Words Enact Change: Supporting Social Justice in The Writing Center
I’m Lauren Jablon, I’m in Elon’s class of 2023. I’m a PWR and Spanish double-major with a minor in Italian Studies and am also an Elon College Fellow. Outside of academics, I’m involved in Club Tennis and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. Some of my passions include social justice, linguistics, and writing.
Whether you’re a first-year student or a graduate student, the language you employ in your writing carries tremendous weight. When used effectively, word choice and tone have the power to enact social change and to encourage civic engagement. They can be used for prevention and advocacy, especially among marginalized and under-represented groups. But when not paid close attention to and not addressed, our language has the potential to perpetuate oppression, unintentional racism, and implicit prejudice. Not only does our language have the ability to oppress and hurt people, but our silence when it comes to correcting our language is complicity. It allows an unjust system full of inequality and wrongful stereotypes to prevail.
Many students visiting The Writing Center are not aware of their language’s relationship with social justice. They do not always recognize the weight of their words. However, Writing Center consultants can help students uphold the highest standards in their writing and they can do so by constantly emulating and stressing the importance of non-oppressive language in writing. As a Writing Center consultant, my role in creating a more compassionate and empathetic environment is vital. Not only are consultants responsible for celebrating diversity, whether that be in terms of background, language, thought, or accents, but we are responsible for helping students perform acts of critical empathy.
Some strategies that Writing Center consultants utilize to embrace social justice in their sessions are as follows:
- Stressing the importance of gender-neutral pronouns in writing.
- Emphasizing that students visiting the WC are not supposed to fit a specific mold; differences in writing styles, languages, accents, and backgrounds are all embraced.
- Listening to affirm intersectional identities and empower writers.
- Inquiring indirectly and appropriately about the student’s background (in an effort to better understand where they are coming from).
- Discussing the implications of students’ language in an effort to educate on the deeper meanings behind their word choice.
By using these strategies, Writing Center consultants can ensure that they are offering both a critical and physical space to build on knowledge, confront personal biases, and further address systemic discrimination. These simple tips have the power to ensure that Writing Centers are more inclusive, more accepting, and more welcoming for all students, no matter their race, religion, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic status. Moreover, by choosing to address these problems head-on, both tutors and tutees can work to embrace the value of language and vulnerability, changing the dynamic of WC’s once and for all and making this environment comfortable for everyone. If you want to read more about how to make your writing more inclusive, check these resources:
“Gender-Inclusive Language.” The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 13 May 2020, writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/gender-inclusive-language/.
Hammond, Jennifer. “Writing Centers as Spaces for Dialogue about Social Justice.” Praxis, 6 Feb. 2018, www.praxisuwc.com/praxis-blog/writing-centers-as-spaces-for-social-justice-dialogue.
“Social Justice in the Writing Center.” The Peer Review, 16 Feb. 2018, thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/braver-spaces/social-justice-in-the-writing-center/.
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