Writing Centers and the New Racism: A Call for Sustainable Dialogue and Change

Writing Centers and the New Racism: A Call for Sustainable Dialogue and Change

Writing Centers and the New Racism: A Call for Sustainable Dialogue and Change

Writing Centers and the New Racism: A Call for Sustainable Dialogue and Change

Excerpt

At the 2005 joint conference of the International Writing Centers Association and the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, Victor Villanueva (2006) challenged the writing center community to examine the language, rhetoric, and material reality of racism that shapes our work. In his exegesis of the “new racism,” which “embeds racism within a set of other categories—language, religion, culture, civilizations pluralized and writ large” (16), he reminded participants that writing centers, like the institutions in which they are situated, are not racially neutral sites of discourse and practice. His keynote address, later published in The Writing Center Journal, earned him the longest standing ovation of his career. Conference chair Frankie Condon (2007) writes that conference organizers “wanted a sea change in the conversation about writing center theory and practice such that the matters of race and racism would no longer seem strange or tangential to conversations about our writing centers, but central and pressing” (19). Indeed, the halls of the conference hotel were quickly abuzz with excited conversation about Villanueva’s energizing performance, and, in the weeks that followed the conference, many members of the writing center community turned to a popular writing center listserv as a venue for continuing conversation about Villanueva’s talk and its implications.

1. Listserv quotations cited throughout this collection come from posts made to the WCenter listserv, primarily in 2005–2006, which is widely read by writing center tutors, administrators, and scholars. The archives of those posts are no longer available; our accounting for the contents comes from our notes during that time. The citation of listserv posts remains contentious in the writing center field. To be sure, a person’s informal comments in a mass e-mail are not intended to constitute a person’s formal scholarly position on an issue. A listserv does, however, represent a significant discursive space in which ideas about language, practice, and—implicitly—ethics, circulate. Our decision to bring in quotations from and references to the listserv is therefore meant to demonstrate the kinds of ideas about race pervasive in the public sphere, not to single out an individual person for her or his views. For that reason, we have chosen not to cite the individual writers by name.

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