Anna’s Journey into the Writing Center

Girl with long brown hair sits on a bench in a garden

By: Anna LePage

I joined the MSU Writing Center at the beginning of 2023, after having taken the required course for prospective undergraduate consultants. That class was WRA 395, and as I reflect on my experience, it remains one of the most transformative courses that I’ve taken throughout my college career, both academically and personally. One of the first weeks of the semester, we had a reading from a book called Out in the Center: Public Controversies and Identity Politics in Writing Center Theory and Practice. Fresh-eyed and brand new to the field of writing center studies, we struggled through a discussion on the complexities of identity, power, and privilege, and a central tension underlying writing centers: we are a limb of a broader academic institution, but the kind of work we do often compels us to resist norms of the very institution to which we belong. How can we uphold the convictions of our Language Statement when a writer’s professor, their discipline, or the university as a whole is committed to the idea of one correct English usage? Questions like these still linger.

Coming from outside the English or Writing and Rhetoric departments, I approached WRA 395 with a measured distance. I was aware of my lack of knowledge of writing center practice, and my minimal understanding of (some of) the theories that underpin it. In retrospect, though much of my initial lack of knowledge remains, taking WRA 395 and then moving onto the MSU Writing Center has sparked a personal excavation of literacy, knowledge, and power, in ways that extend far beyond the writing center-proper. Skills that are cultivated through working at writing centers — thinking critically about one’s positionality, reading against the grain, and engaging ethically with the “Other” — are transferable, and indeed fundamental, to other areas of life. Writing center studies bridge a wide range of fields and disciplines: writing and rhetoric, certainly, but also pedagogy, linguistics, social justice, history, philosophy, critical theory, etc.

Back to that work we read in the beginning of the semester, I remember it resonating with me when we first encountered it in September, reading the introduction section of the eponymous book, but I wasn’t fully conscious of why. It is only now that I realize how rhetorically rich it is. There are many possible interpretations, but for me, post-WRA 395, it expresses the porosity of the borders between the writing center proper, the wider institution, and most importantly, the world. To be “out in the writing center” is to be enmeshed in all three, simultaneously, and to have those difficult conversations — and the messiness that that sometimes entails is part of the gig. Perhaps, even, it is where transformation can take place.