Racism and white supremacy exist within every facet of our society, including writing, grading, teaching, and University life. Scholars and activists alike have made it clear that in order to be an anti-racist, an individual must not just be against racism and white supremacy, but must be actively anti-racist, or actively fighting racism and white supremacy.

We use Ibram X. Kendi’s definition of anti-racist, “One who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equal and none needs developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequality.”

For our Writing Center, we strive to create a culture that normalizes inclusivity, challenges policies and practices that lead to and/or maintain inequalities, and acknowledges that policies and practices either uphold oppression or work to dismantle them.

We are firmly anti-racist, stand with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and will continue to dismantle systems that promote racism, sexism, and ableism.

We provide support to students, faculty, and departments throughout the University in establishing ani-racist practices.

Anti-Racist Practices for Your Classroom

Reject Standard American English

Standard American English (SAE) is a version of English that is often expected in professional and educational settings. Employers and instructors may believe there is a common set of rules that govern SAE, but that is not in fact true. What is true is that different people have different assumptions about what SAE is.

The MSU Denver Writing Center rejects the notion that Standard American English (SAE) exists for many reasons. We fully support students in using their English (whatever that may be) in communicating their thoughts and ideas.

This is in step with others in our field, like the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

SAE is problematic for many reasons.

  • SAE makes the assumption that there is a “correct” and “standard” way to write and speak in American English.
  • SAE implies the “standard” is something that is regulated but in America, we have no regulating body (like in France).
  • SAE is a social construct that privileges white communities and maintains social and racial hierarchies.
  • SAE privileges white populations and creates a destructive binary between SAE and Black or Hispanic Englishes (Ebonce, AAVE, Chicano, HVE, etc).

It’s also important to note that English is a living language that regularly changes. Words and phrases are constantly being added or are prescribed new meanings. For example, consider the word “ghost.” Ghost, for most of history, had been a noun to describe a spirit that had come back from the dead. To use ghost as a verb would’ve been “incorrect”.

Between 2010 – 2015, ghost became a verb. This new verb meant that someone you were supposed to see didn’t show up and didn’t tell you that they weren’t going to show up. “Ghosted” often refers to a romantic relationship but can expand to other relationships too.

“He didn’t ghost you did he?

“Yeah, I was so upset. This was the second time he’s ghosted me, too.”

These changes in words, phrasing, and dialect happen constantly. By not confining students to what we believe to be “standard,” we allow them to express themselves to the fullest extent.


Embrace Code-Meshing in Your Classroom

Code-meshing is the combining of multiple dialects with any single context of communication, written or oral.

Code-switching is the practice of switching between languages or dialects. Code-switching has been connected to burnout, psychological stress, and health issues. Learn more about the toll of code-switching.

Code-meshing recognizes that all Englishes have different registers (informal, formal, etc). Studies have found that the quality of writing (word choice, expression, clarity) is better when students have the freedom to use their own English.

Mentioning to your students that code-meshing is acceptable for writing assignments in your class is a great practice to start. To make students feel more comfortable writing with code-meshing, provide examples from writers or speakers in your discipline who use code-meshing in your class. And, consider using code-meshing in your prompts, too.

If you are not a native speaker of another English, consider quoting scholars who code-mesh. Please do not imitate it.

Below are some code-meshing examples for your classroom.


Creating Inclusive, Reflective Writing Prompts

Writing prompts that assume a particular cultural background can make some students feel alienated or left out.

There are some things you should consider when creating writing prompts.

  • Avoid Anglocentric assumptions (holidays, foods, activities, etc)
  • Look through the lens of “Is this antiracist?” or “How does this prompt fight white supremacy?”
  • Consider your students – might they object to the name of a country/place because of their culture?
  • Avoid assumptions of American cultural knowledge, including historical, familiar, entertainment, etc.
  • Does this prompt exploit the students in any way?
    • Example: Write About the Biggest Obstacle You’ve Overcome in Life – This prompt is alienating because the biggest struggle some of your students may have faced is losing a pet, while others may be refugees from war-torn countries. Provide prompts that will not force a student to relive trauma.

Once the writing is turned in, and before you start grading, here are two things to consider.

  1. What are you grading or providing a response on: content or grammar?
  2. What are the stated learning outcomes for your class, and how does this prompt contribute to it?

By reflecting on these questions, you’ll be able to grade your students for their ability to communicate their ideas based on your writing prompt rather than their ability to adhere to grammar rules.


Grading with Equity

Current grading practices tend to be inherited and reflect the way you may have been graded. A good practice when it comes to grading is to ask yourself: What am I teaching with this assignment, and what is really being evaluated?

You can grade assignments that are for practice or building skills differently from how you grade assignments that are for mastery. Keep grammar and mechanics to less than 10% of the overall grade.

When grading, also ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is the language or “error” really so serious that it impedes understanding?
  • Am I so focused on paying attention to language nuances that they are self-distracting?
  • Can I understand what the student is saying?
  • Is the student making a choice?

Give students an opportunity to display their learning by using alternative types of “writing” rather than just an essay. Below is a list of alternative assignments.

  • Verbal Ethnographies
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Documentaries (photo, video, audio, etc)
  • Art
  • Service Learning

To learn more about equitable grading, check out this report from 2018, School Grading Policies are Failing Children.


Restorative Justice Approaches to Plagiarism

We often take student’s plagiarism personally, assuming that they are trying to “fool” us by copying and pasting their work. However, we need to keep in mind that there are a lot of reasons why students plagiarize that have nothing to do with their professors.

Some reasons students plagiarize because:

  • They don’t understand the citation system or what qualifies as plagiarism.
  • They are from a country that believes that copying other people’s work is an homage to that person and that there is nothing wrong with that.
  • They are overwhelmed from trying to work a full-time job, take care of family, and they just don’t have the time, but they don’t have the confidence to ask for an extension.
  • They don’t feel confident in their abilities as a writer or with the course content, and are afraid of being judged for their writing skills.
  • They lack the confidence to care about their work because the education system has taught them that their opinions and thoughts don’t matter, so they are just trying to get by.

Whatever the reason that a student plagiarizes, as professors, we need to approach them with understanding and empathy.

Some things you might do in the case of plagiarism:

  • Approach students from a concerning, rather than accusatory position.
  • Hear the student out – most will readily admit that they have plagiarized and beg your forgiveness.
  • Allow students to rewrite the essay for at least partial credit.
  • Ask students to come to the Writing Center for help with citations.
  • Contact the Dean of Students at Student Conflict Resolution Services for advice and mediation.

Some things you might do to prevent plagiarism:

  • Spend a substantial part of at least one class discussing plagiarism, what it is, why it’s important and how to avoid it.
  • Encourage students to ask for extensions if they are overextended.
  • Remove penalties for late assignments.
  • Encourage students to be confident in their voice, their language and their writing.
  • Consider whether you really want to use an originality checker at all.

Some resources that can help you navigate this issue are linked below:

Creating a More Equitable Classroom 

How well a student does in a class is often determined by the definition of “success” for the class. When professors define success without consulting students, they miss an opportunity for students to develop and gain a deeper understanding of what is expected of them.

At the beginning of each semester (or even each project) clearly define “success” as a class to begin with. Ask students to articulate what support they need to reach the class standard of success.

Consider how you can design assignments, pedagogy, response/grading practices that acknowledge that racism exists in our assignments, pedagogy, response/grading practices.

How the Writing Center Can Support You with Anti-Racist Practices

All of our consultants can talk to faculty about Anti-Racist pedagogy. If you’d like to have a 1:1 conversation, please schedule an appointment.

If you’d like to email a question to a member of our Writing Center team, please direct your email to one of the following individuals.


The Writing Center also offers Anti-Racist Writing Pedagogy Workshops for all MSU Denver faculty. If interested, please email [email protected].

Any MSU Denver department can also request an Anti-Racist Writing Pedagogy Workshop for their faculty. If interested, please email [email protected].

Join our Anti-Racist Book Club!

The Anti-Racist Book Club meets on the fourth Thursday of every month. Stay apprised of all Writing Center events by checking our calendar on our home page.