How Do We Work Towards Linguistic Justice for Multilingual Writers on Campus?

This month we published Linguistic Justice on Campus edited by Brooke R. Schreiber, Eunjeong Lee, Jennifer T. Johnson and Norah Fahim. In this post the editors set out three key principles to help educators move towards more linguistically just practices.

In the process of editing this book and discovering the many paths our authors have taken towards more actively anti-racist campus spaces, we have learned that a key component of linguistic justice work for multilingual students is bringing to light what’s usually hidden by typical, normative university practices. Often, the ways that universities represent and “manage” linguistic diversity on campus align with neoliberal discourses, treating multilingual students’ abilities, experiences, and practices in multiple languages as useful commodities for the global workforce. Students’ linguistic identities and language use are thereby rendered as simple, stable, and fitting neatly into pre-assigned categories. We offer here three key principles to help educators move beyond this limiting monolingual approach and enact more linguistically just practices in classrooms, writing centers, and professional development.

Shifting how we view multilingualism 

The contributors in our book argue for an epistemological shift in thinking about what counts as legitimate language and literacy; this goal lies at the core of linguistic justice work. Regrettably, what dominates on university campuses is often white-centered, English-only, monolingual, and racist ideologies that see and hear our multilingual students’ language practices through a deficit lens. We must actively seek more expansive ways to understand and highlight students and their communities’ rich, complex, and dynamic languaging practices. As our contributors demonstrate, taking such action requires questioning and destabilizing what is taken as “given,” “normal,” or “conventional” as it is often these discourses that maintain structural inequity. For instance, Shanti Bruce, Rebecca Lorimer Leonard, and Deirdre Vineyard’s work demonstrates that we should recognize the limitations that institutional categories such as “diverse,” “ESL,” or “second language writers” impose on our multilingual students. Students’ language use – and their linguistic identities – are far more complex than tools like language surveys might reveal. Ultimately, a shift in how we see and hear multilingual practices on our campus and beyond is a precondition to linguistic justice.

Learning to engage with difference rhetorically 

Linguistic justice work challenges us to approach language difference more rhetorically – focusing on meaning and intent rather than correctness. As several of our contributors, most prominently Alexandra Watkins and Lindsey Ives have shown, scholarly frameworks like rhetorical listening, translingualism, and decoloniality offer specific dispositions and terms that challenge our students, faculty, writing tutors and administrators to negotiate language difference on an equal footing.

This work is emotionally demanding, but sitting with this discomfort, especially for people in positions of linguistic privilege, is vital. As Marilee Brooks-Gillies explains, writing tutors can benefit from engaging with “difficult” and genuine conversations about race and language provided through professional development. Hidy Basta calls for us to create spaces for writing tutors that support a reflexive approach to counter privilege and linguistic biases, for example, by closely examining the writing center’s guiding documents and other artifacts.

For writing center directors and tutor educators, pushing tutors – and faculty members – to understand the problematic reality that writing centers have historically been places that promote “standardized” versions of English is a daunting task. Using strategies such as translingual reading groups, workshops, or shared blog post reflections can help tutors reflect on and deconstruct deficit language views.

Centering multilingualism

In our classrooms and in tutoring contexts, we must not only make visible but value multilingual students and language differences. Centering marginalized communities and their languaging practices means creating spaces for all students to learn more about the ongoing ideological and material consequences of colonial history. This could mean, for example, as in Kaia Simon’s work, bringing the experiences of child language brokers into the classroom.  It might mean making linguistic differences explicit features of writing classrooms, asking students to reflect on their linguistic privilege or non-privilege, as Zhaozhe Wang does in his classroom, or it could mean investigating and acknowledging the Indigenous history of the physical contexts our classrooms occupy, as in Rachel Presley’s teaching. As these chapters show, centering multilinguality and disrupting the hierarchical, standard notions of communication in higher education context benefits all writers, including monolingual students.

The research our contributors share is all aimed toward engaging others in thinking about, seeing, and understanding how our multilingual students practice language and literacy. It is our hope that this collection invites and inspires more teaching and scholarship that facilitates the ongoing work of linguistic justice.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Sociocultural and Power-Relational Dimensions of Multilingual Writing by Amir Kalan.

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