Writing Program At Stetson

#BLACKLIVESMATTER

To our faculty colleagues and all members of our campus community at Stetson University,

The faculty of the Writing Program acknowledges that writing instruction in English is bound to formations of power, privilege, and identity. As writing instructors, scholars, and program administrators, we are often expected to teach and evaluate writing in ways that give prestige to dominant, “unraced” dialects of English – while limiting non-dominant, raced, cultural, and regional Englishes to home language status. And we recognize that these expectations and practices are not compatible with a commitment to antiracist teaching practices in writing instruction.

Dominant dialects go by many names in the American academy, including Standard American English (SAE), Edited American English (EAE), or even English for Academic Purposes (EAP). And a pervasive, erroneous, and harmful attitude across disciplines, fields, and the general public is that mastery of these dialects is a marker of intelligence, education level, richness of ideas, worth, and even goodness. This attitude is often coupled with the misguided belief that wielding dominant dialects gives students greater access to discourses of power, while shielding them from racial and linguistic discrimination. But deep-seated bias does not disappear when confronted with a privileged tongue, nor are metaphorical seats at a table guaranteed when systems are set in place to bar access to the front door. These barriers are set most sturdily against Black, Indigenous, and bodies of color.

Writing that does not follow a dominant standard is no less rhetorically powerful, and good writing is not determined by grammatical soundness—as evidenced by our own language practices and the volumes of theory, empirical research, and creative genres that fill our lives. Good writing is based in good ideas; it is audience driven and contextual. Conventions, much like audiences and contexts, are fluid and discipline specific.

Scholars across writing studies have debunked the myth that a dominant dialect has any more validity than the many dialects that students bring with them to the classroom. And yet, the colonial violence of educators demanding that students conform to a standard over the “dialects of their nurture, or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style” (SRTOL, 1974) persists. In a community of scholars, the appellation of “standard” to a particular dialect should provoke the questions of who has historically set this standard, by what mechanisms this standard has come to exist, who does this standard privilege, who has access, and who is left or kept out.

Therefore, the faculty of the Writing Program will make our commitments to antiracist teaching and assessment practices actionable by:

  • intervening in support of Black Lives and Black Language and against racism in the classroom, campus community, profession, and beyond
  • examining how our teaching practices enable or confront normalized whiteness
  • foregrounding praise over deficit and emphasizing labor, effort, investment, originality, and depth over superficial textual features
  • routinely revisiting these commitments, critically interrogating how well we have honored them, and ceaselessly working toward self-improvement, advocacy, and allyship with our most vulnerable students.

Finally, we affirm that Black Lives Matter, we demand Black Linguistic Justice, we affirm the Students’ Right to Their Own Language, and we urge our faculty colleagues to do the same.

We stand ready to assist. Check the resources available here. And reach out to us for more.

In solidarity,

Megan O'Neill, Writing Program Director

Leigh Ann Dunning, Writing Center Director

David Johnson, primary author of this statement and Assistant Director of the Writing Center