by Logan Eidson
My uneasiness with the term citizen came in middle-school. I grew up in suburbian georgia, but my family came from other places. My mom from south Texas, and my father, and his relatives, come from england. While I don’t have an accent and have never been to england I grew up with english culture as my culture. When I was in school I learned a very different perspective on the culture I had attached myself too. I remember being in class and learning about the revolutionary war, and how enthusiastic my classmates were with violence against a group I identify with. While my cultural identity also carries certain privileges, this awkward experience made me think about how terms like citizen can include and exclude certain identities. The 2018 International Writing Center Association Conference, which was titled the “Citizen Center,” made me look at how writing centers try to empower students and promote social justice. The model that the conference proposed asked writing centers to embrace iffy, exclusionary rhetoric that puts writing centers uncomfortably close to an inequitable position regarding writer and center negotiations. In this paper, I will examine the effectiveness of rhetoric used in the “Citizen Center” conference and how it restricts the possibility of creating socially just practices in writing centers. I also assert that writing centers can promote social justice by modelling Allyship, a type of advocacy to make visible systems of privilege that support social injustice. Allyship is effective because it enables writing centers to advocate for marginalized populations to other privileged sectors of the academy without the potentially exclusive rhetoric of citizenship.
Writing centers are inclusive spaces, however, the institutions they are attached to and often draw staff from can, unintentionally, be exclusive to many identity markers. Throughout writing center scholarship including other identities has been paramount, yet, writing centers have so far been less effective in changing college culture to be more inclusive and openly accepting of a multitude of identities. To create more socially just college cultures, the IWCA put forth a model for writing centers that emphasizes the rhetoric of citizenship and the active participation of writing centers in the academic community to make positive change. The call for proposals argues that Writing centers empower writers by “modeling active citizenship” according to “the Active Citizen Continuum”, which “focuses on creating learning experiences that cultivate active citizens for whom ‘community becomes a priority in values and life choices’ (“Break Away”). Active Citizenship asks us to recognize communication, compassion, and vulnerability as key components to understanding perspectives different from our own, and it would encourage writing center professionals to engage in local and national social action to effect positive change in their communities and world,” (IWCA). The conference theme suggests that writing centers embrace the academic communities they belong to and build practices around understanding perspectives outside of the community to create a more inclusive college culture.
Understanding and compassion are key components to creating a more socially just college culture, the focus on community and being a citizen of a certain community can cause an imbalance of power between writing centers and the students that centers serve. The academic community that writing centers are a part of, is marked by privilege and those markers make balancing the power dynamics between writing center consultants and consultees more difficult. As writing centers are backed by the institutions, writing centers should be aware that “[t]he institutions in the top tiers comprise colleges that are highly ranked and that have selective admission standards. Such colleges enroll disproportionate numbers of students with high socio-economic status” (Salem 22). The higher ranked the college, or university, the more that students with greater privilege are accepted. Whether intentional or unintentional, the cultures of such universities reflect a smaller variety of socio-economic classes. This limited population of identity permeates throughout universities, and if we look at member groups of the academy we can see how the affiliation between writing centers and the academy unbalances the power dynamics because writing centers might also be perceived as valuing and having privileged identities. While universities and colleges are not intentionally excluding identies from their campuses, and actively try to be inclusive, the culture of these universities has valued certain identities in the past and without change will continue to value certain identities for citizens of their community. .
The rhetoric of citizenship assumes centers operate as community, and communities, by their very nature, are both inclusive and exclusive. Nancy Grimm points out “writing centers were established to meet the needs of students who were raised in Communities quite different from the academic community[. T]he community metaphor suppresses discussion of the conflicts and costs that some students encounter in their efforts to join the academic community” (Grimm 529). Marginalized groups, whose identities have been undervalued by the academy, are often coerced to relinquish the negotiation of power, identity, and voice during their academic career to fit into the standards of the community. If centers look at ‘standard’ English, for instance, writing centers can see how dialects that do not match the standard are frequently devalued or silenced within the academy. Using the example of Black English, Vershawn Young points out, “Black English don’t make it own-self oppressed. It be negative views about other people usin they own language” (62). Here, the perceptions of one community generate negative beliefs about members of a different community. If writing centers use language like citizen and community, writing centers could very well fall into community conflicts that further discourages marginalized students from using writing centers. The IWCA conference theme would not be effective to create a socially just writing center because community and citizenship can act as a deterrent for students who may not identify as citizens of the academic community.
The citizen that the academic community would produce then would be one that furthers practices of gatekeeping, marginalization and assimilation, a role that writing centers are already keenly aware of. The IWCA conference theme suggests that writing centers can become more socially just by modelling the choices of the community. As Lori Salem points out in “Decisions … Decisions: Who Chooses to Use the Writing Center” the perception, “of education as the ‘great equalizer’ that drives social and economic mobility, the fact is that it often serves to reproduce social and economic hierarchies, and educational decisions are one of the points at which that reproduction takes place” (Salem 150). Educational decisions are sometimes made that affect the decision maker’s privilege. If writing centers model the choices of the community, then writing centers would make decisions that reinforce a hierarchy that advantages some and disadvantages many others. This would return writing centers to the regulatory roles that writing centers have played in the past, the regulatory roles that writing centers found to be socially unjust.
While the conference theme might not be as effective as it seems, writing centers can use a more effective and overt means of advocacy. Allyship is bringing awareness of privilege by confronting other privileged individuals about systems contributing to social inequity. As Andrea Avayzian puts in their article “Interrupting the Cycle of Oppression,” “allied behavior usually involves talking to other dominants about their behavior: whites confronting other whites on issues of racism, men organizing with other men to combat sexism, and so on” (Ayvazian 2). Writing centers can easily model this behavior by talking to other sectors of the academic institution when issues of inequality arise. While these discussions will not happen in every consultation, these discussions can happen in staff meetings, faculty functions or policy meetings where writing center scholars are present. Allyship is more effective than citizenship because it does not rely on community values that may or may not be exclusive. This method emphasizes talking to other privileged individuals to bring awareness to how systems of seemingly invisible advantages create unequal distributions of power. This would be effective because it allows writing centers to be more active supporters of advocacy groups and bring awareness to others of social injustices.
My identity has several privileges tacked onto it that I haven’t earned, and writing centers, too, have privilege through affiliation with the academic community. The rhetoric of citizenship is ineffective in balancing the power dynamics between writing centers and students because such rhetoric identifies writing centers as agents of a community that unintentionally marginalizes the students that writing center seek to assist. However, writing centers do sit in a position to be allies for marginalized groups in the academic institution by making other privileged individuals aware of how systems of privilege disadvantage others.
Ayvazian, Andrea. “Interrupting the Cycle of Oppression: The Role of Allies as Agents of Change”. https://www.mtholyoke.edu/sites/default/files/diversity/docs/interpretting_oppression.pdf
Grimm, Nancy. “Rearticulating the Work of Writing Centers.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 47, No. 4, National Council of Teachers of English, Dec. 1996, pp. 523-548.
“IWCA 2018: The Citizen Center.” International Writing Centers Association. 20 September, 2018, http://writingcenters.org/annual-conference-2/.
Salem, Lori. “Decisions … Decisions: Who Chooses to Use the Writing Center.” The Writing Center Journal, 35, 2, 2016, pp. 147-165.
Salem, Lori. “Opportunity and Transformation: How Writing Centers Are Positioned in the Political Landscape of Higher Education in the United States.” Writing Center Journal, vol. 34, no. 1, Fall/Winter2015 2014, pp. 15–43. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.augusta.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eue&AN=110398426&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Young, Vershawn. “Should Writers Speak They Own English.” Writing Centers and the New Racism, edited by Laura Greenfield, and Karen Rowan. Utah State University Press, 2011, pp. 61-72.
Logan is an undergraduate at Augusta University pursuing a major in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. He spends a lot of time writing, thinking about writing and is actively engaged in creative writing groups within and outside of Augusta University. The genres Logan writes the most in are fantasy, steampunk and science fiction. When not working at the writing center, writing, or attempting to modify his car; Logan enjoys reading, listening to music, learning about other cultures, cooking, and making things.