An Approach to Understanding and Designing an Inclusivity Statement

Collaborative Learning, Diversity and Inclusion, Graduate Students, Social Justice Committee / Monday, April 6th, 2020

A Process for Developing an Inclusivity Statement 

The inclusivity statement is an increasingly prevalent genre in academic and nonacademic spaces. Inclusivity statements have become staples for most academic institutions as well as many departments and programs within those institutions. Individual programs that take the initiative to develop inclusivity statements often aim to articulate how inclusivity operates within their very specific contexts. In this post, we share our experiences of developing a writing center’s inclusivity statement to help others who are committed to developing their own ever-evolving inclusivity statement.

Our process of developing an inclusivity statement at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Writing Center began in earnest in the fall of 2016 with a group of undergraduate Writing Fellows and a graduate instructor who raised the idea after identifying an escalation in discriminatory action and hate speech on campus and across the nation. And while conversations about the Writing Center’s inclusivity statement continued during this time, developing language for the statement has taken on an increased focus over the past year or so. For the purposes of this post, then, I will detail some of the key moments stemming from a larger Writing Center initiative between Spring 2018 and Fall 2019. The process for developing our writing center’s inclusivity statement can be broken down into three main phases:

  1. Addressing practices affecting inclusivity 
  2. Gathering community input to determine needs and desires
  3. Developing and revising the statement 

The following six steps break down these phases into action steps that this writing center took to develop its own inclusivity statement.

Step 1: Form a Committee 

During Spring 2018, a working committee formed to uncover the general principles that governed the inclusivity statement genre. This committee was made up of graduate students with administrative positions at the Writing Center: Annika Konrad, Calley Marotta, and Rick Ness.

This committee’s first step consisted of compiling an archive of statements from writing centers, academic departments, and private organizations, including the University of Kansas Writing Center’s Mission and Diversity Statement, the University of Iowa Sociology Department’s Statement of Inclusivity, and the Gill Foundation’s Diversity and Inclusivity Statement. The committee selected these particular models because of their institutions’ status as predominantly white and tied to larger histories of subjugation and coercion, as well as these particular organizations’ approaches to distinguishing diversity from inclusion and their articulation of action-oriented approaches to inclusivity. In particular, our committee found themselves indebted to the University of Washington’s Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center and the people who worked on it for their synthesis of the general principles garnered from the models above. Drawing on these models, our committee agreed on three principles that would shape our writing center’s own inclusivity statement: (1) evidence of practice, (2) work with the community, and (3) commitment to the statement as a living document.

Step 2: Work With Campus Partners

The committee then reached out to some of the Writing Center’s partners on the UW–Madison campus. The committee felt that they did not and should not have a monopoly on the language or ideas that shaped this document—and, in fact, they wanted the inclusivity statement to be informed by people who had actually experienced marginalization on campus and who had training on how to navigate such marginalization.

The committee sought guidance from three local partners: the Multicultural Student Center, the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center, and the McBurney Disability Resource Center. The committee organized meetings with representatives from each of these centers to discuss the development of our inclusivity statement, generating a script with some general questions to ask:

  • Do you think [the inclusivity statement] is a good idea? 
  • What would the [partner organization] want to see in that statement? 
  • What are some ways that we should be thinking about the statement?
  • Would you be willing to give us feedback in the process? 

The committee took notes during each of these meetings, debriefed about initial takeaways, and uploaded those takeaways to a shared Google file.

Step 3: Identify Campus Community’s Needs and Desires 

Using this file, the committee was able to synthesize community input and identify some common priorities among the partners. These priorities are listed below:

  • To support student research that challenges conceptions of standard writing and English and works towards a social justice aim
  • To create accessible spaces for students
  • To help students express their own (not fellow students’) ideas to an audience
  • To work with honesty and humanity
  • To serve a diverse group of students without commodifying diversity for our own purposes
  • To value students’ language and writing practices
  • To work from the assumption that writing and language do not equal intelligence
  • To strive for reciprocal interactions in which fellow students and writers learn from one another
  • To engage in reflective practice that questions and challenges our own participation in oppressive structures
  • To include actions, along with commitments, that reflect our commitments

The committee used these common priorities to put together a first draft of the inclusivity statement, while also keeping feedback not shared across partners to consider in developing future drafts of the statement. This list of distinctive feedback from each partner was extensive and included minor sentence-level concerns but also larger considerations such as online accessibility and the visual appeal of the statement itself. Each of these points needed to be addressed by the Writing Center. But this small committee could not do it alone. They needed help.

Step 4: Design Structural Support

Following their meetings to synthesize community feedback, the committee organized an instructional workshop on designing an inclusivity statement. This workshop existed as an option in the Writing Center’s ongoing education (OGE) series—a professional development program at our writing center that fosters instructors’ ability to work with all writers across campus and help them strengthen our collective ability to provide a welcoming atmosphere and culturally sensitive services for our campus community.

This particular workshop was split into two sessions. The first session brought together undergraduate Writing Fellows and graduate Writing Center instructors to look at sample inclusivity statements and brainstorm key principles, and it then tasked each participant with writing up their own inclusivity statement. Between sessions, the original three-person committee worked to synthesize the various drafted samples with the existing statement. The second session included additional collective revision from OGE participants before being sent out to campus partners for further input via Google Docs. The OGE leaders then asked the Writing Center instructors to revise and include additional suggestions during one of our monthly staff meetings. Thus, OGEs, staff meetings, and online platforms became sites of structural support that facilitated the production of our inclusivity statement. This entire process took place within the Spring 2018 semester.

Step 5: Get Feedback/Recursive Revision

The remainder of the process, which included soliciting additional feedback from campus partners and Writing Center staff and further revising the inclusivity statement, took place between Summer 2018 and Fall 2019. Brad Hughes, the Writing Center’s long-time director who retired in 2019, provided a detailed account of the various initiatives, workshops, and programs that highlighted the Writing Center’s commitment to help facilitate and support our campus communities’ writing processes.

In Spring 2019, the committee put together a draft of the statement that they felt could soon be posted to the Writing Center’s website. Throughout the following summer, Lisa Marvel Johnson, the Writing Center’s TA Online Coordinator at the time, worked on revising the draft to take into account additional partner feedback, color-coding points of feedback to indicate the relative difficulty or ease of addressing these points within the statement. Thus, it took the entire Writing Center staff, multiple campus and community partners, and a writing process that included multiple drafts to finally get the statement online at the end of Summer 2019.

Step 6: Publish the Statement

During Fall 2019, a group of Writing Center instructors reviewed this latest version of the inclusivity statement and worked together to revise both the statement and the website through an additional ongoing education workshop. Whereas this group’s first meeting became a continuing opportunity for participants to engage with more specialized feedback from our various collaborators, the second meeting tasked participants with considering the statement’s online representation. Specifically, the second meeting ended by asking instructors to provide input on the inclusivity statement’s redesign to make it both more accessible and more aesthetically pleasing. In order to achieve this, instructors became familiar with the affordances of WordPress and selected a specific strategy they felt could be applied to revise the website to make it easier to navigate. With participant input, Lisa and I modified the Inclusivity section of the Writing Center’s website and collaborated to make final revisions to the statement before uploading it to the Writing Center’s website.

Rhetorical Situation of the Inclusivity Statement

The rhetorical situation of each program’s inclusivity statement will differ based on its unique situated context. These documents bloom within specific environments and must be sensitive to the dynamics of the history, context, and people who exist in that space. Given the process detailed above, the Writing Center was able to generate an understanding of the rhetorical situation of the inclusivity statement as it existed within our context at UW–Madison.

Below is a breakdown of the rhetorical situation that shaped our Writing Center’s inclusivity statement:

Our audience The University of Wisconsin–Madison Community
The occasion or context Predominantly White institution tied to larger histories of subjugation and coercion that privilege some and marginalize others—histories that actively persist on campus to this day.
Our message A demonstrated commitment to diverse and inclusive Writing Center space through our past/present/future training, services, teaching, and institutional initiatives.
Its purpose To describe how institutions have contributed to or created spaces of inclusion and diversity through training, teaching, and services, as well as how the institution hopes to continue advancing learning and leadership by engaging with diverse perspectives and initiatives in the future.
Documents/genres used Online multi-page text and image(s)

The Online Multi-Page Text

At the UW–Madison Writing Center, we choose to house our inclusivity statement online. Within this format, our inclusivity statement can be broken down into four parts:

  1. the inclusivity statement page
  2. current inclusivity initiative statement page 
  3. future inclusivity statement page 
  4. feedback page 

For the most part, we choose to have these online pages exist as predominantly written alphabetic text with images. The inclusivity statement page is the home page and consists of a 500-word document detailing the Writing Center’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. This commitment is sensitive to three principles: (1) praxis, (2) change, and (3) community. First, the statement articulates how this commitment is not simply captured in words but also manifested through continued training, services, teaching, and institutional initiatives—indeed, through praxis. Second, the statement is a document that will “evolve over time”—that is, change—in order to fit the needs and desires of the larger University of Wisconsin-Madison community. Third, the notion of community input is central to the statement itself, and the idea of community serves as the opening and closing sentences of the statement itself. These principles guide the inclusivity statement as a living document that students cannot only point toward to advocate for themselves but also as a gauge to measure the Writing Center’s own practices and commitments.

The ideas of praxis, change, and community are supplemented by the additional pages mentioned above. We decided to make a feedback page because we wanted to provide the larger community with a place to “check” or identify dissonance between what the Writing Center has written on the statement and what the Writing Center does in practice. Limits exist in all institutions, and creating a space to learn from community input provides a means for change both in the document and in the Writing Center’s own praxis. Rather than bury the link in any of the other pages, and risk inaccessibility, we decided to make a link to the feedback page clear and accessible on the homepage.

If the feedback page becomes a means of external evaluation, the current inclusivity initiative page becomes a means of internal evaluation. The current inclusivity page both highlights many of our current inclusivity initiatives at the Writing Center as well as some of our limitations in each of the areas listed on that page. As we assess our own shortcomings, the current inclusivity and feedback pages become a means to receive feedback on how far we’ve come and provide direction for all we can still be doing to put our commitments into practice at the Writing Center.

Finally, the future initiatives page is a space where the Writing Center can imagine new futures to facilitate the needs and desires of the community it serves. Again, the length and headings present on this page will differ from writing center to writing center. At the UW–Madison Writing Center, we aim to develop initiatives based on input that we receive from the larger University of Wisconsin–Madison community. For example, we developed the notion of the “multiliteracy station” from our teachers’ and students’ desire to compose with sound—namely, podcasts—and their desire to have training in and understanding of the rhetorical moves and literacy practices specific to the sound composition process. Addressing new modes of composition, in turn, encourages the development of new workshops to facilitate those modes. In order to better support these multiliteracy stations, a central point of future development for us at the Writing Center is to broaden our workshop offerings to account for 21st-century modes of composition on our campus. Such initiatives should be interconnected and provide means to address shortcomings not only with our current practices and partners but also with future partners. The “future initiatives page” thus becomes a map for upcoming semesters and builds directly off the community need for change and addressing these needs through practice.

Toward a Process-Oriented Approach to Inclusivity

The inclusivity statement is not a static text. It’s a process. Any writing center must establish procedures to routinely review and revise their statement. This process must include input from past, current, and future community members.

In the end, we would like to add an additional phase to the three-phase process we outlined at the start of this post: evaluation and revision of the statement. In this fourth phase, writing centers can replicate a version of the feedback process we detailed above as a means of evaluation (i.e., work with community members, identification of needs and desires, and revision of the statement). Three specific methods can expand any writing center’s means of engaging with their community and revising their own practices: (1) “tabling,” or the process of gaining permission from a campus partner or organization to set up a table in or near their space to procure feedback from students (pro tip: bring candy); (2) community conversations, or hosting a public conversation to solicit feedback from the larger community regarding perceptions of the writing center’s efforts; and (3) online surveys, which includes developing and sending out surveys to campus and community members who may not have the time or means to meet in person. Writing centers can use any of these methods to revise their understanding and approach to writing in ways that responds to the needs and desires of their communities. We provide these methods of evaluation in an effort to establish that all writing centers can have a starting point for participating in the maintenance of inclusivity and not just its construction at their respective campuses.

We hope that the process we have articulated above, which is still very much an ongoing process, can serve as a starting point for other writing centers dedicated to reducing barriers of access, engaging with their communities, and revising and redesigning their own practices to better address the needs and desires of the communities they serve.

Chris Castillo is a PhD Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric and currently serves as the 2019-2020 Multicultural and Social Justice Initiative Coordinator for the Writing Center at the University of WisconsinMadison. Chris is the co-author (with Ann Kim) of the chapter “Writing is Racialized” in the upcoming book (Re)Considering What We Know: Learning Thresholds in Writing, Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy.

6 Replies to “An Approach to Understanding and Designing an Inclusivity Statement”

  1. Thanks for this, Chris – really helpful to see the process behind it all this super important & valued work.

  2. Chris! It was a delight to work with you on this project. I’m so glad to see the statement up on our website.

  3. Chris,

    Thank you. This is really useful to know the process behind the scenes. It is very important work.


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