“Anti-racist Writing Workshop” guides teachers to create an inclusive classroom environment
By Sarah Nichols, MJE, JEA president
Journalism teachers committed to building community, challenging racism and restructuring existing power dynamics will find both inspiration and practical takeaways from “The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to De-colonize the Creative Classroom” by Felicia Rose Chavez.
In what feels like part memoir, part guidebook, Chavez draws from her experience as a workshop participant, artist, activist and professor, even recounting some of the racism she experienced personally, to show readers how to create a supportive and equitable environment.
While the book specifically targets creative writing workshops and seminars, its themes carry over to spaces such as high school newsrooms, student media staffs and introductory journalism classes. She breaks down the significance of the workshop description, which advisers can translate to course descriptions and the language school counselors use to promote scholastic media programs.
First impressions are particularly important for students of color, according to Chavez, so course descriptions, syllabi and workshop or class goals must specifically take an anti-racist approach.
Chavez essentially dismantles the pedagogy most teachers learned in teacher training or pieced together over the years with the best of intentions. Throughout the book, she exposes countless problems with writing pedagogy. The common workshop (read: J1 class) relies on teachers as gatekeepers by selecting the texts, choosing among well known exemplars and unintentionally forcing students to imitate whiteness.
With an emphasis on craft (voice, imagery, characterization and arrangement) and the integration of diverse authors, Chavez developed a response-based model in which “creators of color” are able to understand their value and potential.
In her words, the model sets out to
- deconstruct our biases to achieve a cultural shift in perspective.
- design a democratic teaching model to create safe spaces for creative concentration.
- recruit, nourish, and fortify students of color to best empower them to exercise voice.
- embolden our students to self-advocate as citizens in a global community.
“People of color need a collaborative artistic community to which they belong and feel safe; they need it, but they don’t always know how to ask for it and are often unaware that alternatives exist,” Chavez said. “It’s our responsibility to verbalize our anti-racist agenda for them, in clear, unapologetic language, language that opens doors instead of closes them. We must reach out to people of color, openly differentiate our approach to the writing workshop, and then welcome them into our collective.”
The strategies outlined in this book help all types of students achieve their best work. Through choice, experimentation, self-assessment and reflection opportunities, students will gain confidence as writers. In terms of student media programs, that confidence is essential if advisers want to attract and retain students of color so they continue in the program and rise to leadership positions.
Chavez is quick to acknowledge not every strategy will work in all classrooms; the goal is for each instructor to pick and choose elements of this framework in order to do what’s best for students.
Her approach to critiques, check-in sessions, read-alouds and reading assignments fits perfectly in the scholastic journalism classroom and can benefit any teacher or adviser committed to improving classroom practices to empower students of color.
“The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to De-colonize the Creative Classroom” by Felicia Rose Chavez is currently available for $16.48 at Amazon.com.
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This article is part of a series of resources JEA is recommending to advisers in an effort to provide antiracist teaching resources to educators. JEA is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its membership and practices. See the official statement here.
Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, promoting professionalism, encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.