Teacher, Writer, Scholar: Norah Fahim, PhD and Jennifer Johnson, PhD
Our colleagues Norah Fahim and Jennifer Johnson have co-edited a recently published volume of scholarship, Linguistic Justice on Campus : Pedagogy and Advocacy for Multilingual Students. Their co-editors are Brooke Schreiber, Assistant Professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY, and Eunjeong Lee, Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Rhetoric and Composition at University of Houston. Across eleven chapters, contributors highlight why equity work for multilingual students must happen locally, institutionally, and systematically and “aim to go beyond theorizing inclusive anti-racist and translingual approaches to demonstrating how we might try to enact change in our praxis” (9). Three themes emerge: translingual and antidiscriminatory pedagogy, advocacy in the writing center, and professional development.
One of my favorite chapters, which I’m still thinking through, is Zhaozhe Wang’s “Autoethnographic Performance of Difference as Antiracist Pedagogy.” In this chapter, Wang details his autoethnographic performance assignment (as distinct from what we have traditionally called a literacy narrative or reflection), which “create[s] a safe contact zone for writers to practice their differences and position themselves in relation to the perceived power asymmetry” (42). In this assignment, students narrate at least one significant literacy event and then critically reflect on it. As Wang puts it, “analyzing autoethnographic data enables students to contextualize their emergent relationships with institutionally marked language practices and prepares them to think/talk about how they as well as their audience may participate in racialized reading/listening” (47).
In this volume, scholars who are both brilliant theorists and dedicated writing teachers help us see how we can develop our students’ “rhetorical sensibility to linguicism and linguistic justice” (Wang, 42). Please read on!
You can access Norah’s and Jennifer’s book electronically through Stanford Libraries.
Tell us a little bit about where the idea for your book originated.
Norah: Our co-editors, Brooke Schreiber and Eunjeong Lee, and Jennifer and I had collaborated initially as a result of work together in the CCCC’s Standing Group on Second Language Writing. (I do miss meeting colleagues in person at conferences, and this is a reminder on how much we can all benefit from meeting new peers across different institutions.) Fast forward one year, this initial collaboration led us to send out a CFP for a special issue for Composition Forum (CF) entitled “Promoting Social Justice for Multilingual Writers on College Campuses.” We received an overwhelming number of contributions and were humbled by how many educators within Writing Studies and beyond wanted to share their work and pedagogy related to working with multilingual students. And so, after publishing the special issue with CF, we set out to create this edited collection, Linguistic Justice on Campus: Pedagogy and Advocacy for Multilingual Students, and reached out to previous authors who had expressed interest in our original CFP.
On a different, and perhaps more urgent note, our edited collection also stemmed from a dire need to take some kind of concrete action given the political landscape at the time. As Jennifer references below, so much of the national news in 2020 was showcasing ways in which immigrants and international students were being persecuted for their language use and heritage. As educators, and as editors, we had the keen drive to make a difference. This edited collection may be one small drop in the ocean, but we knew on some level it would concretely help our multilingual students in their daily college experiences. On a more personal note, at the time of working on this edited collection, I myself was not yet a U.S. citizen and genuinely felt that the only way I could (safely) make a difference was to give back to our teaching community who in turn would give back to our students. I kept telling myself surely this is important and meaningful work.
Perhaps you could speak to the important questions of the introduction chapter: why linguistic justice? Why now?
Jennifer: I’d first like to address the question of “Why now?” This edited collection responds to the current sociopolitical moment: resurging white nationalism and political polarization, large-scale movements for racial justice, attempts to end DACA, a public health crisis disproportionately affecting communities of color, and xenophobic attacks on our international students. Now for “Why linguistic justice?” As writing educators, we believe it is imperative that we foreground justice in our pedagogy and work against harmful, deficit-based ideologies that produce and reproduce social and educational inequities. As we explain in our introduction chapter, “The learning and well-being of our racialized and language-minoritized students, many of whom are already linguistically stigmatized, are continuously and significantly compromised by inequities and injustice in the educational systems. The vital question for us is then: what can educators do, in these circumstances, to build more equitable and just learning spaces for our multilingual students?” (2).
There are interesting pedagogies profiled in this collection. Which do you think are most novel or illuminating of the changed conception of MLL writers? For example, you might tell us a little bit about the writing center reading groups.
Norah: What I especially like about several of the collection’s chapters is that you will find in the appendices lesson plans or reading guides that you can use in your own classrooms or writing tutor workshops. One chapter in particular comes to mind: Krishnamurthy’s, Del Russo’s and Mehalchick-Opal’s “Valuing Language Diversity through Translingual Reading Groups in the Writing Center.” This chapter was driven by a moment when the authors of this chapter recognized that a lot of their writing center’s tutors were often simply responding to multilingual students’ grammar queries, by saying “we don’t do grammar”; this was despite their training which offered collaborative strategies to help writers during tutoring sessions and which focused on “challenging deficit discourses for students feeling displaced from academic writing and standard norms” (89). Here there was a need to take an even more focused and deliberate approach with writing tutors to help them understand the damaging effects of such attitudes to multilingual students.
Reading groups that focused on translingual pedagogies then became more embedded in their writing center training program; these informal discussion meetings were ongoing to create a space for tutors to gain a better understanding of translingual tutoring practices, all while giving tutors room to have meaningful conversations as they learned together in a community-based format. After asking the tutors about their experiences with these reading groups, tutors expressed “a greater acceptance of non-standardized [language] norms” (101) and so, set the tone for a more inclusive and compassionate environment supportive of linguistic diversity, both philosophically but also pedagogically in tutoring practices. It’s such an opportunity to learn from other institutions where many writing programs and writing centers are grappling with similar questions.
What were some of the most exciting faculty development ideas and practices to come out of this collection in your view?
Jennifer: In our recent blog post, How Do We Work Towards Linguistic Justice for Multilingual Writers on Campus, we outline three main takeaways from these collective works: shifting how we view multilingualism, learning to engage with difference rhetorically, and centering multilingualism. What was exciting about this project for me was learning how writing educators from different spaces were approaching this reflexive work––from disrupting standards in classrooms to approaching linguistic bias in tutoring contexts in writing centers. For example, in her chapter “Beyond Welcoming Acceptance: Re-envisioning Consultant Education and Writing Center Practices Toward Social Justice for Multilingual Writers," Hidy Basta, the Director of Writing Center at Seattle University, demonstrates how these deficit perspectives may be reproduced in writing center artifacts and statements.
It’s also exciting to see ways PWR makes linguistic justice central to the work we do. With PWR’s Cultural Rhetorics notation focused on centering different rhetorical traditions and the Studio for Multilingual Writers cultivated as a space to question language “standards” and center students' language practices, we are working to create more inclusive spaces.
What was it like collaborating on this project? What did you learn about yourselves as scholars, editors, writers, teachers, and friends?
Jennifer: For me one of the highlights of working on this project was collaboratively writing the introduction with brilliant co-authors, Eunjeong Lee and Brooke Schreiber, and many layers of feedback exchanges with chapter authors across different institutions. I learned so much through these back and forth exchanges on the margins and carefully cowriting together. As an editor giving feedback to chapter authors, the intimate ways you engage with the powerful messages of each author was an important reminder to me about creating safe, supportive spaces in my pedagogy for students to share their writing and research with their peers. I also recall at one point I was working on the literature review of the introduction, tracing linguistic justice work through different contexts, communities, and disciplines, at a parallel moment my PWR 2 students were working on their research proposal literature reviews. There was such value in sharing the challenges I faced as a writer trying to “enter the conversation” as students did the same.
Norah: One point that kept coming to mind was how much empathy I felt with my students during the editing process! Writing is truly process driven. Drafting, re-drafting, sending back edits to authors, conversations going back and forth–this was all so exciting, real and rewarding! Learning how to meet the expectations of the publisher and seeing how we, and Brooke especially, navigated some of the requests from the publishers was a memorable learning experience.
How have your PWR classes, tutoring, and committee work/leadership changed because of your work on this volume?
Jennifer: If I may, I’ll flip the question. The volume, in many ways, was motivated by conversations and collaborations in PWR. Norah and I initially started this journey together when we met in 2015, facilitating September Sessions and Hume workshops, many with our incredible colleagues, focused on supporting multilingual writers in different contexts such as in tutoring and oral communication pedagogy. In 2018, we had the opportunity to conduct research exploring the experience of multilinguals at Stanford with the support of an OpenXChange VPUE grant, “Highlighting Linguistic Diversity: New Approaches to Supporting Multilinguals.” Building on these projects, working on this edited volume helped us to continue to think through ways to connect issues so central to PWR’s mission to the broader campus community. Moving forward, I hope we’ll have more research and cross-campus collaboration opportunities, as the work of linguistic justice praxis requires us to address a wide range of contexts from classroom pedagogies to institutional issues. Moreover, in learning from the different authors who work in diverse educational spaces, I’ve gained new perspectives on viewing students' linguistic and cultural assets as a required lens we bring to policy, curriculum, and assessment. Working on this volume has generated new collaborations and ideas for centering multilinguals in the work we do in PWR. For example, Norah and I had the opportunity to team up with The Oral Communication Program’s Dr. Helen Lie to think through sustaining multilingual students’ identities in oral communication pedagogy. (Stay tuned: Chapter forthcoming!)
Norah: I very much agree with what Jennifer said. I’d also like to acknowledge that along the way, several of our PWR colleagues (prior to 2018 even) expressed interest in learning more about working with multilingual students, and offered great encouragement during workshops we offered in September sessions or cross-tutor training workshops. This edited collection was a way for us to reach out across institutions and to learn from all the promising work of many of our colleagues from TESOL, Applied Linguistics or Writing Studies etc. Like Jennifer noted, what I really hope for now is opportunities to collaborate with campus partners. Our multilingual students take courses in every discipline on campus and there is much to learn from multilingual students, too, on how they navigate different academic spaces at Stanford. Really, the lessons learned are ongoing and changing with every new socio-political shift our students find themselves in.
Brooke R. Schreiber, Eunjeong Lee, Jennifer T. Johnson, & Norah Fahim. (2022). Linguistic Justice on Campus : Pedagogy and Advocacy for Multilingual Students. Multilingual Matters.