Academic journal article Composition Studies

HBCUs and Writing Programs: Critical Hip Hop Language Pedagogy and First-Year Student Success

Academic journal article Composition Studies

HBCUs and Writing Programs: Critical Hip Hop Language Pedagogy and First-Year Student Success

Article excerpt

In 1952, Tillotson College, a Black, Methodist college, joined together with Samuel Huston College in Austin, Texas, and Huston-Tillotson College was born (it became a university in 2005). The Tillotson College was originally chartered in 1875 in an effort by the Austin African American community and white abolitionists from the north. Interestingly, the catalyst for this merger was the closing ofTillotson College after students' success in winning the local college declamatory championship. At this time in Dallas, such a victory by Black students in oratory and eloquence was too much for a community steeped in white supremacist thinking. The college was closed and, as fortune would have it, the first university chartered in Austin, Samuel Huston College, would grow to become Huston-Tillotson University (HTU). As the above scenario illustrates, it was with persistent determination and resilience, despite arduous adversity, that Austin African Americans and white abolitionists fought back against white supremacy to ensure the charter of Austin's first institution of higher education.

Today, it is with this same resilience, and, sadly, within resonant contexts characterized by enduring achievement gaps between students of color and white students, that we approach writing instruction in our first-year writing program at HTU. For far too long, this achievement gap has dominated the master narrative in relation to writing successes of minority students (Poe), and at HTU we are seeking to invalidate this narrative through the development of a first-year writing curriculum that draws on local, cultural rhetorical practices, and considers critical race theory (CRT) a means to inform instructional design. Drawing from CRT, which "provides educators and students alike with a basis for critical action . . . to better serve the needs of all students" (Zamudio, Russel, Rios, and Bridgeman 7), we approach writing instruction from an ecological standpoint, understanding the hindering impact of "racialized structures of inequality" (Zamudio, Russel, Rios, and Bridgeman 14) that persist in education (Inoue). Below, we will discuss the theoretical motivations for our innovative curricular development, assessment, and research of first-year writing at HTU, as well as initial findings of our study.

Present day HTU is designated as an urban HBU. The majority of our students come from urban high schools, and of our student population, 70% is African American and 19% Hispanic/Latinx (Office of Institutional Advancement). Despite a seemingly homogenous student population, our first-year writing classrooms are richly diverse in culture, skill level, and ability. Some students attended high schools with strenuous writing requirements, while others may have never written an essay; yet, we consider it the responsibility of our first-year writing program to work to see our students, 70% of whom are first-generation college students, achieve success. In addition to innovations in first-year writing born of research in sociolinguistics and CRT, our English major strives to offer decolonized and decanonized course offerings for our students, having done away with traditional literature classes in favor of the literatures of historically under-represented cultures.

In the 2015-16 school year, we developed an innovative research and assessment project on a new first-year composition curriculum based on a pedagogy we call Critical Hip Hop Rhetoric Pedagogy (CHHRP), an educational approach built upon the classroom-based research of linguistic anthropologist H. Samy Alim ("Critical"; "The Whig"). During the summer of 2015, the primary researchers, Shawanda Stewart and Brian J. Stone, attended the Dartmouth Summer Seminar for Writing Research, led by Christiane Donahue and Chuck Bazerman, in order to develop this project under the guidance of senior research mentors. In fall 2015, with the assistance of a CCCC Research Initiative Grant, we piloted this first-year writing course. …

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