Statement on Anti-Racist Online Literacy Pedagogy and Administration
The death of George Floyd has driven demonstrators and protesters across the globe to gather in the streets, in physical spaces, to denounce the systemic and institutional racism that has led to violent injustice and death. The Global Society of Online Literacy Educators stands with #BlackLivesMatter in this fight.
We are teachers of online literacy and writing. Distance learning can create an idea, perhaps, that the connections we have with our students are mediated by a screen and are therefore somehow detached. But the visceral images of brutality and death that emerged--yet again--in 2020 have appeared on screens all over the world and are directly connected to the work we must do with our students as not just educators, but also advocates.
In online courses, we do not necessarily know the racial identities of all of our students. There is evidence that this relative anonymity may, in fact, be why some students turn to online coursework. To the extent that online learning can protect students who feel less safe or less welcome in physical classrooms due to their identities, we at GSOLE want to emphasize that learning must be accessible and inclusive. To that end, online literacy instruction must be overtly anti-racist, including practices that respect and reinforce the cultural and communal values of linguistic and social diversity. These practices have been recognized by the wider fields of literacy and composition instruction as important means to fight systemic disparities existing in higher education, which has too often served an unjust gate-keeping role.
Furthermore, while the physical distance and the relative anonymity of online identities can support teachers and students disadvantaged by onsite learning, these affordances of online coursework should not be extended to those who exploit them to reinforce racial disparities. While the most obvious forms of exploitation include anonymous threats, discussions of racial disparities are often silenced too by claims they are “off topic” for some online forums and conversations. Writing and literacy program administrators, teachers, and those empowered within online learning spaces must be equipped to facilitate the “uncomfortable conversations,” that is, conversations about racism and race-based experiences that all students might find uncomfortable and difficult. At the same time, we need to be aware that our expectations for how students represent themselves in virtual class spaces--whether through written texts, voice, video, and/or images--are never neutral, but instead are inextricable from broader conversations about race and education.
Online learning should be seen as more than simply a contingency plan for students at institutions that fail to provide inclusive learning environments. We recognize that some of our students who learn at a distance, in a cyber environment, may walk the world in physical bodies that are threatened: #BlackLivesMatter makes this clear. We at GSOLE seek to make the broader educational landscape more accessible and inclusive by ensuring online modalities are viable options for everyone who could benefit from them. Put another way: students’ choices of online or onsite coursework should not be based primarily on concerns about personal well-being and dignity. We need to encourage open, critical discussions of equity, racism, and social justice within our online educational communities so our students can learn and live free of fear.
In response to comments many have made about organizational statements, we recognize the need for quick action. GSOLE will do the following: