Theses Doctoral

Racial Literacy in the College Composition Classroom: Developing Discursive Practices through Critical Writing and Textual Analysis

Grayson, Mara Lee

Racial literacy is vital in a contemporary American society that professes meritocracy and post-racialism yet where racial tensions continue to give rise to fear, violence, and inequity. This is especially important in educational institutions, which have the potential to either inspire social progress or maintain inequitable hierarchies. This dissertation explores how college students talk about race in the composition classroom; how those language practices contribute to the practice of racial literacy; and how these racial literacy practices contribute to student engagement and achievement in academic writing.
Through a qualitative two-year teacher research project, I explored two distinct curricula for racial literacy in the college First Year Composition (FYC) composition classroom. The first study, conducted at an urban, public two-year college, explored the use of what I have come to term Narrative Song Lyrics (NSL) texts to encourage race talk and student engagement in the classroom. The second study, conducted in an urban, private residential university, explored the potential of an explicit racial literacy curriculum to improve students’ critical writing skills. To highlight classroom culture, I drew upon the ethnographic and discourse analysis methods of data collection and analysis. In student writing, thematic categories were examined for their parallels with foundational rhetorical and writing skills, including authorial voice, audience awareness, language choice, and critical textual interpretation.
The purpose of this research was to examine the ways in which racial literacy might transfer to academic writing and to more broadly consider what the racial literacy framework may offer scholars, researchers, instructors and students of First Year Composition. As there are no best practices yet associated with racial literacy development, the dual studies represented in this dissertation serve to illuminate the many possibilities for racial literacy curricula in the college classroom. While two distinct studies, each with their own lines of inquiry, were conducted, I synthesize the findings of these studies to identify the ways in which racial literacy might be practiced and embodied, as well as to proffer a vision of what racial literacy could mean for the college composition classroom.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English Education
Thesis Advisors
Blau, Sheridan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2017