Writing Center’s ‘Racism in the Margins’ initiative spearheads anti-racism in the classroom

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With a greater awareness of the problems that face our world, organizations are making efforts to not only recognize the issues but work toward a solution so we may build a more equitable future. The UConn Writing Center began a new initiative, entitled “Racism in the Margins,” that seeks to champion anti-racist practices in education, looking to engage marginalized students and build a more inclusive classroom that will benefit every student. Image courtesy of Racism in the Margins on UConn Writing Center’s website.

The events that transpired over the past year have forced institutions across the country to reckon with the history of systemic racism and its implications in modern society. With a greater awareness of the problems that face our world, organizations are making efforts to not only recognize the issues but work toward a solution so we may build a more equitable future. 

The UConn Writing Center began a new initiative, entitled “Racism in the Margins,” that seeks to champion anti-racist practices in education, looking to engage marginalized students and build a more inclusive classroom that will benefit every student. In the first session of a two-part conference, the Writing Center hosted keynote speakers, Haivan Hoang, associate professor of English at UMass Amherst, and Mya Poe, associate professor of English and director of the Writing Program at Northeastern University. 

Kathleen Tonry, associate professor of English and associate director of the Writing Center at UConn, moderated the event, and began the presentation by commenting on the sheer amount of support for the project, with the virtual conference having more than 1,000 registered participants from across the country. Tonry feels that this emphasizes the need and desire for real anti-racist work to be instituted in higher education. 

“Margins remind us,” Tonry said. “That texts only get shaped, produced and read by readers with identities that are also always read, and often read through race, gender, ability, class, religion and infinite other historical intersecting categories. This idea of the margins translates across media and across time, and is as applicable to our digital world which everywhere recalls the lives off screen.” 

Hoang and Poe are leading researchers in anti-racist practices in university-level writing courses in the various disciplines. In their respective keynote addresses, Hoang and Poe presented their research, interviewing students and faculty alike to document their experiences in writing courses as members of different demographics. 

“It doesn’t take too much effort,” Hoang said. “To look at these initial findings and translate these insights from students and teachers into teaching practices. We can all reckon with race in our own fields and learn about that and try to translate that into writing concerns. We can ask students to think about the audience that they chose and consider whether racial minority groups are impacted by the research that they are doing.” 

“Maybe the most challenginG … We have to learn how to orchestrate and facilitate conversations in our classes as students encounter race, but are afraid to encounter race when they write and speak with classmates as audiences.” 

Haivan Hoang, associate professor of English at UMass Amherst

“Maybe the most challenging,” Hoang said. “We have to learn how to orchestrate and facilitate conversations in our classes as students encounter race, but are afraid to encounter race when they write and speak with classmates as audiences.” 

Poe stressed the importance of teachers implementing real and manageable anti-racist practices in their classroom, as teachers often try to focus the scope of their changes to be too large to realistically apply. She offered potential solutions through engaging students with content by allowing greater flexibility in assignments and diversifying the genres discussed within each discipline. 

The keynote speakers were followed by a panel discussion of UConn professors of various fields and subjects to discuss how anti-racist practices can be applied to all disciplines. 

“You can’t build a functional car out of a thousand tires,” Challa Kumar, professor of chemistry, said. “You need a thousand different parts that look different, that work different, and that have come together as a single unit for the car to function. In other words, diversity is critical for us; for us to thrive, for us to live and for us to enjoy our communities around us.” 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Racism in the Margins on UConn Writing Center’s website.

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