Category Archives: Women of the Writing Center

The Unsung Heroes of the Writing Center: Judy Easterbrook

There is a little narrative many of those within and outside the institution like to tell: If it wasn’t for the receptionists, the janitors, the assistants to the [insert whatever position here], this place just wouldn’t be functional. We claim these people and others like them “run the place.” Yet, for all of the narratives of the people who are “under” us truly being the foundation and glue that holds everything together, we rarely see and certainly do not ask them about the significance of their jobs, or more importantly, the significance of them as individuals.

When I began this interview series in the fall of 2014, my goal was to make visible those women in the Writing Center at Michigan State more visible. I did this because though considered minorities, writing centers are dominated by female consultants. About halfway through last semester, I started thinking: “I say I wanted to talk to the women of the Writing Center, but I never thought to talk to the receptionists or the assistants who work here every day.” Even though I, myself, engage in “playful banter” with them on nearly a daily basis, getting their thoughts about the Writing Center never came to my mind. In all honesty, I was angry with myself, or as I like to say “I was angry with my own self.” And because of this anger – and knowing I had an ability to change it – I decided to interview those whom I had, in my own mind, so wrongfully neglected.

The following is an interview with Writing Center Administrative and Office Assistant Judy Easterbrook:

Getting the Job

How long have you actually worked at Michigan State?

Judy: Forty-One years.

Good Lord.

Judy: I was 12.

Of course. We won’t talk about the child labor laws or anything like that.

Judy: Exactly. They didn’t exist then. We’re talking horse and buggy days.

When you started here was there a writing center?

Judy: No. The Writing Center is twenty-one or twenty-two years old.

So twenty years into your time here came the Writing Center, so obviously you worked in previous departments. Did you do somewhat of the same thing?

Judy: I did, but I’ve always had more student involvement that I actually do right now. I worked in an academic department, so there was a lot of student involvement, which in some ways I miss, well in many ways I miss.

Well, you know students are right out there around the corner.

Judy: I know, but I can’t hang out there. Dianna will come looking for me.

So when did you actually shift over here?

Judy: I’ve only been in the Writing Center since 2010. What happened is a woman retired here who’d been here quite a while, she was half time and they moved me over here. Poor Dianna and Trixie. I was imposed upon the Writing Center.

Oh you were imposed?

Judy: I was, but they redistributed my duties and move me over here to take over this. The college did it.

That’s interesting. You didn’t choose to come over here, so how was it working here, since it was a new kind of space and not as much interaction? I mean, clearly you’ve stayed. So what is it like?

Judy: Oh, I like it. I like it a lot. The Writing Center is a great place to work, but it was an adjustment at first, it really was. I mean, when something, and probably not everyone is like this, but when something is imposed upon you, you think “grrr.” But, I’ve always had an interest in the Writing Center. In fact, when it was first created, I applied for a job in the Writing Center and I didn’t get it. How ironic is it that all those years later, I’m here?

You said you applied before because you had interest, so why did you actually have interest in the Writing Center?

Judy: I don’t know. I knew the women who started the Writing Center and from day one it just seemed like a really interesting space, and it still is a very interesting space.

With a lot of interesting people.

Judy: Right. It just seemed different to me from what I was doing before. Everybody needs a change once in a while and I wanted to work for the woman who had a hand in starting this, but they chose someone who had a lot more computer experience than I did, so I didn’t get it.

But the irony is you really did get it.

Judy: I did. They made me queen for a day a few years later.

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The Grand Finale: A Special Interview with the Women of Content Koalas—with Laura Allen, Rachael LeFevre, Rachel Little, Allegra Smith & Wonderful Faison

Throughout this interview series on Women of the Writing Center, I, Wonderful Faison, have attempted to give you a glimpse into the lives, motivations, struggles, and disruptions of many of the women of the Writing Center @ Michigan State University. In these final interviews, I hope to show why the women of Content Koalas (the team of students who write and publish blog posts on the Writing Center website) find the work they do in this group valuable to themselves, the Writing Center, and Michigan State University.

Why did you decide to join Content Koalas?

As undergraduate consultant Laura Allen puts it the one reason she joined is “it looked like fun. I thought it was interesting. I like personal writing, though I never do it and this would make me do some stuff and write some things. I forgot about joining but Zeke [Ezekiel Choffel] reminded me.”

Graduate coordinator Rachel Little agrees with Laura, but notes, “[graduate consultant] Anna Green signed me up to do it with her. We thought it was fun to do. Also [Professional Writing alumna] Katie McAlpine said this was helpful for my career.”

When I spoke with undergraduate consultant Rachael LeFevre, the motivation to join Content Koalas was twofold: she loves writing and she’s “seen the posts that are on the website. It is cool to have consultants view out there and to show our personalities. Show people we are people too. And its cool we can express that.”

For Allegra, our editor and media coordinator, her motivations were slightly different as she says, “I kind of had to be the media coordinator. Trixie approached me because [former media coordinator] Casey Miles was transitioning into the classroom to teach. I was her first choice because of my background in professional writing.  I realize how much mentorship is involved” and how “that adds to your CV and how can we balance your CV line with what you want to write.”

For the interviewer (Wonderful Faison), she “mainly joined because Allegra asked me if I wanted to get involved. I told her I had no qualms about doing it on one condition. I needed to be Black. In other words, I did not want my words, ideas, and thoughts whitewashed into some kind of academic [white] noise that didn’t sound like me and was not, in any way a representation of who I am, who I care about, and what/whom I research. Allegra was amenable to these ‘demands,’ so joining was easy.”

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Women of the Writing Center: Black, Female, On the Periphery—Being Black in a White Writing Center

The following interview was conducted with Writing Center graduate consultants Janelle Edwards, Ronisha Browdy, and Shewonda Leger.

What is it like being a black female in the Writing Center? Do you find this Writing Center oppressive in any way (think broadly here: clients, consultants, the overall look of the center, etc)?

Janelle noted that  “the Writing Center is not, in itself, oppressive; however, she has to “challenge a lot of clients perceptions.” She remembers a paper in which she was consulting with a client and the client was “talking about what a ‘normal’ American looks like,” and the consulant was talkin’ bout certain people in this country “wearing a towel on their head. And how ‘normal’ Americans were from the West” and “the West was Old America with its traditional values.” Janelle, kept her cool and educated the “blonde and White” client asking her “her what’s a normal American?” I said to Janelle, let me guess, the client ain’t know some of the first Black Cowboys were Black?” Janelle responded> “You know what I’m saynl. Know your history.” She continues, “Needless to say. It made the client uncomfortable. I never saw her again.” I responded “I know why.” She continues, “but I do think the center is open. Usually it is just the clients.”

I wonder: how should consultants respond to racist rhetoric in student writing?

While Janelle provides a perspective on how a consultation with the client can be used as a way to provide knowledge while having to navigate racist rhetoric in client writing, Ronisha sheds light on how the writing center makes her feel.

Ronisha posited, “I have had a limited amount experience at this particular WC, but the environment is inviting, but that doesn’t mean that I am not aware that I am a Black woman with different experiences and what I want to talk about is different. It’s not different from my everyday life. I felt like I was being singled out because I was new. It was different for some reason. I think if I was a Black man I would not have been approached by clients and consultants in the same way.” Ronisha admits,  I feel alone in the WC, which could have been because of the time that I was working. I just felt alone because I had no one to talk to.”

How can a Writing Center defined as “open,” lead to feelings of loneliness and disillusionment? And how can we implement a space where a Black female consultant does not experience this loneliness? How can we bring emotion back into the writing center?

Although Ronisha feels alone in the writing center, Shewonda believes that change starts with the individual.

Shewonda kept it short, direct and to the point, saying, “Nothing is wrong with the WC. A change begins with who u are. For now I see myself as the change. I will be the agent of change. I do not complain. I hate when people complain without intending to change anything.” I understand what Shewonda is saying, but if she sees herself as a part of change in the Writing Center, isn’t something already wrong?

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Women of the Writing Center: Asserting Knowledge in the Writing Center while White, Young & Female (part 2)

This post is the second of a two-part series of interviews with three writing center consultants, continuing our “Women of the Writing Center” series. The perspectives include:

    • Heather Young, a first-year PhD student in rhetoric and writing who hails from Robertson, Alabama
    • Sarah Johnson, a master’s student in critical studies in literacy and pedagogy, who aims to teach rhetoric and writing at the K-12 level
    • Sarah O’Brien, a master’s of social work student who is a former professional pilot turned technical writer

Why do you enjoy working in the writing center?

Heather Young says that “the Writing Center is an interesting liminal space, as its usually a stand alone which has inherent pros and cons.” There is “freedom to function as your own unit, though their are still policies and beliefs you have to account for. What the writing center gives me is the freedom to focus on work – my work both inside and outside the academy.”

While Sarah Johnson agrees with Heather, she also says the she likes “the kind of work and learning that happens around writing” because “I am interested in teaching in pedagogy and the intimacy here is nice, and there are skills I developed through intimacy that helped me think about my teaching process.”

But Sarah also likes the emotion that the Writing Center can invoke. The Writing Center as “a form of therapy” is helpful and generative for students. “It provides a service people need that they don’t know they need (around writing)”. But The Writing Center is not just about what it can give consultants or even students (on a meta level). The Writing Center is also about the different knowledges, philosophies, and ways of making meaning in the world that enter these spaces in the form of client bodies.

Sarah O’Brien says that she likes “the diversity of clients that come to see me. My client bio, in particular, attracts a lot of challenging papers and I have had the privilege of working with many PhD candidates. I find their research and study areas fascinating and often their dissertations help color the way I view the world. Additionally, I enjoy working with ELL students because many times they offer unique perspectives on what, in my life, is very ordinary. For instance, an ELL client last week devoted an essay paragraph to her disdain for American food (it was noted that we eat a lot of pizza, hamburgers and tacos).”


If you were in charge of this writing center, what would you change (in terms of practices, the overall look of the center, etc.) and what would you keep and why?

Heather is new to this particular Writing Center and freely admits that “this is a hard question” for her. But as everyone new or old to The Writing Center has an opinion, she says “I am doing outreach and I would love for us to have a presence in the community like we have in the neighborhoods.” She wants The Center to “offer writing coaching to adults, to places that do not have other outlets.” But Heather also genuinely loves “how this WC values playthe colors, decorations, toys. It does not seem traditional. It is open and experimental. It provides a feeling of comfortability.”

Sarah O’Brien is also new to The Writing Center this year and admits she has no issues thus far, and says “some of the nicest and brightest people I have met so far are in the WC, so I applaud the hiring practices.”

Sarah Johnson, however, has spent a few years in the WC and wishes there was “more accountability, especially as our staff continues to grow.” There should be “ways to have more of a sense of accountability through a greater sense of community.” We need “accountability to the organization and a sense of professionalism. It should feel like a big deal if something goes wrong. You should not want things to wrong because you don’t want it to reflect on an organization in that way, which can be hard because of the diversity here.”

How then can the Writing Center reach the outside community, as Heather suggested, maintain its lauded hiring practices Sarah O’Brien mentioned, while gaining or maintaining accountability when there are so many diverse bodies from diverse disciplines working in the Center? These are questions that make me go “hmmmmm.” 

Women of the Writing Center: Asserting Knowledge in the Writing Center while White, Young & Female (part 1)

This post is part one of a two-part series of interviews with three writing center consultants, continuing our “Women of the Writing Center” series. The perspectives include:

  • Heather Young, a first-year PhD student in rhetoric and writing who hails from Robertson, Alabama
  • Sarah Johnson, a master’s student in critical studies in literacy and pedagogy, who aims to teach rhetoric and writing at the K-12 level
  • Sarah O’Brien, a master’s of social work student who is a former professional pilot turned technical writer

As a white woman in the writing center, do you feel that your knowledge/credentials have ever been challenged by a client?

Heather keeps it real and simply says “yes.” She notices the transition from “being a teacher and then becoming a consultant does cause a loss of agency and authority. Clients will devalue questions I ask,” or “take my advice in passive aggressive ways.” For example, “when I ask students if they thought of this or that and if this might sound better, some of them will answer ‘I guess it would be better.’ And I think to myself, is it because I’m young or a woman. I am naturally bubbly and happy which people believe is not serious or intelligent.” Heather did not feel this way when teaching because “with teaching there is inherent power,” but in the Writing Center, “I think how I perform my gender devalues the information I give. It happens with both men and women and the closer in age they are to me the more it happens,” and this does lead to feelings of irrelevance.”

As the interviewer, I begin to think in a country where women are often put in positions that are inferior to men, how is a woman’s experience rendered less relevant in a spacethe Writing Centerhistorically populated by women?

Sarah Johnson also notes how her youthful look often backfires on her. “Some male clients do the whole talking down to you thing. I look young, so I get side-eyed for the most of the session because of my youth.The youth makes them question my experience and want to be bullying, though has not happened with me with women because I am more sensitive about gendered rhetoric with men than women.” Sarah’s biggest issue is assumptions that are made or placed on her body because she is white and some “white students come in” and make the assumption that “you’re white too so you must be the same racist dick as me. So assumptions based on that is a problem.”

As Sarah spoke I began to question, in what situations do people of all colors believe that a person of their same colorin this particular case, whiteis always already holding the same racist beliefs and assumptions? What causes this to discourse to even enter the Writing Center (a space where we would think it would not)?

Sarah O’Brien counters this experience with noting that nothing she has faced in the Writing Center has compared to what she faced when working outside the academy. “In my experience, the social construction of my gender, and then of my race and finally the combination of my gender and race most certainly play a part in a client’s interaction with me. In my former life I was a flight instructor—in fact, I was a 19 year-old white woman teaching older, established men of all ethnicities how to fly airplanes. I think these gentlemen prepared me for a world that is constantly challenging my right to be an authority on any subject. Therefore, in comparison, the small challenges to my knowledge I face from clients in the WC I am prepared to meet with patience and kindness built on an early foundation.”

I wonder: how do the oppressions of the outside world help one deal with the oppressions in the Writing Center and the academy as a whole? What space can the WC create to discuss and subvert these oppressions?


What type of WC pedagogies/practices have helped you navigate these challenges?

Heather says, “Attending to students as whole people with different experiences, backgrounds, and intellectual histories than me help. Any of these reasons could play into why I have had these experiences with clients. Creating a conversation, even if it is demeaning, is more easily navigated.”

On the other hand, Sarah Johnson believes in standing up for herself. She says, “I work from a self advocacy perspective. I believe in standing up for myself. and I believe in asking questions and offering a perspective through questions, especially when students write things that I just can’t figure out how the hell they came to the conclusion they came to. I also joke about things because I find it is unserviceable to be defensive about things, if that makes sense.

While Heather considers the different experiences of students, and Sarah Johnson is all about standing up for herself, Sarah O’Brien thinks making the client an ally is beneficial in these challenging situations. She says, “I do my best to meet the client where they are in their personal writing process. This seems to assuage any concern they have about my knowledge or credentials because I present myself at the beginning of the session as a ‘helper’ and not as an ultimate authority. In addition, I am happy to admit when I make a mistake and champion the client’s “catch” of my misstep. These are some techniques I use to form an alliance with the client as we collaborate on their project in the time frame they have chosen.”

How then can understanding differences in client experiences, self-advocacy, and building alliances with clients be used to further enrich how consultants deal with difficulties surrounding race and gender in The Writing Center?

Women of the WC: Uprooting Heteronormative Writing Center Practices – An Interview with Drs. Trixie Smith and Dianna Baldwin

Writing Centers are often heavily staffed with female consultants; however, females are often working within spaces that are both homogenous and heteronormative. If women in the Writing Center do not disrupt homogeneous, heteronormative, practices within the writing center, they are only reinforcing these practices. This interview with Drs. Trixie Smith and Dianna Baldwin shows how these two women attempt to queer the Writing Center through theory, and their own embodied activism.

What is it to be a queer white woman in a heteronormative Writing Center?

Trixie worked in the 80’s in Writing Centers that had “cabinets full of worksheets” and the women “were all clones of one another.” She claims she had to stop herself from asking “what the hell is wrong with you?” Trixie admits that even before she knew she was a lesbian, she was queering the writing center.

By attempting to flatten hierarchies through the use of toys and fun colors and markers, instilling a sense of community, and making room for both play and risk, she envisions another way to embody a writing center. A way to rewrite the rhetorical space of the writing center. However, no matter how much some academics may like to queer spaces like those in writing centers, not all writing centers can guarantee a modicum of safety.

Location, Location, Location…

For Dianna, location is the name of the game, not just where you are, but how you position yourself in the Writing Center. Working in the South, Dianna mentions that she upheld the heteronormative practices of the Writing Center because she was never able to be “out of the closet.” Dianna does admit to queering the role of woman: “I did everything a girl was not supposed to do. I rode motorcycles to work. And people tried to run me off the road.”

 If being open about gender and sexuality can “get you hurt,”how can those within and those who run the writing center make it a safe  rhetorical space for queer bodies like Dianna and Trixie?

How do you disrupt the heteronormative practices and how do you uphold them?

Trixie and Dianna like resistancea lot.

Trixie resists the role of the paper in the writing center consulting session. “Too many consultants use the paper as a crutch. I try to let consultants know that if they never get to the paper that’s ok. It’s really okay, but they don’t seem to get that.”

Dianna, on the other hand, resists the whole ideology of writing in standard English. She says, “look, what matters is that a reader understands what’s written. If a student wants to write in their own language, as long as we consultants explain to the students that there might be ramifications and other consequences for making this type of rhetorical move, and as long as the student is willing to accept these ramifications, we should let them write in their own language.”

While Trixie and Dianna are both doing their parts to queer The Writing Center at MSU. I wonder, I think, how do you queer a queer writing center? Or rather, how do we add color to writing centers? Do we need a blue-collar writing center pedagogy to continue to disrupt ideas of the writing center so that the Writing Center does not become homonormative in its attempt to become anti-heteronormative?