On May 25, 2020 George Floyd, a black man, was killed in broad daylight by police officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. A video that circulated showed one of the officers kneeling on Floyd’s neck, an action that will eventually leave him unconscious and dead after eight (8) minutes forty six (46) seconds. The shocking incident not only resulted in protest, in and outside the United States, but also increased calls for antiracist strategies and actions. Many institutions of higher education and scholarly organizations, for instance, composed, adopted, and circulated antiracist statements. In the field of rhetoric and composition, we saw the publication of “This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice!” (composed by the 2020 CCCC Special Committee on Composing a CCCC Statement on Anti-Black Racism and Black Linguistic Justice, Or, Why We Cain’t Breathe!) and many others (see Black Lives Matters, NCA, 2020).
This kairotic moment seemed to drum home the urgency and essence of extant discussion on antiracist pedagogies and practices within the field, providing crucial framing for Zandra Jordan’s webinar “Racial Justice in Virtual Tutoring: Considerations for the Antiracist Online Writing Center Praxis” which was organised under the auspices of the Global Society of Online Literacy Educators (GSOLE) in August, 2020. In this presentation, Jordan introduces “Womanist Ethics” as a critical framework for working against racism in the virtual writing center. Here, I examine Jordan’s presentation in the light of OLI scholarship, considering how the tenets proposed in her presentation can inform my writing center work.
To frame her argument, Jordan makes two crucial observations: first, discussion on racism must consider the links between local and national occurrences; and second, an antiracist approach should not just be concerned with eliminating racism but it must intentionally develop strategies for furthering social justice. Besides highlighting race and racism in the writing center as a crucial dimension of patterns within a larger context, these observations require us to conceive concrete strategies for proactively engaging issues of race in a writing center context. It appears that, for Jordan, discussing strategies was not enough to combat racism in the writing center if we were not taking concrete steps to bring into fruition an antiracist reality. Since Jordan is located in the United States, her discussion seemed to be speaking to a specific historical context but I also wondered how her discussion might be complicated if she took a broader, more transnational view to antiracism and this is critical when one considers that many of the students who come to the writing center in the United States are often international students.
At the core of Jordan’s argument is “Womanist Ethics” described as a “critical moral standpoint” for building an antiracist online writing center. This ethics, which is situated within Black women’s theology, responds to the “tripartite oppression” (race, class and sexuality) experienced by Black women. Jordan seems to suggest that because of this “tripartite oppression,” antiracist strategies framed by Black women’s standpoint could result in an expansive liberatory approach that encompasses the experiences of everyone. The tenet of this “Womanist ethics” include: “radical subjectivity”, which calls for an attentiveness to the tension between one’s own subjectivity and the values underlying hegemonic systems; “traditional communalism” which reinforces liberation for all people; “redemptive self-love,” which values the bodies of black women; and “critical engagement” which eschews compromises. Jordan identifies several ways in which these principles can shape antiracist practices within the online writing center. She argues that coaches must be representative of the student population; tutor training should include a section on what she calls “racial literacy and racial justice”; the center must reinforce the significance of acknowledging linguistic diversity; the center must engage the racial dimensions of language attitudes; and finally, tutors must honor technological preferences of clients.
Jordan links her discussion to access in OLI. She observes that many of the discussions on access in OLI tend to focus on disability and technology and that not much attention is given to issues relating to race. The definition of inclusion and accessibility in the Online Literacy Instruction Principles and Tenets highlights Jordan’s argument. It indicates that “Inclusion and access require providing proactive, equitable, and appropriate support to individuals with physical, mental, and emotional limitations and challenges; different learning approaches or preferences; multilingual, multicultural, and economically diverse backgrounds; as well as those who are geographically distributed and for whom a bricks-and-mortar campus is unavailable.” (GSOLE, 2016-2020). While the statement engages diversities and issues e.g., multilingualism) that are related to antiracist projects, it does not directly engage with issues of race and racism. With ongoing discussions on inbuilt discrimination in online infrastructure (Noble 2018), OLI practitioners cannot ignore the question of race.
While the OLI principles and tenets are meant to make learning accessible to all, in reality, as Woodley et. al. (2017, p. 470) indicates, there are factors that impact efforts to create “a culturally responsive” online learning program that ensures social justice. In calling attention to the need to engage race and racism in the online writing center, Jordan is asking us to expand our approach to accessibility. It is in this context that her questions become very crucial: “How do we account for racial justice? How does the first principle of OWI translate to racial justice?” An antiracist approach must be directly engaged if we are to make the online writing center accessible to all. Considering that there are ongoing discussions about how white hegemonic structure underlies writing center histories and practice, it would have been wonderful to hear how Jordan’s antiracist discussions respond specifically to how writing center infrastructure supports some identities and literacies and how this filters into the online work of writing centers.
My writing center is located in a context where race does not matter in the same way as it does in the US; however, issues of race seem to manifest indirectly through, for example, dominant ideologies associated with English and literacy. So initial thought might suggest that issues of race are not crucial within the center; however, in actual fact because race does not manifest directly it becomes even more difficult to make it a central issue within the center. Jordan is right in suggesting for example that linguistic diversity should be emphasized but this would have to be contextualised as in my case, many of the students and tutors live in a multilingual society with the language spoken in their homes and communities being different from the one they speak at school. Multilingualism and multiculturalism is default. Thus, while the principles that Jordan discusses are a good framework to start an antiracist program, differences in historical, cultural and linguistic contexts might mean that we devise strategies that speak to the specific context of my writing center.
One of the most crucial aspects of Jordan’s presentation, which could be useful for my writing center, is the padlet activity. In this activity, participants specified actions they were considering as part of a racial justice plan in their centers. They also described their racial justice values and potential partners for their racial justice goals. I found this activity especially insightful because it suggested that first of all, questions of race in OLI is a collaborative engagement and while we each have individual roles to play, there is a need to have a communal conversation and planning, a perspective that aligns with the collaborative dimensions of writing center work. The approach also serves as a model for engaging discussions on antiracist practices within the online writing center. I found that tutors and administrators in my center can work together using the same strategy to begin the process of crafting an antiracist writing center. Moreover, it suggests that the antiracist writing center is more than our beliefs; it is also about taking specific concrete actions to ensure these ideas shape what is happening in the center. It might mean moving beyond the writing center, to consider possible partners for such an endeavor.
GSOLE (2016-2020). Online Literacy Instruction Principles and Tenets. Global Society of Online Literacy Educators – OLI Principles and Tenets (gsole.org)
2020 CCCC Special Committee on Composing a CCCC Statement on Anti-Black Racism and Black Linguistic Justice, Or, Why We Cain’t Breathe! (2020). This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice! This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice! – Conference on College Composition and Communication (ncte.org)
NCA(2020). Black Lives Matter Statements. Black Lives Matters Statements | National Communication Association (natcom.org).
Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism. nyu Press.
Woodley, X., Hernandez, C., Parra, J., & Negash, B. (2017). Celebrating difference: Best practices in culturally responsive teaching online. TechTrends, 61(5), 470-478.