A shift from handmaidens to enlightened waiters: EAP practitioners for a grassroots sanctuary movement

Aleks Palanac


This paper examines the possible roles of the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) practitioner within the constraints of the neo-liberal university. It critiques a variety of analogies applied to EAP and its practitioners, many of which cast them into a peripheral service role, such as that of ‘butler’ (Raimes, 1991), ‘handmaiden’ (Hyland, 2006) and ‘Cinderella’ (Charles & Pecorari, 2015). Another role examined is that of ‘gatekeeper’ (Tosky-King & Scott, 2014) to the academy, such as when practitioners ‘enact exclusionary admissions policies aimed at keeping out non-elite students’ (Benesch, 2001, p. 130). The argument is put forward that type-casting EAP practitioners into such roles risks reinforcing normative and uncritical practices, a stance which echoes the warning issued by Sartre (1956) in his parable of the waiter, who is so defined by his role as a waiter that he cannot imagine himself ever being anything else. Reimagining oneself as an enlightened waiter and an ‘unbounded professional’ (Whitchurch, 2008) opens up new possibilities for EAP practitioners, including that of ‘act[ing] as advocates for inclusion’ (Benesch, 2001, p. 130). This paper will then outline how the author was able to reimagine her role and use the ambiguity of her peripheral position to facilitate entry into a university of a group also on the periphery: refugees and asylum seekers.