An Interview with Our New Associate Director, Joseph Cheatle, PhD

I took a few moments to sit down with the new associate director of the Writing Center@MSU, Joseph Cheatle. What follows is a brief snippet of who Joe is, why he came to this writing center, and what he envisions for the writing center, as well as the productive tensions created between the interviewer,  and the interviewee, Joe.

WF: “Well, Joe, I guess the first question I want to ask you is what do we call you? You’re a man with three names. I’ve heard you called Joe, Joseph, and Joey, so which do you prefer?”

JC: “Actually, I respond to them all…. Joseph is my professional name, and when I was a child, I was called Joey. So any of them is fine. I don’t mind.”

WF: “So, as you know, writing centers are commonly known as a space commonly associated with women in terms of who are commonly employed as tutors and administrators. So, I gotta ask, what draws you to not only Writing Centers, but the MSU Writing Center in particular?”

JC: “One of the things that really draws me to writing centers is its ability to help people and it’s something meaningful… And as far as it being a gendered space, I don’t think we have to gender it female just because it’s a warm, welcoming space… where students are made to feel comfortable… its a place where people want to help each other.”

WF: “So this idea of comfortability perpetuates, at times very problematically– it’s kind of a grand narrative of writing centers being comfortable, homey, all of these things. Without even dissecting or going into that, that always seems to me to be a response to what education is and what teaching is? What does a comfortable education provide or is the writing center just masking that education is daunting and that to learn, to achieve, to excel is not an easy process? Is the writing center just a masking agent for that? Or can the writing center create changes?”

JC: “I’m drawn to the writing center not because I think education should be comfortable, but because it can help a student be more independent and give them the skills to be able to learn in this atmosphere.”

WF: “Sounds good. Let’s shift gears a bit. I want to know how you see the MSU writing center enacting this change and giving students the skills they need to navigate writing assignments?”

JC: “I think just where the main WC is located. We’re at the center of campus. It gives us a chance to really enact change in the university… this is where writing centers are hopefully headed and this is where writing centers should be headed. It should be a place where staff and faculty are coming to the writing center asking for our help in their classes and really trying to work to improve student learning.”

After understanding why Joe was drawn to the MSU Writing Center and what he envisioned a writing center could do, I wanted to know whom he thought the writing center should employ, noting, “I’m asking because you know I’m always concerned with diversity.”

JC: “Well, I think you’re looking at racial diversity, which is good. I think we need more disciplinary diversity.”

WF: “Oh, so like, the STEM disciplines?”

JC: “Exactly.”

Originally, this alternate view of diversity (varied disciplines, like STEM) unnerved me because was, variation is not the same as diversity . One can get a vast amount of people from the hard and soft sciences and still a racial, ethnic, and gender bias will persist as historically, these disciplines are still populated by upper middle class white men.  However, the writing center does lack tutors from the STEM disciplines and this lack does need to be filled due to the vast amount of student we have in STEM who take classes such as IAH (Integrated Arts and Humanities). As such, we both agree that a concerted effort to employ people within STEM disciplines as well as POC and other marginalized bodies who major in STEM disciplines would both enrich and diversify the writing center..

I asked Joe what was one thing he wanted tutors and staff to know about him above all else. He sat back thoughtfully, placed his hand to his chin and said, “I just want people to know I’m here and I’m here to help our tutors, staff, and students.”

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