On Feb. 26, the UConn Writing Center hosted Dr. Vershawn Young, professor of Communication Arts and Literature at the University of Waterloo, and Dr. Asao Inoue, professor and the associate dean of Academic Affairs, Equity, and Inclusion for the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University, for the “Racism in the Margins” conference. The “Racism in the Margins” conference — hosted through Zoom — was a conference hosting scholars to discuss how racism manifests in the classroom, through academic writing, and how we can work toward the inclusion of different voices in student writing. The audience had the opportunity to submit questions throughout the conference.
Young talked about how racism through literature is connected to racism and violence outside of the classroom. He believes that Black pronunciation, articulation and dialect are often harshly criticized within the classroom, and that Black people often have to diminish their anger about injustice in their academic work.
“To be a Black person, and to have relative consciousness about what goes on in North America concerning Black people, as James Baldwin put it, is to be in a state of ‘rage and anger, almost all of the time,’” Young said.
Young stressed the importance of recognizing Black expression as art in language arts, and its usage in oral works. He provided examples of Black oral expression and asked the audience questions about the usage.
“What we need to really start doing is understanding how our morality impacts and influences effective rhetorical presentations, particularly the orality of African American English,” Young said.
Young advocates for code-meshing rather than code-switching when it comes to African American Vernacular English.
“I am advocating for less switching, less changing out of Blackness and more meshing, merging Blackness in schools and in professional settings,” Young said.
Inoue also recognized racist discourse in the classroom, and highlighted the White book standards that are often present in academic and professional settings. He believes that in order to rid academic institutions of racist discourse, we must go against them.
“Educational systems’ racist discourse is overdetermined,” Inoue said. “It’s never just one thing, never just a single test or standard or rubric or book. It’s all over the place and it’s never just school, just grading practices, just our lessons or texts. It’s also the economic systems that make our schools and colleges possible.”
Inoue said that it is important for English professors and teachers to often check and watch themselves closely for bias when grading.
“What if you had to wear a grading body cam recording your every word of feedback, every marginal comment, even every move of your mind?” Inoue said. “You’d be worried about getting recorded. How often would you be tempted to turn off the grading body cam?”
More information about the conference and the scholars can be found on the UConn Writing Center’s website.