Dana Montevideo and Nyadeng Mal, Managing Editor and Reporter
University of Washington Tacoma’s English professor and director of university writing, Asao Inoue, took the steps to write and hang an anti-Racist statement banner in the university’s writing center in October last year. However; Inoue did not stop his efforts against racism in writing there.
UWT professors have adopted a way of evaluating English assignments that avoid racism and bias in standardized curriculums. The standardized grading that is frequent in most higher education establishments base their rubrics around “outcomes”, while UWT strives to work toward “goals”. Outcomes, as Inoue explains, are an evaluation of the end point, the destination. It is measured, predefined and inflexible. Goals, objectively, are broader. It is about direction, how they travel, how long it takes and the mode of transportation.
Inoue works to maintain a curriculum that does not evaluate predetermined standards and instead, marks progress along the way.
“Using a standard to grade writing in classrooms is racist,” Inoue said. “There’s no way around it.”
Inoue is not assuming that students should not be graded or tested, however; holding all students to the same English standard does not consider their racial background, socioeconomic standing or cultural identity. These factors may alter how students learn and the vocabulary they have attained. This can be harmful to students and stunt their growth as active learners.
“We get our standards from some place. And when we do, it’s almost always the same place, and it creates sort of a white standard,” Inoue said. “Once you have that, and you use that standard against everyone uniformly, then you get a racist mechanism.”
Professors following these standards are not at fault, Inoue says. He calls the systems bad.
Many educational institutions are categorized into power hierarchies. Historically, white administration has led educational institutions for decades and have placed certain standards that are attainable by the standards of white, wealthy individuals who have grown up and understood the ways of white culture and the “right English”, Inoue explained.
However, Inoue says that if the “mainstream, white, middle class discourse” is the predisposition institutions adopt, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t use them to judge and evaluate students, if that is all they have.
Learning and growth comes with controversy and looking at one thing with different perspectives. With this, discussions and agreements can be made through understanding, says Inoue. When this doesn’t occur, it becomes a problem.
White students make up 53.7 percent of Pierce College Puyallup; African Americans make up 8.07 percent; 11.3 percent Asian and Pacific Islander; 3.36 percent Hispanic/Latino; 1.2 percent Alaskan/American Native; 9.73 percent multirace and 10.8 percent not recorded.
Pierce College is a predominantly white institution, therefore, there may not be these important conversations. When a primarily white institution assesses everybody by their standards of what is right and wrong in English and language, it is one social group exercising their power over others, Inoue says.
By saying students need to learn this language to be successful is ignoring power dynamics. Inoue compares this with obeying laws that one doesn’t agree with and not doing anything to change it.
This has set the standard in academia which may force a particular group of people, people of color, to resort to code switching more often than those.
Everyone code switches but there’s been debate on whether it’s a benefit for students, or harmful to them.
“I think it’s absolutely a benefit to be aware of the linguistic codes that we face and the different audience that we communicate with,” Keith Kirkwood, writing center program director, said.
Some argue that there are students and people who are born into the system in which they don’t have to be mindful or conscious of their identity and because of that they navigate easier through educational institutions because the standard fits their identity.
Inoue says that code switching isn’t always good or bad, but it’s important to ask questions like who is code switching, if is it their choice to code switch, if they get a choice and what direction is the code switching moving.
“I suppose it can be difficult, but I think it is also empowering to be aware of the options and just to be aware it is something that we do naturally all the time,” Kirkwood said when explaining if some students have to focus on code switching more than others.
Kirkwood believes that when a person knows how to navigate through different spaces and unlocks the full potential of being able to use her or his linguistic codes it could help them be more successful academically and in other aspects of life.
“I think the only time it becomes a negative thing is when people aren’t self-aware of the choices they have and then they may use their linguistic choices inappropriately in different occasions,” Kirkwood said.
Kirkwood has made it a point to make the writing center more inviting to a wide range of people.
He acknowledges that the past year America has dealt with racial tension and wants students to know that the writing center is a welcoming space.
The writing center doesn’t have a banner but images that express unity and tolerance. The writing center currently has two popular Obey brand images with the words We the People to acknowledge all are welcome.
“I want to make clear that the writing center is a place that has potential, diversity and that everyone should feel welcome with whatever expression or identity they have,” Kirkwood said.
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