The 2017 IWCA Conference was a conference of firsts. For the first time in the history of this conference, the Keynote speaker was and African American woman. Since much of my own research focuses on writing center theory, race, and pedagogy, I center this response to IWCA2017 on the Keynote speech of Neisha Ann-Green. Her speech used personal stories from her time as a writing center director to articulate and nuance the various instances of racism she experienced at the institution where she worked. These instances included rotten bananas being thrown at black students or hung from nooses with the name “Harambe” written on them.
Confederate flags hung around campus with cotton stuck to them while they all sat collectively at a formal townhall to talk about the new antiracist center. The pain of racism and the work of undoing it are commodities for which the institution profits. However, the symbolism of an antiracist institution situated on a campus that allows confederate flags, bananas in nooses, etc. expose the dissonance between seeming antiracist, while ensuring racist iconography remains on campus—a perfect metaphor for neoliberalism (a space to promote freedom of speech, while we “consider” both sides, staking a stance on neither). It is from this point that Neisha asked that we not be allies who set up separate, and at times, segregated spaces where Colored bodies go to express their concerns of racism to Chief Diversity Officers hamstrung by limited resources and institutional policies. Neisha called on us as writing center directors, consultants, staff, etc. to not be allies, but to be an accomplice in undoing both systemic racism in education and individual racism that occurs on college campuses. To be an accomplice is to call out racism or racist acts; it’s to explain to family and friends why racism and racist rhetoric should neither tolerable in private nor public spaces; it’s to do the work and not just creating monuments to those who have done the work.
Her keynote asks questions not only relevant to writing centers, but to institutes of higher education: how do we become accomplices to historically marginalized populations and how do we ensure that the facilities we build for them work towards their intended goals?
Written by Wonderful Faison