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 resistance—a 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?