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Composition Forum 44, Summer 2020

Developing an Antiracist, Decolonial Program to Serve Students in a Socially Just Manner: Program Profile of the FYC Program at Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Lizbett Tinoco, Sonya Barrera Eddy, and Scott Gage

Abstract: In this program profile, we describe how the FYC program at Texas A&M University-San Antonio is working towards developing an antiracist and decolonial program in response to our recognition of the racialized violence and injustice the program was unintentionally inflicting on our student population. We structure this profile using comadrismo, a conversation between two Latina faculty, to describe their experiences around five themes: labor division and equity, assessment and social justice, revising programmatic documents, professional development, and constraints and shortcomings. Furthermore, we discuss the most salient aspects of this work for programs that may also be interested in seeking social justice through antiracism and decolonization. Specifically, we work through and identify three forms of labor we have learned are necessary to engaging in this work: honest and critical self-interrogation, faculty buy-in and community building, and an understanding that this kind of work is an ongoing process.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio FYC Program Overview

The First-Year Composition (FYC) program at Texas A&M University-San Antonio (A&M-SA) is informed by theories on violence, antiracist pedagogical practice, and decolonization. First developed in the 2016-2017 academic year, after the university completed comprehensive expansion into a four-year institution, the FYC program has drawn from these theories to develop its programmatic identity, including its mission statement (see Appendix 1), its course goals (see Appendix 2), and its pedagogical commitments (see Appendix 3); to build programmatic culture and professional development; and to adopt socially just assessment practices. This work, and the theories motivating it, serve as a direct response to our institution, to the land on which it is situated, and to the students it supports.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio is located in south San Antonio, Texas on land traditionally belonging to the Coahuiltecans, Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, and Comanche. We are a Hispanic-Serving Institution, where 73.6% of the student population identifies as Hispanic or Latinx (Factbook 2018). A&M-SA gives priority entrance to students from seven target districts, all of which are considered economically disadvantaged, with ninety percent of their students meeting the federal definition of poverty (McNeel). The demographic information for these districts also shows they are majority students of color, with many having more than a 90% Hispanic student population (McNeel). The districts from which our university’s students enroll also include schools in San Antonio’s Historically Black neighborhoods, an ongoing testament to the city’s history of segregation. Our institutional data does not provide information on the linguistic background of the student body population. As a result, two FYC faculty members conducted a study in preparation for a workshop they led on teaching writing with multilingual students. Their data collected from their courses illustrates that 39 out of 72 students (54%) speak two or more languages. Thirty-two students reported speaking English and Spanish, while the rest of the students identified other languages such as Japanese, Creole (Jamaica), Urdu, Arabic, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, French, and German (Tinoco and Baruca). Although students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds are varied, the majority of students at A&M-SA carry with them the histories of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, including lived experiences shaped by the racialized violence, militarism, and colonialism of the border. In response to our FYC faculty’s admittedly limited understanding of students’ experiences with multiple generations of colonization and forced linguistic homogeneity in a historically segregated public school system, we have worked together in our first three years as a program to develop three critical commitments: undoing the racialized educational violence to which many of our students have been subjected, resisting white supremacy in our curriculum and pedagogical practices, and opposing the bloody colonial legacy saturating the land on which we teach.

To fulfill these commitments, we have turned--sometimes consciously and intentionally, sometimes unconsciously and organically--to methodologies situated within our own traditions, cultures, and epistemologies as well as those of our Latinx student population. This program profile offers one example of our effort to draw from methodologies that honor our students’ embodied experiences as well as the land and place where we work alongside them. More specifically, we use comadrismo{1}, a concept Ana Milena Ribero and Sonia C. Arellano introduced it as a tactic both for mentoring Latinas in Rhetoric and Composition and for disrupting institutional cultures that exclude Women of Color. The word comadrismo stems from the Spanish word comadres who are defined as “best friends, confidants, coworkers, advisors, neighbors, and godmothers to one’s children...comadre is indeed a powerful term, and concept, and its connotations are unique to Latino culture. All Latinas recognize the most common definition of the term comadre—one related to friendship and camaraderie. Comadres are the women they know they can count on, lean on, and ask for advice or help when needed” (de Hoyos Comstock pg. ix-x). Arising from the term comadre, comadrismo is a culturally situated methodology through which Latinx women engage one another in narrative and dialogue to form networks of support, kinship, and mentorship. Comadrismo “embraces the complex, collective actions of Latinas” (Ribero and Arellano) and “highlights the relationships between discursive and material counter hegemonic practices” (Scholz). This project began with Comadre 1, Sonya Barrera Eddy, and Comadre 2, Lizbett Tinoco, engaging in comadrismo through conversations and dialogues about their experiences in the FYC program. There were several days a week where Sonya and Lizbett had coffee together, looked over documents, discussed the program and wrote the initial draft. During these meetings and conversations, they also had a chance to continue to get to know each other, to learn more about each other outside of their academic life, and to develop a relationship built on mutual trust and support. It is from these conversations that the idea to use comadrismo as a framework evolved because we noticed it is the framework in which the conversations between Sonya and Lizbett naturally occurred. To honor the use of comadrismo between Sonya and Lizbett, we have decided to incorporate the method in our program profile. Using comadrismo here centers the experiences of two women of color and offers a counter narrative of program profiles, which often center the voices of white WPAs, and which often reaffirm Eurocentric ways of knowing and creating knowledge. By incorporating comadrismo in our profile, we hope to disrupt Eurocentrism and the dominant academic discourses through which it circulates. We, therefore, use comadrismo as an act of decolonization that reflects our program’s ongoing efforts to question, challenge, and resist the privileging of Eurocentric rhetorics, genres, and grammars. Indeed, comadrismo is itself epistemic, but it creates knowledge not through a straightforward engagement with and application of theory but through interaction, collaboration, and reflection. This aspect of comadrismo portrays the often challenging, messy, and ambiguous forms of labor involved with building a FYC program committed to antiracist and decolonial values and practice.

Our profile opens with an overview of the theories informing our program’s development over the last three years. Importantly, we offer narrative insight into the experiences of faculty working to build our program, including our recognition of the racialized violence and injustice we were unintentionally inflicting on our student population. We take this approach to represent how we came to the theories informing our ongoing work rather than discussing our program’s theoretical orientations without consideration for the contexts and embodied experiences informing our choice of theory. We came to realize that selecting and deductively applying a theory to students who have no say in the application of that theory is deeply problematic, if not a form of violence itself, so we chose to work inductively, developing our theoretical orientation through on-the-ground experience. This section represents that process and includes narrative to portray our experiences designing the program, developing its values and identity, and establishing the practices that continue to guide our work. Next, we provide a description of our efforts to apply theory and develop an antiracist and decolonial program as experienced by two Latina professors. In this section, we enact comadrismo to reflect the ways applying theories and epistemologies can be complex and can require conversation, support, kinship, and community building in order to help faculty persevere through this difficult emotional labor. We structure the conversation between Sonya and Lizbett around five themes that have been central to their experiences joining and becoming members of our programmatic community: labor division and equity, revising programmatic documents, pedagogies towards social justice, professional development, and future directions. While not a straightforward description of how our program has applied its underlying theories, this section of the profile represents the varied and complex ways building antiracist and decolonial composition programs intersects with lived experience and necessitates interaction and reflection. Lastly, we discuss the most salient aspects of this work for programs that may also be interested in seeking social justice through antiracism and decolonization. Specifically, we work through and identify three forms of labor we have learned are necessary to engaging in this work: honest and critical self-interrogation, faculty buy-in and community building, and an understanding that this kind of work is an ongoing process, not a goal with a finite end.

First-Year Composition at A&M-SA Coming to Antiracism and Decolonialism

The FYC program at Texas A&M University-San Antonio supports our student population as they transition into the university, whether as first-time-in-college students, transfer students, or returning adult learners. Comprised of three courses--ENGL 1301 Composition I, ENGL 1302 Composition II, and ENGL 2311 Technical Writing--our program supports students in the ongoing development of their identities as writers. On average, FYC offers twenty-four sections per semester with an average semester enrollment of 480 students. Faculty working with these students include four tenure-track faculty, including our Writing Program Administrator (WPA); six full-time lecturers; and one adjunct. The FYC program was not initially informed by theories of violence, antiracism, and decolonialism. Rather, at the program’s inception in Fall 2016, our pedagogical and curricular work drew from genre theory (Miller; Bawarshi) as well as the WPA Outcomes Statement 3.0. We specifically designed our curriculum to guide students through three phases: an initial introduction to genre with experience writing across multiple genres in ENGL 1301 Composition I; a focused examination of argumentative genres in ENGL 1302 Composition II; and, for students who elected or who were required to take ENGL 2311 Technical Writing (often in lieu of ENGL 1302), an introductory exploration of genres common to technical communication. Faculty teaching in our program during our first semester quickly realized that our curriculum and classroom practices were not only unresponsive to our institutional context but were also enacting violence against the students we were there to serve.

Through a series of informal meetings, both as a faculty and one-on-one with Scott Gage, our WPA, FYC faculty shared their experiences in the classroom, acknowledged discomforts with the curriculum, and together identified how faculty understood our program to be failing students. For example, we recognized in our choice of textbooks a rejection of the histories, cultures, traditions, literacies, and epistemologies shaping our university’s majority Latinx student population. By privileging Eurocentric and Aristotelian rhetorical traditions, our chosen textbooks fostered classroom practices compelling student assimilation to standards and expectations that, if left unexamined, could negate the value, and existence, of the knowledges and rhetorics with which many students entered our classrooms. Similarly, the assessment practices most faculty used at the time reaffirmed and imposed Eurocentric standards, often punishing students who were less able to mimic or approximate the genres and rhetorical strategies heralded in our teaching. We realized, however uncomfortably, that these aspects of our program were doing more than failing students; they were positioning us as gatekeepers inflicting pedagogical violence and injustice.

After hearing the concerns of the faculty, Scott turned to the work of peace studies scholar Johan Galtung, who defines violence as any influence that decreases a living beings’ potential to thrive, flourish, and achieve full realization (Violence). Galtung’s definition of violence offered a capacious understanding of the term that, first, neither diminishes nor excludes the various harms violence inflicts on people and communities and that, second, offers a framework for recognizing violence in contexts where it might not be explicitly apparent, including composition classrooms and programs. Galtung’s work helped us to consider that violence is not limited to direct violence, which arises interpersonally between individuals and groups who apparently intend to threaten, maim, or kill (Violence). His work also helped us to recognize both structural violence, which arises from disparate and unequal distributions of resources and power (Violence), and cultural violence, which arises from symbolic actions that justify or lend legitimacy to direct and structural violence (Cultural Violence). Faculty teaching in our program in Fall 2016 were receptive to discussions about Galtung’s theories because they felt we were harming students, but struggled to articulate how, especially since we were obviously not inflicting physical wounds on students. Through Galtung’s work, FYC faculty were able to name the ways we were acting violently toward students. We could identify the harmful self-rejection made possible through our textbooks’ insistence that our Latinx student majority draw only from Eurocentric traditions while composing. We could perceive the injustices built into our curriculum’s structure as it paved easier pathways for students already adept at Eurocentric grammars and communication strategies. We could see in the language we used to respond to student writing implicit justifications of our curriculum’s Eurocentrism and, with it, a violent reaffirmation of white language supremacy (Inoue, How Do We Language).

Our FYC group discussions revealed an important but disturbing dimension of our program’s violence: our violence was, in many ways, racialized. Not only were we a majority white faculty reinforcing Eurocentric rhetorical standards at a Hispanic-Serving Institution, but we were also a white faculty reinforcing Eurocentrism on colonized land two hours from the current U.S.-Mexico border. As Marcos Del Hierro argues, the border forms a system of delineation extending “from land to people” that both establishes “normative identities, language, and attitudes” and “set[s] the terms for who belongs and who is a stranger” (173). These terms are steeped in “colonialism, racism, and white supremacy” (171). The border, therefore, denies access to “all non-White bodies unless they align with the system built to control and even destroy them” (175). By compelling our students to align with Eurocentric rhetorics, genres, and standards, our program was creating a context in which some students would be more likely to succeed while other students would be more likely to fail. In short, our program was extending the work of the border into our curriculum and classrooms and, in doing so, enacting structural violence. As a result, we came to understand that the structural violence borders inflict on students, specifically Latinx students, in our regional context, needed to be accounted for in our programmatic structures, pedagogies, and assessment practices. We, therefore, began the challenging work of interrogating our program, our teaching, and ourselves in order to start re-imagining both who and what we could be and to start revising our programmatic identity and practices to embody antiracist and decolonial values and practices.

We first began this work during the Spring 2017 semester by turning to antiracist theory and practice. Guided by faculty concerns about our program’s racialized violence, Scott invited faculty to engage one another in honest, challenging, and reflective conversations about antiracist teaching practices. Our conversations, challenging and uncomfortable as they were, led us to deep engagement with the principle that antiracist practice is “not about simply incorporating racial content into courses'' but about “how one teaches'' (Kishimoto 540, original emphasis), including how one assesses student writing. As Kishimoto argues, integral to antiracist teaching is the development of “anti-racist assessments, which focus on the process rather than the end results” (549, original emphasis). Focusing on the how of our assessment practices, we agreed to read Asao B. Inoue’s Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future as part of our Coffee and Composition series{2}. Reading and discussing the book together helped FYC faculty start to contend with the reality that our “best practices” approach to composition, and the Eurocentric assessments it engendered, was “an inherently racist project” (Inoue, Antiracist Writing 56). The idea that our methods of assessment were always already racist brought faculty into direct confrontation with our own unacknowledged biases. Working together through our discomfort, faculty in Spring 2017 began the introspection and self-interrogation necessary to adopt an antiracist pedagogical stance and move forward with our program’s development of antiracist values and practices. One of the practices we first implemented was labor-based grading, by which we determine grades “purely by the labor students complete, not by any judgments of the quality of their writing” (Inoue, Labor-Based Grading 3). At least 75% of our faculty have adopted the practice, and we continue to collaborate on expanding and adapting its use to offer a more just educational experience for students in our local context, especially our Latinx and multilingual students.

Our program’s efforts to adopt and adapt antiracist pedagogical theory and practice has invited recognition that antiracism, and specifically labor-based grading, is insufficient in and of itself to combat the racialized violence and injustice we have inflicted on students (as well as the racialized violence and injustice we continue to inflict through those aspects of our program we have not yet interrogated. Given the need to develop a more robust intervention in our program’s violence, and given our institution’s geographical and historical location on land once part of the Mission San Francisco de la Espada, we are now taking our first steps toward incorporating decolonial theory into our programmatic structures and practices. With specific concern for our identity as a composition program, we have dedicated our 2019-2020 Coffee and Composition series to reading Iris D. Ruiz’s and Raúl Sánchez’s collection Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies: New Latinx Keywords for Theory and Pedagogy. Drawing from Ruiz’s and Sánchez’s collection, we have come to understand colonization as “includ[ing] not only the taking of land but also the taking of culture and the defining of knowledge” (xiii). More specifically, we understand colonization in the context of our work as compositionists as including the ways language and writing instruction participate in the privileging of Eurocentric grammars, rhetorics, and epistemologies over and above those that are culturally and regionally relevant. In turn, decolonization is contextual and relational and denotes “ways of thinking, knowing, being, and doing that begin, but also precede, the colonial enterprise and invasion. It implies the recognition and undoing of hierarchical structures of race, gender, heteropatriarchy, and class that continue to control life, knowledge, spirituality, and thought, structures that are clearly intertwined with the constitutive of global capitalism and Western modernity” (Walsh and Mignolo 17). Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our faculty met once a month to discuss the chapters we had read and to start the process of examining the ways our understanding of concepts such as “writing” and “literacy” are not only steeped in Eurocentrism but also a partner to ongoing pedagogical colonization. The pandemic has unfortunately disrupted that work this semester, but we will resume that work next academic year whether we are on campus or at home. Specifically, we will resume our ongoing effort to understand decoloniality and to integrate antiracist and decolonial theory and practice as we persist toward the goal of ameliorating our program’s racialized violence and injustice.

Cultivating an Antiracist, Decolonial Composition Program: A Conversation In Five Themes

In this section, we offer insight into our efforts to design and implement an antiracist and decolonial composition program. Rather than provide a one-to-one description of all we have done to build our program in this direction, we have elected to center the voices and experiences of two Latina professors who have recently joined and become integral members of our program through the use of comadrismo. Specifically, we offer readers a conversation between Comadre 1, Sonya, and Comadre 2, Lizbett, as they read our program’s materials and artifacts and supported one another through their transition into a new institutional context. The conversations between them were supportive, critical, expansive, and, importantly, reflective. The conversations specifically invited reflection on the program and resulted in the five themes that have proven most significant for them as they have gained lived experience teaching in and contributing to our FYC program: labor division and equity, revising programmatic documents, pedagogies towards social justice, professional development, and future directions.

Theme 1: Labor Division and Equity

Comadre 1: As a full-time lecturer (non-tenure track) one of the things I appreciate most about our program is the attention paid to the distribution of labor. I specifically wanted to work at A&M-SA because of their commitment to antiracist and decolonial work as well as their commitment to creating a socially just program. However, socially just work requires intense and messy labor that cannot be undertaken alone. Too often, I hear stories of women of color being hired into positions where they are the only members of the program working on diversity issues. They must be on every committee, appear in the program’s photos and websites, and mentor most, if not all, of the students of color, while still trying to attend to their own teaching and research agendas. I was worried about accepting a NTT position as well as joining a program where I feared I might be expected to do much of the emotional labor{3} that antiracist and decolonial work necessitates. However, I was relieved to find not only you but other women of color and white colleagues alike who are aware and mindful of the emotional work that we do. One of the things I appreciate is that our colleagues often check in and do their best to make sure that they are not taking advantage of the non-tenure track faculty and also try to ensure that they are not asking us to do more of the work than is equitable. I also appreciate that every effort is made to turn our adjuncts in our FYC program into full-time employees with benefits and requisite compensation, that we as a program are not taking advantage of non-tenure track faculty, are fairly compensating them and incorporating them into the FYC program team. In a right to work state, like ours, where non-tenure contracts are offered for limited terms, I appreciate our commitment to building an antiracist and decolonial program that extends beyond the classroom and into the management and development of the FYC program’s hiring practices and efforts to create a more equitable work environment. I know you have worked at other institutions, what is your experience?

Comadre 2: It is impossible to discuss how writing programs, like ours, can move towards antiracism and decoloniality to serve students in a socially just manner without discussing the labor inequities contingent faculty and faculty of color often face within these programs. As someone who worked as an adjunct at a two-year college many years ago teaching six courses at four institutions and spending so much time commuting from one campus to another, the fear was always present about whether or not I would get courses from semester to semester, how I would pay for medical expenses if I got sick since my job did not provide any medical benefits, or how I should always attend professional development meetings that I didn’t receive compensation for because I wanted to show face and make sure I had a job the following semester. I quickly learned that I was an expendable and replaceable faculty member. These are the type of inequities and labor conditions we are trying to prevent and resist in our FYC program. If we want to create a FYC program that is truly antiracist and decolonial, then we must also resist as much as possible the neoliberal models of higher education, which are often rooted in white racial ideologies that are racist and violent towards contingent faculty and faculty of color, and create a culture within our program, and university at large, that moves towards creating a just workplace. Lecturers are part of the decision-making process within the FYC program. They participate in professional development, and really help shape the direction of the program through their active engagement as members of the FYC committee. When you started in the FYC program, I was ecstatic to have another woman of color join us. Our understanding of each other grew from the fact that our offices are right next to each other, but also from the different ways our sharing, listening, and working together happened so easily. Our conversations felt so familiar and personal, and we created trusted spaces to talk about our experiences within the FYC program, but also our families and home life. It is in these private and trusted spaces where a lot of the emotional labor, and often invisible labor, that you refer to happens.

Theme 2: Revising Programmatic Documents

Comadre 1: When I was first interviewing for this position, I was given a copy of the revised mission statement that you all were working on as a program as well as the goals and commitments. I looked it over before my interview and the sentence that stood out to me was “Instructors work to enact antiracist course designs and assessment practices.” I did my graduate work at an HSI, but this was the first time I had ever seen in writing some of the goals and commitments that I possessed stated up front. I know that the mission statement has changed since then and has now been adopted, but we kept that sentence. As we look at all of our documents together I can see that the development of this statement has an effect on the entire program from the missions and goals to our current revision of the course descriptions. I am more enthusiastic about the commitments than the goals. The commitments seem to embody the positive experiences I have had while the goals seem a little more disassociated from my personal lived experiences. The last three commitments in particular--resisting standard language ideology, fostering an antiracist classroom environment, and honoring students right to their own language--are important to me as an instructor, and it meant a lot to see them in writing. I see our commitments and goals as important because they are an explicit articulation of our program’s underlying antiracist and decolonial framework. As an instructor, I have had antiracist and decolonial theoretical underpinnings but have not always been able to express them because they were not always valued or appreciated. Some of my students have expressed shock and disbelief that an FYC program would have the commitments we express, but as we progress through the semester, most students come to understand and appreciate how these commitments are aimed at helping them to become better writers. In fact, many of them mention our commitments in their final reflections as they discuss how they were able to become better writers when they were allowed to use their own voices, cultures, and ways of knowing. Looking over and discussing our documents with you has helped me articulate and understand our program. It has also made me appreciate the ways in which we are trying to go forward.

Comadre 2: As a community of scholar-practitioners dedicated to cultivating a program with antiracist and decolonial pedagogies, we have decided to make all of our programmatic documents share this vision. In the two years that I have been at A&M-SA, our FYC mission statement has gone through several revisions to reflect this. The first few versions I saw did not show our commitment to antiracist and decolonial work. We knew some of us were doing this difficult work, but our programmatic documents did not reflect this. During one of our FYC meetings, our conversation led us to the conclusion that we just needed to be explicit about using the terms antiracist and decolonial. Could there have been fear in regards to what upper administration might think about explicitly including these terms in official programmatic documents? I’m sure there was, but we all felt comfortable moving forward knowing that our WPA and Department Chair were supportive.

Explicitly naming our program’s antiracist and decolonial values in the mission statement has led us to center these values in our work on curriculum redesign; textbook selection, or in our case, addressing the need to drop textbooks due to racist comments made by authors on the WPA-listserv; professional development; and assessment. Additionally, the FYC program has also worked to revise our program Goals and Commitments in an effort to move faculty towards disrupting colonial, white, middle-class, standard English ideologies that are often privileged and reproduced by many writing programs. The FYC commitments seem to articulate this better than the FYC goals. The dissonance between the two mostly likely stems from the fact that the FYC goals were informed by the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition (3.0), which reinforce white dispositions in FYC and don’t account for students’ cultural, racial or linguistic competencies. I had a difficult time articulating this dissonance and asked myself, “Do they just not see what I’m seeing?” It was not until I started having conversations with you and expressing these feelings that I found someone else who shared similar thoughts.

Theme 3: Pedagogies Towards Social Justice

Comadre 1: Our FYC program allows for pedagogical practices designed to counter some of the racialized violence done to students through assessment and placement. I have noticed that because students are assessed for “college readiness” and then placed in “assigned” courses, a deficit rhetoric can occur, leaving students feeling as if they do not have agency or don’t belong in college courses. When talking to students, I often find students who were in honors programs and taking AP courses in high school, but were not given college credit and have been told that they “cannot write” because of cultural differences. Instead of leveraging multiple language practices, they are often discouraged from using them. As instructors, we have no control over placement and prior assessment. Part of the way our program alleviates some of the prior violence done to students through assessment is being attentive to the way that our courses are structured around our programmatic goals and commitments (see Appendix 2 and 3), which encourage instructors to build individualized curriculum to help students understand how and why they have developed the deficit rhetoric and to hopefully help them leverage their culturally and linguistically diverse experiences. As a woman of color, culturally relevant pedagogies, along with labor based grading, helps to alleviate some of the violence done to students through prior assessment and placement practices and helps empower students to leverage all of their varied linguistic and lived experiences.

Comadre 2: You mention the violence performed on students through assessment, and as a teacher of writing whose first language is not English, I always had complicated feelings about the ways I was taught in composition and pedagogy courses or professional development workshops on how to assess student writing. What I was being asked to perform was linguistic violence on linguistically and racially diverse students. When I arrived on this campus and learned our FYC faculty was critically engaging in discussions about antiracist assessment practices and many faculty in the program were implementing labor-based contracts, I was excited to say the least. Since many linguistically and racially diverse students have been socialized into white linguistic norms and traumatized by the internalized racism because they don’t use “proper” English or because they speak Spanglish or Black English in the classroom, using labor-contract assessment and building compassion into the process, as described by Inoue, has given me a framework to have and listen, as difficult as it is, to conversations with students about linguistic violence that has been performed on them. For me, antiracist assessment opens up a space in the classroom for students to develop a critical understanding of how assessment plays a role in linguistic racism and perpetuates white linguistic ideologies, all the while students learn how to reframe their linguistic knowledges as an asset and move away from the deficit rhetoric that has been instilled in them which you mention.

Theme 4: Professional Development

Comadre 1: Our FYC program has various professional development sessions throughout the year such as Coffee and Composition, which I think is one of our greatest strengths. The fact that this year we are reading Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition together and then having collaborative discussions gives the space to not just understand but to discuss how we are applying these antiracist and decolonial frameworks pedagogically. In particular, these sessions become opportunities for me to engage in the emotional labor of helping our colleagues understand the impact repeated generations of colonialism have on our students as well as on ourselves. I am grateful for these opportunities for my voice to be heard as a woman of color, but these discussions can be difficult. The difficulty comes from the fact that we are in a professional development space and I am speaking not only about theories in abstract terms, I am giving voice to my lived experiences. We spend time, talking, discussing, and telling stories over coffee, however it is understood that these conversations are not meandering. We keep in mind the goals of discussing antiracist and decolonial pedagogy, framework and actions. And, if some of us forget, our WPA nudges the conversation back in that direction. Professional development, such as faculty workshop and faculty collaboration days, with our focus on antiracism and decoloniality, offer a type of camaraderie that feels like a decentralization of power, as if our WPA is not the only one that has a say in the direction of the program. I know this is only a feeling, because the fact remains, we have a WPA who is in charge of the program, but our discussions help me to feel listened to as a woman of color, and included in the conversation.

Comadre 2: Although some of the readings and discussions during Coffee and Composition can be perceived as uncomfortable, they are a step forward in helping us enact our antiracist and decolonial commitments. For me, professional development shows us the most evidence that there is a dissonance between moving towards an antiracist and decolonial program and what faculty are doing in the classroom. Reading scholarship about antiracism, multilingualism, and decoloniality during Coffee and Composition give us helpful frameworks, but we still need to do work in how we enact these practices in the type of activities and assignments we deliver in our courses and collaboration days invite recognition of that. As you also mention, faculty collaboration days are a valuable space for FYC faculty to come together and discuss how we are implementing these commitments in our courses. A value of faculty collaboration days is that it gives faculty in our program a space to really think through how our teaching pedagogies claim to be antiracist and equitable but remain rooted in a framework of coloniality. The challenge is that working towards creating a decolonial classroom can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar for many teachers, but faculty can start by actively and intentionally disrupting and unsettling the epistemologies that continue to center coloniality and focus on sustaining and nurturing a cultural paradigm shift towards more socially just pedagogies and praxis.

However, as a Latina committed to enacting culturally, linguistically, and socially just approaches to teaching and program building, professional development spaces like Coffee and Composition and faculty collaboration days are a lot of emotional labor. Like you mention, it’s emotionally draining, and it’s draining because I feel like I constantly have to negotiate when to be visible and speak up, even at times when I feel so emotionally exhausted and don’t want to, in order to confront racist microaggressions during our discussions on the readings or make visible to a white colleague that what they are doing in their courses is racist and linguistically violent to our students of color, all while at the same time, being mindful of white fragility and that the program needs the support and allyship of our white faculty to do this programmatic work.

Theme 5: Future Directions

Comadre 1: I think one of the things that we need to think about as we move forward is understanding the experiences of our students. We know a little about what we think their embodied experiences are, but we haven’t formally asked them. Maybe one of the things that we need to address in the future is conducting a formal study of our student population to get a more realistic picture. Right now, we are focusing on Latinx key terms and theory, but we have students who identify with other cultures. We are currently working with assumptions we make about our students and the languages that they leverage, but we have not conducted a concrete survey to find out how our student population culturally and linguistically identify. I think there are plenty of opportunities for future research projects in our program that can help us to better fulfill our antiracist and decolonial programmatic commitments all the while developing a stronger and more ethical relationship with the students we serve.

Comadre 2: A large focus of the work the FYC program has done the last few years has been developing a programmatic identity that expresses the program’s values and commitments to our students; however, there is so much we don’t know about our students. For example, we assume our students are linguistically diverse but we don’t know this because neither our institution nor program collect data on students’ languages. We don’t know the motivation, or lack thereof, for students moving across languages within our classroom or their communities. Engaging in research to truly learn about our students is a way for our program to show the value of antiracist and decolonial research that centers diverse ways of knowing, rather than inflicting violence on students by continuing to use research and “best practices” that are rooted in white racialized discourses and values. It is imperative that our program develop and use ethical frameworks for conducting research with and for students.


As we reflect on the progress the FYC program at Texas A&M University-San Antonio has made in developing its value, commitments, and identity, it’s important to note that we still have much work to do to enact our values of engaging in antiracist and decolonial work. Integral to this work is our commitment to ongoing engagement with the discomfort that can arise from this work. As de Mueller and Ruiz suggest, “WPAs must learn to work through the discomfort of race and WPA work in order to achieve anti-racist writing programs” (20-21). We have started the process of doing that challenging and uncomfortable work, but we are only just beginning.

We have learned over the last three years that starting to enact social justice for culturally and linguistically diverse students in FYC, especially at a Hispanic-Serving Institution, is imperative work that must be multi-dimensional. Integral to this work is critical self-reflection and -interrogation. As our conversations both in Coffee and Composition and in FYC committee meetings have shown us, self-reflection and -interrogation involves understanding the history of our discipline and the development of writing programs, realizing the ways disciplinary standards can make us complicit with racialized violence, and examining, however difficult, other ways that we may be harming our students, however unintentionally. To be sure, every writing program is situated within their own institutional context, so not all of what we’re doing may be appropriate for programs in other contexts. At the same time, our work suggests that honest and critical self-reflection and -interrogation are central to working for social justice anywhere. Crucial, as well, to enacting social justice for culturally and linguistically diverse students is refraining from assumptions about our students’ needs and being mindful that our “best practices” may actually be harming students. Without honest and critical self-reflection and programmatic-interrogation, we cannot be aware of the ways we may be committing educational injustices towards students.

Another important dimension of this work involves faculty buy-in. Because much of our disciplinary training privileges Eurocentric approaches to rhetoric and writing, faculty may at first be resistant to engaging in antiracist and decolonial work. Specifically, faculty may not be ready to see the racialized aspects of our work in the composition classroom, in part because of the color-blindness of much of our disciplinary training, and in part because faculty may be uncomfortable discussing or accepting the possibility that they may be responsible for having inflicted racialized harm on students, even if unintentionally.

To encourage faculty to examine their practices, we have found it important to invite faculty to engage in readings and conversations emphasizing the systemic aspects of the racialized violence we risk when teaching according to disciplinary standards. Importantly, a focus on structural racism and violence should not absolve faculty of their responsibilities, but we have learned that it can help invite the difficult conversations required of antiracist and decolonial work. It can also help invite faculty to continue engaging in those conversations, for developing an antiracist and decolonial composition program is not a goal but is, instead, a process. As a process, it requires that faculty and programs not become complacent but, instead, work vigilantly and proactively to be prepared for the ways violence and racism will continue to evolve and impinge upon the work we do as members of our discipline.


  1. Appendix 1: Mission Statement
  2. Appendix 2: Goals
  3. Appendix 3: Commitments

Appendix 1: Mission Statement

The First-Year Composition (FYC) program at Texas A&M University-San Antonio supports students in their ongoing growth as writers. Instructors work to enact antiracist course designs and assessment practices. These pedagogies honor students’ languages, cultures, and literacies, supporting their preparation to contribute as writers in academic, civic, and professional contexts.

Appendix 2: Goals

FYC faculty work with students to

  • develop and achieve their individual writing goals

  • see themselves as active members of a community of writers both in and outside the university

  • articulate prior knowledge about writing and draw from this knowledge to inform current writing

  • explore language and communication as a function of culture

  • identify and understand the expectations of a range of audiences across academic, civic, and professional contexts

  • employ rhetorical strategies to communicate in different situations, genres, and media

  • analyze and critique a variety of texts for rhetorical effectiveness

  • develop writing projects through invention, drafting, and revision

  • reflect on and revise individual and collaborative writing processes

  • engage in primary and secondary research

  • adapt organization, style, grammar and citation conventions as appropriate for different audiences and contexts

  • transfer their knowledge about writing to different contexts

Appendix 3: Commitments

FYC faculty share a responsibility to

  • understand and build upon students’ previous experiences with writing

  • draw from students’ languages, cultures, and literacies as resources for writing

  • resist standard language ideology

  • foster antiracist classroom environments

  • honor students’ rights to their own language


  1. Despite MLA convention, the authors have made the deliberate choice not to italicize words in languages other than English in order not to create a demarcation between words that “belong” in the text and “exotic” or “foreign” words. By choosing not to italicize, we are asserting that these Spanish words belong in and have a place in this academic text. (Return to text.)

  2. Coffee and Composition is a professional development meeting where faculty read scholarship and discuss the theories' impact on pedagogy and praxis. (Return to text.)

  3. For a discussion on emotional labor see Brandi Lawless Documenting a labor of love: emotional labor as academic labor. (Return to text.)

Works Cited

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De Hoyos Comstock, Nora. Introduction. Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships, edited by Adriana V. Lopez, Simon & Schuster, 2012, pp. ix-xiii.

De Mueller, Genevieve and Iris Ruiz. Race, Silence, and Writing Program Administration: A Qualitative Study of U.S. College Writing Programs. WPA: Writing Program Administration, vol 40, no. 2, 2017, pp. 19-39.

Del Hierro, Marcos. Mojado. Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies: New Latinx Keywords for Theory and Pedagogy, edited by Iris D. Ruiz and Raúl Sánchez, Palgrave MacMillan, 2016, pp. 169-181.

Factbook 2018. Texas A&M University-San Antonio, 2018,

Galtung, J. Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research, vol. 27, no. 3, 1990, pp. 291-305.

---. Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research, vol. 6, no. 3, 1969, pp. 167-191.

Inoue, Asao B. Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future. WAC Clearinghouse, 2015.

---. How Do We Language So People Stop Killing Each Other, Or What Do We Do About White Language Supremacy? Conference on College Composition and Communication. 14 March 2019. Pittsburgh, PA. Keynote Address.

---. Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom. WAC Clearinghouse/ Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2019.

Kishimoto, Kyoko. Anti-Racist Pedagogy: From Faculty’s Self-Reflection to Organizing Within and Beyond the Classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, vol. 21, no. 4, Routledge, 2018, pp. 540-554.

Lawless, Brandi. "Documenting a labor of love: emotional labor as academic labor." Review of Communication vol. 18, no. 2, 6 March 2018, pp. 85-97.

McNeel, Rebekah. San Antonio Schools Are Still Segregated by Income as Much as Race. San Antonio Current,, 17 July 2018.

Mignolo, Walter D. and Catherine E. Walsh. On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018.

Miller, Carolyn R. Genre as Social Action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 70, no. 20, 1984, pp. 151-167.

Ribero, Ana Milena and Sonia C. Arellano. Advocating Comadrismo: A Feminist Mentoring Approach for Latinas in Rhetoric and Composition. Peitho Journal, vol. 21, no. 2, 2019, pp. 334-356.

Ruiz, Iris D. and Raul Sanchez, editors. Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies: New Latinx Keywords for Theory and Pedagogy. Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.

Scholz, Teresa Maria Linda. Beyond ‘Roaring Like Lions’: Comadrismo, Counternarratives, and the Construction of a Latin American Transnational Subjectivity of Feminism. Communication Theory, vol. 26, 2016, pp. 82-10.

Tinoco, Lizbett and Petra Baruca. Multilingualism in FYC. FYC Workshop, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, May 2019. San Antonio, TX. Presentation.

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