Can I get a witness?!

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Kendra L. Mitchell is the first Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. With fifteen years of writing center experience, Dr. Mitchell desires to create a quilted legacy of the teaching, learning, and research occurring in the silos of most HBCUs. As a teacher-scholar, her current research interests include writing program administration, translanguaging, and Afrocentric pedagogies. She was a 2015-16 U.S. Fulbright grantee to South Africa, where her teaching helped shape her current interests. She explores these ideas in her latest chapter, "'African American’ Anglophone Caribbean Writers in an Historically Black University Writing Center."



Drawing on black rhetorical traditions, I would summarize the Symposium on Teaching Writing and Rhetoric held at Howard University in two words: we churched. Since Beverly Moss has already done the scholarship that destabilizes the dichotomous relationship between the black church and academia and Geneva Smitherman’s life work has illustrated the sacred-secular continuum, my summary of this second iteration of this needed symposium is apropos. Before my co-laborers in the field assume I have neglected the Edited American English we have been taught to revere, I will assure you: I still got it. The polemics of these comingled language varieties was not lost on this symposium’s participants. Senior scholars such as Nathaniel Norment stressed the need to teach Edited American English to HBCU students but through culturally relevant approaches. Brother David presided over our collective with care as he passed the mic to Keith Gilyard, the acclaimed “rhetorical power player,” who presented the notion of paying dues, making the mic sound nice.

We heard testimonies concerning ways to conduct meaningful assessments of our classroom and co-curricular practices. Many shared the struggle with negotiating administrative initiatives and thus assessment measures with practical learning gains. We also took a critical dive into the history of the Atlanta colleges boycott of NCTE in the 1940s and examined its correlation to the 2018 CCCC boycott, parsing out the oversaturation of social media and new technologies’ pseudo-participation as insufficient replacements for physical black bodies in safe spaces.


Our lead vocalist, Dr. Adam Banks, belted a new rhetorical melody that affords us with a new vision for Students' Right to Their Own Language (SRTOL) for the digital age that centers black digital culture just as our predecessors did for students’ oral and written discourse in the last four decades. Our panels on technology and activism as rhetorical tools proved just that.

Say so.

In the spirit of a new day, technical professional communications scholars challenged the relationships between PWIs and HBCUs. Specifically, Temptaous McKoy extended Banks’s call to technical communications beyond predominantly white institutions to HBCUs: “If we’re going to change the field wouldn’t we wanna go to where the black folks are.” She urged us to become keen students of our students’ ways of knowing and learning: “We gotta stop dismissing the ways our students learn.”

Church. Preach.

The closing panel of HBCU scholars brought it home with the founding symposia board and some scholars who point us toward what’s next. Important points, ranging from challenging scholars at PWIs studying black students to make space for those scholars at HBCUs who are doing the work on a larger scale, to reconsidering community and familial wisdom and valuable mentorship for first-generation college students, proved to make the mic sound nice. I rounded out the discussion with a proposition for translanguaging as an interdisciplinary approach to writing on our campuses. It was clear to all that teaching in this context was more than the tale of the overworked, overburdened, and underpaid teacher-scholar. Teaching and researching these schools is a calling, one to be celebrated and understood.

Now that we bear witness to one another’s journey, we will continue to Speak on it!

Can I get a witness?!

To continue the conversation on teaching writing and rhetoric at HBCUs, join the The English Community and follow the HBCU Forum‌ to participate. Let's keep this momentum going.