From the Editors: Race & The Writing Center

Sarah Riddick
University of Texas at Austin

Tristin Hooker
University of Texas at Austin

To open this special issue, “Race & the Writing Center,” I (Sarah) would like to share its impetus. At the South Central Writing Center Association’s (SCWCA) annual conference in February 2018, I participated in Natasha Tinsley et al.’s workshop “Beyond Inclusion: Developing a Mindful Approach to Racial Justice in Tutor Training” (Tinsley et al.). Hillary Coenen et al. describe this workshop in detail in their contribution to this issue, “Talking Justice: The Role of Anti-Racism in the Writing Center,” which we hope will serve you as a resource for developing and delivering your own workshops. Here, though, I’d like to briefly reflect on this workshop from my perspective as a participant.

In the first part of Tinsley et al.’s workshop, we assessed our respective centers’ current approaches to antiracist work, which helped us improve our understanding of the intentional, different ways in which we at writing centers approach this work, as well as the ways this work could improve. The second part—which culminated in reflecting on each other’s anonymous six-word memoirs about our first encounters with race—created a space for acknowledging the range of racial experiences that shape our individual lives and interactions with another. In the third part, we brainstormed responses to actual encounters with racism in the writing center; through this process, we worked as a group toward the racial justice we seek, and, more importantly, we discovered our limitations and the ways we still need to learn and grow.

What emerged from that workshop for me and my fellow participants was a better understanding of our collective desire to do more and better work. So, with my colleagues, I got to work. Alice Batt, SCWCA President and Assistant Director of the University Writing Center at UT Austin, and I now deliver a modified version of Tinsley et al.’s workshop each year to our center’s interns. Here at Praxis, I immediately began working with Tristin, Trish, and our special section editors Karen Keaton Jackson and Mick Howard on this special issue. Underlying every issue and every piece we publish—in Praxis and in Axis—is an effort to create places that support and showcase the many voices of writing center work and scholarship. Unfortunately, many voices and the invaluable experiences and insights they could offer are often neglected, ignored, or silenced. In this issue, we seek to do the opposite. Titled “Race & the Writing Center,” this special double issue offers a dedicated space to acknowledge and work through the racial injustices that our work may encounter and inadvertently perpetuate, as well as the ways we can productively respond.  

Wonderful Faison et al. open our issue with “Potential for and Barriers to Actionable Antiracism in the Writing Center: Views from the IWCA Special Interest Group on Antiracism Activism,” which shares their contributions as panelists during the IWCA Collaborative at the 2018 Conference on College Composition & Communication. As Faison et al. explain, the “conference moved online because the physical location of Kansas City, Missouri, was deemed too racist by the voting members of IWCA for us to actually go there (Dietz)—seemed an appropriate time to reflect on action, specifically antiracist action” (4). Structured as a dialogue, Faison et al.’s piece illustrates how writing center practitioners may engage in such reflective work, as well as conveys the urgency for doing so.

In “Talking Justice: The Role of Antiracism in the Writing Center,” Hillary Coenen et al. discuss the ongoing development and implementation of their antiracist workshop for writing centers called the Talking Justice Project (TJP), which “strives to answer the call to address racism in institutions that were designed to maintain white supremacy and systemically disadvantage People of Color” (12). This workshop asks participants to reflect critically on their own perspectives of race and to work through scenarios inspired by actual consultations. The structure of this workshop, which Coenen et al. describe in detail, offers an accessible yet challenging manner in which writing center practitioners at all levels can better prepare themselves for specific instances of (inter)personal and institutional racism that may arise during writing center consultations.

With “Why I Call It the Academic Ghetto: A Critical Examination of Race, Place, and Writing Centers,” Alexandria Lockett offers a closer look at the kind of experiences that drive this work. As Lockett notes, “the perspectives of racially marginalized tutors are overwhelmingly absent from WC scholarship” (21). Thus, Lockett shares her perspective; reflecting on personal and professional experiences as a graduate student and “as a black queer writing center tutor,” Lockett argues that “[Graduate Writing Centers] function as ‘the academic ghetto’” institutionally and culturally and calls upon us to share more of “y/our own lived experience” so we may “more comprehensively interpret what might be happening with race and WCs”  (20, 29).

In “Exploring White Privilege in Tutor Education,” Dan Melzer shares the results of his action research on four semesters worth of discussions of white privilege in his tutoring internship courses at a racially diverse institution. His article reflects on the ways many white tutors “resisted” conversations about privilege in those discussions, often assumed assimilation to be an easy process, or even felt helpless to change embedded institutions. Ultimately, Melzer determined the need to foreground discussions of race and privilege in tutor preparation, and to prompt tutors to “directly confront white privilege” (40), to encounter implicit bias, and to work for institutional change by “allowing space for expressing feelings and lived experiences and not just abstract concepts or positions” (40).

Douglas S. Kern also addresses questions of emotional engagement, white privilege, and antiracist work in the writing center in “Emotional Performance and Antiracism in the Writing Center.” Drawing on Laura Micciche’s work on emotion and performance, Kern reflects on his own tutor training curriculum, frontloading readings on students’ right to their own language, and inviting the emotional responses that follow. Working through a series of “reenactments” of these performances, Kern asks, “Can the tutors’ emotional performances, both in action and voice, eventually help to bring attention to, or subvert, the backlash and attacks antiracism rhetoric tends to invite?” (44). Reflecting on his own past performances as an ally, Kern states his intention to “move beyond narrative and into action” (48).

Although we have purposely kept the theme of this issue broad, we recognize that there are specific conversations that need to be had, as do our special section editors Karen Keaton Jackson and Mick Howard. This section focuses on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), which, as Jackson and Howard explain in their opening column “MSIs Matter: Recognizing Writing Center Work at Minority Serving Institutions,” are significantly underrepresented in scholarship. Thus, to Jackson and Howard pose “the most fundamental question” they and others have, and those interested in racial justice work should share: “Why are the voices who teach and tutor hundreds, even thousands, of students of color each year not engaged in and, quite frankly, leading these conversations?” (51). In this issue-length section, Jackson and Howard present several of these voices.

In “Writing as a Practice of Freedom: HBCU Writing Centers as Sites of Liberatory Practice,” Wonderful Faison reflects on the differences she has observed in while working in a writing center at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) and later at an HBCU writing center. Compared with the PWI, the students in the HBCU center more frequently “asked how writing could free them, when writing and learning to write had done nothing but oppress them” (53). Faison shares how and why tutors in this center take a person-oriented approach to their consultations, one that acknowledges the serious struggles the writers in their center may be facing and that shows those writers how writing can help them beyond their coursework.

Kathi R. Griffin, Tatiana Glushko, and Daoying Liu answer the call for replicable, aggregable, and data-driven research in the writing center with their study, “Rhetorical Awareness of Student Writers at an HBCU: A Study of Reflective Responses in the Writing Center.” The authors look at a collection of responses on student reflection forms at an HBCU, in an attempt to observe and measure rhetorical awareness. Measuring students across multiple discourse categories, the authors ultimately find that students’ reflections reveal more about curriculum, pedagogy, and social context than about individual students. Noting that students did not demonstrate a high degree of rhetorical awareness or development of this awareness over multiple visits to the writing center, the authors suggest that student reflections are, themselves, important indicators of a writing program’s rhetorical success. The authors also argue that these results have important implications for writing program curricular reform and professional development that challenges current-traditional pedagogy, especially at minority-serving institutions.

In “Dismantling Neutrality,” Eric C. Camarillo focuses on the particular complexities of running a writing center at a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), and offers an ecological model of thinking of the writing center. This model considers the writing center as part of the larger system of writing assessment students are exposed to, and can reveal the way practices in those institutionalized systems have potential to harm students. Ultimately, by designing a “revised writing center canon” (73) for his tutor training focused on antiracist writing assessment ecologies, Camarillo was able to create a space where writing center work engages meaningfully to dismantle the systems of power that marginalize students’ language.

Kendra Mitchell continues this theme in “Liminally Speaking: Pathos-Driven Approaches in an HBCU Writing Center as a Way Forward.” Mitchell looks at the reflections in her case study on interactions between African American consultants and consultees through the lens of Vorris Nunley’s idea of “hush harbors,” where African American Language develops and is used freely. Examining not only at the language but the spaces in which self-identified African Americans use AAL and negotiate AAL and Edited American English, Mitchell argues for “pathos-driven listening in a space historically misheard: historically black university writing centers” (74), revealing “the substantial contributions of AAL writers and tutors who wrestle for their language rights on their own terms (79).

We close this issue with JWells’s review of Frankie Condon and Vershawn Ashanti Young’s (2017) Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication, an edited collection that offers theoretical and pedagogical tools for antiracist practices from which instructors and consultants alike would benefit.


On a personal note here at Praxis, we are saddened to say goodbye to Sarah but proud to send her off with an issue she was so instrumental in bringing about. Sarah has been our dedicated, conscientious editor for the last two years, a mentor and teacher to our copy-editing staff and the rest of the editorial team. She has pushed to broaden our readership and our submission pool, both for our journal and for Axis, our blog, and throughout she has shown a dedication to preserving and maintaining our authors’ voices. She has encouraged Praxis to continue creating space and amplifying new, vital, often overlooked voices, and for that we are so grateful. Thank you, Sarah, for all of your time with us!

We’d also like to extend a warm welcome to our new managing editor Fiza Mairaj, a Ph.D. student in the Educational Policy and Planning program at the University of Texas at Austin. Fiza’s research interests and her experience as a graduate writing consultant make her a great fit for Praxis, and we look forward to working with her, beginning Fall 2019.

Works Cited

Tinsley, Natasha, et al. “Beyond Inclusion: Developing a Mindful Approach to Racial Justice in Tutor Training.” Mindfulness at the Center, South Central Writing Centers Association Conference, 23 Feb. 2018, University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas. Workshop.