Okay, to be fair, her feedback survey only mentioned that I was biased against the argument of her paper, black civil rights, and while I don’t think I am racist--and I’m definitely not opposed to addressing police brutality in African American communities--her comments made me stop and wonder: am I racist? As a white male, when I enter a consultation with a minority, say a woman of color, can what I do, how I present myself, and how I help be racist?
She wanted a grammar check, that infamous check for grammar, the insatiable wailing toddler in the backseat of consultations, the archnemesis to the tutor’s goodwill. I explained that I’d do my best to “help you become a better reviser of your own work” as I usually do, and then we got under way. As we grazed over the introduction and crossed into her claim, comma splices, standalone demonstrative articles, and FANBOYS felt like distractions to the ambiguity that was trying to be her thesis. In order to address the higher order concern, I suggested that she specify her claim, posing neutral questions like “how specifically do police treat African American communities differently?” and “in what ways is this a problem?” Without explicit permission, I trailed from her initial request to what I considered a more relevant prescription.
Even worse than straying from her initial request, my neutral questions were too specific. Nick, an admin at our writing center, later explained how oftentimes clients don’t distinguish themselves from their writing and take criticism of their writing as criticism of themselves. My questions de-validated her argument, challenging the legitimacy of police brutality instead of prompting her to think critically about the development of her argument and specifying her thesis. Both my decision to address an unwanted higher order concern and how I posed my questions obstructed the flow: because she thought I disagreed with her, she may have assumed me less able to help and been more reluctant to receive it.
So, I have already conceded that my tutoring tactics failed me, but what if there’s more to the story? What if our subconscious recognition of the fact that I’m a white man and she’s a black woman further exacerbated the issue? We each bring identity constructions to the literal table; however as strangers, we both can only recognize those identities apparent to us. I failed to see beyond that which was apparent in her, that she’s female and black. She recognized that I’m a white male, but failed to see that I’m gay, liberal, Houstonian, etc--some of which are identities that, had she known, might have reduced the chances of her drawing the conclusion that I was biased against her topic.
As tutors, we must be vigilant of identity constructions. We are members of a profession that demands we transgress into insecure spaces, especially when a client’s identity plays a role in the topic of their work. The questions I asked delegitimized her argument and its relation to her identity. In precarious consultations like this one, we should use our acknowledgement of the potential for misconstruction to ask questions that situate the client as the authority over content. More general statements like “what is it that you argue in this paragraph?” and “okay, so summarize that and include it in your thesis” keep the conversation grounded in the essay and remove potential interference from identity constructions.
The answer to my question is yes and no: I may not be racist for blundering as a tutor, but I offended my client’s identity, thereby disrupting our rapport, which in turn inhibited her learning process.
Popular posts from this blog
I have posted a poll in the IWCA forums: IWCA Forum: Peer Tutor => What do we call ourselves: the poll! It is a part of an earlier discussion that kind of petered out about the titles used for writing center workers. Please take a moment and vote! If you don't have an account on the forum, you can register for one by clicking on the "Register" link (next to the rocket icon in the top-right of the page.) Don't forget to state your institutional affiliation when you request and account. (That's how the IWCA Forum keeps out spam accounts.)
Dear me… As a junior in college, you were just trying your best and going through the motions (like everyone else) . You wanted to fit in and emulate what you thought a typical college student should look like. Then, along came the opportunity to become a w riting c onsultant. That’s immediately when the fear started, I began questioning myself and my own personal writing. I was unsure how I, a typical college student, would have enough skills to help others. How would I manage being insecure with myself when I was supposed to be someone my peers looked to find their own confidence? When it came to your first day of work, you were sitting in the writing lab waiting for your learner to show up with anxiety pouring out of your body. It was probably the most anxious you ever got in your life - aside from applying to college in the first place. You were so excited to meet your colleagues, yet so nervous that you were going to disappoint them. Thoughts streamed through your head
Testing Online Tutoring Online tutoring may be a constant of the tutoring landscape, but the question of effectiveness remains. Which organizations are best prepared to meet the needs of students: writing centers affiliated with universities or “professional” tutoring agencies, such as Pearson-Smarthinking? It is this question I intend to address in conducting a proposed experiment. Important Background Information The concept most central to this proposed experiment is that of knowledge claims. In his book Reformers, Teachers, Writers: Curricular and Pedagogical Inquiries , Neal Lerner identifies the three primary types of knowledge claims that appear in a writing center: “writerly knowledge,” “emotional knowledge,” and “role knowledge” (Lerner 115). “Role knowledge” is arguably the most important knowledge claim (Lerner 115). While analyzing transcripts of student sessions, Lerner noticed there was a correlation between the presence of “role knowledge” claims and the “success”