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?”
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.”
It’s that time of year when fall is seeping into the morning air and the afternoons are typically sunny and bright. Before long, we’ll all be in our respective centers helping writers find their way around academic and other styles of writing. It can be a stressful time.
Relieve some stress by signing up for the LCC/MSU Invitational Putt-Putt Tournament. Details: September 17th from 11:00 to 1:00 pm at the Hawk Hollow Golf Course. Teams of four are necessary for signing up, and there is a $10.00 per person charge. Food and Drink will be provided and registration ENDS on Sept 10th.
To register, click Here
I love consulting at the Writing Center. I have from the first day—which I still remember, very clearly. I came home and told my husband about two appointments I had that day and cried, because I felt so lucky and inspired and touched by the students who shared their stories with me. As we do things over time we settle into the familiar. Things still excite us or interest or engage us, but they take on the flavor of the more routine, more expected, more every day.
Which means that some days, I come in to work in the wrong frame of mind. I come in tired from a 5:30 a.m. wake-up, from an hour drive through grey and brown winter on farmland not covered in snow (listen, I know y’all hate snow, but the brown, not-snowed-on land is about ten thousand times worse for me). I come in wearing the weight of studies I’m grappling to understand, responses to my own courses I can’t seem to draft no matter how long I stare at a computer screen. I come in feeling the minutes ticking and ticking by on work I haven’t yet completed. My neck is sore from a lumpy pillow and my back hurts from that hug my seven year old gave me that ended in his sudden decision to jump on me. I have chronic headaches, which leave me grumpy and out of sorts.
Basically, I come in feeling everything but prepared to work with students. And I come in forgetting that all the weariness and aching my body carries in—and all of my worries—are things students carry in to our sessions too.
One of the best things about our jobs is that we get the chance to work one on one with students. This means that I get to sit across from one person and connect. In our jobs, we have the opportunity to create moments with students in ways we don’t get to in classrooms. Which is not a value judgement; both have their plusses. But I definitely know I’m very lucky in the positives my job affords me.
When both a client and I experience an aha! moment in a text we’ve been working on, moments when students trust us with their worries—either in drafts or outlines or papers or revisions—feel like gifts. They feel like starting the day right, or like restarting a day that got off on the wrong foot. Sometimes we have consultations where everything clicks, where it’s not just good, but it’s great. When the differences made on both sides of the paper seem to matter.
Coming in to sessions wearing my grumpy, overtaxed exhaustion certainly makes getting to those great moments harder, which means that sometimes, even consultants need to take a moment, take a breath, and remind themselves why we are here. Because when we do, great things happen.
Last semester we Koalas wrote a series of posts about our work and study playlists. At the time we had a conversation about listening to instrumental music and how it was particularly helpful for my fellow Koalas when studying to quiet the mind or get the juices flowing or inhibit the jitter juices or…something. Maybe it’s because I fall asleep to the sweet sounds of a James Newton Howard mashup playlist—and have for two years—but the very idea put me right to sleep. I prefer lyrics and beats and catchy music from the radio.
But three quarters of the way through my first semester of grad school, something happened. I’m used to being surrounded by noise, but noise of a particular variety (namely those of children at all decibels). Suddenly, come November, all of the new noises in my life felt like they were culminating in Just. Too. Much. Even the commute I take up to MSU felt way too loud.
Classical music, although awesomesauce, still doesn’t work for me when studying. I needed something that contains drama and sound but without human voices. Recently, I’ve found myself listening to the Hunger Games musical scores (yet again, James Newton Howard saves the day). I like these soundtracks because there are four of them so I get some variety, they are familiar enough that I can tune in and out of particular songs at will, and they can be, when I need them to be, unobtrusive. I am familiar enough with the movies that they keep me engaged in a low stakes kind of way. So while these particular scores might not work for you, I would recommend digging up the musical score of a favorite movie or two and giving them a test drive while studying.
It’s cover letter season. Most of us, if we haven’t already, are scrambling around to secure an internship or job for the summer, and unfortunately, this means that all of our (abundance of) free time is spent writing (or avoiding) cover letters. To help you with your job or internship search, here are a few tips to make the dreaded cover letter writing process a little less painful.
- Do your research. Before writing any cover letter, be sure to check out the company’s website, social media pages, and any other relevant sources. Take notes on the company’s main functions, values, and beliefs. Look back at your notes when you’re done. What does this company want in an employee? Incorporate this information into your cover letter and argue that you are the best fit for their company. Hiring managers will be impressed by your knowledge of the company, and this makes you stand out among other candidates.
- Find a real person to address your letter to. Search LinkedIn or the company’s website to find the name of a human resources manager or recruiter. Addressing your letter to one of these people is more personal than addressing it to the hiring manager or hiring committee. It also shows that you’ve done your research.
- Pull out key words from the job posting and integrate them into your letter. I like to print out job ads, pull out my favorite colorful pen, and then scribble all over the ad, circling words and phrases that describe traits and skills that I have. Pointing out the specific ways I fit the job description helps me organize my professional experience and write about it in a way that fits the job I’m applying for. Including key phrases from the job posting in your cover letter shows that you’ve paid careful attention to the position’s duties and roles within the organization.
- Write a new cover letter for every job. Companies will recognize a cookie cutter cover letter right when they see it. Instead, customize your letter to fit the position and company you’re applying for. Mention specific information about their company and the position. This shows hiring managers that you’ve put in the time and effort to write a cover letter catered directly to their needs.
These suggestions cover only the tip of the iceberg. For more advice, visit careernetwork.msu.edu. And don’t forget—we’re always available to help at the Writing Center!
Often in the writing center tutors are trained, as are many students, that writing is an object—both a product and that which must be produced. The arguments over “good” and “bad” writing are arguments based on neoliberal capitalist discourses surrounding the selling and consuming of texts, be they written, digital, or multimodal. Therefore, “good” writing is writing that can be produced for the purposes of selling it to consumers (academics, the public, and so on). While writing is a product and does serve a larger capitalist goal, writing is not only a product. Writing is not only an object, but an action—a type of cultural practice and way of doing. Though these cultural practices of academic writing is deeply tied to classed (upper-middle-class) and raced (white) assumptions and ideologies, this cultural practice is a useful discourse to learn and one that is taken on or embodied in scholars neither identifying as upper middle class or white. It is in this embodiment—this “putting on of the White Hat”—that I argue a feeling of double consciousness is created that is or could be portrayed in writing or in the works of those writing from the margins.
For many scholars of color, this elitist academic discourse creates a type of double consciousness within writing, where they question: To whom am I writing if not my own? For what purposes am I writing if not for those not in the academy? To which community should I speak when I write and to what discourse community do I need to preference, suppress, or speak across equally? These questions are not outside writers’ heads when they write. We cannot automatically silence the discourses—of teachers, tutors, parents, friends, employers and employees—that tell us what acceptable writing is and what it is not, and while one can (and many do) argue that standard writing is nothing but a rejection of discourses of resistance, e.g. Black Language and Rhetoric, Working-Class Rhetoric, Queer Rhetoric, and so on, these rejections create an embodied response. This effect can cause a state of double consciousness that can present in clients as “I don’t know how to say this the way the teacher wants. Help me say what I want the way they want” to “Why do I have to write about Keeping Up with the Kardashians as a representation of American culture? I’m an American. I live in America. That’s not my life.”
I could ask the conventional question of how we should train students to answer these questions and others like them in a relatively short writing center consultation (a question of time)? However, I want to ask by what means should tutors be trained to address the colonizing practice of academic writing, its purpose in neutralizing discourses from communities deemed undesirable, as well as its democratic functions? Moreover, what tools do tutors need to teach clients rhetorical disguises which would “involve using dominant codes of language in expected ways, to speak and write in ways that might otherwise appear to be covering or assimilating to white standards of conduct” (Denny, 2010, p. 54)? How can the embodied experience of navigating double consciousness, not only in writing but also in the public arena, be useful in teaching clients ways to counteract such psychological damage within their writing?
While taking the Writing Center Administration course offered here at MSU, I have found myself questioning writing center pedagogy and practices, specifically with regard to ushering clients into various forms of academic literate practices. These academic literacy practices (clean, concise, effective writing, most often written in Standard English) are laced with politics of exclusion—the exclusion of marginalized bodies, their rhetorical practices, and their various language(s) and dialects. While many scholars do challenge longstanding academic literacy practices, writing center tutors and directors, if not interrogating these longstanding practices, may—in fact, are—re-inscribing oppressive literate practices on the bodies of the students entering the writing center for tutoring. Grimm (1999) argues, “writing centers need to be more fully engaged with the paradox of literacy—the way that literacy both dominates and liberates, both demands submission and offers the promise of agency” (p. xiii). In other words, literacy, like all “standards” is “a socially constructed modifier” that “systemically bases policies and practices on those mistaken judgements” about standards and clients abilities to meet them (Greenfield, 2011, p. 35).
It may seem a large undertaking for writing center directors to take on the task of educating and disrupting academic literacy practices, particularly if those practices benefit them in the advancement of their own lives and careers. However, educating clients about and encouraging them to use rhetorical practices of their own choosing that allow their concerns, inquires, theories, and resolutions to be heard is productive for expanding not only the rhetorical skills of tutors, but also the larger ideas surrounding literacy, literate practices, and what counts as such in the academy.
While I encourage clients to resist within assignments if they wish, I also educate them about the costs of such resistance. Let me be frank: some instructors have power issues; some instructors believe they can learn nothing from their students—no matter their age, class, sexuality, or lived experience they may have. Some teachers cannot handle challenges from students with regard to assignments given or texts read. These teachers are the least likely to support such resistance and the most likely to give students performing this resistance a bad grade. However, there are teacher who welcome such resistance and the insight it can give them about their own pedagogical practices. These teachers are often more willing to allow students to push at boundaries in writing and reward them, usually with a good grade. Educating students about the real consequences writing has also teaches them that writing can and does have immediate impact and affect and is important for clients to learn.
Ever since November we’ve been living in a Game of Thrones state. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “Winter is coming” to my husband in the most menacing voice I can manage (hint: I’m not really menacing, so he laughs at me). While we enjoyed some warm weather at the start of winter, I actually looked forward to the cold and the snow. Winter without snow is depressing in Michigan, and winter without cold is disconcerting.
I might be the only one appreciating the cold, albeit from the safety of my home, buried under three blankets, in a robe and a sweater. Perhaps with a cat on my lap. Seriously.
Winter is a great time for a good wood burning fire; I’m lucky I have a wood burning fireplace and that my husband loves making fires (not in a dangerous way). But for those of you who don’t have one, I suggest a small space heater with a photo of a fire behind it and a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief.
Here ya go. Go wild kids.
Step two to winter survival (or enjoyment, go your own way) is a good book and a great cup of tea. I’m a huge fan of Teavanna’s looseleaf teas.
The vat of tea I’m currently working my way through has popcorn in it. You’d be surprised how good it is.
So at this point I’m either studying or cozying up with a good book. The way grad school is going for me, I’m generally studying. If you’re in the boat with me, I have to say that my fellow Koala bloggers have shared some excellent study playlists if you want to check those out.
On the fun side of things, I have recently been devouring comfort books (AKA books I’ve read before). But since some of you may not have read them, I’m gonna recommend them to you.
A few months ago Marissa Meyer released the final book in her Lunar Chronicles series.
These are YA books, which I am a huge fan of. They also pull of some unbelievable elements I could never execute. When my best friend offered me the first book, Cinder, I read the blurb and laughed out loud. It’s a play on the Cinderella fairytale, only it includes cyborgs, a worldwide plague, people who live on the moon and are creepy bad guys with supernatural powers. There are four books in the series, each including a new character that originates in a fairy tale – a pilot named Scarlet (Little Red Riding hood), a computer hacker named Cress who’s been trapped and isolated in a space satellite (Rapunzel), and a beautiful princess, Winter, who has been disfigured and is kind of a little insane (Snow White).
This sounds crazy and I feel you. I only read the first because it was so out there I needed to watch the train wreck. But I love, love, love these books. They have some diversity in there (though they could have more). For the most part the pacing is great and the writing really worked for me. The other characters are fantastic—funny and sweet and complicated. I also have an affinity for a series that keeps you engaged and lets you linger in a world, which Meyers totally delivers.
In sum, Tania’s winter blues recommendation (and my winter high recommendation, because I love this weather): Fake fire, blankets, sweaters, a cat or two, some tea and a great book.
Continuing with my use of Pandora streaming as a way to help one focus during studying, when I’m bored of “classical” (classical to whom? But that’s another story) music (which definitely happens), I move on to different jazz stations I have in my Pandora stations list. I keep to jazz that still falls under the no lyrics category when studying (which is most of the time).
For this post, I want to focus on two specific Pandora jazz stations: Bebop Radio and Cool Jazz Radio. I write about both of these in one post because they are obviously related (although you could argue about where the boundaries of these styles exists). But they serve different purposes as a study aid.
Both stations are great aids in helping me hone in my focus and assist in creating a study/work space. They keep me on task, even if that means listening to a track for a moment while I collect my thoughts. There are two deciding factors that lead me to decide which station to use: current energy level and where I want that energy level to be while studying.
Bebop is great when I’m at a low energy level and need some more up-tempo music to keep me going. Bebop has been especially helpful when I just need to draft pages of an essay or personal work. It really helps me with the generative process—I get lost in drafting/writing with a great Bebop classic in my ear. I’m thinking anything by Dizzy or Horace Silver (when the station melds with Hard Bop). The Bebop Radio station can sometimes be unhelpful when I’m reading, as I’ll start reading (or skimming) too quickly and be more caught up in the tempo. So when I need a more chill energy level while doing some studying, I turn to Cool Jazz.
The Cool Jazz Radio station is very useful when I need to calm down (especially when related to stress) a little to focus. It is a great study aid when reading, as the music makes time feel like it’s moving in song time (not pages, nor minutes); a couple of chill songs pass by and I realize I’ve read 40 something pages or finished a blog post (which is happening as I write this). Paul Desmond’s “A Taste of Honey” is a welcome study companion any time during reading or more relaxed drafting/creating.
It’s interesting to be juxtaposing these styles (Cool and Bebop) in regards to my studying, as they have always been juxtaposed since their post WWII fame (for the same reasons too, tempo and feel). In this microcosm of personal choices influenced by historical tensions, I keep trying to make choices, to study, to create (lol, ending with typical academic theorizing).