I just got back from the International Writing Centers Association conference in Denver. Besides a gorgeous view of the Rockies, some Mellow Mushroom pizza, and a lot of dedicated time for grading in a quiet, cushy hotel room, I got a whole slew practical strategies and provocative topics of consideration that I can apply to my own institutional context. This post, in which I highlight a few of those strategies and provocations, is clearly pitched toward my writing center colleagues, but you might find something interesting even if if you’re not entirely sure what a writing center is.
- I went to a session on dissertation boot camps, a type of event in which doctoral students try to knock out as much writing as they possibly can while in a supportive environment (support = writing consultants/coaches, coffee, and food). I’ve been hearing and reading about dissertation boot camps for several years now, but this time was different, because I’m now on my way to joining the ranks of the cool kids who have actually hosted them. This morning I tossed the idea to our very proactive on-staff Ed.D. dissertation consultant, and as of this afternoon we’ve taken the first steps toward scheduling a weekend dissertation-writing event (I’m not sure how I feel about the term “boot camp”) for next spring.
- I went to several sessions about writing center space, and in one of them, we were all asked to draw a picture of our current space and one of our ideal space. Although I half-jokingly told a fellow participant that the session had sent me back to feeling depressed about our space–which I had been starting to make peace with–the session actually forced me to think about what we can do with our space, other than whining about it.
- The last two sessions I went to got me thinking about the “personality” of our writing center–the image it projects to people who walk through the door or encounter our people outside of the actual physical space. In one session, a director presented the results of an “inclusivity audit” she had performed by asking faculty members from other departments to visit the center and comment on the ways in which it made them feel welcomed, excluded, etc. One faculty member said that the center appeared too “English-y” (e.g., there were inside-jokey posters about literature and grammar; there were too many books as part of the decor). My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and say, “Of course there are books in a writing center!,” but if we profess to serve writers from all disciplines, then we may be sending a conflicting message if we project an image of welcoming only one discipline.
- In the next session I went to, there was a presentation about whether writing center tutors identify themselves as writers. This is another case in which we might want to say “of course,” but six of the 15 surveyed tutors did not see themselves as writers, which raises a whole lot of questions about how we define “being a writer” and whether the students who visit the writing center feel out of place because they don’t see themselves as writers, either. Another presentation during this session was about Myers-Briggs types, which is the whole reason I went to the session (I’m a sucker for a good MBTI discussion). The presenter’s argument was that Idealist types–NFs–are overrepresented in writing center work, while they make up only a small percentage of the U.S. population at large. I spent most of this session trying to decide whether I actually am an Idealist (this is a perennial identity crisis for me–I usually say I’m ISFJ, but sometimes I skew toward INFJ), but I also thought, again, about the image our center may be projecting. Are we saying that only dreamy, abstract, creative types (obviously, I’m overgeneralizing) are welcome to come discuss writing with us? I suggested at the end of the session that all the presenters (there was one more excellent presentation I haven’t even discussed here) should do a mega-study about the writing center’s personality, but really, I want to do my own study on this topic here at my own institution.
Also, I want to get a Mellow Mushroom in Central Virginia. Can someone start working on that?