By Mohsen Hosseinpour Moghaddam,
Graduate Writing Facilitator, Simon Fraser University
Mohsen is a PhD student in Education at Simon Fraser University. He moved to Canada from Iran in 2012. He started learning English at the age of twenty. Before that, he only knew a few words and grammar rules. He is currently working as an Graduate Writing Facilitator on the undergraduate team at the Student Learning Commons (SLC) and WriteAway. At SLC, in addition to offering individual writing consultations, he delivers general and course-integrated writing workshops across disciplines on topics ranging from argumentation to ethical use of research material in writing assignments.
“Body is never simply matter, for it is never divorced from perception and interpretation…and it is subject to examination and speculation” – Carla Peterson (2001, as cited in James Alexander, 2001, p. 108)
Scene 1 (teaching in-person) I started working as an undergraduate writing advisor at the Student Learning Commons (SLC) in the middle of the third year of my PhD program. I have been teaching workshops and having one-on-one consultations with students since then. Coming to Canada as an international student from the Middle East (Iran) and being a non-native speaker/writer (NNS/W) of English made the challenges of being a writing advisor more intense. A question that has always lingered on my mind is if I am a legitimate writing advisor. I am not saying that others directly question my legitimacy and credibility as a writing advisor; this is just a feeling that I have always had with me as a NNS/W of English teaching at a Canadian university. Continue reading “Tutor’s experience: A session reflection on identity occlusion in virtual and in-person spaces”→
This post is from the 2022 CWCA/ACCR annual conference virtual poster session. – Stevie Bell and Brian Hotson, 2022 CWCA/ACCR conference co-chairs
By Moberley Luger & Craig Stensrud, University of British Columbia
As writing centres increasingly become centres for writing and communication, our presentation calls for expanding the place of speaking pedagogies in writing centres. We understand scholarly speaking as an integral part of the research—and, indeed, writing—process. We will share a scholarly speaking web resource we built available to Canadian writing centres: The Precedents Archive for Scholarly Speaking (PASS). The site features examples of student speakers and aims to align speaking and writing pedagogies.
This post is from the 2022 CWCA/ACCR annual conference virtual poster session. – Stevie Bell and Brian Hotson, 2022 CWCA/ACCR conference co-chairs
By Maria Eleftheriou, Tamanna Taher, Alaa Itani, Konstantina Spyropoulou, & Zahraa Al-Dawood, The American University of Sharjah
As part of an effort to address writing issues, the American University of Sharjah (AUS) located in the United Arab Emirates established a writing center with a peer-tutoring program in 2004. The Writing Center conducts approximately 3500 appointments a year and has a staff of 30 undergraduate tutors and four graduate tutors. In this video, we describe how our Writing Center responded to the emotional challenges presented by the pandemic. We present our story through a variety of clips which illustrate the ongoing process of introducing emotional intelligence training in our program: the discussions that emphasized the importance of emotions in the teaching and learning process, the role-playing activities and readings we incorporated into our training program, the opportunities tutors are given to discuss strategies for avoiding burn-out and our developing ability to create a safe and supportive atmosphere in our Writing Center. Continue reading “Managing the Emotional Well-being of Tutors and Students in a Middle-Eastern Writing Center”→
Vol. 3, No. 5 (Spring 2022)
I recently interviewed with Casey Wong who is the keynote speaker for the 2022 CWCA/ACCR conference. Wong (he/him) is currently an Assistant Professor of Social Foundations of Education in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. He is co-editing a forthcoming book, Freedom Moves: Hip Hop Knowledges, Pedagogies, and Futures?, with H. Samy Alim and Jeff Chang.
Thank you for taking the time for to speak with me.
Wong: Thank you! I’m excited about entering into community with you and the CWCA/ACCR attendees.
First off, I’m interested in how you got to where you are now. What was your path to your PhD and UCLA?
Wong: I love this question, and I imagine I could begin academically, but I might start with my upbringing. When I’m thinking about the power of language and rhetorics, I think about all I witnessed growing up in communities in Southern California that were some of the poorest by size in the country. I saw a variety of literacies spraypainted across train cars that actively passed through one of my central places of upbringing, Colton, California. I consider how I grew up among interconnected and overlapping peoples from the African/Black, Latinx, Asian, and Pacific Islander diasporas. I consider how local Native peoples were actively involved in my elementary school in San Bernardino, California. I think about how White supremacy often found its way into the voices and lives of my poor and working-class White peers, but how often there were deep co-conspiracies and solidarities that went unnoticed. With so many peoples, from so many places, it made having access to multiple varieties of language a deep advantage, and their value, and beauty–even as Dominant American English was widely seen as the ideological norm in very oppressive ways. I saw this personally as my Cantonese father secretly refused to let us know he spoke Cantonese, nor let us learn–something myself, my brother and sister would not find out until he passed away while we were in high school. Continue reading “Colonial outposts in the 36th chamber: Hip hop pedagogies and writing centres”→
Emily Carr University of Art + Design Writing Centre Jacqueline Turner, Writing Specialist Sara Osenton, Learning Specialist Emily Carr University of Art + Design Vancouver, BC
The deep fatigue of the pandemic has definitely set in, but this year we’ve focused on our tutors and building their capacity to thrive in changing conditions. We started the year with tutor-led meetings, providing a structure and then letting them learn and practice how to lead. To kick off 2022, we started meetings with a variety of activities such as Jamboard drawing on virtual money envelopes for lunar new year, or sharing our own creative practices from painting, book making, design, and graphic novel creation to sewing and knitting. We talked about how all these practices made us think differently about the moment of writing and how empathy and enthusiasm were key traits for tutor success. This week, we’ll start off our meeting figuring out how our collective skills might help us survive a zombie apocalypse. Too real~
While the ongoing limitations brought on by COVID restrictions meant the cancellation of our yearly, open-house Valentine’s event for the second time now, we found ways to connect with students by pivoting “Love, the Writing Centre” to a Valentine’s swag-bag giveaway. A hundred students signed in to WCOnline to reserve their kit and pick up time. The kits included writing-themed items designed by our tutors, who took these ideas from conception through the design process: notepads of Venn diagrams and writing checklists designed by one of our talented (and Instagram famous) tutors; a real postage stamp designed by tutors in the Letter Writing Collective, tucked into a tiny envelope; Writing Centre pencils and bookmarks; and, of course, candy. A few select kits even included a “golden ticket” redeemable for additional prizes to amp up the excitement.
We’ve also had tutors lead out and collaborate on workshops in proposal writing featuring “obnoxious unicorns” (who ask “Why?” and “How?” many times); to moving beyond cliché in artist statement workshops; to MLA sessions; and thesis queries. We’ve had tutors visiting virtual classes and sharing their enthusiasm for writing in Zoom rooms across the curriculum. Tutors have hosted online Study Hall Sessions for students to hang out and work on assignments and hosted a letter-writing collective where they set up a pen-pal system and wrote letters to trees in Australia. Wordsmiths, our long running tutor-led creative writing club, continues to have strong uptake. In this sense, the culture of writing is still strong in our university community.
In essence, we’ve begun to see that the work tutors do beyond one-on-one appointments to build community and a love of writing is even more important in COVID times. Seeking and maintaining connections in the shifting landscape of Writing Centre practice seems like the most significant thing we can do these days. We’re lucky to have such a dynamic and thoughtful group of tutors to carry it all out.
This is the second of three posts from our CWCR/RCCR’s 2022 COVID snapshot of writing centres in Canada. The first post was a snapshot from Hailie Tattrie from the writing centre at MSVU in Halifax. This snapshot come further west–Centre for Writers at the University of Alberta.
Centre for Writers Yan (Belinda) Wang, Acting Director University of Alberta Edmonton, AB
This coming March will mark the two-year transition into remote services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past year saw the Centre for Writers (C4W) thrive in some areas but also experience unprecedented difficulties and challenges.
What Went Well and Relatively Well Our clients are happy with online tutoring and other services we provide. We echo some other writing centres’ pleasant surprise in students’ willingness and appreciation for us adopting remote services. In the past academic year, when clients were asked if they were happy with the new online tutoring service, 99% of them said they were very happy or somewhat happy. For the first time ever, C4W services were offered later in the day (sometimes up to 10:00 pm) to accommodate clients in different time zones. The WCOnline scheduling system, especially its online consultation feature, continued to function effectively most of the time. Zoom was also used as an alternative when WCOnline malfunctioned.
Prior to the pandemic, asynchronous tutoring (i.e., emailed written feedback) was only offered to Faculty of Extension, U of A’s school of distance learning, students. When it became clear that extending the service in a pandemic setting would be beneficial, we started to offer the service to students of all faculties. Soon after the change was implemented, we experienced a surge in asynchronous tutoring requests. Even though we had three dedicated asynchronous tutors providing written feedback, many synchronous tutors had to assist with asynchronous requests when the number of submissions became overwhelming.
Our guided writing groups (for international graduate students) and group writing support (for writing-intensive undergraduate courses) thrived in the first half of 2021. We offered eight writing groups between January and April 2021, a new record for the C4W. We also supported five writing-intensive undergraduate courses in the same period, another very successful record.
The pandemic also impacted the delivery of our tutor training course, Writing Studies 301/603. Dr. Lucie Moussu, the former Director of the C4W, successfully taught the course online for the first time in Fall 2020. A new approach was developed to facilitate the online practicum portion of the course: student-tutors were given the opportunity to develop their tutoring skills and reflect upon their tutoring practice through online observations, online co-tutoring, online supervised tutoring, and solo tutoring at their own pace throughout the term. However, student-tutors’ individual challenges and efforts necessitated adjustments to this plan, with some never reaching the third or fourth stage of tutoring. A detailed spreadsheet was used to track student-tutors’ hours at each stage, as well as their progress. Justin, our Program Coordinator, did an amazing job scheduling and keeping track of everything and everyone amidst the scheduling madness. In the end, out of 18 students, six undergraduate students and eight graduate students from the course were hired in 2021 to fuel our tutor team.
Difficulties and Challenges The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light a few ongoing challenges, especially feelings of isolation and mental health concerns. Additional instabilities emerged in the latter half of 2021, bringing with them significant challenges: our previous director left, and we struggled a little in the aftermath of her departure.
Issues with technology Issues with technology arose for both tutors and clients. Some of these issues included microphone and camera troubles, clients not showing up to online appointments, Internet instability, and a recurring problem with WCOnline malfunctioning and terminating online consultations prematurely. Some of these problems were resolved quickly; for example, we used Zoom to connect tutors with clients during a WCOnline outage. Each tutor was given a private Zoom link (through the U of A) that they shared with clients at the start of each appointment in case issues arose with WCOnline. Some clients preferred Zoom and asked tutors to switch to Zoom at the beginning of their appointments.
Feelings of isolation and mental health concerns The online environment left many feeling isolated, so it was important for tutors to keep in touch with one another. Justin set up a daily check-in window on WCOnline, where the tutors could connect and socialize. We also gave the tutors our personal cell phone numbers so that they could contact us when needed. Tutors needed to be reachable at all times during their shifts in case clients needed a drop-in session or we had other writing-centre related duties for them. Also, tutors checked in with Justin at the start of each shift between 10 am and 4:30 pm in the WCOnline check-in window, and with the director, by text, from 4:30 pm until 10 pm. More frequent staff meetings were also scheduled so that we could connect with the tutors on a weekly basis.
Isolation due to the pandemic also caused some mental health concerns. While C4W staff had the methods of coping mentioned above, many clients felt very isolated. Tutors often found themselves listening to problems and concerns that their clients needed to talk about. While tutors are not expected or encouraged to act as therapists, they graciously listened to clients when they needed a place to vent their frustrations. Tutors themselves were in turn encouraged to reach out to us with any problems they needed to talk about.
The aftermath of Dr. Lucie Moussu leaving the C4W Dr. Lucie Moussu leaving the C4W in June 2021 was a huge loss. Her departure and the Dean of Students’ inaction in finding a permanent replacement threw the rest of us into a panic, and we struggled to cope in her absence. The C4W was without a director for two months, after which I asked the Dean of Students to hire me as Acting Director. (I had already been Acting Director during Dr. Moussu’s last sabbatical leave.)
Dr. Moussu’s departure meant that she could no longer teach the tutor training course, which had been essential in preparing well-trained tutors. For the first time in the C4W history, this course was taught by someone other than the C4W director in Fall 2021; it was instead taught by a full lecturer in the Department of English and Film Studies (EFS). The problem with this arrangement was that the lecturer did not train students specifically for the C4W but rather for other writing tutor positions in EFS. In the end, only two undergraduate students from this class applied for a C4W tutor position. It was very disappointing, as it did not give the C4W any room to select the tutors with the most potential. Also, it defeated the purpose of the tutor training course, which was initially specifically designed to fit the C4W’s purposes.
My limited experience with writing centre work, and even more limited energy as I am trying to complete my own PhD dissertation, means that a number of goals set for the 2021-2022 academic year cannot be achieved. Vigorous promotion of our services, community building, collaboration with various faculties, research-related activities, and professional development opportunities for tutors were greatly reduced, as a result.
Looking Forward The future of the C4W remains uncertain, but we are hopeful that peer writing support will continue to thrive, at least in some areas. Changes are underway and conversations about the future of our tutoring services are ongoing.
Streamlining services and reinventing workshops In an effort to streamline our services, limit the unmanageable number of email exchanges, and encourage clients to book synchronous online tutoring appointments, we decided to retire the email system and implement the eTutoring function already available on WCOnline. Our Quick Guide for Online Tutoring was updated to reflect this new change. Justin created a separate eTutoring schedule for Winter 2022 on WCOnline, opening a few eTutoring appointments each day. Three dedicated eTutors are responsible for checking their appointment windows and attaching written feedback to the appointments within three business days.
As our clients and tutors have grown accustomed to the new norm of online learning, interest in and demand for workshops kept growing. As a result, we decided to bring back the writing workshops, which were cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic. Our graduate tutors responded positively to the idea of resuming the workshops in an online setting, and many created new workshop topics and materials relevant to clients’ current concerns. Most of the workshops have been well-attended and all of them well-received.
Resuming in-person services and the future of the tutor training course We have been having ongoing conversations with the Dean of Students about resuming in-person services once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. We might return to campus in the coming Fall 2022 semester, and we would like to explore a hybrid model to accommodate clients’ different needs. Discussions about alternative formats of the tutor training course are also underway, as entrusting the Department of EFS to teach the course proved to be less than ideal.
In both March 2020 and 2021, CWCR/RCCR published snapshots of writing centres in Canada and their responses to the disruption of COVID 19. Now, two years on, while the thesaurus is busy writing new adjectives to describe our new realities, CWCR/RCCR is providing a snapshot from centres around Canada for 2022. We will post three snapshots—here is the first from MSVU in Halifax.
Mount Saint Vincent University Writing Centre
Hailie Tattrie, PhD Student
Mount Saint Vincent University
Making the best of COVID19: Learning together
“I really feel like this meeting has helped me!”, words from one of my regular students, Student M, who visits me at the Mount Saint Vincent University Writing Centre. Some days we edit her work together, other days we converse for the entire hour; sharing ideas, asking one another questions as we sip coffee at our desks, each of us in a different country. Despite the distance and the low hum of our laptops we make online tutoring work.
Revolutionary educator, Paulo Freire, is known for his work on critical pedagogy, as well as his exploration of the banking-model of education and the problem-posing model of education. The form of education that many in North America grew up with is known as the banking-model of education. This model is a subject-object relationship. As a tutor under the banking-model of education, I would simply sit at my desk and tell the student to remain silent as I edit their paper and make comments; there would be very little conversing. Under this model, the teacher is the subject, the bringer of knowledge, and the students are the object, empty and knowing nothing (Freire, 1970). Under the banking-model of education, students are seen as empty vessels, waiting to be filled with what is deemed the “correct” knowledge. In the banking-model, there’s no room for dialogue, critical thinking, or creativity. The banking model can be seen as Eurocentric in nature (Beattie, 2019; Kanu, 2006). However, Freire dreamed of more than the banking-model; he suggested an alternative, the problem-posing model of education. Continue reading “Two years on: COVID Snapshot of writing centres in Canada – Mount Saint Vincent University Writing Centre”→
Editor’s note: This is a Session Reflection. If you have a unique tutoring experience to share, submit your Session Reflection to Brian Hotson email@example.com
Stevie Bell is an associate professor in the Writing Department at York University and CWCR/RCCR co-founder
Writing centre tutors may be seeing an increase in multimodal writing projects (DWPs) now that students are primarily producing and submitting their work online―at least this is the case for me. Today’s students have the opportunity to use colour, sound, gifs, and video elements to enhance even traditional essays, and these elements are becoming not just common, but often expected. Students are also being assigned creative projects that require them to focus on becoming design-savvy producers of multimodal texts, using design elements and theory that isn’t always in their writing toolbox
Where on campus can students seek help with multimodal projects? In my opinion, writing centres are well positioned to extend the work they do supporting students as they use writing as a tool of thinking and communicating to include multimodal processes that do not prioritize alphabetic/linguistic modes. Writing centre tutors already know the structure of argumentation, the rhetoric of academic writing, and styles and formats required for writing at university or college levels. They also know how to think along with students, as well as to think in and through the tasks, challenges, and blocks that students come to the centre to work through.
The CWCA/ACCR Statement of Commitment to Antiracism is a living and active document. It will guide and inform the Board and its committees in all activities, such as strategic planning, conference organizing, resource creation, and membership recruitment. Following the statement’s publication on our website today in January 2022, the Board and the BIPOC Caucus will work together to implement an action plan and measures for tracking progress, for updating and revising the statement, and for supporting individual members and member schools in doing this critical work.
The Statement of Commitment to Antiracism is the result of significant cooperation and collaboration by various individuals and groups within CWCA/ACCR. The Statement was originally crafted out of a similar statement by the British Columbia Writing Centres Association (BCWCA). It was composed and revised over a period of approximately 12 months from January to December 2021, engaging Board members and general members of the organization.
Following the draft shared with members at the 2021 Annual General Meeting, racialized members of CWCA/ACCR formed the BIPOC Caucus and undertook the task of revising the Statement to make it more inclusive and to recognize the different roles that members have in doing this work. Their work has been instrumental, and CWCA/ACCR is indebted to these members for their commitment, vision, and labour. As a result of their work, the published Statement is more fully representative of our organization, and it details CWCA/ACCR’s commitments to and responsibilities for fostering and supporting antiracism in our organization and in member writing centres.
The CWCA/ACCR Statement of Commitment to Antiracism is the lens that will filter and focus all activities of our organization now and in the future. It reminds us that writing centre work is never neutral; that language is never standard; and that our practices of teaching, tutoring, and coaching must be equitable and informed by antiracism theories and practices to be effective. It impels us to examine our organizational culture, our membership, and our leadership, and to make intentional and sustaining changes to our systems and processes, and to our mentorship and leadership pathways.
I invite you to read the Statement of Commitment to Antiracism and consider how you can help move it from text to action:
What elements of this statement resonate with you?
As a current or future member of CWCA/ACCR, how can you participate in this work in your own writing centre/writing program? In your institution? In your teaching or research? In any of the initiatives or action items in the statement?
What support do you need from CWCA/ACCR to engage in antiracist research or practice?
What can you contribute to CWCA/ACCR’s efforts to transform this statement into action?
Please contact me if you wish to share your ideas, your interests, or your personal commitment. I look forward to joining with all our members in conversations about antiracism in CWCA/ACCR and in our member writing centres at the 2022 conference.
Kimberly Le, Writing Center Consultant, Seattle University
Finola Schmahl-Waggoner, Writing Center Consultant, Seattle University
We would like to begin by introducing ourselves and giving a little background on how we came to be writing center consultants and how we came to join the first Canadian Writing Centres Association/association canadienne des centres de rédaction (CWCA/ACCR) Anti-racist Reading Circle.
Finola Schmahl-Waggoner My name is Fin, and I am a third-year undergraduate at Seattle University, majoring in cell and molecular biology with a minor in international studies. I visited the writing centerduring the fall quarter of my freshman year, 2019. My consultant had been so helpful and kind to me that I was inspired to join the center, and I applied a couple of months later for the position. I received and accepted an offer in spring of 2020 to work at the center, and I enrolled in ENGL 3090, our tutor writing course required for training. While we transitioned online, I learned a lot from our writing center director, Dr. Hidy Basta, about decolonizing the writing process and how to assist clients while also accepting and inviting in multiple ways of thinking, processing, and writing. I worked as a writing consultant online for the last academic year, 2020-2021 and applied to return in the summer of 2021. When Dr. Hidy Basta sent Kimberly and me the offer to join the CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle, we agreed excitedly and started reading Felicia Rose Chavez’s The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How To Decolonize the Creative Classroom (2021), which is how I ended up at the reading circle this past summer.
Kimberly Le I am Kimberly, a fourth-year undergraduate at Seattle University, majoring in theatre with a double minor in ethics and psychology. I started out early in my freshman year helping my friends look over their papers and making comments, suggestions, edits, and most importantly, asking questions. Being that we were fresh into college with little in our pockets, most of my friends had joked that they wished they could pay me. And when my friends and I found out that the writing center was accepting applications, they urged me to throw my hat into the ring. Just like Fin, I was offered a position and enrolled in the required class. I can confidently say that what I thought it meant to be a writing tutor has completely changed for the better, thanks to the writing center. And it is because of this team that opportunities like joining a reading circle across the border became possible!
Fin and I were among a handful of CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle participants who were student writing consultants/tutors. The rest of the participants were writing center directors and staff. Getting to read The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom (2021) and sharing our thoughts and ideas with others was one of the best decisions we made during our time working at the writing center. Students in a predominately white institute (PWI) are racing to achieve a standard built upon inaccessibility for non-white students. This is why Chavez’s book is important. The work of affirming and recognizing students and professors of color is not only essential for white individuals to develop empathy and compassion and become advocates, but also because people of color endure adversity daily and deserve safe and supportive spaces. As radical as it may sound, if we could require all in academia to read this book, we would do so in a heartbeat. We cannot stress the impact and importance that this book has had on our confidence, challenging authority and believing in our capability to make change.
The CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle Writing centers are on a journey for change and growth, seeking an inclusive and actively anti-racist vision. Chavez’s book is both autobiography and manifesto, as Chavez navigates the classroom as a Latine woman, educator, wife, mother, and disrupter. Throughout the book, Chavez remains humble and hopeful for her audience and classrooms of future change-bringers and writers/artists. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Chavez’s book is her ability to converse with the reader through text and, more importantly, to provoke questions for readers to continue their own reflective journeys into being anti-racist. Chavez has contributed much to the conversation of anti-racism as it is realized in today’s society. Chavez’s work has permeated conversations in academic circles/spaces, prompting inspiration for collaborative book clubs and workshops that honor her brilliant, present-thinking philosophy for English-centered departments, including writing centers.
During the summer of 2021, member writing centers wanted to reflect on the implications for their services and practices with support from their professional organization, the Canadian Writing Centres Association/association canadienne des centres de rédaction. This form of reflection manifested into a reading circle. Despite the association’s location the invitation was extended beyond Canada, and the Seattle University Writing Center (where we are currently writing this from) was eager to participate. During these monthly meetings, members from across writing centers engaged in hour-long conversations regarding assigned chapters and the ideas that resulted from reading Chavez’s words. The meetings led up to a special Q&A session with Chavez herself, inviting members to further their understanding of decolonization in their classrooms, whether student or professor, camera on or off.
The text The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop takes the reader on a step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter journey into Chavez’s process to create a curriculum to support antiracist writing workshops. Not only is every chapter supplemented with rich insight on what it means to respect your students as people and writers, Chavez’s writing is both anecdotal and inspiring. Every chapter includes questions and exercises that Chavez uses to compel the reader to consider their own practices―How might we ground ourselves? How can we work towards anti-oppression in our classrooms? And, for our purpose as writing centers, what are the writing center’s expectations versus the actual services provided to students? What do students want versus what professors assume is necessary for students to learn? The power dynamics between students and professors is a major theme in Chavez’s story, and she invites the reader to walk in her shoes as she experiences both roles in the classroom. Throughout the book, Chavez is honest and real about owning her style of teaching and learning, even as it conflicts with the institution.
Anti-racist work in Seattle University’s writing center As a writing center consultant at Seattle University, it was not until reading Chavez’s book that I (Kimberly) realized the importance of having conversations surrounding writing practice. Conversations about decolonizing the writing center are incredibly difficult and necessary both because the change is much-needed and because writing centers face challenges working [against universities’ misconceptions] universities. The writing center is often stereotyped by those outside of its staff and faculty as being a place to ‘fix’ writing, help with achieving an ‘acceptable’ grade, or even a place that can edit students’ work to make it sound more ‘academic’―code for sounding more in line with traditional, white-supremacist standards of academic writing, grammar, and structure. These are all difficult expectations to manage when we are trying to make change. We are here to engage students in enriching conversations about their writing and the writing process itself and to collectively heal from harmful patterns taught in academic classrooms with the ultimate goal of changing those patterns. In referencing Felicia Rose Chavez, taking up antiracist writing practices means incorporating flexibility, kindness, and recognizing multiple Englishes, and an approach that treats everyone as an individual with gifts to offer to and in writing. We suggest that by taking up these approaches that writing centers can become places that work to change existing white supremacist patterns in academia.
To assist in the process of change, we work by centering clients’ concerns and ideas, helping change the thought process of right and wrong, especially in reference to grammar. Instead of stating that a grammatical error or issue is incorrect, we say that it does not match the expected convention of the paper, and encourage the use of other Englishes, other languages and literacies of grammars, and playing with conventional narratives to create one’s own voice (confidence) in the paper. Personally, I (Fin) have found that many students are a bit confused when we use the word convention instead of rule in the writing centre, and I have had a handful of conversations explaining the reason the writing center uses convention. This involves explaining our work to deconstruct white, academic English by recognizing not only the multitude of forms English takes, but that there are multiple Englishes and thus multiple grammars. While a little confused at the beginning, students tend to appreciate the explanation and are even fired up by the discussion to change the way they approach writing in a way that suits their own style, not the English pushed upon them. We also have posted links to anti-racist resources, academic resources, and services for mental health provided through other areas at Seattle University on our website alongside our tutoring and services for writing.
Finally, we provide a service for faculty to send in their assignment writing prompts. The consultants read over the prompts and give feedback on what they may find confusing or difficult and suggest how to improve the assignment. We are not perfect by any means, but we are making steps forward in dismantling harmful patterns and encouraging an atmosphere full of respect for different perspectives, room for everyone’s writing and voice, and removing the idea of good or bad writing that is dependent on the proximity to a Standardized English.
Moving forward as undergrads, working toward post-grad plans and aspirations, we take from The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop the impacts of radical change. Our work as writing center tutors extends to what it means to offer a service to our peers―to lend our hands in helping others grow. Not only can we uplift others in their work, but we can do so with a greater awareness of how history has molded us and decide to break free from traditional boundaries to create something entirely new and more applicable to us as a diverse group of people. From Chavez we take this lesson: we do not need to submit to how it has always been done; we can see what happens when we humanize ourselves and never settle for less. Whether we are scientists, artists, lawyers, writers, or reaching for any career ambition, the future of these paths lies within our choices and disrupts the systems of racism ingrained in us.
Kimberly I (Kimberly) am an upcoming graduate of the class of 2022, seeking to enter the field of performance (whether acting or behind the scenes). I do this not only for the pure love of the theatre or to keep the arts alive, but to dismantle the unhealthy, capitalist, and racially charged practices that happen within theatre spaces, which are often ignored, hidden, or romanticized in the public eye. Chavez’s book has inspired me to challenge the tradition of professional and academic theatre wherein growth is not determined by the individual themselves. My work aims to achieve a more holistic space for future artists.
Fin I (Fin) am predicted to graduate in 2023 and plan on pursuing a master’s degree in genomic medicine after graduation. After my master’s, I plan on diving into the personalized medicine field of biology, which means creating medicine targeted for one specific person or group of people based upon their DNA. I want to pursue this field, not only because I’m a nerd and enjoys genetics in general, but also because I want to intervene in the crooked imbalance of medicine prioritizing middle-aged, white, cis men (the traditional makeup of focus groups when testing new medicines) to create medicine more equitably and serve a wider range of people. Chavez’s book has inspired me to create an equitable space in biology and other neighboring STEM fields, to encourage a wider variety of students to bring their own perspectives and lives into the field to change it for the better.
Kimberly and Fin his experience of the CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle has been so enlightening and joyous for us as student tutors, and being able to talk with others who care about the future for generations after us feels amazing. We would like to thank CWCA/ACCR for extending their invitation to the SU writing center to participate. Especially Julia Lane, our editor, who has invited us to write this blog post and has given us her utmost patience and support throughout this writing process. We would also like to thank Hidy Basta, Director of the SU Writing Center, mentor, and friend to all of her staff. Most of all, we’d like to thank Felicia Rose Chavez for taking the time to join the CWCA/ACCR Reading Circle for a Q&A―and especially for being vulnerable in sharing her story and what it takes to be a change-bringer.
Brian Hotson, Editor, CWCR/RCCR
Stevie Bell, Associate Professor, York University
Guest editor: Lauren Mackenzie
In 2008, the then CWCA/ACCR president participated in “setting up of the first writing centre” in India (Holock, 2009, p. 6) through the University of Ottawa. In a piece in the 2009 CWCA/ACCR Newsletter, Writing into India: Setting up the first Writing Centre in the country, Holock describes his experience at Parvatibai Chowgule College of Arts and Science in Gogol, Goa, India in a travel diary style recounting,
On Friday, June 27, 2008, we step off of our fifteen-hour flight in Mumbai, my boss and I, and immediately feel the weight of our endeavour. It is not only the heat and thickness of the air, but the realization that we have finally arrived to start work on Monday, in a country and an educational system that neither of us have ever been exposed to. (Holock, 2009, p. 6)
Stephanie Bell, Associate Professor, York University Writing Centre; co-founder, CWCR/RCCR
A clear-cut strategy for undermining the writing centre’s relationship with student writers is to become reporters, adjudicators, or punishers of plagiarism and cheating (Bell, 2018).
In its heavy-handed discourse around academic dishonesty, the institution draws a divide between itself and students. Students arrive on campuses to find themselves positioned as likely criminals, and their work is policed by AI that scans it for infractions. Ironically, the institution’s academic dishonesty rhetoric can so undermine the institution-student relationship that it fosters academically dishonest student behaviour (see Strayhorn, 2012). To fulfill their missions, writing centres must carefully navigate the issue of academic dishonesty and the institution-student divide it constructs. Continue reading “If you could say anything to faculty about academic integrity…”→
Although writing centres in Canada date to the mid-1960s (See Table 1) (Proctor, 2011, p. 418; Bromley, 2017, p. 35), writing tutoring and writing instruction, of course, didn’t begin with the first writing centres. Writing instruction has a progenitor dating to the first European colonizers in what is now called Canada (Halifax Gazette, 1752). Because the Canadian writing centre field is young, many of the key founders and figures in its development continue to add to its literature and practice. These writing centre practitioners in the past thirty years have created a significant body of work, including publications, repositories of information, modes of practice, national and regional associations and conferences, and proactive advocacy and social justice work. While there have been times in the past where shifts in writing centres in Canada have caused worries about centre funding and importance, writing centres will not disappear from Canada’s education field. In fact, writing centres will continue to grow in importance, as writing centres Continue reading “A Short History of CWCA/ACCR: Fifteen years on”→
Emma Sylvester is Coordinator, Writing Centre and Academic Communications, Saint Mary’s University.
As Writing Centre (WC) practitioners, how do we know that students are actually benefitting from our work? Plenty of research has shown that WC use improves students’ grades (e.g., Driscoll, 2015; Thompson, 2006; Trosset et al., 2019, Dansereau, et al., 2020), but how do I know that translates to my own unique institution or to the session I had with a tutee this morning? As a tutor, the immediate feedback of seeing a student’s “lightbulb moment” or hearing their expressions of gratitude gives me some indication that I’m doing something right. Unfortunately, these experiences aren’t reliable or comprehensive indicators of the benefits of the WC, and they don’t tell me about the student’s full emotional experience in session or their long-term learning. Further, in the post-covid era, ripe with asynchronous sessions and cameras left off, these moments are potentially fewer and farther between.
Post-session surveys are widely used across WCs not only to learn about how students value writing tutorials, but also to inform program development, assess and refine tutor practice, collect data for study and publication, and even to justify the existence of the centres themselves (Bromley et al., 2013). The need to collect, analyse, and apply data related to students’ experience in session is obvious and inherent in the ongoing development of WC practice, but taking a rigorous approach to this process is often forgotten amidst other seemingly more important (and let’s just say it, more interesting) work.
This three-part series looks at how the pandemic affected both graduate student writers and graduate student writing support.We speak to Jill McMillan, a Learning Specialist at the University of Saskatchewan, and Nadine Fladd, a Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialist at the University of Waterloo.
Part I: In the Thick of It
Here, in part one, we learn about Jill’s and Nadine’s roles and work, and how the pandemic has supported intercampus collaboration and better use of resources to benefit the overall student experience.
Liv: Thank you, Nadine and Jill, for speaking with me about your experiences this year.
Could you tell me a bit about who you are and what you do at your institutions?
Nadine: Sure. I am one of several Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialists at the Writing and Communication Centre at UWaterloo. My role, in particular, focuses on supporting graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty, so a lot of the work that I do focuses on developing programs for graduate students, such as Dissertation Boot Camp, a program called Rock Your Thesis that is designed to help students start their dissertation or thesis writing process on the right foot, and orchestrating and coordinating writing groups and writing communities. In between these activities, I also do a handful of appointments with grad students, postdocs, and faculty each week.
Jill: I’m a Learning Specialist, and I work with Student Learning Services. And yes, there’s a lot of overlap in terms of Nadine’s and my dossiers; there is a focus on programming—facilitating workshops, designing new workshops, trying to think of new initiatives that are going to have value for our graduate student population. I’ve also been hosting virtual writing groups and offer one-to-one appointments, though the majority of the one-to-one support comes from our amazing writing help centre. I also offer a course for international grad students. But otherwise, the focus is on designing new programs, creating new initiatives, trying to connect to other campus partners, and thinking of how we can pool resources, which I think is especially important these days as we just try and figure out how we can offer support without replicating services.
Liv: Have either of you have you found that moving online has helped to reduce that duplication and increase communication between communication units?
Nadine: Maybe, but I feel like every university does have that compartmentalizing of units.
Liv: Has that lessened during the pandemic, stayed the same, or intensified?
Nadine: I think that the Writing and Communication Centre had pretty strong collaborative relationships with campus partners before the pandemic, and that has been a blessing. What I’ve seen is more communication between those campus partners and each other than I’ve seen in the past. So, for example, our Student Success Office has traditionally hosted an orientation for graduate students and during the pandemic the Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs office helped design and took the lead on building an infrastructure for an online orientation program and has since handed that program over to the Student Success Office. So there’s collaboration there that didn’t exist before that I think has been really useful.
Liv: That’s positive. Jill, what have you noticed?
Jill: It’s certainly helped me as someone who is relatively new to campus to make some of those connections a bit more easily. Of course, you still encounter some of these instances where there is duplication popping up, but then you reach out and make that connection. And so, it’s possible that that duplication will eventually turn into a collaboration at a future point. So, I think that in some ways I do recognize that there have been some strange benefits to how everything has happened over the last year in terms of the shift to remote teaching and learning. I think it really has forced people to think, “oh, how do we make use of the limited resources that are currently available to maximize the student experience?”
Nadine: We have an incentive system. So, students have a digital coffee card that they can fill out every time they attend a writing session. And when you’ve attended 12 writing sessions, you earn a mug that has a #WaterlooWrites logo on it. We see a lot of repeat members in our writing community, and people get to know each other and talk to each other during the breaks and help each other. We see a lot of regulars in those communities for sure.
Liv: Interesting. Now, in terms of your own work, how have you kept up professionally or what’s really helped to you in your job?
Nadine: I’m lucky because unlike a lot of writing centres, I have a team I work with of full-time permanent staff who do the same work I do. I’ve learnt a lot from other members on the team as we navigated this together. A lot of my professional development this past year has been technological. One of my colleagues, Elise Vist, our digital guru on the team, has taught me how to do things like build online asynchronous workshops through Rise 360, and so now we can build these really slick looking modules full of videos and interactive elements. And that’s not something that I ever would have even considered trying to attempt a year and a half ago. It wasn’t on my radar.
So, in some ways, the pandemic has been a push to expand my range of teaching tools. And in a lot of ways, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were focused on trying to recreate what exists in our in-person programming in an online format. And I think that worked for a while. But what students have needed after a year in isolation and after a year of video calls has changed. I think my approach to teaching has really gotten back to the very basics of starting with what is the goal, what is the objective and building from there rather than trying to transfer an in-person equivalent to an online environment.
Jill: We have an academic integrity tutorial now and we’re currently just beginning to work on some new writing modules. So, you know, it’s been good to learn all about Panopto, WebEx and other online platforms.
In part two, posted next week, Jill and Nadine share their thoughts on accessibility, especially around international student writing support.
Vol 2, No. 3 (Spring 2021) Brian Hotson, Co-Editor, CWCR/RCCR
At the beginning of the lockdown across Canada and the move to online support, we asked our colleagues to provide a snapshot of their centres. These posts from March 2020 (here, here, here, and here) are historical markers and records of an unprecedented time in higher education in Canada. One year on, we’ve asked again for a March snapshot–how have tour centres changed, what have you learned, and where are we going. Here are the responses.
Interviewing gives students greater intimacy with an event or subject in a way not otherwise possible with secondary research. In interview assignments, students connect first-hand to an individual’s accounts of, for instance, their participation in a protest event or reflections on their career in ways that support their understanding of course content. Interviewing is a process that is very much like writing; it involves stages of researching, outlining, writing, rewriting, and editing. For this reason, writing specialists and tutors situated within locations of writing support have much to offer students as they prepare for and write about interviews. Continue reading “Supporting students for interview assignments”→