“Post colonialism and the Idea of a Writing Center” by Anis Bawarshi and Stephanie Pelkowski

Bawarshi and Pelkowski create a compelling argument about the colonialist nature of writing centers and why it’s necessary to change the structure of writing centers in order to rid them of colonialist attributes such as placing one type of discourse above another.

One jarring example of a student’s self- subordination in regards to a certain type of discourse is the example of Dora, a white working class woman, who writes a letter to Don, her white middle-class teacher. She begins her letter by discussing the murder of her friend’s husband and then “quickly retreats into a subordinate discursive position and narrates her experiences in a way that Don has sanctioned academically appropriate- she silences her own narrative about the murder (a real and complex event in her life) in order to write about what Don likes: movies.” (86) The fact that Dora felt that she still had to write about movies and was practically dismissive in her writing of her more emotionally intense experience is quite troubling.  Writing centers should as Bawarshi and Pelkowski argue, places where students become aware of how academic discourse impacts their subject position.

Another example of placing students in a subordinate position is by using the term “basic writer” to indicate their level of writing. I strongly disagree with the use of this term because it asserts the illusion that the student has not reached the essentially “better” level of writing; it institutes a feeling of inferiority that is not true. The word “basic” has the connotation of being simple-minded and holding less value, which is not what students should be associated with during their process of improving their writing. It is important to keep in mind that we are asking students to write in a different form; their thoughts are not necessarily changing.  Writing centers need to avoid the notion that students need to aspire to a certain level of writing because “being academically literate is the most prestigious, most civilized state of being…” (87). It is not an issue of raising them to a higher status, but in helping them to express themselves and to establish a comfortable relationship with writing.

One way to help students become more comfortable with what they perceive as the laborious process of writing is to explain why certain writing standards exist; my students definitely treat “writing like a code that they must somehow crack” which results in constant frustration for them (92). Having my students think about why for example a thesis is crucial to their paper makes them realize its importance and actually has the effect of making it seem less of a frustrating task.  The questions of why and how that I encourage my students to ask of themselves when writing their papers also should apply to the writing standards that they are expected to follow.  In pursuing answers to such  questions, students will appreciate the importance of of criticism and how it is a key in developing stronger structures for their writing.

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