Piscataway, NJ — Rutgers University’s English department will change its standards of English instruction in an effort to “stand with and respond” to the Black Lives Matter movement. In an email written by department chair Dr. Rebecca Walkowitz, the Graduate Writing Program will emphasize “social justice” and “critical grammar.”
Dr. Walkowitz said the department would respond to recent events with “workshops on social justice and writing,” “increasing focus on graduate student life,” and “incorporating ‘critical grammar’ into our pedagogy.” Dr. 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 writing 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.”
Additionally, the department said it will provide more reading to upper-level writing classes on the subjects of racism, sexism, homophobia, and related forms of “systemic discrimination.”
Leonydus Johnson, a speech pathologist and libertarian activist, said the school’s change makes the racist assumption that minorities cannot comprehend traditional English. Johnson called the change “insulting, patronizing, and in itself, extremely racist.”
“The idea that expecting a student to write in grammatically correct sentences is indicative of racial bias is asinine,” Johnson told the Washington Free Beacon. “It’s like these people believe that being non-white is an inherent handicap or learning disability…. That’s racism. It has become very clear to me that those who claim to be ‘anti-racist’ are often the most racist people in this country.”
Rutgers’s new anti-racist language standard comes alongside a litany of changes at other universities. Princeton University’s board of trustees voted to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges to denounce the former president’s “racist thinking and policies.” The James Madison residential college at Michigan State University is considering making a similar change. Activists at the University of Pittsburgh have called for the firing of any employee deemed racist or discriminatory by students, and the school said it will give the demands “serious consideration.”
The Rutgers English department created a Committee on Bias Awareness and Prevention in 2012. In light of Black Lives Matter protests, the school has moved past bias awareness and prevention and into a focus on “decolonization.” Walkowitz’s email talks of “decolonizing the writing center.” The department offers a specific internship titled “Decolonizing the Writing Center” to “make the writing centers more linguistically diverse.”
In short, the Rutgers English Department wants to make sure that students who come to Rutgers with a poor grasp of standard written English not only remain in that state, but come to believe that learning standard English is a concession to racism. I remember when keeping “people of color” ignorant was considered part of white supremacy.
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