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Composition Forum 44, Summer 2020

Addressing Erasure: Networking Language Justice Advocacy for Multilingual Students in the Rustbelt

Barbara George and Ana Marie Wetzl

Abstract: As the number of multilingual students increases at small campuses in rural areas that lack multilingual composition programming, there is a need to explore pedagogical and institutional strategies that help to pool limited or emerging resources to promote language justice for multilingual students. This narrative case study looks at two small regional campuses’ efforts to advocate for and facilitate supports such as instructor training and tutoring programs for a growing multilingual population in Northeast Ohio.

This narrative case study captures our endeavors to establish and maintain respect and opportunity for our multilingual students on small campuses{1}. In the spring of 2019, Asao Inoue’s Chair’s Address at the CCCCs was a landmark call for language inclusivity, advocating for “changing structures” and “altering ecologies” of writing education (How Do We Language). Inspired by his address and by Nancy Bou Ayash’s call for critical examinations of socially constructed “manifold, diverse, and conflicting ideological orientations to language and its use”, including interrogating entrenched power systems in representations of language (573), we assess both structural constraints and our own pedagogical practices at our institutions to counter what we realize is the “erasure” of our multilingual{2} students on our regional campuses. Small campuses, like our regional Kent campuses in Northeast Ohio, struggle to support multilingual students when resources, both material and human, are stretched, and they also experience entrenched issues that make institutional change and linguistic justice work difficult.

Despite these constraints, we share strategies promoting language justice for our multilingual students. We first discuss the erasure of our multilingual students, focusing on structural constraints in our own local contexts. We then share our cross-institutional collaborative advocacy work to create systems of language justice in composition classrooms and beyond that account for students’ complex language practices. As more composition instructors -- and instructors in all disciplines -- realize the importance of attending to diversity within programming, our research considers practical ways to communicate about, advocate for, and facilitate multilingual supports on small campuses that do not have traditional ESL resources. We hope to create spaces that recognize our multilingual students’ abilities and uniqueness, thus avoiding their “erasure” in their writing courses, campuses, and communities.

Causes for Erasure: Institutional and Community Context

Despite Northeast Ohio’s past as an industrial powerhouse that once attracted a diverse workforce, the area is not currently known for its multilingualism. After the decline of manufacturing opportunities which led this area to be known, informally, as the “Rust Belt,” our communities experienced a sharp population exodus as the laid-off manufacturing workers were forced to seek employment elsewhere (Alder et al.). This continues today with the recent closure of the Lordstown General Motors Plant that directly affected over five thousand families. As traditional labor forces have shifted, however, new labor and demographic patterns have been emerging in the Rust Belt. Ronald Brownstein points to a 2017 study of 13 Rust Belt Cities, including Akron, in Northeast Ohio{3}, revealing trends of higher immigrant numbers in the Rust Belt due to shifts in immigration policy in the 1990s: “From a low of 662,000 people in 1990, the foreign-born population across all 13 cities has recovered to 958,000.”

These demographic shifts collided with tensions that resulted in heightened ICE surveillance. In 2018, ICE conducted one of the largest Ohio immigration raids at a meat packaging plant that is roughly one and a half miles from the Kent Salem campus. Many legal employees of the plant were arrested, pending a visa verification, and while some were later released, others still remain in custody pending review or have been deported. Immigration advocates see this as a larger move to delegitimize and “erase” growing Hispanic communities in states like Ohio (Phillips).

The growing multilingual communities are also reflected in our student population on our campuses. The overall number of multilingual speakers in our counties is still below the average in other parts of the state (Ryan), so the regional campuses have traditionally served students who are mainly white, rural, and economically challenged. But both Kent Salem (undergraduate population ~1,600) and Kent Trumbull (undergraduate population~2200) are currently experiencing a small but steady increase in the multilingual student population, including Gen 1.5, new immigrant, and visa holding international students (Student Enrollment Data). In the last two years, students have come to our campuses with the following language backgrounds: Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, and Russian. On the Salem campus, in the fall of 2019 there were five multilingual students in composition classes, up from two the spring of 2019. At Kent Salem, we predict a rising population of Gen 1.5{4} Guatemalan language speakers (with a combination of Spanish and Indigenous languages). On the Kent Trumbull campus, Ana has consistently seen an average of two to three multilingual students each semester in the writing center for the past five years. Despite this upward trend in multilingual enrollment, neither campus currently offers ESL composition courses, unlike the larger Kent campus, which is only an hour away from our regional campuses. This easily sets up the idea of “erasure” of multilingual students on regional Kent campuses.

At the height of its industrial past, like in many other parts of the United States, schools in the area historically dealt with linguistically diverse students by promoting monolingual English-Only language pedagogies (Ovando). Unfortunately, not much has changed, as our campuses do not carve out a space for multilingual students whose expertise is often erased and whose ability to use more than one language is often framed as a deficit. For example, some of Barbara’s students have revealed during tutoring sessions that they have written extensively and even published in their native languages, showing a degree of expertise that is not recognized as they attempt to attain advanced literacy practices in English in developmental placements.

Even when multilingual students attend a credit-bearing composition class, they do so without institutional supports often found at larger universities with persistence initiatives for multilingual students. This results in further “erasure” of this group who might not persist because they may feel like they do not belong (Shields and O’Dwyer). Our campuses currently do not identify multilingual students or collect data on their academic success. As a response to this institutional erasure, multilingual students often choose to silence themselves; recently, one of Ana’s students wrote in her end-of-semester reflection that although she had been the expert in English in her Chinese high school, she was placed in developmental writing at the Trumbull campus. Trying to cope with the disappointment, the student chose to silence herself for weeks; what ultimately helped her assert herself were course discussions about the linguistic expertise of multilingual writers and positive feedback on her writing that came from both the instructor and her peers. Self-silencing is not unusual; Jennifer Maloy mentions this as a strategy that multilingual students use to avoid linguistic discrimination in mainstream composition courses (29) that have traditionally contributed to this impostor syndrome (Cavazos) as they continue to promote the English-Only language policy{5} (Horner and Trimbur). In these complex ideological and material conditions, multilingual students’ experiences and expertise can easily go unrecognized.

We realize that multilingual students are drawn to our smaller campuses because they are accessible in terms of transportation, size, and lower tuition. However, we know that, like others in similar institutions, they can feel “erased” due to a lack of multilingual support (Preece). They are seeking an education in the context of a broader political climate in the United States that speaks to increasing violence and othering, with a decrease in tolerance of varied cultures, including linguistic diversity (Ortega). We also realize that small campuses like ours have limited resources to attend to the needs of all of our students: we serve counties with higher poverty than the national average (QuickFacts, Columbiana County; QuickFacts, Trumbull County; QuickFacts, Mahoning County) and we face enrollment concerns and decreasing applicant pools due to high school students’ preference of employment in manufacturing and agricultural communities. We serve students that are often labeled by our institutions as “underprepared” and in need of remediation; at Trumbull, more than half of the first-year students are placed in developmental writing courses. For example, the campus had 91 students in mainstream composition (English 11011) and 127 in one of our two developmental writing courses (English 01001 and 11002) in spring 2019 (Enrollment Report). On Barbara’s campus, the numbers are even more extreme, with 20 students enrolled in mainstream composition (English 11011), while 68 were enrolled in one of our two developmental writing courses in spring 2019 (Enrollment Report). Additionally, we have to work around attendant constraints such as funding cuts and hiring freezes at universities which have become more pointed since the switch to remote teaching after the Coronavirus pandemic.

With the material constraints of our small regional campuses, we realize it is all too easy to put the needs of our multilingual students on the back burner. Yet, the demographic changes along with hostile ICE raids we discussed above make us aware of the need to make the community at large more inclusive of linguistic and cultural diversity, a change in attitude that our campuses can start cultivating. Recognizing the importance of linguistic justice for multilingual students, our narratives articulate how we work toward language inclusivity in programs with limited resources.

Working against “Erasure” of Multilingual Students: Assessing Constraints

As we seek to strengthen our programs, we address various issues with advocating for multilingual students within an ecological framework where we use “deep” listening to initiate conversations about the constraints. This assessment allows us to understand, systemically, the writing ecologies for multilingual students{6} (Inoue, Antiracist Writing; Cooper). More specifically, we theorize that constraints to advocate for multilingual education exist within current disconnected systems and relationships at small regional campuses. These include assessments and placements where multilingual writers, regardless of the actual writing abilities are placed into large developmental composition classes that ignore their knowledge and expertise, tutoring spaces that overlook the needs of varied multilingual writers, and campus spaces and events that do not account for diverse student populations, resulting in multilingual erasure within campus culture.

Placement of Multilingual Students in Mainstream Composition

The main challenge on both of our campuses is the placement practice of immersing multilingual students in mainstream developmental composition courses. We currently lack ESL placement at either campus, although we have instructors with expertise in working with multilingual writers. Students are placed based on the sole criteria of ACT, Compass, or TOEFL scores, and often end up in basic writing courses, which is where we have met all of our multilingual students, despite having taught on campus since 2006 (Ana) and 2018 (Barbara). While the reading and writing scores of multilingual students often outperformed those of native speaking students in developmental classes, they were not high enough to test out of a developmental class.

This labeling and placement of multilingual students into “developmental” designation overlooks multilingual experiences and expertise with writing. Ana has recognized this issue over the years at Kent Trumbull. In Spring 2019, for example, two multilingual students in her developmental writing courses both outpaced their monolingual peers when it came to higher order concerns, but they were nonetheless labeled as developmental students. Their cognitive skills were college level, and they followed the conventions in American academic writing such as essay structure, thesis statement, paragraph development, and so on. Yet, the students were labeled as “developmental” due to their struggles with mechanical errors common among multilingual users such as “sentence structure, verb form or tense, prepositions, and articles” (Maloy 25). Barbara found similar patterns among multilingual students placed into her developmental courses or in her tutoring sessions at Kent Salem in 2019. Her students often wrote about international phenomena with a deep understanding of various cultures but struggled with later order concerns. The unique needs of these learners did not often match the writing pattern needs of the rest of the students who also struggled with conventions, but their error patterns were very different in nature (developing and organizing content rather than mechanics).

This practice raises questions about multilingual placement into either mainstream or developmental courses, the availability of options offered to multilingual students, and student agency in choosing courses that they believe best suit their language needs (Ferris et al. 1-2; Matsuda et al. 69). Similarly, we question the current one-point assessment vs. the multiple assessment data points that might better place multilingual students, especially because, as Deborah Crusan points out, these placements are “an act laden with pedagogical, ethical, political, psychometric, and financial implications” (18). While we are aware of the suggestions from the CCCCs “Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers” that multilingual placement decisions rely on “direct” and “multiple” measures of assessment, scores from standardized tests still determine the placement at our campuses, which cannot account for the students’ complex linguistic expertise and results in their placement in developmental writing.

There are several other connected problems with this placement; first, these developmental classes are not designed to support multilingual students; the only significant advantage is extra time for development of the writing craft as the course “stretched” a regular one-semester composition course to a year. The first semester developmental course (English 01002) is not credit-bearing, although passing it is a requirement for the second semester course (English 11002). This leads to another problem that affects multilingual and monolingual students alike: when placed in developmental courses, students are more likely to drop out, or, if they do persist, take significantly longer to graduate (Shields and O’Dwyer 86, 97). Relatedly, these multilingual students feel isolated when placed in mainstream developmental courses.

Placement of multilingual students in developmental writing is also troubling because it reinforces the deficit model we see in our communities; in our part of Ohio, for example, is not uncommon to see bumper stickers stating “Speak English”, and Ana, despite her professional achievements, has been told numerous times, in and outside of academia, that there was something “wrong” with her English. We are aware of general assumptions about multilinguals that carry over to the academia, specifically composition programs’ inability or unwillingness to consider linguistic difference as an inherent part of the writing process. This assumes multilingual students operate at a “deficit” versus seeing them as writers who have complex linguistic knowledge that can enhance the class and campus. Horner explains “deficit” thinking as a systemic failure, calling out the composition instructors’ tendency to see difference as something to be fixed: “Difference is understood as deviation from a norm of sameness rather than an inevitable characteristic of all writing, including writing that is conventionally identified as ‘the same’" (453). Consequently, our multilingual students who display the markers of multilingual writing (article placement, pronoun shifts, etc.) are placed in developmental composition courses, regardless of their academic preparedness.

High Stakes Portfolio Assessments

Placement in the developmental courses on our campuses comes with another challenge: how the students are assessed. At each campus, the first courses in a developmental sequence culminates with the instructors reading each other’s student portfolios to determine whether the students should continue to the next, credited, class. This method of blind one-point assessment has been questioned by CCCCs “Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers” recommending that “writing ability must be assessed by more than one piece of writing, in more than one genre, written on different occasions, for different audiences, and responded to and evaluated by multiple readers.” Moreover, this focus on the product rather than the process assumes that writing is fixed, and our students fluid identity (Maloy 31) can be neatly packaged in a shiny portfolio. Bou Ayash challenges that this “language fixity and rigidity” stymies “the complexity and dynamism of language in sociolinguistic realities and placed powerful constraints on their consequent language negotiations and practices” (557). Because various instructors assess students through a portfolio assessment at the end of the first developmental class, the portfolio readers are unable to witness the writing process and have to rely exclusively on the product when they judge; as such, it is difficult to account for the fluidity and negotiation that are fundamental to our multilingual students’ writing.

Additionally, both campuses struggled with consistency among portfolio raters. Neither campus held calibration sessions for the instructors for years due to lack of resources for programmatic support. In the fall of 2019, Barbara’s campus began requiring developmental writing instructors to attend the first calibration session at the end of the semester. At Ana’s campus, multiple calls for mid-semester calibration sessions went unanswered, as the instructors, most of them contingent faculty, understandably, could not find the time or resources to attend. On the same campus, rubrics to guide developmental writing were developed only recently. Two years ago, working together with the campus English coordinator, Ana was able to finally develop a rubric that could be shared with the students at the beginning of the semester and could be used to guide the assessment, but that rubric did not, in any way, provide guidance for assessing multilingual writers who might be working through the recursive process of writing. There was no measure, for example, of student “progress” from the beginning to the end of the semester. Barbara’s campus at Kent Salem had developed a portfolio rubric years before, but this, too, did not provide guidance for multilingual writers. Considering how erratic the portfolio process has been, it comes as no surprise that multilingual students have truly been “erased” when it comes to assessment.

In short, both of our campuses need assessment training for readers to better understand and appreciate nuances of multilingual student writing as the students’ writing could be read out of context without understanding their writing process. We are also concerned about general assessment consistency issues, and the lack of calibration for assessments that might consider both “higher order” and “later order” concerns. While these are serious concerns for both multilingual and monolingual students, they hurt the former more because the portfolio readers tend to have more experience with mainstream composition.

Need for Multilingual Pedagogical Training for Instructors and Tutors

At both of our campuses, our instructors can learn to better understand different language and writing histories and experiences between monolingual and multilingual writers. Multilingual students see explicit grammar instruction as a necessary part of the composition course, and completely dismissing their attitudes can affect how invested they are in their work (Muncie 184). Matsuda et al. also identified “the need to work on language and rhetorical issues” (77) as a strategy that would benefit multilingual students. However, finding resources to promote training for more just pedagogy for multilingual writers is challenging. As with many institutions, opportunities are limited on our campuses for various reasons such as funding and limited interactions among English faculty with large teaching loads (5 courses for NTTs and 4 for TTs) and the lack of training opportunities for adjuncts.

Another problem is that there are few instructors with a background in either composition or ESL, and they are not always connected with incoming multilingual students due to placement issues. At Barbara and Ana’s campuses, multilingual students end up in mainstream composition, especially if they are part of the 1.5 Generation and less likely to be immediately identified as multilingual users. In other word, the instructors with limited training may not recognize a multilingual students’ linguistic experiences. We need training opportunities such as consistent grade calibration training for portfolio rating and shared emerging multilingual research and discussion for instructors to afford multilingual students a stronger academic experience.

Building practical tutoring supports that challenge a deficit perspective to language acquisition also became an important topic as we assessed institutional constraints. We felt that the honoring of multilingual linguistic expertise should begin in our respective writing centers. As we developed tutoring services to multilingual students, we tutored multilingual students ourselves because we were among the few who had the necessary background. While effective, we both knew that such a system, where we were the main tutors, cut into programming time for other writing center administrative duties. As we looked to grow multilingual tutoring spaces, we realized the constraints of building a quality tutoring program responsive to multilingual needs. We feared that an untrained tutor may further marginalize the multilingual students. Similarly, tutors themselves were hesitant to tutor multilingual students without more training. While we wanted the tutors to understand that their multilingual tutees have rich linguistic repertoires, we realized at different points in our respective campuses that implementing tutor training would take time and resources.

Enacting Solutions: Building Affordances Across Campus for Multilingual Writers

We both found that while there were considerable constraints in regard to multilingual supports at our campuses, we could begin to reverse the “erasure” of our multilingual writers by looking to larger professional organizations and entities. To seek supports, we turned to the CCCCs, the International Writing Center Association, the WAC Clearinghouse, and our local resources from Kent main campus’s ESL program and the Writing Commons. Also, we sought opportunities to amplify multilingual justice concerns by engaging in training opportunities from Kent’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Kent’s Center for Teaching and Learning. By being willing to communicate, collaborate, and question assumptions within and across the institutions, we found allies, systems, and supports that were sympathetic to the needs of multilingual students. After cataloging systemic constraints, we were able to find and build upon networked ecology of supports that could facilitate more just multilingual practices on our small campuses with limited resources.

Shifting Systems towards Language Inclusivity

Because our university does not have a system of promoting multilingual resources, it was important to understand resources that may already be available at other campuses. To tap into the existing expertise, Barbara worked on gathering research and professional materials through the summer of 2019, including interviewing two instructors from the ESL Center at Kent State University to learn about best practices for teaching multilingual students placed into mainstream composition courses. Here, she noticed that Kent ESL colleagues’ ideas clearly aligned with the “CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers.” Seeing connections, Barbara began planning to discuss these best practices suggestions and CCCC position statements (see Table 1) with her peers at Kent Salem during an English Department meeting in the fall of 2019. She first asked and was granted permission from the campus English Department coordinator to share collected materials at an English faculty meeting. During the meeting, most instructors were present and were eager to engage in discussion about best practices as many were teaching multilingual students in the fall of 2019.

Prior to the meeting, the faculty were sent a link to a Google doc folder to access resources such as current multilingual research, a link to Inoue’s CCCC Chair’s Address, and other practical online resources provided by Kent ESL program. Though this was not presented as formal training, it represents the beginning of a professional dialogue about just instructional practices for multilingual students. Because many instructors had not had pedagogical training inclusive of multilingual writers, or it had been some time since they had such training, Barbara found that it was important to ground the discussion in information listed in Table 1. By referring to experts through professional organizations known to instructors, the conversation moved to that of finding common ground with pedagogical practices for multilingual students. While some had not known, prior to resource sharing, that there was, indeed, a “CCCCs Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers”, they trusted the organization enough that they were willing to consider its recommendations. The conversation encouraged instructors to review materials and apply them in class as needed, and these resources were also shared via e-mail to instructors who were not present.

Table 1. ESL suggestions and corresponding position statements from the CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers

Writing Process

ESL Center of Kent State University:

Use specific prewriting and writing strategies with scaffolding;

Give students opportunities to rewrite drafts;

Encourage revision opportunities;

Attend to global, and then local issues during conferencing (do spend time on local issues).

Feedback and Assessment

ESL Center of Kent State University:

Offer more than one revision feedback to avoid overwhelming students;

Utilize rubrics that clarify different “aspects” of writing that students must navigate;

When possible, write feedback directly on paper in context in context of the issue and avoid placing comments at the end of paper;

Make peer review an effective writing strategy by asking for specific feedback from the reviewer. (Does the paper have a thesis? Does the paragraph have a topic sentence?)

Corresponding excerpt from CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers:

The evaluation of second language texts should take into consideration various aspects of writing (e.g., topic development, organization, grammar, word choice). Writing instructors should look for evidence of a text’s rhetorically effective features, rather than focus only on one or two of these features that stand out as problematic.”

General Multilingual Instruction

ESL Center of Kent State University:

Provide written lessons of topics covered in class so students can reread and decode;

Offer writing samples exemplifying varied writing ability;

Design assignments where students must provide their own evidence/experiences if plagiarism is a concern;

Think of offering units that explore various cultural differences; be mindful of how texts represent various cultures;

Teach students to think critically by scaffolding this particular skill. Multilingual students may come from cultures where critical thinking is perceived as dissent from authority and is discouraged;

Remind students to be mindful of their audience. Multilingual students may interpret phenomena according to their cultural beliefs and may have to provide more framing for their ideas.

Corresponding excerpt from CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers:

To reduce the risk of evaluating students on the basis of their cultural knowledge rather than their writing proficiency, students should be given several writing prompts to choose from when appropriate. Writing prompts for placement and exit exams should avoid cultural references that are not readily understood by people who come from various cultural backgrounds.”

ESL Center of Kent State University:

Be prepared to work with multilingual students who may be accomplished writers in their first (and, at times, second) languages. This can be very different from monolingual speakers in developmental classes who have different needs;

Scaffold plagiarism issues; do not punish right away unless egregious; instead, teach citation skills;

Spend more effort on paraphrasing, a higher order practice that is very difficult for nonnative speakers. It should be taught explicitly with many scaffolds. Multilingual students may not grasp it immediately (see above).

Corresponding excerpt from CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers:

We advocate that instructors take extra care when suspecting a second language writer of plagiarism, and take into consideration the student’s cultural background, level of experience with North American educational system, and confidence level for writing in English.”

ESL Center of Kent State University:

Allow and encourage transcription services to translate into their own language to read;

Allow use of code-switching in drafts. Encourage students to go back over paper once it is written in English.

This brief informational session early in the semester during the English faculty meeting helped set the stage for the pre-portfolio reading discussions in 2019 and 2020 at the Kent Salem campus. Because of this meeting, Barbara and her colleagues had a foundation on which to draw upon when assessing multilingual student portfolios. They discussed the portfolios as part of a larger language acquisition process versus a final product, and they shifted the focus from surface level issues to the depth of the paper content. This is not to say that the conversations were always easy. One colleague questioned why, as he saw it, multilingual students needed different set of standards than native speakers, but overall, delving into discussions as guided by available professional groups and research helped to address complex discussions about multilingual language acquisition. For Ana, opening such conversation has been more challenging in her position as a non-tenure track faculty surrounded by tenured faculty members, and the last hire in her department. Occasionally, she felt put in her place when she voiced concerns about programing or pedagogical practices on campus. Ultimately, through Barbara’s communications with the ESL program at Kent and Ana’s experiences, we realize that we need to communicate to faculty that language acquisition takes time. Not all language issues will be addressed in one semester; each semester will add more to students’ linguistic repertoire.

Developing Peer Tutoring for Multilingual Writers

We established, early on, that tutor training is crucial to avoid the erasure of our multilingual students in the writing center space. To understand how writing centers can support multilingual students, we turned to Noreen Lape, whose scholarship urges institutions to find value in and supports for multilingual students. Lape describes a multilingual writing center that “contests the stereotype of ‘ESL students’ as ‘problem’ students with specially confounding and substandard literacy skills...Instead, the literacy practices of English learners are re-valued when they serve as ‘authorities’ on their linguistic cultures.” In conversations about tutoring, both Barbara and Ana also looked to Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth, who discuss the self-efficacy benefits of multilingual tutoring sessions that include “one-on-one, context rich, highly focused on a specific current writing need, and offering the possibility of negotiation of meaning” (1).

For Ana’s students, the line between instructor and tutor has long been blurred as her office is in the tutoring center where she coordinates the English tutors and is a tutor herself. Each semester, she holds several tutoring sessions with her multilingual students who often struggle with word choice and English grammar, two issues that are easy to handle in face-to-face tutoring sessions. Ana also trains the tutors to work with multilingual populations, and this begins from the first semester of employment when they all must take a one-credit tutoring course taught by the Learning Center director. One of the six topics covered by the course is tutoring multilingual students; for the past six years, Ana has been a guest teacher for those course sessions. Moreover, the main project for the course is based on interviews with multilingual populations regarding their experience with education in their country of origin and the United States. The goal of the project is to help the tutors understand multilingual students’ experiences and perceptions of education and language. The English tutors are further trained by Ana in one-on-one sessions and during the group trainings twice a semester. The trainings cover how to tutor multilingual students as Ana draws from her research on multilingual writers and linguistic tolerance (Wetzl). Additionally, tutors share their own experiences with multilingual students, teaching one another tutoring strategies such as being explicit about differences in cultural perspectives on various topics and audience expectations, encouraging the multilingual tutees to find connections between their experiences in another culture and the topic provided by the professor, and relying on the tutees’ metalinguistic awareness when explaining errors. Consequently, the tutors increase their understanding of the multilingual experience through a combination of conversations with multilingual students, insights from the other tutors, and more traditional classroom-based activities. The interviews with the multilingual students and the other tutors’ observations help them process the scholarship Ana shares with them during the tutoring course, and they also initiate the development of understanding and empathy required for good tutoring sessions.

Barbara did not have a similar established tutoring program, so she turned to Ana for suggestions to develop effective supports for multilingual students. She found herself tutoring a single multilingual student as a pilot program in the spring of 2019; however, a rise in multilingual student enrollment expanded into her advocating for a course release for a colleague so both could offer tutoring and to develop tutor training programs for students across four languages the following school year. Based on her past experiences at the Kent Writing Commons (a writing center) and Ana’s tutoring system, Barbara, who was by then the Writing Center Coordinator at Kent Salem, was able to organize weekly multilingual tutoring sessions in the fall of 2019 in which either Barbara or a colleague with some multilingual tutoring experiences tutored individual students.

Both Ana and Barbara have found clear tutoring plans for multilingual students to be the most effective multilingual support on both campuses. Multilingual students regularly attended weekly one-on-one tutor sessions and reports are sent to instructors, making the composing practices transparent. As a result of remote teaching from the COVID-19 response, Barbara also developed a synchronous remote tutoring plan that allowed for accessibility (Google docs) and real time conversation (a phone call) when students were not able to meet in person.{7}

Recognizing the need for knowledgeable peer tutors, in the spring of 2020 Barbara expanded tutor training to better support multilingual tutees. After her visit to the Kent ESL program, Barbara was able to share with her tutors the best practices for tutoring and conferencing, including going through papers line by line to seek patterns, emphasizing the higher order concerns, and using established resources such as Betty Azar and Stacy Hagan’s Understanding and Using English to work on later order concerns (verb tense, articles, etc.).

Making Multilingualism Visible Beyond Composition Classroom

From campus conversations with our peers, we realize that there are many faculty across disciplines who are interested in multilingual support. By fore-fronting multilingual students’ concerns, we found professional opportunities for all faculty and staff as well. The faculty at Ana’s campus are interested in learning more about how to work with multilingual students, and as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the Kent campus offers such training, Ana and the Faculty Council chair have worked together to offer it in conjunction with a Council meeting in spring 2020. With the goal of supporting multilingual students across disciplines, Barbara was able to join the Kent Center for Teaching and Learning Inclusive Learning Community for the spring of 2020. Barbara is working to gather and share resources that can speak to justice issues of the recent ICE raid near her campus. In addition to composition programming, in an effort to foster an understanding of complexities of language and identity, Barbara is working on library acquisitions and work with the librarian on a library display to showcase resources for multilingual students, including writing from multilingual writers, though this has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic budget restrictions.

As Megan Siczek and Shawna Shapiro argue, efforts to promote multilingualism at the university strengthen commitments to diversity and expand other undergraduates’ knowledge about global linguistic initiatives and competencies that are increasingly important in a global society. In another initiative to allow multilingual visibility, Barbara and her writing center colleagues began a Multilingual Coffee Hour at Kent Salem in fall 2019. While it started small and was designed to encourage monolingual students to understand where their multilingual peers are coming from, several students (both multilingual and monolingual English speakers) and faculty attended at Kent Salem. Not only was this helpful for students to practice oral speaking skills in a space outside of a classroom, but faculty shared multilingual experiences as well. One of the most popular events involved food sharing that positioned multilingual students as experts in the dishes they prepared, and in the culture represented by the food. Some faculty expressed an interest in sending monolingual speakers to the hour in the spring of 2020 so students can understand how language diversity might play out in their future careers.

Ongoing and Future Work: Multilingual Campus, Multilingual Northeast Ohio Community Supports and Future Plans

When speaking to the Kent ESL program and with one another at our resource-tight regional campuses, we realized how vital it is to communicate with other university initiatives that focus on similar issues, even if they may not directly impact multilingual students. For example, we discovered a Kent Campus initiative to promote a better understanding of rural and urban language diversity in the larger Northeast Ohio area. Our colleagues from the mainstream composition program at Kent are currently sharing their research on language diversity in our area, such as Appalachian and African American varieties that are home languages for many of our monolingual students. Such initiatives promote the idea that language is diverse, and that “othering” can happen in many language communities.

We realized, too, that like language acquisition and navigation for our students, institutional partnerships suggested by Bou Ayash take understanding of the local context. As such, we are aware that we will have to carefully plan composition instruction and other campus support as based on growing multilingual populations. Because the administration at the Salem campus is interested in providing an option for higher education to the rising Guatemalan population at the nearby high school, Barbara has accessed the National Center for Education Statistics to seek data about potential future students at the campus. She also spoke to the local high school and community multilingual supports, particularly to understand community supports that were in place after the ICE raid. Additionally, these discussions with administrators about multilingual pedagogy have already resulted in an administrator securing funding that will provide for scholarships for multilingual students and pedagogical supports such as training for staff involved in any future programming. This also allowed for more integrative planning for contingencies, including the administrator directing an interested Instructional Technology staff member to Barbara so both could discuss how to ensure multilingual students do not fall behind the digital divide during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In the future, we are both aware of the need to continue to advocate for better placements for our students. We realize that we will need to come up with a system of better multilingual identification and tracking by working with our enrollment management teams. We plan a discussion with our colleagues and administration about directed self-placement for our multilingual students to better understand complexities of this population and to find new ways to value their linguistic repertoire and lived experiences.

We also plan to extend discussions of multilingual language learning to all disciplines on our campuses. Barbara also drew from Bruce and Rafoth’s ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors and Rafoth’s Multilingual Writers and Writing Centers and from past resources from the Kent State Writing Commons at the Kent campus to develop a new online tutor training program to start in fall 2020. The training addresses different strategies tutors might use when meeting with multilingual students, particularly regarding higher and later order concerns. We seek to hire multilingual tutors as writing tutors in order to actively position multilingualism as a benefit to our campus as these students have language literacies that are increasingly important in a global society (Lape). Indeed, Ana’s position as multilingual speaker and an English professor helps to change the way students see language experts.

In the future, we also hope to expand our research scope. For this article, we focused on Barbara and Ana’s programmatic responses to erasure of student multilingualism. We also see gathering student voices and successes as an integral part of programmatic and research initiatives, including institutional assessment data or IRB-approved research that explores specific classrooms or programs on our campuses. Including our multilingual students’ voices in our future research is necessary as they are the ones who suffer the consequences of the ethnocentric tendencies in composition and in higher education in general. We recognize that advocating for multilingual writers in a smaller institution in the places like the Rust Belt takes creative partnering because of the restraints of time and resources that come with large teaching loads on small campuses where the bulk of professional duties are focused on teaching. This is, indeed, a challenge for many on small campuses advocating for research that would promote more just multilingual practices. This issue is complicated as programs at small schools are often running on austerity measures, which may be compounded post the COVID-19 pandemic, making releases for assessment or research even more difficult.

Ultimately, we must frame working to promote multilingualism on our campuses in terms of language justice as we witness the marginalization multilingual students experience. While there is no one solution, it is possible to change the campus climate in small, resource-tight Rust Belt universities to be more welcoming of linguistic diversity by magnifying our voices and experiences to support multilingual students, and by expanding these conversations to include all faculty and staff.

To this end, we encourage scholars and teachers on small/ regional campuses to act towards the following points:

Institutional Practices:

  • Initiate strategic plans for reaching out to potential multilingual students that live in proximity to regional campuses including anticipated rising Gen 1.5 students

  • Work with administrative systems on multilingual student retention to reverse multilingual student erasure

  • Clarify the assessment and placement practices for multilingual students to recognize their linguistic expertise on these campuses

  • Create events and clubs that celebrate and honor the experiences of multilingual students

Teaching Practices:

  • Despite tight resources, advocate for training composition instructors and writing tutors to work with multilingual students

  • Create spaces for instructors to share ideas and resources, and to communicate best practices for multilingual instruction as based in professional groups and current and emerging research

  • Reach out to existing resources on campuses with ESL & ELL programs that have historically served multilingual students


  • Support composition faculty as they research local institutional contexts and systems that impact multilingual students

  • Support local research with (not just about, but with) multilingual students to be shared in publications and at conferences

In closing, in an effort to reverse multilingual “erasure,” on small campuses, we found that we had to amplify our own voices as instructors with a multilingual background. As such, we continue to work on creating systems of language justice in composition classrooms. Specifically, we continue to make plans for language inclusivity as we build communicative systems that account for complex language practices. Through our action of networking our communicative practices, we can better assess available processes and resources that allow for more just pedagogies for our multilingual learners. We do acknowledge that advocating for resources takes time and energy for sustainable change. Yet, we hope that our narratives demonstrate that practical change for multilingual students can occur, even in institutions with limited resources. We believe that validating our multilingual students’ experience and expertise can enrich our campuses and the community at large in profound ways.


  1. Barbara George is a composition instructor at Kent State University at Salem. Barbara is currently the Writing Center Coordinator at the Kent Salem campus. Barbara found that leveraging her ESL coursework from her reading degree and past experiences as an instructor, tutor, and assistant to the Writing Commons director was crucial in speaking to the needs of multilingual students in composition classes at Kent Salem. Also, she regularly taught professional writing at the larger Kent campus to multilingual writers taking mainstream classes where she had taken part of a mentoring program that addressed the unique needs of multilingual students.

    Ana Wetzl is a composition and applied linguistics instructor at Kent State University at Trumbull with years of teaching EFL courses overseas and mainstream and ESL composition in the United States, over six years of graduate study in Composition and TESOL, and published research about the intersection between monolingual and multilingual English writing. Ana has first-hand knowledge of the multilingual experience; she is a multilingual scholar herself and taught English as a foreign language overseas prior to immigrating to the United States in her mid-twenties. Her years in graduate schools in American universities provided her with insight into her multilingual students’ experience in academia, and her professional background in Composition and TESOL has increased her understanding of what is causing the challenges they encounter and how to address them. (Return to text.)

  2. Paul K. Matsuda et al. use the term multilingual to mean “students who grew up using languages other than English and are acquiring English as an additional language. Multilingual students include international students who hold student visas and resident students who are non-native English speakers” (73). This approach frames knowing more than one language as an ability and not a deficit. For the purposes of this paper, we will use the term “multilingual”, though we are aware that this term was questioned by scholars; Eunjeong Lee and Suresh Canagarajah refer to the terms “transcultural” and “translingual,” arguing that they can more effectively “develop a broadened disposition to appreciate language diversity and creativity in academic writing against the dominant monolingual and monocultural ideology” (15). (Return to text.)

  3. It is difficult to give a specific statistic for this trend in Northeast Ohio. For example, there is a rising Guatemalan population, but according to Joanna Bernstein, “Census data for immigrant and minority populations is notoriously low due to undercounting of groups like undocumented immigrants, so it’s likely that the Latinx population of the area is actually higher.” (Return to text.)

  4. Stephen V. Doolan defines the 1.5 Generation student as someone who “(a) has been in the U.S. educational system for more than 4 years, (b) regularly speaks/spoke a language other than English at home, and (c) is younger than 22 years old” (217). (Return to text.)

  5. Horner and Trimbur explain that the “first-year writing course actually embodies a language policy that privileges English in relation to other languages” (595) in line with the English-Only policies currently in place in 36 U.S. states. The authors decry the monolingual direction in higher education resulting in “...the variety, range, and shifting nature of language in use are reduced and restricted to the canons of ‘proper usage’ embodied in standard written English” (596); the students who find themselves unable to master the canons become “foreigners to the academy” and are often placed in developmental courses (618). (Return to text.)

  6. We acknowledge many uses of “ecology” to theorize language relationships within social systems, including how various languages have been valued or devalued in different social situations. (Return to text.)

  7. These remote and online considerations are more widely explored in Karen Milheim’s text, Cultivating Diverse Online Classrooms through Instructional Design. (Return to text.)

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