The Writing Center’s Partnership in Uganda Launch Talk
By: Trixie Smith
Back in 2018 I had my first experiences with Leadership Fellows from across the African continent through the Alliance for African Partnership. It was then that I met Professor Fredrick Muyodi from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, College of Natural Sciences. It was also then that we started talking about establishing a writing center at Makerere. Through other AAP programs over the next couple of years, I also met Professor Ronald Bisaso from the College of Education, and Stella Kakeeto, a research manager with the College of Health Sciences. They too were dreaming of a writing center at Makerere University. In 2022, we had the opportunity through support from the US Embassy in Uganda to work together to start making that dream a reality. In March of 2023, Dr. Grace Pregent and I traveled to Makerere to help launch this new writing center and to work with faculty from across the university. I was asked to say a few words at the ceremonial launch and I share them with you now.
I am professor Trixie Smith and it is so good to be here at Makerere University and to play a small role in the university’s commitment to moving towards the future of a research-led university. First I want to thank the team here that we have been working with, Prof Muyodi, Dr. Ronald Bisaso, and Ms. Stella Kakeeto, as well as a great team of Research and Administrative Assistants—Charles, MaryAnn, and Aisha. Thanks as well for the warm greetings and support from the VC, the DVC for Academic Affairs, and the Director of Research and Graduate Studies. In fact every one we’ve encountered has been warm and inviting.
I bring greetings from Michigan State University, my home for the past 16 years, I also extend greetings from my colleague Dr. Grace Pregent who is also on this trip, and my colleagues back home with the Alliance for African Partnership, Ms Ann Allegra and co-director Dr. José Jackson-Malete, who was the first person to introduce me to Makerere University and Prof Muyodi. It is an honor for all of us to be involved in this project and in this launch.
Makerere University has announced through its 2020-2030 strategic plan that it “ is committed to providing transformative and innovative teaching, learning, research and services responsive to dynamic national and global needs.” This vision includes strategic partnerships in research and industry, as well as the community, and the development of students in every area. Just like Makerere, at Michigan State we too have a new strategic plan dedicated to change by 2030. Michigan State is focused on three things: 1. empowering excellence, 2. advancing equity, and 3. expanding impact. We also acknowledge that one of the ways we can accomplish these goals is through engaged partnerships both locally and globally. Partnerships such as this one with Makerere University where we can collaborate with stellar researchers and visionaries, where we can work together to build on the abundant strengths you have here, and where we can conduct research together that is important to a global audience as well as a local one. It also means student and faculty exchanges, learning from and with each other at every level from undergraduate student to senior faculty leaders.
I have been directing university writing centers for 20 years, but I started many years before that as a peer tutor, when I was an undergraduate student finishing my BA degree in English and my BS in Education. One of my mentors along this journey, advanced a model of what she called complementary expertise, which is particularly salient in the writing center. Writers are their own best experts about their writing, their projects, their research, their goals, but they come to the writing center to work collaboratively with others who have expertise in areas such as research, writing, grant applications, and presentations. Working together both individuals learn and grow and become even better versions of themselves, they complement each other. That is our shared goal for a writing center here at Makerere University. We think this writing center and the programs organized by and run through the center can be a model for the East African region and beyond, an important part of Makerere’s goals and visions for being innovative and transformative and increasing its visibility around the globe.
In my 30+ years of teaching writing and working in writing centers, I have seen their transformative power—for individual writers, researchers, and teachers, as well as for programs and curricula. Focusing on writing and the needs of writers, no matter their level or type of writing, can open up new opportunities for networking, for influencing readers and researchers, for making connections in the community and beyond. Writing is a tool that cuts across colleges and disciplines, it can also cut across identity markers such as gender, age, and citizenship. It can, it does, provide forums and platforms for new discoveries and solutions, whether we’re thinking about food security or the effects of climate change on our planet. Whether we’re thinking about the role of play in literacy learning for our children or the role of education in keeping people healthy. And on and on—writing’s importance never diminishes.
I’m excited and honored to be a part of this launch and to have the opportunity to work with so many of you in the upcoming days and months, and hopefully for many years to come. Thank you.