Countering Monolingualism: Translingual & Anti-Racist Pedagogy

Takeaways from the First-Year Writing Spring Symposium

by Harold Ramdass

The Baruch College Writing Program Spring Symposium 2021, Countering Monolingualism: Translingual & Anti-Racist Pedagogy, presents 3 half-hour sessions on cultivating a pedagogically inclusive approach and practice responsive to our diverse students’ unique linguistic strengths that should be recognized and developed to better achieve our goals in first-year composition classes.

“Toward Socially-Just and Anti-Racist Student Learning Outcomes” by Missy Watson (City College, CUNY) and Rachael Shapiro (Rowan University) posits a model of resisting monolingualism through various intentional design practices. This approach asks us to create syllabi, select texts, provide feedback, and employ classroom practices most conducive to achieving three student learning outcomes: acknowledgement of linguistic difference as a resource to be harnessed; examination of how linguistic standards and differences intersect with power and oppression; and recognition of the extent to which cultural and institutional values, standards, and practices empower or marginalize.

Greer Murphy’s (University of Rochester) “Academic Honesty & Multilingual Writers Research” takes up the issue of academic honesty and presents strategies for developing source-based writing pedagogy. After situating instructor practice within the larger context of institutional policy, she asks us to clarify our expectations of students and understand that “Language differences do not add to—they multiply—the magnitude of the challenges” multilingual students encounter as they learn to work with sources and avoid plagiarism. She reminds us that plagiarism is contextual (the course and department; instructor expectations; teaching practices; and institution policies); is developmental (especially when working at the bounds of one’s language resources and content expertise); and relational (determinations depend upon instructor knowledge of students, their writing, and the sources they’re negotiating). 

In, “Translingualism in Practice in the Classroom,” Baruch’s Kamal Belmihoub, Brooke Schreiber, and Adrian Izquierdo explore strategies for incorporating students’ cultural knowledge and languages through a series of assignments that may be new to us, and modifications of well-known ones. Examples include the Translingual Reflective Annotative Bibliography, translingual fieldwork and interviews, writing on international topics involving research in students’ languages, and translation exercises. These strategies help decenter the classroom and promote student agency and skill in working across languages. They also make more apparent the greater labor that translingual students very often perform over scaffolded writing processes, labor that should be recognized in assessment.

The strategies, tools, and practices offered in this symposium are directly applicable beyond First-Year Writing to both Great Works and many of our Literature electives. For example, through the lenses of translation and transmodal composition detailed by Adrian and Brooke, respectively, Great Works students can compare the Mahabharata or the Bhagavad-Gita to Disney’s animated film Arjun. They can explore differences between our classroom readings of Du Fu’s “My Thatched Roof is Ruined by the Autumn Wind” and modern Chinese politically-inflected interpretations. Similarly, students of Shakespeare can use these lenses to explore the relationship between various history plays and Holinshed’s Chronicles. Such approaches not only enrich students’ understanding of literary texts, but also reveal the enduring importance of these works to the present moment. The avenues for incorporating translingual pedagogy are plentiful, paradigm-shifting, and can be profoundly validating for our students—and us.

As a composition instructor concerned with how students make meaning across a variety of technologies, I’m seeking to leverage my students’ increasingly enforced engagement with digital platforms during this unusual time to develop a sense of how “composition” can be conceptualized alongside more traditionally, essay-based course assignments. This is why I am invested in implementing a version of the relatively popular (at Baruch) multimodal or multi-media Re/Mix or Remediation assignment in my current 2150 course.

Dr. Harold Ramdass earned his BA in English Honors at Baruch College and his PhD from Princeton University, specializing in Early Modern drama and poetry. With over twenty years of classroom and writing center experience, he has taught at Baruch since 2002. He considers writing essential to understanding and expressing the self, engaging others, and negotiating how we inhabit the spaces we claim.