Tag Archives: pedagogy

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?

The Great Grammar Debate: An Introduction

The Great Grammar DebateThis is the first post in a series on the grammar debate among consultants and the larger field of writing center studies. Here at MSU we see lots of clients who come to us for help with “grammar,” which we then caution that we do more than grammar and are interested in having a conversation about their writing, versus just pointing out grammatical “errors.”

But, at the same time, grammar IS what we do. For example, a resume or personal statement, high stakes documents, with grammatical errors may restrict a client from getting a job, getting into graduate school, or receiving a scholarship.

We don’t require our consultants to be grammar experts; I, for one, am certainly not. But I did stick pretty closely to grammar conventions of Standard American English for this blog post. Would you have read this far if I had not? What would it mean, or even look like, to not write with these conventions? To not consultant or tutor with these conventions? This series on The Great Grammar Debate considers these questions, and more.

At MSU we have consultants who love grammar, some who dislike grammar, and a lot of folks who are indifferent. As such, in this series you’ll hear from a variety of viewpoints. Our intention is not to arrive at an answer or to come out on one side or the other. We believe there are multiple perspectives to this debate, however it’s important to destabilize a seemingly invincible understanding of grammar in writing centers.