Dr. Asao Inoue is the current Chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, an associate dean and professor at Arizona State University in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, the author of several publications including the books Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future, and Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom as well as many award-winning articles.
Dr. Inoue spoke to Ball State faculty and students on October 14, sharing a deeper look into how institutionalized racism impacts the daily lives of everyone around us, but in particular our education system. His presentation was titled “Freeing Our Minds and Innovating Our Pedagogy from White Language Supremacy,” and investigated how the way we use English in classrooms contributes to an internalized white supremacy within society. Current graded language practices favor white, monolingual, and middle-class English speakers. Dr. Inoue examined how these teaching practices have hurt people of color in ways beyond just education and how to change our current system for the better.
The event was organized by Ball State educator, Dr. Jennifer Grouling. In an interview, Dr. Grouling shared how she was pleasantly surprised by how well attended the event was, with the large lecture room located on the second floor of the Arts and Journalism building brimming with attendees. Students and faculty lined the walls and sat by the stage listen to Dr. Inoue’s presentation, the crowd primed to hear what he had to say and learn.
Mary Lowry, a Ball State Rhetoric and Composition student, who attended the event says, “I walked in not really knowing what to expect from this talk, but I ended up learning a lot from it. Inoue provided a lot of insights that I’d never even heard of before. I thought it was great to make students and teachers alike more aware of the systems we have in place, in addition to how those systems can put some people at a severe disadvantage. I honestly have thought about his talk a lot in the last couple weeks.” With minors in Criminology & Criminal Justice and Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution, Lowry recognizes how “understanding how white language supremacy takes root in our structures, it is easier to develop those structures into ones that are fair and equitable. Inoue talked about how in white language supremacy, ‘rewards are given to those who can most easily achieve standards that are set up for white, middle-class, monolingual students.’ Our criminal justice system is absolutely set up for people who fit those descriptions, and I think keeping that in mind can help lead to structural changes that truly make things fairer and more equitable, like bail reform.”
The ingrained systems of white supremacy that inordinately and unjustly harm people of color, systems such as the biased English teaching in curricula and our current justice system are exactly the kind of problematic and racist institutions Dr. Inoue was speaking about in his presentation. He also spoke on how we can change these problems and break this system of supremacy. Dr. Inoue has an alternative class grading plan based on effort and labor rather than standardized skill.
Some professors at Ball State have begun to use this labor system, such as Dr. Rick Wysocki, a professor of Lowry’s, and Dr. Jennifer Grouling. Dr. Wysocki has implemented the labor grading method for his English 231 Professional Writing course. The class began by developing a contract for the course describing the expectations and work to be done in and outside of the classroom. As long as a serious effort is made in the course and extra work and events done and attended for the class, the student will do well. Dr. Grouling has begun to use the system as well, but mostly for group projects within a course and not the full course itself yet.
This alternative system benefits more than just white students, making it more possible for other types of English speakers and for students of varying economic and racial backgrounds to succeed. As we continue to develop a better education system by using methods and theories from Dr. Inoue and others, the institutionalized white supremacy and the issues that walk hand in hand with it will begin to disappear, with more students able to succeed and earn degrees.
Reach out to the Writing Program for a link to the video of Dr. Inoue’s presentation. To read some of Dr. Inoue’s work, you can access it on the WAC Clearinghouse.