Composition Program Position Statement on Linguistic Diversity and Inclusion

Mason has the most diverse student population of any four-year college or university in Virginia, with its students coming from over 130 nations and speaking over 80 languages. When we talk about diversity and equity at the institutional or program levels, we are mostly referring to racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity. Linguistic diversity--the diversity of languages and the variations within one language (e.g. Black English, Chicano English, accented English)—is a significant component of our students’ experiences and our campus culture, yet it is not fully recognized in our discourse and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

In our everyday lives, language plays a significant role in connecting people to given and chosen identities; for example, commenting on a person’s language is often used as a proxy to say discriminatory things (e.g. racist things) about them. Neglecting this aspect of diversity means we may not “see” how many and to what extent our students are experiencing linguistic discrimination (linguistic profiling, accent bias, grade penalties for grammatical “errors” or written accents); as a community of educators, we are often left uninformed and unaware of strategies to approach and leverage linguistic diversity in our classrooms and on our campus in concert with these campus-wide efforts. 

As a Composition program whose work with students directly and extensively involves language and writing, we are uniquely suited to raise awareness around the role of language in DEI initiatives.  Therefore, through this statement, we take a position honoring the decades of advocacy work in our field for greater language inclusivity. We strive to build a community and a culture that values linguistic diversity and upholds linguistic justice as a core tenet of our programmatic and pedagogical values and commitments. 


  • Every person, and therefore every student has a right to their own language and dialect and has the agency to make their own linguistic choices 

  • Language difference is not a problem to address; it’s an indicator of linguistic diversity and life experience

  • Linguistic diversity engenders cultural capital vital to a community’s growth and sustainability

  • Languages are standardized in their local contexts; all languages are fluid, flexible, and evolving 

  • Language can function as an emancipatory tool that reveals and repairs systemic injustices. 

It’s not easy to apply linguistic justice frameworks to our courses and teaching practices. In fact, at times, our pedagogy and instruction may unintentionally make (or have made) some students feel excluded, devalued, or marginalized because of their linguistic identities and practices. As a program-- faculty and students--we are up against historical, institutional, and personal/positional challenges. 

Even though the notion of any “standard” language has been debunked by scholars over several decades, Standard English (SE) is consistently held up as the only legitimate forms of English in academic and professional settings in the U.S. (and other parts of the world). The standardization of languages is rooted in racist-colonialist projects that have historically been deployed to marginalize--and harm--people of color and uphold dominant ideologies, systems and institutions.

Academic and professional spaces are often (unknowing/unaware) proponents of a standard language ideology, prescribing specific grammar rules and writing structures that enforce a Standard English. We acknowledge that while our program advocates for linguistic inclusivity and affirms writers’ linguistic choices, other programs across the university and workplaces may not hold the same views on linguistic diversity and inclusivity.  It is therefore important to make students aware of the interplay of language and power and the historical and institutional standardization of English (and other languages of prestige) and to encourage their discernment and strategic decision-making regarding what versions of English to use in diverse contexts. While Standard English is a construct with racist/colonialist underpinnings, it may serve vital communicative purposes in specific situations/contexts.

Different populations have different relationships with Standard English, and for certain populations, achieving fluency in this version of English is of profound personal value as it can provide social and financial capital. 

Similarly, becoming an antiracist educator differs for each of us depending on our positionality and our own power/privilege.  For faculty who have been raised in contexts where only Standard English was used, it can be difficult to accept that these versions of English have functioned as exclusionary and marginalizing forces for many of their colleagues and students. It’s therefore important to recognize that Standard English represents different values for different people and that it takes time and exposure to understand the interplay of Standard English and power/privilege. 


The Composition Program and its faculty aim to: 

  • value and support all languages and choices of language(s), pronouns, English(es) and perspectives 

  • challenge the problematic assumption that Standard English forms the sole or primary basis for effective communication

  • expand our definition of “rhetorical flexibility” to include diverse linguistic practices and moves

  • encourage and teach students to be aware, deliberate, and strategic in their choices about how to use language(s) and language varieties for a particular moment, audience, situation, and purpose 

  • empower students to shape new genre and language conventions

  • be patient and flexible with ourselves, each other, and our students as we work to upend long held beliefs about what counts as Standard (ie. correct) English

  • create and participate in faculty development opportunities and continue to engage in relevant conversations about linguistic diversity and that expose us to pedagogical approaches that move us towards inclusive community and culture 

  • continue to raise awareness at the institutional level regarding the labor conditions of our program’s contingent faculty and to make it clear that antiracist teaching requires work, time, and resourcing

  • encourage campus communities to join us in this work not only through words and statements, but also through practices that create a safe and rewarding space for members of the community to experiment with antiracist pedagogy and attitudes


This statement was developed over several years by Associate Director Anna Habib and members of the Linguistic Justice Faculty Working Groups: Hyunyoung Cho, Lourdes Fernandez, Christina Greico, Joan Hwang, Paul Michiels, Esther Namubiru, Nic Nusbaumer, Liz Paul, Tom Polk, Mark Rudnicki, James Savage, Hollie Villenueva, and Alice Wrigglesworth.

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