A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending the ECWCA Conference in South Bend, Indiana. For those of you who are not familiar with the ECWCA, the East Central Writing Center Association, is an organization that brings writing centers from across the Midwest together for an annual conference where consultants, directors, and administrators share what they have been working on for the last year.
This is my second time going and presenting at this conference and it is a great chance to see what other folks are working on. This year the theme focused on Ethics in the WC and I would like to take a chance to reflect on one of the keynote speakers’ presentations.
John Duffy is the founder of the Writing Center at Notre Dame and has maintained a working relationship with the WC at Notre Dame. He is now the writing program administrator for the writing program at Notre Dame. Dr. Duffy began his talk outlining what it means to ethically consult with students, describing ways to help students create ethical arguments and fact checking their opinions to provide solid evidence for scholarly research.
As the talk progressed, Dr. Duffy highlighted the responsibilities of writing consultants as a sounding board, bringing the long standing argument against WC work as peer to peer tutoring being one step away from cheating. Dr. Duffy discussed the many ways that this argument is ludicrous (it is rare to have a consultant working on the same assignment, WC’s aren’t copy editing services where students can drop off their papers and pick up polished essays, etc.) and provided context for the potential intervention moments consultants have to help students really engage in their ideas.
At the conclusion of his conversation Dr. Duffy provided some great advice on how to approach these kinds of conversations with clients, such as: ask the client if they have check multiple sources, talk with the client about how they are framing their arguments, try to find out what is the most important part of the argument to the client.
For me as a consultant these kinds of conversations are great, but I often feel that all of the outcomes of these conversations are based on the proverbial “difficult” client who needs to be helped. I also feel that these kinds of discussions start off with the assumption that the consultant is qualified and prepared to ethically engage with clients who have completely different world views and life experience.
During the discussion part of Dr. Duffy’s talk, it was clear to me that those who engaged Dr. Duffy were taking the assumptions as truths by the way that they conversations were framed. “Those students” are our client base and I take issue with placing all of the responsibility for ethical practice on the consultant. Similarly, I fear it is an even bigger issue to assume that our clients are unable to engage in ethical ways themselves.
At this point, I have to provide a disclaimer, I was one person listening and engaging with this conversation. It is totally possible that I heard/understood everything incorrectly during this discussion, but either way I do think that because of what I have been feeling in regards to all of this, it is an appropriate time to talk about it.
It is as much our responsibility to train our consultants in ways of ethical behavior and understandings as it is to work our clients on these ideas. It is not a safe assumption that consultants are prepared for ethical discourse, nor is acceptable to forget that consultants are students as well. We are not knowledge keepers and by putting the focus only on the client base, I believe there is a huge risk of distancing ourselves with the very folks we are claiming to help.
I have written multiple times about meeting students where they are at, but this is a reciprocal process. There are some things that I am great at as a consultant, but to assume that those things don’t need further work is a terrifying idea to me. As a consultant it is my job to continually investigate my position and knowledge base to best help clients, but more importantly it is my job to know that help looks and feels different for each client.
It is as much our responsibility to engage in our own ethical process as writing center communities as it is to work with our clients. I think the ideas that Dr. Duffy discussed are extremely important and are for the most part applicable, so much so that I would like to see conversations of how to make these ideas the focal point of consultant training modules.
At the end of the day, this is one of the reasons why I love being part of this community. My thoughts about the conference didn’t end when I left. I am still thinking about these ideas and still trying to figure out ways to best meet the needs of my clients. The ECWCA community is a great place to explore ideas and to meet like minded people.