Tag Archives: Graduate Students

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?

Trendspotting: Grad School Applications

Trendspotting with Alyson GinesHappy Thanksgiving, everyone! Even though this has been a shorter week than most, the one thing seen the most at The Writing Center was definitely grad school statements. Application deadlines are approaching this December, and there are only a few short weeks left in this semester to make appointments. There are still some open spots to come meet with consultants, whether it’s to work on that grad application or a paper for a final.

Have a good break!

Trendspotting: Classy Outfits

Trendspotting with Alyson Gines logo

Hey folks, this week’s hottest trend has a bit of flair to it: classy wear. That’s right, we’re talking dresses and ties! It’s the season of career fairs and job interviews, and those events not only require a professional look, but some well-written résumés, too. The Writing Center consultants have been seeing a lot of résumés, applications, and personal statements lately, and are more than happy to read through YOUR work. You can make an appointment for 30 minutes or an hour, and we have quite a few different locations you can check out!

Event Recap: ReCycle, ReMix, ReClaim

Colorful tape made to be rivers and roads stretched across a flat cardboard box.

The beginning.

The Writing Center celebrated yet another of its 20/20 events this past week: ReCyle, ReMix, ReClaim. The inspiration was found in this year’s One Book, One Community choice, a program co-sponsored by the City of East Lansing and MSU. The 2012 book is Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a story that takes place in the slums of India.

In this novel, a series of families sort and sell trash as one way out of the slums. Similarly, The Writing Center’s event welcomed students of all backgrounds to come and repurpose items that had previously been thought to be trash—bottles, cardboard, containers, etc. It was an eye-opening exercise in shifting the perspective with which we view the world.

The final product - bottles covered in tape and ribbon making towers, playground equipment made from pipe cleaner.

The final product.

Students ranging in age from Freshmen to Graduate Students came to participate, sharing a bit about themselves and their unique backgrounds as they worked together to turn the trash into something beautiful. As they worked to build a small “city,” discussions about campus, life, and learning were had throughout the evening. It was an activity that created a community based on differences, and that celebrated our diversity. This is what The Writing Center and MSU are all about: creating connections between people and things that open our eyes, and make our world a better place.

The Writing Center’s New Locations: The MSU Union and McDonel Hall

South entrance to the MSU Union

The MSU Union

The Writing Center would like to invite you to check out our two new satellite locations at The MSU Union and McDonel Hall.

These new satellite locations have been opened to offer new and diverse locations to get the same great help as all of our other Writing Center locations. Whether you live just behind Albert Road or are a graduate student in Owen, these two locations have been open with our clients in mind.

The MSU Union location is a great place to come if you live in West Circle, or after you stop into the “original” Biggby and grab a cup of coffee. The MSU Union location is open 5pm-10pm on Sundays and 6:30pm-10pm Monday through Wednesday.

West entrance to McDonel Hall

McDonel Hall

Our new satellite location in McDonel Hall is located in room 105c and has extremely easy access to the Sparty’s in the next room over. This location provides easy access to The Writing Center services whether you live in Owen, Holmes, or McDonel itself. Graduate students, International Students, Lyman-Briggs students, and all kinds of students alike are welcome to check out this new location on Sunday from 5pm-10pm, Monday from 2pm-9pm, or Tuesday and Wednesday 6pm-9pm