Dr. Asao Inoue, professor and associate dean at Arizona State University, speaks at Humboldt State University March 6 for the Social Justice Summit. Inoue spoke on how higher education can contribute to white supremacy and how to effectively create an anti-racist campus. | Photo by Rachel Marty

Dr. Asao Inoue Looks to Lead Academic Revolution

Inoue confronts the supremacist ideas within American academia
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Inoue confronts the supremacist ideas within American academia

From unkind flyers to nasty messages written on bathroom walls, Humboldt State University has dealt with its fair share of acts of hatred and racism.

Asao B. Inoue, a professor and associate dean at Arizona State University, studies student writing assessment, race and racism. In a Social Justice Summit talk and an exclusive interview with The Lumberjack, Inoue pondered how a university can be anti-racist and address white supremacy.

“I was asked to come here and give a talk at a workshop, and I love doing that—it feels like an important part of the public work that I do in the academy,” Inoue said. “I help teachers think about ways to do social justice projects in their class, particularly around literacy classrooms and the grading evaluation and feedback of student literacy projects or writing.”

Inoue’s objective is to change the ways professors think about language and white language supremacy, and to start a revolution within the American grading system.

“My scholarship and research is in writing assessment and racism studies and the intersection of those two things,” Inoue said. “This [workshop] is an extension of that by trying to engage with writing faculty, English faculty and the curriculum.”

Inoue described white supremacy as a condition in which a particular group’s dialogue dominates others.

Inoue said white supremacists are often middle to upper-class people from the East Coast that attended an elite school. Inoue said these conditions collectively make up the identities of white supremacist perpetrators.

“It’s rarely, if ever, anybody else but that group of people from their particular material conditions in life that produce a certain language, which we tend to call standard or proper English,” Inoue said.

Inoue called out academia for actively perpetuating racist standards. He said the American grading system reaffirms racist ideals and practices through assigned curriculum.

Inoue said proper English can be especially problematic in academic settings.

“There’s lots of research that shows that we don’t actually agree about what that standard looks like,” Inoue said. “But I’m talking about when the rubber meets the road and you have to grade a paper based off of this, or decide whether something is consumable for the public. That’s where we start to have a lot of disagreements.”

Inoue called out academia for actively perpetuating racist standards. He said the American grading system reaffirms racist ideals and practices through assigned curriculum.

“I don’t want one to confuse me calling the system racist, with me calling people racist,” Inoue said. “[Professors] are thinking about the disciplines they have to teach and they’re not always thinking about, ‘How do I teach this?’”

One of the structural flaws within the educational system that Inoue noted was that professors fail to question the academic system and how it reaffirms practices of white language supremacy.

“It’s difficult to be critical of a system that has really benefited you,” Inoue said. “It seems like everything is working.”

Inoue said the façade of the education system being equally supportive can be convincing enough that people don’t see the flaws. Inoue said many professors inherit the practices that were inflicted upon them, and because those practices worked for them, they assume they work for others.

“It’s a fairly narrow economic and social bandwidth of people, so that means that all those practices are fairly narrow and the language practices are fairly narrow,” Inoue said. “So it doesn’t really leave a lot of room for considering differences or changes or being critical about those things.”

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