Dr. Natarajan: BIPOC members of writing centre communities will transform conversations
Dr. Vidya Natarajan, Assistant Professor and Assistant Coordinator, Writing, was the featured speaker at the 2021 International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Annual Conference on October 20-23, 2021.
Dr. Natarajan’s talk, titled “Subalterns Speaking in the Burkean Parlour: Allowing the Conversation to Change”, argued that as the writing centre community in North America challenges racism by welcoming racially diverse staff and administrators, the identities and ideas of BIPOC members will, and should, transform the conversations in and about writing centres. The whole community will need to adapt to changes in methods and techniques, in ways of relating to language and to each other, and to ways of assessing skill. She explained that “when you open a door, you can't always control who or what comes in.” Changes will be wrought by the sheer variety of bodies, experiences, and pedagogies that will come in through those open doors, calling for adaptiveness. “Enacting anti-racism will demand a similar flexibility in every other sphere of academic life, and I hope everyone will take this on as a good challenge, rather than as an imposition,” she said.
This year’s IWCA Conference theme was “Together Again Apart: Reimagining our Communities of Practice” with a focus on how writing centres were strengthening their anti-oppressive frameworks in response to social, economic, and political upheavals across the world, many of them related to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
This made Dr. Natarajan think about the research- and theory-informed work done at The Write Place over the last four years, which drew on scholarship about anti-racism in writing centre work. The Write Place served as “the testing ground for many of the ideas proposed in the talk,” and Dr. Natarajan thanks the colleagues and writers there. Professors Naveera Ahmed, Manager of The Write Place, and John Drew, Writing Lecturer, “have been enthusiastic and stimulating fellow-travellers in this journey at King's towards new ways of supporting writing and writers,” says Dr. Natarajan.
“We have been building and reimagining the community around anti-oppressive pedagogic approaches. Tutors are educated specifically to sustain this community, and we have considered this aspect of their education to be as important as the development of tutoring competencies,” says Dr. Natarajan.
Dr. Natarajan is very grateful for the support she has received in this process. She is especially grateful for the mentorship of Liz Akiwenzie, Ojibwe and Oneida Knowledge Keeper and Cultural Educator. Dr. Krista Lysack, Chair of the Department of English, French and Writing, has been deeply engaged in the conversation about anti-racism, and she and Dr. Gillian Balfour, Vice-President and Academic Dean, have been instrumental in creating an environment where the discussion of race as an element of academic projects and personal experience has been normalized at King’s.