Talking and Doing Social Justice: Broadening my Horizons at the IWCA Conference

Friday, November 10, 2023
by Zoe Sponagle

Last month, my fellow Arts First peer tutors and I travelled to Baltimore to host a roundtable discussion at the annual conference for the International Writing Centre Association. Our presentation was on “Embodied Multiversalism in WC Staff: Fear vs Fundamental Duty to Social Justice”. We discussed our experiences navigating the often exclusionary world of academia, and considered how tutors can best support the students who come for writing assistance.

While universities are supposed to be an environment for learning and gaining new perspectives, the standards for what is considered ‘correct’ writing in academia are often limited to Standard English and a Western rhetorical style. These norms dismiss the valuable perspectives that come from multilingualism, natural dialects, multicultural rhetorical styles, and personal experiences in writing, and create an environment that restricts the voices of many scholars.

As peer tutors, it is important to be conscious of the colonial standards the traditional academic model perpetuates, and work in our interactions with students to challenge these norms. By overcoming our own biases and fears in academia, we can be voices for change that help students express themselves and find empowerment through their writing.

This conference was an incredible opportunity to showcase the hard work that we have been doing to decolonize academia as peer tutors at the University of Waterloo, as well as learn about the approaches to anti-racist pedagogy and decolonial work taken by university writing centres across North America. It opened my mind to the diverse perspectives and experiences of other tutors, writing staff, and faculty, and provided me with new tools to inform my tutoring practices. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to take part in this incredible opportunity, and look forward to applying everything I have learned to better support our students at the University of Waterloo.