I was actually very taken aback by the article by Barron and Grimm in “The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors.” As someone of a renegade faith and non-generic skin tone in America I felt that what the authors intended was to bring out my “Muslim” voice. However, this presupposes that I have a Muslim voice simply because I have an Arabic last name. Indeed my family is Muslim, but I am not. Were I to walk into a writing center, present my argument and then have the tutor try to bring out a different voice in me, I would be deeply offended. Similarly, when I walk into an airport, and the TSA projects an understanding of my father’s religion upon me, and tries to make me conform to that understanding, I am offended. I do, in fact, have a Muslim voice and am concerned with Muslim issues. But I believe that that voice is mine and mine alone to bring out.
Another diversity issue is brought about in the Doucette article: bringing out a diverse voice in an inappropriate way. Doucette, near the end of his article, talks of an example where he helped a political student write about same-sex marriage in the context of her gay brother. As a political science major, I can attest that this is largely not appropriate for political science writing. I do not believe that political science writing is biased towards heternormative, or Caucasian tendencies, but rather that it demands are certain style of writing developed out of tradition and practice. I do not think Doucette’s approach to bringing the personal context into an essay from a field which he was not familiar with was appropriate. Rather, it was part of a larger political agenda of Doucette to advance queer perspectives. Thus, we can help, if the student wants to bring personal context to it, but we should not force students to for our own interests.
Lastly, I think there are differences in the student body between Stanford and Michigan Technological University. Perhaps this is true at Michigan Tech, but at Stanford, I think it would be inappropriate to conclude on the basis of race, or religion that the student has a unique perspective. I think all students have a unique perspective, but it is not defined by what we look like. These critiques aside, I think the general idea of encouraging all diversity is important. We should encourage all students, when appropriate, to put their ideas in the context of their life experience.
The story discussed at the beginning of the Barron and Grimm piece is representative of this. The young, African-American woman recognized that she brought a different perspective because of her background. However, she did not think it was appropriate, not because of the type of assignment, but because of how others would view her. There, I think it is okay to encourage diversity. Had the student argued that the assignment would be seriously altered by personalizing it, I do not know if Nancy Barron would have still advanced the agenda she did — but I hope she wouldn’t have.