Tag Archives: writing center

Decolonize This! Interrogating Academic Literacy Practices

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.

Bodies that Matter: Why Writing Center Consultations Should Not Be About Writing

Photo by aegishjalmur on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

As writing center consultants, our main “job” is assisting clients with their writing, whether that writing is an essay or a video project. However, at times, it is necessary to focus not on the product (writing) brought in by clients, but on the body (the client) that brought in the product. While I am not suggesting that focusing on client writing is not important, I am suggesting that the very bodies that write these documents are affected by the same discourses that impact us all, and it is these discourses that can, and often do, show up both in client writing and in client consultations.

The majority of our MSU clients are, indeed, students of the university. These students are often given challenging assignments asking them to write about various issues ranging from more common topics (e.g. Why did you choose to come to college?) to more complex topics (e.g. Do you believe queer bodies should be protected under anti-discrimination laws?). When clients encounter these types of assignments, client biases—intentional or unintentional—often reveal themselves in writing. However, while tutors may be urged to discuss the biases within the text, I argue we need to interrogate and question the biases within students. By interrogate, I do not mean to suggest that clients who express racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and so on in their writing are intending to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or classist—though at times, they most certainly are. I do suggest that clients, just like consultants, are impacted by the very same discourses surrounding these and other sets of people, cultures, and careers.

These discourses perpetuated by the media, the government, the police, the justice system, the educational system, and yes, the family, live within our clients as they live in us. In other words, while we live in systems of oppression, systems of oppression live in us. Therefore, to help to begin to cut the threads of a dominant system and its discourse, we should begin to ask clients “Who told you this?” “What brings you to this conclusion about these sets of people, culture, and so on?” as well as educating them through literature (scholarly); pop culture (media intended to disrupt certain dominant narratives); and conversation (with consultants when in the consultation). It is easy to focus on the product (text), especially in a capitalist society that seeks to own and in some ways has commodified its entire populace. It is harder to focus on the commodified bodies—the client and the consultant—who write problematic texts that can be harmful to a community of people, as well as to the client. How else do clients begin to question the complex bodies who produce problematic, if not utterly offensive, text documents? And how might questioning the body instead of the text enhance, or even lessen, the effectiveness of the consultation?

IWCA: A Place for Emerging Scholars

IWCA_logoWhen I was at IWCA a few weeks ago to present on “What Makes a Space Raced: Exploring Whiteness in the Writing Center,” I noticed how conferences—despite the tales of elitist performances and pretentious discourse—provide young and emerging scholars a space to present their research and receive productive feedback. In my rush to get published, I find that conferences allow me to think about my research, to explore ways to expand and exhaust the research, and to nuance the arguments I posit. In other words, conferences allow me to continue being student, which I believe is integral to both teaching, research, and scholarship. Publishing never feels like a learning practice. It feels like a finality: an imagined end goal. Publishing functions as a way of (1) Espousing knowledge, (2) Critiquing knowledge, or (3) Drawing attention to new knowledges. It is a space for experts, not necessarily learners.

What conferences provide young and emerging scholars that is much like the publishing process— if a manuscript reaches external review—is an instant type of peer review. Young, emerging, and established scholars all attend conferences and tend to attend panels in which they are interested. Therefore, what happens when young scholars present is a type of low-risk (ideally) review that can further push and urge a scholar to explore, nuance, and better articulate their research and ideas. For more established scholars, hearing from young and emerging researchers can also serve as a way to better refine, rethink, and nuance their current research. As someone interested in Writing Center research, as well as research in Comp/Rhet, the IWCA conference is an ideal space to present research concerning race, language, and identity in writing center spaces. I never leave a presentation unsatisfied as the questions, suggestions, and resources audience members provide are invaluable in this early stage of my research.

The Writing Process, the Writing Center, and You

Dear Potential Writing Center Client,

I am writing this letter to you to inform you of the world of possibilities the Writing Center @ MSU can offer you. Through this letter, it is my hope that you open up to the idea that writing is a process and that we are here to assist you with that process, wherever it is you may be.

Strong, thoughtful writing usually doesn’t happen overnight. If you write something the night before it is due, then you are writing what is probably, as Anne Lamott would call it, a “shitty first draft.” And shitty first drafts are great! Sometimes you just need to get it out and after you have your initial ideas out, shitty or not, we (you and a tutor) can begin to engage in the writing process through revision.

I want you to open up to another idea: writing as revision. Writing, as a process, is something that ideally happens over time and is at its strongest when you can draft something and continue to revise it, or re-envisioning it (see what I did there?). If you can give into this idea, then, the writing process is something we can engage in together (at the Writing Center!).

A basic outline for the writing process is as follows: brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revision, revision, revision, revision (do you get the point yet?), revision, editing. I will now go into detail concerning the individual steps.

All of these steps are proposed as a model. You might have a different model or one in a different order. If you are not doing writing in the way I’ve just prescribed, don’t fret! It’s just a model to give you a start.


This is the generative, imaginative, creative, and/or constructive part of the writing process. This is when you can begin bringing ideas together without any fear of linear thinking, making complete sense, or worrying if it will “work.” Brainstorming is a beautiful, magical time where you are free to roam the wilds of your mind and jot down anything that seems relevant. Techniques like making lists, bubble maps, and free-writing are simple tools you can use during this stage to generate ideas.


Outlining can be understood as the step between brainstorming and drafting where you take those many thoughts and start organizing them into a more coherent, but not perfect state. Outlining can consist of formal outlines with roman numerals, lazy outlines of your choosing (my favorite) or just organized lists. Outlining can also be a great time to discover if you need more research or not.


Drafting, for the purpose of this model, is the creation of the first draft (or “shitty first draft”) in an attempt to get your words into a more coherent, written-out-with-sentences form. Drafts don’t have to look like the final product. Drafts are an attempt at paragraphs and organization. Think of this as the starting step for what your essay or written text will become. A few tips for drafting: don’t over think it, just write as much as you can (more is better), and just let go.


Revision is the possibly never-ending process of taking your draft and re-envisioning it. This is when you really need to start considering the form/needs of the genre you are working in and the global issues of your paper (organization, main argument, transitions, clarity). When you think genres, think about how essays are different from prose, are different from cover letters, are different from poems. For example, if you are writing an essay, where is the thesis and is it central in your whole piece? I say revision is possibly never ending because at this point you can revise to your heart’s content (or until the deadline) and leaving yourself the time to revise is of the upmost importance to the writing process. Like the old maxim from da Vinci, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” There will come a time when you will have to say, “Okay, I think this is where I need to leave my writing for now. It makes enough sense and answers to the assignment/genre.”


Editing is left for last because now that you have addressed the global concerns, you can go through and check your paper for local issues like sentence structure, syntax, and grammar. Editing is the time to “polish” your piece and consider your tone and how you are saying things. A good strategy for this is reading the essay in reverse order, one sentence at a time, to focus on the sentence meaning and not the linear, argument(s) being constructed.

The best thing we (at the Writing Center) can do for you is also help you figure out YOUR PROCESS. That’s the beauty of our approach to peer revision—when you become aware of your process, you can begin to tailor it for your own needs and purposes. That would be our highest and ultimate goal: to facilitate awareness of and define a process that works for YOU. A process you can engage in (and redefine) as you need, long after you stop using the writing center and even long after college.

Please come join us for a session at the center. I mean, you’ve already paid for it in student fees! And you never know what you might learn here, or what we can imagine together.