Have We Arrived? Revisiting and Rethinking Responsibility in Writing Center Work: The Need for Transformative Listening and Mindfulness of Difference
The history of writing centers and writing center work is one of regulation, service, and academic policing of students who “don’t belong” in academic settings (see Faison & Treviño; Newman & Gonzalez; Green; Burrows; Keaton Jackson; Villaneuva; Grimm). As scholars such as Romeo García (2020), Harry Denny (2010), Beth Boquet and Neal Lerner (2008), and Nancy Grimm (1996) have discussed, many writing centers were created and flourished during the 1970s, “as the Open Admissions movement brought larger numbers of ‘underprepared’ students to higher education” (Boquet & Lerner 172); as such, writing centers are born out of regulation, policing students “who don’t measure up” (Grimm 6) and who needed fixing; inclusion, thus, meaning a “technology of governance” (Ahmed 163) over who enters and how they are to act This is a history that currently, we–as writing center professionals and scholars–have still not come to terms with, as much of the work we do, despite perhaps our “good intentions,” is regulatory, even as the field embraces progressive narratives of social justice and anti-racist work. While we acknowledge the good and important social justice and anti-racist work done by scholars in the writing center community (Condon; Dees, Godbee, & Ozias; Denny; Denny, Mundy, Naydan, Sévère, & Sicari; Geller, Eodice, Condon, Carroll, Bouqet; Greenfield; Greenfield & Rowan; Hallman Martini & Webster; Lockett; Madden & Eodice), and work that is reflected for instance in a recent special issue of Praxis, Race and the Writing Center, we also believe it is necessary to continue to interrogate this call for responsibility that largely draws its meaning, like the writing center does, from a haunting.
The writing center is a haunt(ed/ing) place. The work of regulating and policing is unfinished. This CFP, thus, asks for writing center professionals to revisit notions of responsibility as we reconcile with a past that is “haunted,” and to recognize and acknowledge that our writing centers are still predominantly white spaces that privilege white standards of languaging, knowledge, and being (see García; Inoue; Martinez). Hauntings, or in this case the epistemic work of managing, controlling, and policing places and bodies, centers and indeed demands a different kind of work of and from the writing center community: a bearing witness to hauntings, rather than an exercise in politicking responsibility apart from and outside of it. A framework of hauntings, for instance then, would bring a critique to bear on a responsibility that has long masqueraded as well-meaning rhetoric and that has long allowed well-meaning and benevolent white bodies to announce “I/we have arrived.” Such an announcement comes at the expense, too often, of those who will never have arrived–policed bodies included under the agenda to make them into proper subjects. A revelation of one’s own whiteness, of the whiteness of a place such as the writing center, we argue, does not remove the haunt. The writing center is a wound(ed/ing) place (see Till; Basher et al.; García).
Drawing from Romeo García’s 2017 Writing Center Journal article, “Unmaking Gringo-Centers,” the 2020 SCWCA conference, hosted by Oklahoma State University, aimed to have conversations on transformative listening and cultivating a “mindfulness of difference,” at the conference and, hopefully, carrying this mindfulness back to our writing centers. In García’s “Unmaking Gringo-Centers,” he asks the writing center community to listen “well and deeply” to how the writing center community has discussed race and racism in our spaces and how we have pursued anti-racist agendas, which have often been reductive and born out of white guilt. The type of transformative listening, or community listening (García 2018; also see García and Zhu), García calls for is centered on justice and understanding, a listening that recognizes that the writers that we meet and work with in our centers are “shapers of language, discourse, and modalities of agency” (García 13). Through this type of listening, a listening that requires those of privilege positionalities to recognize the necessity to learn with and from difference; to understand institutional and historical power dynamics; to reconcile with a history of whiteness and domination; and to value lived experience of others, writing center professionals can perhaps begin to do the work of social justice in their writing centers otherwise. As the writing center staff at Oklahoma State was working with García’s “Unmaking” article, we asked Romeo García to be the keynote speaker at the SCWCA conference. The OSU WC staff found his nuanced discussion on race and embodiment and his intentional use of decolonial theory, recognizing the problematics when decolonial work is metaphorical, helpful for our own space and place in Oklahoma, working in a state that is just beginning to acknowledge its violent history of the removal of Natives from their land in the 1800s and its continual erasure and silencing of Native bodies and systemic racism in dominant discourse, and at a university that resides on settled indigienous land of the Muscogee nation.
García poses an important and necessary question for the writing center community in his 2020 SCWCA keynote address: “Have we arrived? Will I ever have arrived?” These questions set the stage for talking about writing centers as haunt(ed/ing) places and for thinking about the traces of presence of minoritized and racialized bodies that will never have arrived. He further elaborates on these questions:
The question I ask myself…the question I ask you, ‘Have we arrived, will I ever have arrived’? The former is an indictment of sorts, on a benevolent ethos and sense of academic responsibility. Since Neisha-Anne Green’s indictment on an academic and benevolent sense of responsibility at the 2017 IWCA Conference, some of you have replaced your safety pins that used to read “ally” with new ones that now read “accomplice.” But both actions draw their meaning from a haunting and an epistemic crisis to be sure: how to overcome one’s own whiteness? But what is responsibility without a careful reckoning with inheritance, dwellings, and haunting? I have moved away from concepts such as rhetorical listening over the years then, for the “community” functioning within rhetorical listening, much like that functioning in the transition from ally to accomplice, maintains the white body as a universal frame for understanding difference and positions this body as the loci of and for change. They assume a revelation, such as their own whiteness, corresponds with an arrival of an ethic or a responsibility otherwise that no longer has to be questioned thereafter…
The writing center, as I saw it at the time of writing “Unmaking Gringo-Centers,” was a prism by which to see the management, control, and policing of spaces and bodies. The latter question–will I ever have arrived–, thus, reflects the haunt I feel in my bones, the reality I experience–much like that of the students I know from the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the minoritized and racialized students I have taught over the years–of being forced to practice a hope, in and from an othered place and a denied subjectivity, that hinges upon two seemingly antithetical dispositions, an assent (así son las cosas) and an awaiting (a hope for that which may or may not arrive) (García 2020; also see García and Cortez 2020). The reality that one makes a choice to enter a space such as the writing center is really not a choice at all but a demand. And as many of us arrive at the writing center, hesitantly uttering the words, “can you help me,” we encounter and observe our bodies being read and treated in certain ways. We are left wondering, will we ever have arrived?
Our traces of presence have long been covered over by well-meaning rhetoric and benevolent bodies. But if we listen well and deeply, we will encounter sounds from the silence and presence from the absence; the writing center is a haunt(ed/ing) place…
We aim to explore the two questions above in this special issue of Praxis. How might we re-envision the writing center as a haunt(ed/ing) and wound(ed/ing) place, and re-envision writing center narratives under a lens of responsibility and a ‘reckoning with inheritance, dwellings, and haunting’? What new stories might we gain through transformative listening and a more thorough understanding of what the work might entail for those invested in social justice and anti-racist work?
This CFP stems from the original 2020 SCWCA conference theme that was ultimately canceled because of COVID-19, as many conferences were. We believe that conversations centered on racial justice, responsibility, and reconciliation of haunted histories both institutionally and nationally, are needed now more than ever as we are working and living in a climate that privileges ignorance and dismissal of racial violence, historical atrocities, and environmental crises. With the generous support of Praxis, this CFP gives the writing center community the opportunity to extend their work and conversations on arrival, responsibility, transformative listening, and mindfulness of difference in order to better the work we are doing with social justice initiatives and practices, anti-racst work, and to advocate for institutional change in our policies and procedures as we rethink our ethics and ways of being.
Submissions might explore, but are not limited to, the following questions and topics:
What might accountability and responsibility look like for WC directors, administrators, tutors, and other WC staff, particularly those invested in social justice work? How do white WC professionals move beyond the metaphorical work of allyship and account for their own privilege as they do social justice work?
How might those in positions of power and privilege (ie., white writing center directors) give up space in their WC missions and agendas, particularly those invested in social justice work, for POC scholars/administrators/tutors? How do those in power do the work so that they do not exhaust those at the margins of writing center communities?
Exploring the idea of arrival, what does it mean to “arrive” in the writing center and how can the WC community reconcile with past histories of regulation and policing in order to advocate for structural and institutional change?
What might transformative listening look like in writing center work? How can we work towards mindfully incorporating transformative listening in our pedagogies and practices?
How can WCs move from “white centers” to “centers of becoming”? What does this look like? How can WC practitioners and workers and the students that we meet work and learn from difference in their sessions? How can we foster a “mindfulness of difference” in writing centers?
Utilizing decolonial theory and addressing the colonial histories of Mexican-Americans in the LRGV, Garcia asks that we train our consultants to be decolonial agents in our spaces, understanding our local histories and ways in which white people continue to dominate both institutional and societal communities, in order to participate in social justice work. In what ways can WC professionals educate consultants to become decolonial agents? In what ways can WC professionals educate themselves to become decolonial agents?
In what ways do writing center staffing practices, hiring decisions, university partnerships, policies, and procedures perpetuate and/or disrupt larger and local systems of domination and structural difference?
For this issue, the recommended article length is 6000-8000 words for focus articles; the editors will also consider shorter pieces as columns, as well as book reviews. Articles should conform to MLA style. While we strongly encourage members of SCWCA to consider applying, this call is open to the entire writing center community (and beyond) and all articles will undergo the peer review process. We are especially interested in featuring contributions and work from BIPOC scholars, those at HBCUs, HSIs, MSIs, and two-year colleges, and graduate and undergraduate tutors and students. Please submit articles to firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject of your submission email should say “Special Issue SU21 Submission.” Please also review the “Instructions for Authors” page available on the Praxis website before submitting.
For further information about submitting an article, the blind peer-review process, or to contact the editors of this special issue, please email: Romeo García (email@example.com) and/or Anna Sicari (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Deadline for consideration in this special issue: Jan 15, 2021