Working through the tension of when it is wise to inform a student that all writing, even the very assignments they receive in class can, and sometimes must, be interrogated is no small canal to dredge. Often students are asked to write papers that are culturally insensitive or ethnocentric. For example, it may seem wise to assign students to find cultural artifacts unique to the U.S. legal system and articulate its importance to current U.S. ideologies regarding justice. However, to ask an international student to articulate how a U.S. legal artifact is related to a U.S. ideology of justice puts this student at a severe cultural disadvantage. What am I to do in this situation? How am I to assist students new to this culture articulate how a symbol signifies a U.S. ideal? How can I not spoon-feed them the information?
I am not at all suggesting that these types of assignments are intentionally microaggressive against or purposely excluding those persons wholly unfamiliar with U.S. culture and ideology. However, it is important to understand that all writing carries inherent assumptions, biases, and exclusions that can, and do, render certain bodies to the margins of academic writing and the academy at large. When students receive these assignments, they receive messages—messages about not only what should be done in the assignment, but also messages about how much knowledge the professor assumes they bring into class.
When clients enter the Writing Center afraid and confused, seeking assistance if only to show that their confusion is a cultural and not a cognitive one, I wonder what damage we can do with one simple assignment. I also wonder, what damage control must I do in a matter of minutes, minutes that may not be sufficient to stymie the damage of an exclusionary assignment?
Something to consider in online writing consultations is your process of identity construction, the power relations these identities rely on/reify/endorse and how this all affects the goal of peer revision, collaborative meaning-making and the writing center consultation.
When we engage in online writing consultations via Twiddla and discuss writing with a student by chatting and engaging the text (without audio or video) we are engaging writing through writing, as opposed to in-person consultations that sometimes involve very little actual writing. The creation of a writing space through online, real-time, digital communication is affected by similar pressures that exist in parallel online, constructed environments—like social media, blogging platforms and discussion boards. One such guiding pressure in this writing space is the construction of identity through written text. In an online setting as a writing center tutor, you are expected to endorse an attitude of peer revision and collaborative meaning-making, while also constructing an identity to engage with another peer in revision. Engaging in collaborative meaning-making requires people, and so both (sometimes more) people in the online writing center consultation are engaged in revision and are constructing their identities simultaneously, all through text.
This could be said of an in-person consultation too. I would argue that in person, though, we rely on bodily cues to signify identity. We rely on physical interactions and performative indicators to relate to each other as bodies and people. Considering the dynamics of identity construction in a virtual space can open up possibilities of change and awareness in the online consultation setting. What identity are you presenting/creating/relying on? Is your process active or assumed? What identity are you inferring about the “student” or “client” or “peer” you are working with and does that affect how you work with them?