The chief writing instructor at the University of Washington, Tacoma, is trying to dismantle the rules of grammar because he believes they are racist—and the college has given its endorsement to his campaign.
Posters that appeared this week in the college’s writing center are part of a new effort to teach students that the conventional rules on how to structure sentences and form ideas in written language are perpetuating inequality and “white supremacy.”
“Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society,” the poster claims. It goes on to say that critiquing a student’s use of language, or implying that there is any one grammatical standard within the English language, is inherently discriminatory.
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Grammar, according to the posters in the writing center, can “justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”
To solve the problem, the program intends to help students become aware of “social justice” issues in their everyday life, and to help them “check their privileges”—particularly those that result in unconscious racism.
They also appear to say that they will not deduct from grades—even in English classes in an English department—for failing to use proper grammar. “We promise to emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical ‘correctness’ in the production of texts,” a “commitment” on the poster reads. “We promise to challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations.”
Link to the rest at Heatstreet and thanks to Felix for the tip.
Here’s the Statement in full:
About Writing Center
Following is a statement that Writing Center professional staff, tutors, and the Director worked on extensively. It informs our center’s practices and on-going assessment efforts to improve our practices.
STATEMENT ON ANTIRACIST AND SOCIAL JUSTICE WORK IN THE WRITING CENTER
The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.
Because we all live, work, learn, and communicate within such racist systems, the consultants in the writing center assume that a big part of our job is to help students become more critical of these unjust language structures as they affect students’ writing and the judgment of that writing. In particular, being aware of racism as structural offers students the best chances to develop as writers and succeed on their own terms in an inherently racist society.
Furthermore, by acknowledging and critiquing the systemic racism that forms parts of UWT and the languages and literacies expected in it, students and writing center consultants can cultivate a more socially just future for everyone. Just avoiding racism is not enough because it means we are doing nothing to stop racism at large, and it amounts to allowing racism to continue.
The writing center consultants and staff promise to listen and look carefully and compassionately for ways that we may unintentionally perpetuate racism or social injustice, actively engaging in antiracist practices. For instance, we promise to:
- be sensitive to our language practices (what we say or allow to be said) and other microaggressions that may make some people feel uncomfortable or feel in some way inferior;
- openly discuss social justice issues as they pertain to the writing at hand;
- emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical “correctness” in the production of texts;
- be reflective and critical of the practices we engage in;
- provide students ways to be more aware of grammar as a rhetorical set of choices with various consequences;
- discuss racism and social justice issues openly in productive ways;
- advocate for the things that will make our Center safe, welcoming, productive, proactive;
- challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations;
- conduct on-going assessments of the work of the writing center, looking specifically for patterns or potential inequalities or oppressive practices that may be occurring in the Center.
We also realize that racism is connected to other forms of social injustice, such as classism, sexism, heteronormative assumptions, etc., in similar ways. We promise further to do our best to compassionately address these issues as they pertain to student writing as well.
The Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma is a part of the Teaching and Learning Center located in Snoqualmie 260, and is closely affiliated with the University Writing Program. All students can make an appointment to see a Writing Consultant in person or online. There are four ways the Center offers expert feedback on student writing. The Center also offers electronic resources for academic writing.
PG says this manifesto appears to him to be written in standard American English and, thus, packed with microaggressions.
PG observes not the slightest sensitivity to the way those not trained to this standard might react to such a racist tone. Clearly, those at the top of this hierarchy are determined to bend others less privileged to their will.
How such people can purport to teach English without continuing to perpetrate an inherently hostile environment by repeatedly othering those who differ from them cannot be imagined.