Highlights from the Sweetland Anti-Racist Task Force

Like other Sweetland committees, the Sweetland Anti-Racist Task Force continued to meet online in 2021. Our primary focus was to finalize revisions to our student-facing webpages and appointment email language to make them more consistent, transparent, and inclusive. Many of these changes were at the level of individual words or phrases – changing imperatives to requests or adding language explaining the reason behind a policy. One more thoroughgoing policy change involved our decision to no longer require documentation from Services for Students with Disabilities for students to inform us of their access needs, knowing the financial and emotional barriers to this process for many students. Our new language reads:

If you are disabled or differently abled, please let us know what you may need to have an effective Writing Workshop consultation. It would help us greatly if you give us advance notice by emailing sweetlandww@umich.edu about any steps we could take to make this consultation fully accessible for you.

Working in collaborative Google Docs to revise this language was an effective process online, and our Zoom meetings were often highly text focused. The more social aspects of our meetings, when we discussed a reading, for example, were also augmented by our ability easily to share resource links in the chat or offer ideas adjacent to the main discussion taking place. While we miss the lunches we could have together in person, we have repurposed our nominal funding to buy books, instead. We’re currently reading Bettina Love’s We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Continuing this remote work together, five of us will attend the ERACCE (Eliminating Racism and Creating/Celebrating Equity) Online Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism Workshop over six afternoons in May, and we look forward to sharing our learning with Sweetland faculty and staff next fall – perhaps in person!

Naomi Silver
Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing

Anti-Racist Task Force

In January, Sweetland received a Faculty Communities for Inclusive Teaching (FCIT) grant from the Center for Research and Learning and Teaching (CRLT) to support the endeavors of our Anti-Racist Task Force to mindfully examine our pedagogy, practice, and curriculum in light of DEI issues. 

(L clockwise) Allie Piipo, April Conway, Louis Cicciarelli, T Hetzel, Scott Beal, Cat Cassel, Simone Sessolo, Christine Modey

What this looks like in practice is that the Task Force meets on a monthly basis to reflectively journal and discuss readings related to writing center work, particularly examining racist structures within institutions. We have read texts by Adrienne Marie Brown, Bell Hooks, Asao Inoue, Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Claude Steele, and more. These texts are usually paired with a reflection prompt that allows us to think through how racism and white supremacy emerge in the writing center and instructional work we do, and how we might respond to those emergences. For instance, when we read excerpts from Oluo’s So You Want To Talk About Race, we responded to a prompt about when and how we first became aware of our own racial identities. When we read excerpts from Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Matsuda and Cox’s “Reading an ESL Writer’s Text,” we journaled about how the texts resonated with experiences in our Writing Workshop and instructional work thus far in the semester. 

The FCIT grant will also support Sweetland faculty attendance at a 2.5-day workshop in February on analyzing systemic racism, held by ERRACE (Eliminating Racism and Creating/Celebrating Equity). 

Cat Cassel (L) & Naomi Silver (R). Click image or here for detail view of poster.

Sweetland Faculty Heavily Involved in Inclusive Teaching Initiative

In fall of 2015, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel spearheaded a renewed focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) that resulted in the development of a University-wide strategic plan. In year three of the plan, the College of LSA is highlighting inclusive teaching and learning pedagogies, recognizing the classroom as an important site of student experiences of campus climate linked to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Its goal is to provide 80% of LSA’s instructional faculty with training in inclusive teaching and learning pedagogies by 2021.

U-M’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) defines inclusive teaching as follows:

Inclusive teaching involves deliberately cultivating a learning environment where all students are treated equitably, have equal access to learning, and feel welcome, valued, and supported in their learning. Such teaching attends to student identities and seeks to change the ways systemic inequalities shape dynamics in teaching-learning spaces, affect individuals experiences of those spaces, and influence course and curricular design. This definition is relevant in every discipline and requires intentional practice over time. It involves setting high standards and communicating clear paths to success for all students; being as transparent as possible about expectations and norms; and creating structured opportunities for students to learn about and from each other.  

The LSA Campus Climate Committee’s Inclusive Teaching website (created and maintained with support from the LSA Dean’s Office and CRLT) represents one initiative to share classroom activities, syllabus materials, and student and instructor perspectives related to campus climate and inclusive classrooms. Sweetland’s Associate Director Naomi Silver and LSA Assistant Dean Kelly Maxwell are the current leads on the project, and current and former Sweetland faculty Carol Tell and Paul Barron have also played a substantial role. Over the last year, the site has received 59K views, from users on every continent, with most finding the site through an organic search. The site continues to add new materials to reach instructors in varied fields, and plans more extensive user testing in the Winter 2019 semester.

DEI Summer Working Group

This summer, four Sweetland instructors (Scott Beal, Naomi Silver, Christine Modey, and Lillian Li ) came together to develop a plan for how to more effectively transform our department into an anti-racist institution. Started as part of the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative, the summer working group understood that, given the complexity of structural racism and the limited summer time frame, it would be laying the foundation for further work, rather than coming up with final solutions. The two major priorities of the group, then, were to compile and begin analysis on the demographic data of Sweetland’s writing workshop and writing courses over the past five years, and to attend a two-and-a-half-day anti-racism workshop, organized by ERACCE (Erasing Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) in Kalamazoo.

Three members (Scott, Naomi, and Lillian) were able to attend the weekend workshop in Kalamazoo, which was eye opening in ways that surprised and challenged them all. Participants spent as much time at the retreat learning about and reflecting on their own internalized racial inferiority and superiority, as they did the historical roots of systemic racism in America and how to organize colleagues and institutions in the fight for inclusivity. What they brought back to the working group, then, was an understanding that any work they attempted to do for the institution, they had to also be willing to do for themselves. Naomi and Lillian returned to Kalamazoo in August to attend one of ERACCE’s monthly caucuses, a space where past workshop attendees could go to keep one another accountable in their anti-racist work. Through the workshop and the caucus, they compiled three potential moves for moving forward, which they presented at Sweetland’s annual retreat in August: an anti-racist taskforce, an anti-racist reading group, and funding for up to five more Sweetland instructors to attend the ERACCE workshop.

The working group also presented statistical findings, compiled by Anil Menon, a PhD student in political science, at the retreat, with the caveat that a taskforce would need to continue analyzing the data. There was a high amount of interest among the rest of the faculty, and they have since formed both a taskforce and a reading group. The taskforce met for the first time in October, and during that meeting it nailed down three concrete projects for the year, including working on the summer DEI data. The other projects were to aggregate reflection questions for discussion, in order to help us understand each other’s personal and institutional histories with race; and to create a spectrum of anti-racist interventions to disseminate to the unit and beyond, which will address the different levels of anti-racist work, from individual, to classroom, to cross-departmental, to institutional.

The taskforce plans to meet two to three more times before the semester ends. Naomi, Scott, and Lillian have also met with ERACCE’s staff again, as potential founding members of their Eastside caucus, which they hope to start in Detroit by January. Where Sweetland stands now in its DEI efforts is on a strong foundation of accountability and institutional support. This coming year, we will continue to show our dedication as a unit, and as individuals, to social justice, equity, and action.

Sweetland Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Statement

Sweetland Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Statement

The Sweetland Center for Writing’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement grew out of our department’s shared commitment to supporting students and opposing bigoted rhetoric on campus. In the days following the November 2016 election, many of our students reported feeling increasingly distressed and unsafe. The rise in incidents of overt racism, xenophobia, and misogyny both locally and nationally demanded an unequivocal response. While many of us participated in protests and vigils to show solidarity with threatened students, we also believed we should put forth a forceful statement of principles to denounce discriminatory rhetoric while embracing critical thinking and compassion.

Our faculty and our peer writing consultants collaborated over several weeks to propose ideas, draft language, and discuss revisions. The seriousness with which our faculty regards the power of language led to some spirited debates over fine points in the statement’s phrasing and syntax. The final statement connects our heartfelt advocacy on behalf of students to our core mission as a writing center, and was approved unanimously in late January 2017. The statement now appears on the front page of the Sweetland website and is posted on many of our doors in the Sweetland offices. We hope it serves as a reminder, both to our students and ourselves, of the necessity of opposing expressions of hatred at every turn, and of building alternative paths from carefully reasoned argument and empathy.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement

The Sweetland Center for Writing exists to support student writing at all levels and in all forms and modes. In our work with all students, we aim to cultivate the habits of mind necessary for full commitment to a functioning democracy: a respect for facts and evidence, the ability to understand and craft reasoned and complex arguments, and the pursuit of honest, compassionate inquiry.

As a writing center, we oppose all expressions of bigotry and hate. Given the degree to which writing, identity, and language are intertwined, we reject rhetoric that denigrates others based on any identity category, such as race, religion, gender expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, national origin, language, ethnicity, sex, ability status, socioeconomic status, age, body type, or political party. Therefore, we commit to critiquing and counteracting both individual and structural oppression in order to create a safer, more just university for all students.

Inclusive Pedagogies in Multilingual Writing Classrooms

Inclusive Pedagogies in Multilingual Writing Classrooms

A group of six Sweetland faculty gathered over the past five months to explore inclusive pedagogies in multilingual writing classrooms, thanks to a Faculty Communities for Inclusive Teaching grant from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. Faculty members Shuwen Li and Naomi Silver wrote the grant proposal. Sweetland faculty were also joined by the director of the English Language Institute, two Residential College (RC) faculty members and one Classical Studies faculty member who teach in first-year writing seminars offered by their units, and two graduate students in the Joint Program in English and Education.

The faculty learning community aimed to understand the core issues of inclusive teaching in multilingual writing classrooms, develop skills of responding to multilingual students’ needs, and design individualized pedagogies of inclusive teaching.

Going through six phases, the faculty learning community read and discussed articles covering an overview of multilingual writing classrooms in U.S. higher education, construction of a multilingual mindset, intercultural rhetoric in multilingual writing classrooms, EAP/ESP approaches to multilingual writing, internationalization of composition, and multimodal and translingual approaches to writing. Both theoretical orientation and hands-on practices were central to the learning community. Critical views were frequently cast on the readings. The community also invited a guess speaker, Professor Jim Zappen from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, into their discussion about intercultural rhetoric. Participants of the community appreciated the opportunity to exchange ideas and develop critical views on multilingual writing pedagogies to support an important group of students on the Michigan campus.

Building on the outcomes from the faculty learning community, Sweetland received another grant from CRLT to support a project titled “Develop Translingual Activities to Support Sweetland’s Multilingual Writing Curriculum.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Sweetland

Writing centers and writing programs have long understood social justice and inclusive teaching to be a part of their educational mission, as they seek to empower writers from all backgrounds to find their own voices and take ownership of their writing. In keeping with that mission, and in concert with the University’s increased emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion, the faculty and staff of the Sweetland Center for Writing have taken several steps over this past year to create conversation about and action for inclusivity with each other and with our students.

Almost half of our faculty have participated in the three-day Diversity Institutes or the two-day Faculty Dialogue Institutes offered by the College of LSA in conjunction with the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), and faculty and staff have attended seminars and workshops on Inclusive Teaching @ U-M, sponsored by CRLT, and on LGBTQ+ Allyhood, sponsored by the Spectrum Center.

Cntr. For Inst. Diversity, Amy Bunch
Photo credit: University of Michigan | Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

This past August, we devoted our day-long faculty and staff retreat to discussions and activities designed to help us address difficult conversations about social identity in our classrooms and peer consulting spaces, examine our course syllabi for ways to enhance their diversity and inclusivity, and devise other concrete steps to move this work forward in our center. You can read about the fruits of some of these conversations in the articles that follow – a personal reflection on inclusive teaching, an overview of a faculty-student learning community on diversity and inclusion in the writing center, and an announcement of a new course that meets the LSA Race and Ethnicity Requirement. We have also brought best practices for inclusive teaching into our training and mentorship of new writing instructors, as you can learn about in the article on our First-Year Writing Requirement website. We have plans in the works for other initiatives, as well, in order to continue strengthening Sweetland’s commitment to serving and teaching the full range of the University’s diverse community of writers.

Faculty Communities for Inclusive Teaching

A group of twelve faculty and peer writing consultants explored diversity and inclusion in the writing center, thanks to a Faculty Communities for Inclusive Teaching grant from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. Faculty members Simone Sessolo, Christine Modey, and Louis Cicciarelli wrote the grant proposal.

The grant supported a reading group comprised of both faculty and peer writing consultants who committed themselves to reading a variety of recent articles on the issue of diversity in writing centers and to meeting together three times during the winter semester to discuss these works.

The goals of the reading group were to explore diversity and inclusion, particularly in interactions among writers and consultants, to position peer consultants as central agents in discussions of diversity and inclusion on campus, and to develop a greater sense of community and collaboration between Sweetland faculty and peer consultants.

The topics explored by the reading group included exploring the diversity of U-M students’ backgrounds and experiences, understanding race talk and why it’s so difficult, addressing microaggressions in the writing center, identifying concrete and actionable responses to everyday and systemic racism, and understanding what it means to be an anti-racist writing center. Personal experiences and reflection were also an important part of the discussions, as was the opportunity for faculty and peer consultants to learn from each other in a seminar-style setting. Those who participated appreciated the opportunity to talk about this important issue, hear each other’s perspectives, and imagine concrete, local change in the writing center.


Christine Modey and Simone Sessolo presented a poster (below) that describes the activities and results of the reading group at the CRLT Inclusive Communities Grant poster session, on Monday November 14, 2016, in the Rackham Assembly Hall.


LHSP 228: Telling Stories

Students of the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program (LHSP) have a new course option in winter ’17. In line with the mission of LHSP to provide an inclusive and creative living-learning community for students interested in writing and the arts, interim director Paul Barron, and director-on-leave Carol Tell, secured a CRLT Faculty Development Fund grant to research and design a writing course to fulfill the Race & Ethnicity requirement.

The working group, joined by Stamps School of Art and Design writing coordinator (and former Sweetland faculty) Jennifer Metsker, and LHSP art director Mark Tucker, researched similar first-year writing courses and drilled down into best practices for teaching race and writing. One such practice is showing students historical examples of the ways in which racism is produced and acted out, disconnecting the mechanisms of racism from the identities of victimized groups. Historical examples also provide shared perspectives by which to view contemporary racism—helping students to learn from the “there and then” to understand the “here and now.”

Students will employ this grounding to examine the “stories” told in a variety of texts, from political speeches, to novels, poems, and films, to better assess the veracity of these stories, and to discover the affordances of different genres to reveal, conceal, or resist narratives about race and ethnicity. We look forward to interesting and productive discussions.

Reflection on Inclusive Teaching

Dana Nichols – Sweetland Lecturer

Two Chinese students sat down in my office and put a copy of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on the table in front of them. I imagined that in Writing 100: Transition to College Writing, I’d spend most of my time talking about essays. These students, however, wanted to talk about the reading, not the upcoming essay assignment. Actually, they didn’t want to talk about the reading either. They wanted to ask me one question: what is King talking about?

My stomach dropped as I realized what I’d done. They didn’t know anything about Dr. King, the civil rights movement, or Christianity. The entire letter was incomprehensible to them. What bothered me most was that their problem was entirely predictable. These students had been in the US for a grand total of three weeks. If I’d given thought to their experience at U-M thus far, I would have been prepared with appropriate resources to support them as they completed their work. Instead, I created an assignment that put them at a disadvantage because they hadn’t had a lifetime to soak up American culture.

This is the question at the heart of inclusive teaching—what barriers are there in this learning environment that could negatively impact student success? What can we do to remove those barriers? Many of those barriers are built when we hold unexamined assumptions about our students and their academic experiences. I carry my mistake with me as a reminder that I need to slough off another layer or two of my own assumptions.