Rutgers English Department to deemphasize traditional grammar ‘in solidarity with Black Lives Matter

deemphasize traditional grammar in solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Also pledges to decolonize the writing center

The English Department at Rutgers University recently announced a list of “anti-racist” directives and initiatives for the upcoming fall and spring semesters, including an effort to deemphasize traditional grammar rules.

The initiatives were spelled out by Rebecca Walkowitz, the English Department chair at Rutgers University, and sent to faculty, staff and students in an email, a copy of which was obtained by The College Fix.

Walkowitz sent the email on “Juneteenth,” which celebrates the commemoration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.

Titled “Department actions in solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” the email states that the ongoing and future initiatives that the English Department has planned are a “way to contribute to the eradication of systemic inequities facing black, indigenous, and people of color.”

One of the initiatives is described as “incorporating ‘critical grammar’ into our pedagogy.”

It is listed as one of the efforts for Rutgers’ Graduate Writing Program, which “serves graduate students across the Rutgers community. The GWP’s mission is to support graduate students of all disciplines in their current and future writing goals, from coursework papers to scholarly articles and dissertations,according to its website.

Under a so-called critical grammar pedagogy, “This approach challenges the familiar dogma that w riting instruction should limit emphasis on grammar/sentence-level issues so as to not put students from multilingual, non-standard ‘academic’ English backgrounds at a disadvantage,” the email states.

“Instead, it encourages students to develop a critical awareness of the variety of choices available to them w/ regard to micro-level issues in order to empower them and equip them to push against biases based on ‘written’ accents.”

MORE: Prof says grading, good grammar are examples of white supremacy

MORE: Scholars defend Ebonics, slang, improper grammar

Walkowitz’s comments come amid racial unrest within academia following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.

Walkowitz explained in the email that since 2012, the Rutgers English Department has had a Committee on Bias Awareness and Prevention.

Following the committee’s most recent meeting in mid-June, its members agree it needs to “move from a role emphasizing awareness and prevention towards a role emphasizing ‘culture change.’ Several initiatives came out of that meeting,” she wrote.

A recommendation endorsed by leaders of all instructional units is to require all fall 2020 instructors in English to attend at least one workshop remotely on “how to have an anti-racist classroom,” the email states.

The committee will also be “launching a web page to provide access to events, resources, and affiliated groups,” while also “organizing two teach-ins focused on Black Lives Matter, ‘anti-racism,’ police brutality, and prison reform.”

With concern to the amount of inclusivity and diversity present within the Writing Center at Rutgers, Walkowitz noted that there is an internship scheduled to launch in Spring 2021 dedicated to the mission of “decolonizing the Writing Center.”

“The Writing Centers have developed two internship initiatives to support the goals of diversity and equity,” the email states. “The Plangere Writing Center currently offers a spring advanced tutoring internship called ‘Tutoring Towards Diversity and Inclusion’ and the Livingston Writing Center is developing an internship to launch in Spring 2021 titled ‘Decolonizing the Writing Center.’”

“Both critically engage the history of ‘English studies’ and how we can both continue teaching/tutoring English composition, even as we work to make the writing centers linguistically diverse and decolonized spaces.”

When asked whether the effort to “decolonize the writing center” and incorporate “critical grammar” is a wise pedagogical decision for Rutgers’ student body and university as a whole, Executive Dean Peter March and Rutgers media spokesperson Dory Devlin did not respond to a request from The College Fix for comment on the matter.

Walkowitz also did not respond to a request for comment.

Other highlights from the email include:

In the Fall, we will be launching programming about “art and protest.” If we are teaching remotely, this might take the form of a virtual exhibition including submissions from faculty teaching classes that touch on this area and/or creative or meta-reflective work from students about how art works politically. In the spring if we are back on campus this could involve teach-ins, or an art festival on the quad with readings and projections of student-made, digital-storytelling documentaries.

In 2020-2021, we are running 14 courses in the fields of African-American literature, on subjects ranging from W.E.B. Dubois and His Afterlives to Afro-Futurism and Black Speculative Fiction.

Building on this commitment to African American Literature as a standalone requirement for the major, we are also implementing a new Global South requirement, the fruit of two years of curricular study and revision by the faculty. This will create more space in the curriculum for courses in the areas of post-colonial, ethnic American, and global Anglophone literatures and support future hiring in these fields.

We are developing modular [creative writing] assignments on a) identity issues and b) social change issues that all of our [creative writing] instructors will be invited to use; they will be expected to use one, or to craft their own. This curricular innovation will be part of the entire [creative writing] curriculum for next year – in every [creative writing] class.

We will design the reading for Rutgers Day 2021 to specifically address issues of anti-black racism and social justice. This is our annual reading-under-the-tent, which attracts students, faculty, administrators, and community members to the Rutgers campus.

Writers at Rutgers will organize several readings in 2020-2021 addressing issues related to the #BLM movement and systemic racism. Professors Mark Doty and Evie Shockley are going to read (together); we also have the novelist Viet Nguyen scheduled.

Since catering is a substantial part of our discretionary spending, we commit to seeking out and supporting black-owned businesses. Given that there will be few in-person events in AY 20-21, this is likely to be more relevant for future years, but it is a significant and tangible policy.

MORE: Tutors don’t correct grammar, just give ‘culturally sensitive feedback’

Alex FrankAuthor: Alex Frank is a junior at Texas Christian University, studying political science and business. Alex is currently an opinion columnist for The Times of Israel and a liaison and blogger for the American Conservation Coalition. Formerly, Alex interned for Sen. Ted Cruz in Austin, Texas, and currently, he hosts the rapidly growing Generation-Z podcast, “The Contrarian Conservatarian.” He is also president of the Young Americans for Freedom campus club. In his personal life, Alex practices conservative Judaism and cheers on the Boston Red Sox.

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