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 play—the 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.”