dissertation or book. Others we see from time to time during their years at UofL. The point is, we can keep working with a writer over the course of college career and our approaches to teaching and learning can take the long view and not be truncated by the semester schedule. Such an approach, again, means we can focus on teaching the individual, not just fulfilling a course syllabus.

Learning, Not Grading: When we sit down with a writer, our focus in on helping that person write more effectively, not coming up with an evaluation of that writer that

WC staff 17
University Writing Center Staff, 2017-18

reduces it to a number or single letter. Taking this approach allows writers to be more honest about their struggles and more willing to explore a variety of approaches knowing that an approach that doesn’t work won’t result in a failing grade, but just having to try again. In the Writing Center the response of the reader is what matters, and in that way reflects more closely the reality of writing in daily, non-academic contexts. What’s more, research on motivation – and research on grading – overwhelming demonstrates that instrumental reward systems such as grades diminish both internal motivations and learning. We offer a learning environment that emphasizes individual learning, not group assessment, and that makes the learning and motivation that much stronger.

Writing Matters in the World: We’re committed to cultivating and sustaining a culture of writing on campus and in the community. Our writing groups (Graduate, Creative Writing, LGBTQ), our community work and workshops, and our events (Banned Books Week, Celebration of Student Writing, International Mother Language Day, among others) are all done with the goals of supporting the writing that people do, but also reminding people of the important work that writing does in their lives and in the world. Toward that end, we also value and emphasize the role of writing and literacy in advancing and advocating for equality and social justice.

Regardless of your political views, it’s hard to argue with the idea that these feel like tumultuous times. But, as my father once said, “Education is an optimist’s racket,” which means I can’t look at the new faces on campus and not feel hopeful. We are excited to  open our doors at the University Writing Center to begin another academic year and remain a positive force for UofL writers and their writing.

 

The Role of Writing in a Democracy

Kelly Carty, Consultantkelly-c

On Friday we witnessed what Barak Obama called a “hallmark of our democracy:” the peaceful transition of power from one leader to another. Donald J. Trump, to the horror of some and the delight of others, is now the 45th President of the United States. He will occupy the White House for at least four years as our Commander in Chief.

But you already know this. The details of the day have probably trickled down to you much better than the benefits of the wealthy. I’m not going to reiterate what you’ve seen on your Facebook newsfeed, Google News, or SNL. Instead, I would like to explore the role of writing in a democracy. I want to explore the ways in which we can write to resist, dissent, and call for change. I want to explore the relationship between writing and active citizenship.

Writing, as a political expression of our freedom of speech, is central to the functioning of our democracy. Even with its legal limitations (e.g. libel, slander, obscenity), the freedom to express ideas ensures that democracy, a system of government in which rule emanates from the common people, remains a democracy and does not morph into an aristocracy, an oligarchy, or a totalitarian state.

You may be thinking that writing can’t do much. That writing can be an expression of freedom of speech, but no one listens. I certainly felt discouraged when I wrote to Rand Paul about gun control and received a slightly off topic, pre-crafted reply in the mail.  But writing is powerful. It has led to drastic social and political changes. If you are skeptical, Google any of the following:

  • Foundational Religious Texts (like the Sutras, the Vedas, the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Qur’an)
  • Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
  • The Communist Manifesto
  • Letter from Birmingham Jail
  • J’accuse…!
  • WikiLeaks
  • Social media posts in the Arab Spring
  • (and because I also think literature changes the world)
  • Shakespeare’s plays
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • The Jungle
  • (and because science can change the world)
  • Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres
  • Newton’s Principia
  • Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
  • Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis papers

While I don’t want to discourage you from attempting to write such dramatic pieces, I recognize it is difficult (and often situation-dependent) to write something so influential.  So how can we still write politically effective pieces?

We can write to engage in civil discourse.

You may already do some of this. Writing a political Facebook status or commenting on someone else’s is a way of engaging in discourse. In order to do this effectively, however, you must be willing to engage with those who disagree with you. You must be willing to attempt to understand other views. You must be willing to practice rhetorical devices. (And we have a handout on this! Lucky you! Unfortunately, Facebook’s algorithms tend to isolate us in agreeable newfeeds.

You could try other avenues of online discourse, such as Twitter. Our new prez loves to tweet. Matt Bevin, our Kentucky governor, likes to tweet and block.

If you want to work outside the bounds of social media, you can write letters or responses to your local newspaper. Here are links to the contact information for a few of our local newspapers:

We can write to our representatives.

If you want to supplement your civil discourse with direct interactions with the government, you may want to consider contacting your representatives. Before you do that, however, it’s useful to know a bit about our system of government. The United States is a representative democracy. This means that elected representatives, not the common people as is the case with a direct democracy, run the government. If citizens want something to happen, they have to go through their representatives.

Complicating this a bit further, the United States is also a federal republic. This means that we have representatives on multiple levels (the state government and the federal government). Thus, depending on what you want to be done, you may need to talk to representatives from one or both levels.

There are a couple of ways you can find your representatives. On the federal level, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have searchable databases. Each state will have it’s own website, but for Kentucky, you can find your legislators here. The website Common Cause is useful as well, as it provides more information on the specific actions of your representatives.

Hopefully, your representatives will be responsive. Some of them send letters. Some of them send emails. For example, I received this from Mitch McConnell:

mcconnell-email1

We can write to supplement other political acts.

Maybe you want to do more than write. That’s great! Keep in mind that writing can supplement your other political actions. For example, if you want to march or protest, you can create a witty sign:

img_2898

If you want to join a politically active group, such as Showing Up for Racial Justice or Black Lives Matter, you may need to write to support the goals of the group. If you want to create your own, you may want to write a mission statement or a list of objectives.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that writing can augment your voice.

I will leave you with something a friend showed me on the day of Trump’s inauguration. It’s an arrangement by Anne Carson in her book Nox:

cinerem1

 

After the Election: The Work of the University Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Franklin Roosevelt, in 1938 in face of the rise of fascism around the world, had this to say about the role of education in politics:

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. It has been well said that no system of government gives so much to the individual or exacts so much as a democracy. Upon our educational system must largely depend the perpetuity of those institutions upon which our freedom and our security rest. To prepare each citizen to choose wisely and to enable him to choose freely are paramount functions of the schools in a democracy.

This quote has been on my mind the past few days in the run up to, and in the wake of, the recent presidential election. I’ve been thinking about the role of education in civic and political discourse and, more specifically, the role we should play in such issues in thedscn2185 University Writing Center. We have always welcomed and worked with writers from every political position, and that will not change. Our goal will continue to be help each writer become a stronger writer, but also to create writing that reflects ethical critical thinking and a commitment to civil discourse. Still, I think there is more to be said, and more to be done, on our part. Although it may seem that an organization of fewer than 20 people in a large university and larger city is limited in the impact it can have on such issues, I believe that the daily work of small groups of committed people is one essential way that education – and by extension, change – happens. At this moment, then, I want to make a more explicit, more emphatic statement about the principles we hold in the University Writing Center and the actions we intend to take to support those principles.

An Inclusive, Safe Space: The University Writing Center Mission Statement says that “The Writing Center is dedicated to being a safe, inclusive environment. We work to make the Writing Center a welcoming place where writers feel comfortable bringing the diverse range of perspectives found in the university community.” There is nothing wrong with that statement. Yet, I want to be clearer about what it means today when friends and colleagues whose identity positions – whether by race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, cultural background, or others – are making them feel further marginalized, silenced, and threatened. We need to be more than welcoming. We need to be advocates. We need to be activists. We will renew our commitment to making the University Writing Center a place were writers can express their identities and be assured that they will receive a respectful and supportive response. Trust and safety are key elements to writing and teaching and we will continue to work as a staff to educate ourselves, listen carefully, and reflect on issues of identity, language, and power so that we can respond as allies and advocates for writers in the UofL community. We will also work harder to get the word out about this aspect of our work in University Writing Center sessions.

Supporting Writing on Campus and in the Community.  We will commit ourselves to more events and activities that support the writing and voices of people who feel silenced and marginalized in our culture and that engage conversations about the political nature of reading and writing. We have been engaging in these kinds of activities through our LGBTQ Writing Group, our events during Banned Books week, and our plans to celebrate International Mother Language Day in February. We will continue with our plans to engage in literacy tutoring in the community through Family Scholar House and the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library to support the writing and expression of ideas of people in the city. At this point I do not know what other events we will be planning. I want to listen to the community, in and out of the university, to think about how best we can support literacy practices that are empowering on both an individual level and community level. We will also renew our commitment to be part of conversations about the role of writing in culture and politics.

Education and Civil Discourse: Finally, we will continue to do what we do best: Educate. Our mission statement also says that we consider “writing to be an indispensable part of the intellectual life of the university as both a vital means of communication and an essential tool for learning.” What is not explicit in that statement, but is part of our mission and identity is a commitment to critical thinking and civil discourse. We will work with all writers, from all political viewpoints, to help them learn how to create arguments that are evidence-based, nuanced, and engage respectfully with opposing points of view. We will work with all writers to encourage a discourse that, even when in opposition, is respectful of the humanity of others. We will engage in conversations that help writers understand the influence of culture and systems of power on issues of education, language, and learning. We will work to help writers understand how their identities are positioned by larger cultural ideologies and narratives and help them explore options on how to communicate their ideas most effectively to their intended audiences. We will continue to believe in and advocate the value in listening, and responding, thoughtfully to the ideas of others. We regard empathy as a strength, not a weakness.

We will do our part, small though it may be, to keep communication and conversation going. We will continue to work toward writing that connects our minds and our shared humanity.