Towards an Expansive Equity: Reimagining How Writing in Two-Year Colleges Can Facilitate a New Vision of Equity as a Practice

Robyn Russo

Advisor: Michelle LaFrance, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Courtney Adams Wooten, Karyn Kessler

Online Location,
April 16, 2021, 12:30 PM to 02:00 PM


Increasing equity in higher education has been embedded in community colleges’ mission since their founding, yet, for nearly as long, these institutions have faced criticism and attendant reform efforts for a failure to deliver on this promise. Particularly in recent years, such critiques often suggest that equity is best understood by measuring how diverse students reach quantitative benchmarks —  namely completion, transfer or increased earnings. However, such a definition often does not align with the community college faculty and students’ experience, for it obscures many types of learning and rests on the problematic assumption that students’ academic pursuits can be divorced from the larger, complicated context of their lives. Through a qualitative single-site case study of a large community college, this study sought to reach a community-defined understanding of what equity means for two-year schools; further, the study also sought to understand the role writing plays in missions of equity, as the near-universal requirement for at least one writing course makes this discipline both one that reaches most entering students and a frequent target of reform efforts. Data included surveys, institutional and course documents, student and faculty writing, and semi-structured interviews with 15 interdisciplinary faculty members and 15 students. The findings reveal that students and faculty perceive equity primarily as a relational and action-based process of responding to diverse, individual needs and aims. As such, the study shows equity is best understood as a flexible, community-based practice ratherthan a directive or policy, which challenges some of the prevailing narratives about equity. Further, both faculty and students see writing as a pedagogy uniquely situated to encourage this practice-based equity because it allows for this needed individualization, assisting students in pursuit of very diverse academic, personal and civic goals. Based on these findings, the study concludes that two-year writing professionals should re-imagine their role from being practitioners focused solely on their own classrooms to facilitators of more intentional, sustained interdisciplinary collaborations on teaching writing at their institution.