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Teaching Writing for a Better World: Write@UGA 2021 recap

Alan Flurry

Vanessa Swenson, a Writing Intensive Program graduate student, shared this recap of the Write@UGA 2021 event from February.

On February 22, 2021, the Write@UGA event series “Writing for a Better World,” welcomed Asao B. Inoue, an award-winning scholar whose work considers the intersection of writing assessment and race and racism.

In a morning keynote address, “What Does It Mean To Assess Writing For A Better World? Or What Does It Mean to Be An Antiracist Teacher?” and an afternoon workshop, “Bravely Challenging Our White Language Supremacy in Our Assessments of Student Writing,” Inoue delved into the structures and mindsets that prop up white supremacy in writing instruction. According to Inoue, we must talk about white supremacy to dismantle it, as silence is an assent to the status quo. 

For writing and writing assessment, this means questioning the standards of grammar that are used and how these standards feed into the hegemony of dominant groups. Oppressed groups consent to ideas and ideals that maintain the white supremacist standard by linking back to the white people that succeeded in the past. This pattern only reinforces the power of those at the top. For minoritized groups, the message—and the hierarchy—is simple: “You, too, can be successful with my words in your mouth,” said Inoue,  professor and the associate dean for Academic Affairs, Equity, and Inclusion in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University.

Reckoning with the standards employed in classrooms at UGA, from accepted writing conventions to standards for how to grade student assignments, will be a challenging but necessary aspect of working toward the goals of diversity and inclusion. 

“One of the main takeaways from Dr. Inoue’s visit was about embracing a mindset shift,” saidRuth Poproski, Associate Director at the Center for Teaching and Learning. “Instead of simply insisting that our students adopt existing norms and traditions, we should take time to consider ways in which the unique voices of our students can contribute to and shape those norms and traditions moving forward.”

The afternoon workshop helped participants question norms in assessment by defining what instructors can do in their own classrooms. Inoue also warned against “pedagogical Easter egg hunts” that may emerge from a feeling of urgency to move away from white supremacist practices. These impulses, however well intentioned, inhibit teachers and students from participating in the necessary reflection that offers fundamental, lasting changes in orientation.

Inoue provided a set of prompts to help participants begin the hard, reflective work of creating writing assessments that work against racist systems in writing education:

  •   Purposes: Why is assessing happening, or what are the reasons for assessment?
  •   Power: In what ways are disciplining, control, and norming (to some standard) enacted?
  •   Parts: What are the codes, constructs, and artifacts used and produced?
  •   Processes: How are judgments accomplished and what happens with them?
  •   People: Who is involved in judging and how much control in judging do they have?
  •   Places: What material and figurative sites are created that affect people?
  •   Products: What indirect and direct consequences are produced or expected?

Inoue shared a visualization of these questions he created with Mya Poe, “The Antiracist Tree,” that asks further questions of instructors as they continue on their path toward a more diverse classroom and assessment structure.

“I had hoped he would help our community rethink standard operating procedures when it comes to teaching and assessing writing in the university,” said Lindsey Harding, director of the UGA Writing Intensive Program.“His work has moved me to change my own grading practices, and I hope he has sparked a conversation about the hard work and necessary changes we need to take on at UGA to adopt antiracist orientations in our writing-intensive classrooms."

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