Meaningful Recognition of Race in Tutoring

“Addressing Racial Diversity in a Writing Center,” by Nancy Baron and Nancy Grimm, initially seemed to promise me some insight into how I should recognize race differences as a white (or Anglo) writing tutor.  Instead, I was left with questions.  The belief that we should not be colorblind but instead embrace our cultural differences is not new to me; my high school English department emphasized how much richer our understanding of texts is when we consider it from various viewpoints.  I was saddened by the first story’s tale of “white prose;” I would hope that we can read the opinions of others without rejecting them.  However, I have to ask: what if the professors do not recognize alternative voices as valid? Can I, as a writing tutor, encourage a student to write in his or her own way if that will negatively impact their grade in a course?  Do grades or personal integrity take priority, and how can I help a student with that terrible choice?  I would hope, indeed I believe, that a professor at a university as diverse as ours would be able to accept alternative views and ways of writing, but what if that is not the case?

I found little in the way of actual advice in this article.  I found the anecdote about a diverse writing center somewhat helpful and rather heartening, but I do not understand how the authors would have me change my tutoring.  Quite simply, I found this article interesting and informative on the subject of race in academia and in general.  It certainly made me think about my own attitudes towards race, and I appreciate it in that sense.  However, as an article for learning about race in the writing center, I would have appreciated more concrete discussions of what changed for individual tutors and for the center as a whole.  Without those components, I found it hard to see what exactly I should do to address race in writing.


Emily Kohn, Class of 2015

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An Open, but not Forced Discussion of Diversity

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.

Salaam Alaykum,

Nick Ahamed

Posted in CCR Exchange: Stanford-Sydney, Uncategorized, Writing Tutors | 2 Comments

Keeping an Open Mind

I usually like to think that I am open minded to different religious views, financial backgrounds, and cultural heritages. However, I admit that I have not implemented a lot of queer theory into my writing.  I have also not seen much of the theory implemented in writing at Stanford and high school. This does not imply that the student body is not open to ideas that are different from their own. I just feel that most students have not found the need or opportunity to include such differences in their writing.

I really enjoyed reading Jonathan Doucette’s “Composing Queers” because it exposed me to a topic I do not usually pay much attention to. In his piece, Doucette mentions, “Mitchell uses queerness as a way to engage her students actively and critically with pertinent political topics and ‘texts’ in both an academic and ‘public’ forum, challenging them to think of the ways reading and writing can produce ideas or mobilize action” (6).  I agree with this view. By exposing students to these ideas, they can rise to the challenge of mobilizing action rather than remaining indifferent towards the various issues.

As a writing tutor, I should be able to be open-minded and encourage my tutees to feel comfortable expressing themselves through their writing. I should also ensure that I do not convey any bias I may have on to the student. This includes the practice of not assuming that the dominant beliefs are the same ones my tutee has. By dong this, I can help ensure my tutee feels safe and comfortable in the tutoring environment.

Aziza Dawodu, Class of 2014

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Writing Tutors Providing a Safe Space

Jonathan Doucette’s “Composing Queers” brought up an interesting point that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought about if a relevant situation hadn’t arisen. He brings up a good point that the writing center, or composition studies in general, can be a limiting place, unconsciously ruled by “dominant culture”. He also paints a worthy vision, however, of a writing center where individuals can “find ways to claim a sense of agency in and through writing”. I would like to employ the approach of openness that Doucette suggests to help make any tutoring time I have with students a safe and open space that gives students the opportunity to feel free to engage in any kind of discourse, normative or not.

Caroline Hernandez, Stanford 2015

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Strategies for a more inclusive Writing Center?

Nancy Baron and Grimm’s article “Addressing Racial Diversity in a Writing Center: Stories and Lessons from Two Beginners” provides an excellent understanding of how, if unchecked, the Writing Center can continue to perpetuate the culture and paradigms of the dominant ethnicity. They advocate racial openness as opposed to racial blindness on the basis that the post-civil rights era erroneously makes it seem like race no longer matters. An example is provided of an African-American girl who tries to write “White prose,” keeping her own experience as a colored woman outside of the conversation. They align their goal with that of the New London Group: to “instantiate a vision through pedagogy that creates in microcosm a transformed set of relationships and possibilities” (307). Here, they are challenging the notion that the writing center should simply tutor the tutee for the writing context as a “transformed” entity is proposed not one that simply reaffirms the existing writing structures. Effectively, they pose a desire to rightfully change the writing context to render it more inclusive of multicultural writing and narratives.  Though the article discusses how to combat monoculturalism among the staff of the Writing Center, a whole new set of strategies need to be devised to deal with colored students who have inhibitions about racial openness.

Hence, I return to the tutoring session with the African-American girl who expressed her experience as a colored woman with great ease and flair but refused to write that down. How should the tutors help such a tutee? This was something that was wanting in the article and I feel like a mere rendition of the “affective confidence” principle we have discussed at length in our training would come into play. Tutors would need to give the tutees the support and confidence in the belief that their different perspective will enrich the racial discourse and therefore be of immense value. Exploring ways to enable Queer and colored tutees to be more open are the next step to truly facilitating inclusive environments in the writing center and, hopefully, beyond.


Sahar Khan ’13, Stanford

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