WAC at HBCUs, HSIs, and TCUs

The trajectory of WAC at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) is similar to that of community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, and regional and state universities. Sue McLeod’s national survey of WAC programs, conducted in 1987 and reported in her book, Strengthening Programs for Writing Across the Curriculum, shows strong investment in WAC among these colleges and universities. Nine HBCUs reported that WAC programs or initiatives were in progress at their institutions, with two institutions—Lincoln University and Norfolk State University—having had their programs in place for more than three years and one—Spelman College—having their program in place for more than a decade. Among HSIs, 37 reported that WAC programs or initiatives were in progress at their institutions, with five institutions—Alverno College, California Lutheran College, California State University Fullerton, Orange County Community College, and Texas State Technical Institute—indicated that their programs had been in place for at least seven years. No Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) reported WAC programs or initiatives at that time. McLeod’s survey is noteworthy because it was sent to every college and university in the US and Canada. Given a response rate of 40.7% (an impressive response rate in itself), the numbers reported here are almost certainly less than the total number of programs in place at the time.

Interest in WAC was strong among HBCUs and HSIs during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Elaine reports that her work with the NEH National Board of Consultants took her to the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, an HBCU, in 1979. She also recalls serving as an NEH consultant for El Centro Community College in Dallas, an HSI, from 1980 to 1983, where she “worked with Judy Lambert on what was probably one of the first CC/HSI WAC programs” (personal communication, December 2020). Elaine also reports that a number of HBCUs and HSIs, such as Hostos College, participated in the 1983 Writing in the Humanities conference. In addition, during the 1990s, numerous faculty members affiliated with WAC efforts at HBCUs and HSIs participated in the bi-annual institutes on writing and critical thinking hosted by the University of Chicago (see National Seminars on WAC).

As has long been the case with WAC efforts more generally, some early initiatives at HBCUs and HSIs flourished, while others briefly flowered and then languished or ceased before starting anew. Among the more enduring programs are the WAC programs launched at Spelman College in 1978 and at Howard University in 1991. In 1992, Jacqueline Jones Royster charted the development of the Spelman program, which has operated continuously since its founding and is now named the Comprehensive Writing Program, over its first fifteen years:

We began with the notion, as did many other institutions throughout the nation (see Griffin, “Programs”), that greater success in developing communication skills called for an extension of this responsibility in reasonable and productive ways beyond the English department to other departments across the curriculum. This strategy seemed capable of enhancing our efforts to produce graduates who can perform well in graduate and professional schools and in the world of work. (p. 119)

By 1985, Royster noted, the program had expanded its focus beyond what was typical of many WAC programs at the time to include the notion that “good writing is good thinking” (p. 120). In what has become an important element of many modern WAC programs, Royster and her colleagues turned their attention to the role of writing in fostering critical thinking:

This new concern led us to wonder just how our students were actually operating—not just as communicators, but as thinkers, learners, problem finders, and problem solvers. We decided to give specific and conscious attention to developing what the literacy community now calls higher-order literacy skills. In essence, we had changed the conceptual frame of the program. (pp. 120-121)

Teresa Redd, who co-founded the Howard University program and enjoyed a long tenure as its director, described a similar trajectory for the program, writing, “The WAC program at Howard University was built on the primary tenets of the WAC movement, ‘writing to learn’ (WTL) and ‘learning to write’ (LTW)” (2018, p. 66). Redd recalls a significant amount of collaboration among the various HBCU WAC initiatives. In particular, she points to a WAC and technology initiative that resulted in her leading workshops at Spelman College, Bowie State University, and Virginia State University in the late 1990s (personal communication, December 2020). Today, Howard University’s WAC program has expanded its focus to include critical thinking and the support of learning across the disciplines. The program website states that 

the writing-intensive courses that are the centerpiece of the WAC program help students master the text conventions of a particular discipline, while reinforcing skills learned in Freshman English. At the same time, the courses empower students to use writing assignments to read and think critically about the subject matter of the discipline. (“Writing across the curriculum at Howard University,” 2004)

The large number of HSIs reporting WAC initiatives or programs in McLeod’s survey—8.7% of all reported WAC programs—indicates strong faculty and administrative interest in using writing to support learning among this group of institutions. Of the 56 institutions indicating that their WAC programs had been established in 1982 or earlier, HSIs accounted for more than 12% of the total, significantly higher than their overall representation among programs at the time.

In contrast with HBCUs and HSIs, TCUs appear to have engaged in relatively few WAC initiatives. Searches of TCU websites for terms related to WAC and writing-intensive courses found only a small number of presentations and workshops. At the time this article was published, we were unable to find any formal WAC programs at TCUs.