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Drexel Writing Center Creates Community Through Anti-Racist Pedagogy

By Kylie Gray

Janel McCloskey, director of the Writing Center, and peer readers in the Korman Center, where the Writing Center will relocate in the spring
Janel McCloskey, director of the Writing Center, and peer readers in the Korman Center, where the Writing Center will relocate in the spring


May 23, 2019

The Drexel Writing Center has long been a space where the Drexel community — students, faculty and staff — can turn for one-to-one support through every stage of the writing process. For DWC staff, creating an inclusive community for both writers and tutors is a central focus.

Drexel undergrads: Develop your writing skills and join a close-knit community by becoming a peer reader! Take WRIT 210 during the fall, winter or spring term for the opportunity to interview for the position.

Janel McCloskey, director of the Drexel Writing Center, oversees the team of undergraduate peer readers who help fellow students develop their writing skills. Since becoming director in 2015, she has designed the peer readers’ course curriculum and ongoing professional development with a focus on anti-racist pedagogy.

“With Drexel’s location in a Promise Zone and emphasis on civic engagement, it’s the kind of work that we have to be doing,” McCloskey says.

In WRIT 210: The Peer Reader in Context and subsequent weekly meetings, peer readers discuss topics like linguistic diversity, translingualism, code meshing — the simultaneous, intertwined use of multiple dialects — and the fact that no one form of language is linguistically superior to another. Recently, they collaborated to write a statement of anti-racist pedagogy, gaining a heightened awareness of the institutional nature of racism.

Fernando Lopez-Pabon, a peer reader and senior English major, says that race played a large role in his upbringing in North Philly. He frequently switched between English, Spanish, Spanglish and an urbanized dialect while at home or with friends.

“When we started talking about anti-racist pedagogy, I was able to pull examples from my everyday life,” he says. “Reflecting on our experiences is a huge part of what we do in the Writing Center. It prepares you to talk about topics like institutional racism.”

For Jasmine James, BA English ’18, the weekly discussions pushed her to “unlearn” some of her own biases, and even inspired her senior project, in which she explored the creation of a new community writing center focused on social justice.

“I was pushed in a good way to work through difficult theories,” she says. “There was no other place where I was exposed to that type of anti-racist literature. I was going home and telling my friends about it — I was involving everyone in this experience.”

While the discussions have prompted some uncomfortable moments, Lauren Lowe, BA English ’17, says those moments were also some of the most valuable. Her experiences at the Writing Center fostered a perspective that was vital in her first post-graduate role as an ArtistYear Fellow, teaching creative writing at Paul Robeson High School.

“My students were largely students of color, from low-income families, and they had been told at times that the way they write is wrong,” she says. “If I had not had the training I’d had, I don’t think I would have been as aware of the many layers of institutionalized racism. Having that understanding of anti-racist pedagogy helped me navigate the situation.”

By sharing their perspectives and experiences, the peer readers have formed a close bond, leading many of them to find their “Drexel home” in the Writing Center. They have also created a supportive environment that extends to the writers with whom they work, seeking to validate the many different forms of language that writers may use.

“Over the last few years, I’ve seen an evolution in the way the peer readers think about language and work with their peers,” McCloskey says. “Being immersed in the idea that you should be able to draw on all of your linguistic resources — to use them to think critically and deliver your message more effectively — I think it’s done a lot for them as readers of other people’s work. When you are working with a large variety of students from all different races and parts of the world, and you are exposed to many ways of thinking and expressing ideas, having that mindset allows for better collaboration.”

The peer readers say that they will take the perspectives they’ve gained from their anti-racist training far beyond the walls of the Writing Center. Many of them are inspired to share an expansive perspective of language in their future careers, and to challenge the idea that there is one superior way to write or speak.

“I had never deeply thought about these ideas before working at the Writing Center. Now, I bring up concepts of code meshing and switching in any way I can,” says peer reader Amberlyn Wilk, BA English ’19. “Professionally, I hope to work with people of many linguistic backgrounds, in a place where everyone is welcome to express their ideas however they wish.”

Heather Heim, a senior English major, says the training has helped her “think more critically about codes of power.”

“Just like I wouldn’t want to invalidate the way someone writes or speaks, I wouldn’t want to invalidate the way someone dresses or wears their hair. These issues manifest in many ways and places, and once I began seeing them in regard to language, it was easier to see them elsewhere in society,” she says.

From left, Heather Heim, Fernando Lopez-Pabon, Jasmine James, Janel McCloskey, Lauren Lowe and Amberlyn Wilk
From left, Heather Heim, Fernando Lopez-Pabon, Jasmine James, Janel McCloskey, Lauren Lowe and Amberlyn Wilk

Workshop your writing at the Writing Center

The Writing Center is open to all members of the Drexel community for one-on-one consultations, which go beyond critiques of surface-level errors.

“Many students (and even faculty and staff) assume that writing centers are solely for correcting grammar and remediation,” says Heim. “Peer readers train extensively to learn a new way of thinking so that they can help their peers to grow as writers and thinkers in the long run, rather than helping them fix a few grammatical errors in the moment.”

This spring, the DWC will relocate to the Korman Center as part of the new Drexel Writing and Tutoring Centers. To schedule an appointment or learn more, visit the Drexel Writing Center online.