Tag: writing center work

Rewriting How We Think About the Writing Center Experience

Katie Frische, Writing Consultant

Imagine that one English teacher back in your school days that everyone always affectionately called Mrs. Red Pen. I bet this brings you back to some fun moments of dropping your paper on the desk of the teacher and walking out as she starts to work her magic with that red pen, and you can’t help but feel a little bit bitter as that was your hard work. It’s this Mrs. Red Pen that we all seem to have in our memories, be they good or bad, which has led us to think that our college University Writing Center is the same way: full of Mr. And Mrs. Pens.


However, as one who works currently in a writing center, I have to say this stereotype is a little bit silly, and I can promise that you won’t find a red pen in sight of our writing center. In fact, marking with a red pen is often known as editing, which takes away ownership from the writer’s work and puts control into the hand of the editor, which is always frustrating. This frustration isn’t something you will find in the smiling faces of the consultants within a writing center as they help you learn how to become better writers by tossing away the old idea of editing.


Within our writing center, you are the one who gets to take control of where your story goes, of what you think needs changing in your work, and we are always here to help suggest strategies that will turn your first draft into a final draft. While we are not miracle workers, and it’s always best to bring your writing in early, we are always happy to work with anyone who needs help with their writing, be it personal such as poems, creative writing, or an academic paper that is just putting you through the wringer. These are all things a writing center can help you with because ultimately, we are here for you. The true purpose of the writing center is to be there for the campus community as both a guide for writing and as a friendly face to help you take on the college experience.


It’s this idea of a friendly face, one of your peers, that makes the writing center what it is and what it is not: the growling old teacher voice of Mrs. Red Pen back from your school days. I promise you we are not here to relive your old haunts but to share a few of our own stories of Mrs. Red Pens and help you to take your voice to the next level through writing. Your voice is important, and our goal at the University Writing Center is to make that voice heard through your work so that people can better understand what you value. As people begin to understand you through your writing, you will find that this opens up a lot of opportunities for you. Written communication is of the essence, and developing that within a cheerful space is why I encourage everyone to visit a writing center.


And while I know there are many opinions about what goes on in a writing center, I must tell you the “red pen experience” is one that most of us don’t want to relive. We want to see a smiling face greet us upon opening that door on the way to becoming better writers. As such, I encourage you to think positively about the writing center experience and realize that we are always going to be here for you.

Always reflecting,
Consultant Katie Fritsche

Listening to Learn: Tutoring Unfamiliar Writing Genres

Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing

“The job of writing centers is to produce better writers, not better writing.” This assertion by Stephen North is, surely, a familiar maxim to most writing center practitioners. But, has anyone also considered how writers can help writing centers produce better tutors? I believe the goal of every tutor is to develop their tutoring skill using every available means; that is why I think, as consultants, by listening to learn from writers, especially those writing in genres we are unfamiliar with, we have the unique opportunity develop our tutoring skills.

Listening is paramount to the tutorial work we do in the writing center. Generally, the tutor tends to listen to several things during tutoring session: you passively listening to your inner thoughts about the draft and, more importantly, listening to the writer’s comments or questions. Moreover, writing center scholars and practitioners admit that listening is essential to achieving an efficient tutoring in the writing center. They submit that listening is not only a means of developing a tutor’s understanding of the current session but also a means for working from, with, and across differences, becoming increasingly aware of those differences rather than flattening or ignoring them. This submission means that listening is a tool for making tutors become better at their tutoring craft. Hence, tutors interested in advancing their craft must be open and willing to listen to learn (from the writers) specific ways to develop their level of awareness.

In listening to learn, we move beyond attempting to adjust our knowledge of the generic needs of writers, especially when dealing with unfamiliar writing genre, to learning to become more aware of this unfamiliar writing genre in efforts to achieve a successful tutoring session. Listening to learn does not entail knowing (or pretending to know) about the subject matter. Rather, listening to learn helps the tutor to achieve meaningful awareness of subject matter necessary for some sense of comfort during the session. Such subject matter awareness would, for instance, help to clear up certain confusions; move past genre-specific jargons and develop interpretive questions, thereby ensuring that the goals of the tutoring session are efficiently met.

In my work with science writers, for example, I continue to practice the ‘listen-to-learn’ approach because I want to be more aware of the means to navigate the seemingly unfamiliar writing genre. From these writers, I have learned ways to not only guide them effectively during their session but also become a better tutor for future work with scientific or related writing genre. For instance, one of the science writers I work with always provides an overview of their essay using visual aids such as diagrams. My sense is that the writer assumes I’m not a specialist in science-related concepts and describing their work in abstract terms might confuse me, and indirectly lead to a tutoring breakdown. So, to make me aware of the subject matter of their writing project, the writer explained concepts to me with the aid of diagrams. While they do not expect me to become knowledgeable of the topic, by listening to the writer’s explanatory context, this subject-matter awareness afforded me a good level of confidence to meaningfully engage the writer and their writing. Additionally, beyond subject-matter awareness, tutors can also become better tutors by being learning to be interculturally aware, especially when working with multilingual writers. Intercultural awareness helps the tutor become more sensitive to processes, situated contexts, and particular situations that influence what and how a writer writes.

Ultimately, while our goal as writing tutors is to utilize every available strategy to help writers hone their writing ability and become better writers, we should not disregard how writers can make us better tutors. As we prioritize listening to learn about the subject matter of the writer’s writing project or non-writing related information the writer willingly shares with us, we generally become more aware of the best means to approach these seemingly unfamiliar genres of writing.

For The Love of Writing

Michael Benjamin, Assistant Director and Writing Consultant

It’s not lost on me that this is being posted on Valentine’s Day, 2022. So I’m going to try and stick to the day’s theme: love.

Love is hard. Complex. It’s a feeling, sure, but it’s also an action. These days I’ve been conceptualizing love within the framework of care. Caring about ourselves, our dearest ones, our community, our larger world. Care can be shooting a text to a friend you haven’t heard from in a week or two or volunteering at the local community literacy center. Care takes energy but is always worth it even though it usually comes with little to no reward. In an affective economy, care is a currency. Tying love and care together begins to make visible all of the little acts we do. It pushes us to be thoughtful and reflective and, frankly, better people.

I realize this probably feels like it’s going off of the rails, but please bear with me.

I think I can speak for everyone at the writing center. We care about writing at the here because we care about our UofL community. And we know that we have a unique opportunity to spread the joy of a love for writing.

Here’s a quick story: it was my first month of my undergraduate career and I’d gotten a lower grade than desired on an assignment. I went to the writing center, not really knowing what to expect, hoping that I’d come back with a better text to bump my grade up. What I got was an experience that has powered my academic career for the past decade. My consultant smiled at me and told me Play with your writing. Find the joy in it. Keep caring and putting love into it. That experience was so transformative for me that seven months later I was working in that writing center. I’m sure it has something to do with my pedagogical ethos, too. That consultant cared about me, showed a love for her work and writing and the writers she worked with in a way that was so infectious and powerful that I needed to take action, to pass it along.

I write this as a call for all of us to radiate that love and care throughout our worlds. I also write this as a way to urge us to use the written word as a means of care.

Next week, we are hosting an event for International Mother Language Day. I’m excited to see y’all UofL community members show a love for writing through all of these guest blog posts written in your mother tongues. I’m even more excited to fill out these notecards for recent immigrants and refugees. Handwritten letters of simple words of encouragement are an act of care. Taking the time out of your day, in the middle of what has been a brutal semester, to stop and focus writing something for someone you don’t know in your best handwriting won’t show up on your CV or transcript, but it’s a loving act that can have a world of meaning. I’m personally excited for our little writing center community to show love to all of the multilinguists and polyglots amongst us.

I know today is viewed as a day or romantic love. A day you spend with your partner, showing them how much you appreciate them. I implore you to show that care to everyone. What if you jotted a little note of appreciation for the wait staff at the restaurant? Sent a couple coworkers/colleagues/classmates a small compliment? Took 10 minutes to yourself to journal what and who you love and care for? Care for you? What if you went completely old school and snail mailed your folks? Words are powerful and cost nothing. Write them. Share them. Care for and with them.

Of Bottled Water and Exigency

Justin Sturgeon, Writing Consultant

January 31—the first moments of the semester. You are in an English class, and you’ve just been handed an assignment sheet in which you will spend a great deal of the semester researching a topic of your choice in which you must:

A) utilize scholarly sources to support a well-crafted thesis statement that argues in favor or against some conversation occurring in the field of your topic.

B) create a specific thesis statement that consists of an imperative claim and addresses the ‘so what?’ of your argument.

Maybe you have experienced your fair share of these projects or are beginning one for the first time, or maybe you are entering this mode of writing into your classes now—either as a scholar yourself or as a student in the classroom.

When writing about research, one question that can be challenging is that of answering ‘So what?’ Often, when we ask this question about our research, what we are looking for is: ‘Why does this matter, and how can I get them to care?’ A struggle to answer the “so what” question becomes apparent through hesitations such as: “I am not sure why I am writing about this” and “I have no idea what to say here, especially since I’m not an expert.” Sometimes the “so what” question appears in instructor feedback. Most often when addressing the question of so what, we are engaging with the imperative of exigency. Exigency, coined by Lloyd F. Bitzer in “The Rhetorical Situation,” refers to demand or need for writing on a particular subject or stance based on the context of the situation. Basically, exigence is the why behind what you are writing. When revealing the exigency of a writing project, it often relies on appealing to what is urgently waiting to be said about the situation at hand.  

If someone were to write a paper arguing in favor of stricter regulation for the bottled water industry, they might appeal to the expanding industry and potential harm that a lack of regulation may produce. To convey exigency in a project such as this, many writers would deliberate on the rhetorical device known as kairos, or the timeliness of a message as it is being sent to its audience. In this same example of writing a paper about the bottled water industry, the timeliness of such a paper would make a monumental difference depending on the time in which it were written. Consider writing making an argument against bottled water industries in the 1970s when bottled water was invented. No one would believe that bottled water would become as prevalent as it is. However, the same argument today has a much clearer sense of exigency. The industry today is expected to continue to grow and pervade a number of environmental processes related to water distribution which  has led to issues like The Bolivian Water Wars.

One might say that bigger, larger issues such as the potential crises related to the bottled water industry can be easy for fishing out exigency and building it up. But what about writing related to the everyday? Or to those assignments that we might rather avoid altogether? Finding authority and purpose for small-scale projects can be just as challenging. For example, you might have a two to three page essay about a Shakespeare poem you’ve tried to read over and over again and just can’t find a rhyme or reason to care. It can be easy to think about how important a crisis like the Bolivian Waters is and the large scale implications of such an event. But how can that same sense of authority and urgency be illuminated in an introductory writing assignment about a topic that you might stuggle to find a purpose to write about it in the first place—especially if it’s a topic that everyone already knows about and has written extensivly on? Sometimes writers don’t feel like they are qualified to even say anything about a given research assignment at all!

Certainly, exigency can still be accessed in moments like these as well.  

With even the most over-saturated of topics, how can you find a purpose to continue to write about them? What we often fail to glean from reading written work about unappealing topics is what the initial writer found important or exigent about the topic. Specifically, when being asked to examine the rhetorical devices at play in a given text, we often take for granted the ways we as readers are being asked to think about a text through its rhetorical stratagy.  We tend to overlook in these moments how a text—whether literary or visual—creates reflective nuggets of the world and is informed by various world views. When you tap into analysis on the level of these rhetorical concerns, you often begin to see how nearly every motion of stimuli is a text and is channeled through rhetorical devices that influence the way we make decisions and respond to the world around us.

Even at times when you feel like there is nothing to be said about the topic you are being asked to respond to, finding exigency doesn’t always start with the most compelling or flashiest of reasons for writing, but rather from acknowledging yourself as a reader of a text and calling attention to what response you make of it and then highlighting how you came to that response or how the text lead you to reach that conclusion. From this locus of reflection, you often find that you are faced with a wide assortment of reasons to care about a topic and the implications of choosing one interpreation over another—no matter how seemingly small the impact feels.

Exigence isn’t just timeliness; it’s also why we write what we choose to write about. In the University Writing Center, we love to have conversations with writers about exigency and these strategies. Often, discussing issues relating to finding purpose and authority when writing can be challenging to think through on your own, which is why the University Writing Center is a great place to visit and talk through your thoughts with a consultant. We are eager to discuss these rhetorical building blocks and help you become more comfortable with finding purpose in your own writing. Whether the topic discusses growing concerns about Western consumption habits (like bottled water) and their impact on more vulnerable countries, or examines an Elizabethan sonnet: we are here to listen and see you develop exigency as you navigate writing with purpose.

Multilingualism: The Importance of Terminology

Brice Montgomery, Writing Consultant

Earlier this semester, in our Writing Center Theory and Practice course, the writing consultants had a conversation about strategies for supporting multilingual writers. Surprisingly for a room full of English students, we began the discussion at a loss for words, but after a few minutes, it stumbled forward in tentative fits and starts as we attempted to talk our way around the topic.

Many of us expressed discomfort about discussing language background with writers, and the general consensus was that it felt inappropriate to ask writers about their first language. In hindsight, it was, perhaps, telling of an impulse to conflate difference with deficiency. If we ask writers about their first language, the implication seems to be that it’s obvious the writer is using a second language.

So what?

Clearly, it does matter. Throughout the discussion, we found that multilingual writers often begin sessions apologetically, dismissing any (usually imagined) language errors before we can. Simply put, they are primed to be on the back foot when they enter a consultation, and it can be difficult to move the conversation to a more productive focus.

Writing center lore suggests that the first few minutes of a session are critical—They create the tone, establish rapport, and allow the writer and consultant to set an agenda together for the remainder of the session. With multilingual writers, however, the time before the session begins is of equal importance because, in many ways, it dictates our expectations for those initial minutes.

To return to the classroom discussion for a moment, another interesting trend emerged. In writing center consultations, we often stress specificity of language to prevent misinterpretation, but it was striking how quickly our discussion on multilingualism slipped away from this practice. We spoke about “native English speakers” as a kind of monolithic group, and “everyone else” was discussed in contrast, with different interchangeable terms pulling us in several different directions.

Each of the labels we tossed around the classroom evoked a set of unstated presuppositions:

If a writer is an “ESL student,” it positions them in such a way that any English first-language speaker acts as an authority. It also invites the question of when or if they will ever “graduate” to a degree of ownership over the language. 

Similarly, if a writer is a “non-native English speaker,” it places them in a perpetually fixed status of being an outsider. Regardless of proficiency, there will always be a kind of assumed inauthenticity to how they use English.  

Finally, if a writer is an “English L2 speaker,” the convenient shorthand of the phrase often neglects how contextually specific language usage is. If someone’s primary social language is English, is it really an L2?

The varying degrees of nativism in each term we used reflected an unstated ideology of language ownership, despite the fact that the global population of English L2 speakers greatly outnumbers English L1 speakers. This lack of a language “center” should be a comfort to both multilingual writers and their consultants. We meet on equal footing linguistically, despite potentially having different strengths and relationships with the language.

I would also suggest that our use of careless labels creates a barrier to authentic language use—Writers may focus so much on emulating “native” English that they don’t develop a writing process that accommodates their own preferences and needs. Unless a writer’s first language is consciously framed as a linguistic resource to draw from, it may easily be viewed as an interference or a disadvantage.

Most importantly, the pointed discourse surrounding language and identity in general is often internalized by those who hear it. Whether multilingual writers have been explicitly corrected by instructors for vague grammatical infractions or have absorbed the quiet undercurrent of harmful language politics flowing through the broader American culture. Writing Centers have an opportunity to offer a safe haven from these trends.  

Anecdotally, in several years of tutoring, I have yet to encounter a multilingual writer that has any sort of notable language-centric disadvantage. In fact, more often than not, they bring a unique set of metalinguistic and metacognitive skills to the writing process. If we do not recognize that writing in a second language is always a constructive act, we are unlikely to help writers incorporate those transferrable skills into their writing process. Instead, we are more apt to foster the idea that a writer’s intentions are inhibited or obscured—rather than facilitated—by writing in a second language.

Ultimately, my point is this—regardless of our willingness to acknowledge it, the language used outside a consultation becomes the explanation for what happens in a consultation, which in turn becomes the justification for how we approach future consultations. Writing centers are ostensibly built on the premise of peer-readership, egalitarianism, and a kind of grassroots advocacy, but if our language choices don’t reflect those values, they will ultimately be—at best—toothless gestures, and—at worst—a reinforcement of the insecurities some multilingual writers may already feel.

Keeping Our Commitment to Writers in Deeply Unsettling Times: A Year in Review

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

I’ve been struggling with how to start this version of my annual, end-of-year blog post. Every attempt to find words to convey how the extraordinary events of the past nine months, from pandemic to protests to political insurrections, have affected us in the University Writing Center quickly crumbles to cliché. At the same time, just a proud listing of accomplishments doesn’t seem appropriate to capture what has happened in the past year. So I think I’ll leave the big themes to someone else and just keep it simple.

I am always proud of the people who work in the University Writing Center and often tell people we’ve got the best Writing Center staff in the business. Yet it would be hard to overstate how special this year’s staff has been. As you may know, we have a completely new staff of MA Graduate Teaching Assistants as consultants each year. Despite the challenges of having to learn how to conduct all their consultations online, under the public health protocols of the pandemic, this group of consultants were consistent in their commitment to helping and supporting UofL writers. Whether they were working, in their masks, from our on-campus space, or from their homes, our consultants continued to listen carefully to writers and to provide excellent advice about writing, and empathetic support about how to navigate, and respond, to writing in such deeply unsettling times.

The less visible, but every bit as essential, part of our work happens behind the scenes with our administrative staff who kept everything organizationally running smoothly given the unprecedented challenge of having both writers, and often consultants, scattered all over the city (and beyond). It is a testament to their creativity, patience – and tenacity – that the organizational aspects of the things ran splendidly, allowing the consultants and writers to focus on issues about writing. This year, as in every year, the work done by Associate Director Dr. Cassandra Book,  Administrative Associate Amber Yocum, and Assistant Directors Edward English, Olalekan Adepoju, and Nicole Dugan was simply indispensable to everything we accomplished.

Though it may be hard to appreciate from the outside, conducting all writing consultations online is a far more challenging teaching context than conducting appointments in person. For our consultants and our administrative staff, having to work completely online, while dealing with taking their own courses online, technological glitches, screen fatigue, physical isolation, students in the Library not wearing masks, and the political turmoil all around us, really has been truly extraordinary. It has also been exhausting. Like everyone else, we’re tired. It’s been hard on all of us and that is important to acknowledge. What I am proud of – and moved by – is that all of the University Writing Center staff, weary as they are, have done their best to remember that the writers bringing their work to us are also weary and stressed and worried about their writing. We have done our best all year to keep the writers’ needs at the forefront and to provide the individual, one-to-one response that is the core of our work in the University Writing Center. It’s been amazing to watch.

Thanks to the Best Writing Center Staff in the Business

Our superb, dedicated, and brilliant consultants make such a significant difference in so many UofL writers’ lives. Our consultants this year have been Michelle Buntain, Lauren Cline, Maddy Decker, Amanda Dolan, Chuck Glover, Ian Hays, Andrew Hutto, Ayaat Ismail, Zoe Litzenberg, Demetrius Minnick-Tucker, Cat Sar, Spenser Secrest, and Emma Turner. Also special thanks go to Writing Center Intern Kendyl Harmeling. Our amazing student workers were Mikaela Smith and Jency Trejo.

We want to give our special thanks and congratulations to Jency Trejo, on her graduation with her BA in English. Jency joined us as a student worker during her first semester at UofL and has been a central and important part of the University Writing Center ever since. We wish her all the best in the future.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 10, from 9-4 every weekday. You can find out more on our website. You can also follow us on our blog and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Beyond Tutoring – Writing Groups, Retreats, Community Writing

Writing Groups, Workshops, and Dissertation Writing Retreats: Our popular LGBTQ+, Faculty and Graduate Student, and Creative Writing writing groups continued to give UofL writers supportive communities through which they could create and talk about writing. We again held our annual spring Dissertation Writing Retreat  as a fully virtual Retreat. We plan next year to continue all of these groups, so be sure to check our website for information and dates.

Community Writing and the Cotter Cup: We also continued our work with our community partners, the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library and Family Scholar House. Once again we are grateful for the participatory and collaborative partnerships with these organizations. You can find out more about these community writing projects, including how to get involved with them, on our website.

We were particular excited to collaborate with the Western Branch Library on re-establishing the “Cotter Cup” competition. In the early 20th Century Louisville poet and educator Joseph Cotter established a storytelling competition for local youth called the “Cotter Cup.” We worked to support Western Branch Library in re-establishing the Cotter Cup as a poetry contest. As part of the contest, local K-12 students had individual writing consultations with our University Writing Center consultants. The contest entries will be judged by local poets with an awards celebration next month. We hope that this will become an important and vital part of writing in the community going forward.

Writing Center Staff Achievements

The University Writing Center is also an active site of scholarship and creative work. Staff from the Writing Center were engaged in a number of scholarly projects during the past year in rhetoric and composition, literature, and creative writing.

Cassandra Book, Associate Director, gave a presentation on “Passing or Trespassing?: Asynchronous Tutoring, Consultant Practices, and Center Ethos” at the 2021 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference.

Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, gave a presentation titled,presented a paper on “Discursive Practices in Recurring Asynchronous Consultations:  Implications for Peer Tutoring” at the 2021 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference. He also published the essay, “Rethinking Tutor-Writer Engagement in Asynchronous Consultations: A Conversational Approach to Recurring Witten Feedback Appointments” in The Dangling Modifier .

Consultants

Michelle Buntain completed her MA Culminating Project, titled,”To Listen is to Witness: Discovering Suffering Through Literary Analysis.”

Maddy Decker was an intern for the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine in Spring 2021 and served as editor of reviews. She also completed her creative MA Culminating project titled “Register 16.”

Amanda Dolan was an intern for the Miracle Monocle Literacy Magazine and will have a book review published in the upcoming issue.  She also completed her creative MA Culminating project titled “Precipitated.”

Kendyl Harmeling completed her MA Culminating Project titled, “Circumventing Self-Destruction:  A Study on Imposter Syndrome, Affect Dissonance, and the Power of Hospitality in a first-year Graduate Program.” She gave a presentation, “Passing or Trespassing?: Asynchronous Tutoring, Consultant Practices, and Center Ethos” at the 2021 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference . Kendyl also was a Writing Center Administrative Intern in Fall 2020 and will be joining the UofL Rhetoric and Composition PhD program next year.

Ayaat Ismail was an intern for the Miracle Monocle Literacy Magazine and published a book review with poet Steve Kistulentz in the current issue. She also became managing editor of the Miracle Monocle’s mini anthology called MONSTER.

Demetrius Minnick-Tucker completed his MA Culminating Project, titled, “Sho Baraka’s The Narrative: Hip Hop and the Social Role of the Church.” He will also be joining the Georgia State University Literature PhD program in fall 2021.

Cat Sar completed her creative MA Culminating Project titled, “Ghosted.”

Dialogue, Trust, and Taking Our Time: The Values that Shape Our Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

On the Thursday before fall classes begin we always have our our annual orientation and staff meeting for the University Writing Center. Our staff is comprised primarily of graduate student teaching assistants, most of whom are new to our Writing Center and to UofL. There is a lot that our new consultants have to learn that day, from how to use our online scheduling system to the location of the coffee maker and microwave. The best part of the day, however, is when we get past the logistical details of writing center life

Staff copy 1
University Writing Center Staff, 2019-20

and can move on to talk about how we approach working with writers. We sit down after lunch and begin the crucial conversations about how to help students, faculty, and staff become stronger, more confident writers. The conversations that we start at orientation will continue throughout the fall in the Writing Center Theory and Practice Course they will take with me, as well as in the daily, informal conversations in our offices.

Learning how to teach writing effectively is an never-ending process, as 30 years in the classroom and writing centers have taught me. The new consultants in our University Writing Center will learn a great deal this year about writing pedagogy, from reading writing center scholarship and from reflecting on their own practices.  about how to help writers improve their drafts, learn new strategies for addressing future writing challenges, and gain a stronger sense of confidence and agency in their writing. They all come to the University Writing Center staff with a broad range of experiences as writers and professionally that will serve them well in their work. What is also clear from our first conversations at orientation is that, though their experiences and interests are diverse, they all understand and share our core goals and values in working with writers from across the university community.

Learning Through Dialogue

One goal of any writing center consultation is to help a writer to rethink, and revise, a draft through a constructive dialogue that enables the writer to make the decisions about possible revisions. In order to accomplish this, both the writer and the consultant must be willing to listen carefully to each other and consider other perspectives and suggestions. As we always explain, we our not an editing service, but a place were writers and consultants work collaboratively to help writers improve their drafts, learn new strategies for addressing future writing challenges, and gain confidence in their writing. improve. Our approach to teaching writing emphasizes this dialogic exchange of ideas in which consultants need to be able to listen to what writers say during an appointment and offer individualized responses and suggestions. Both the consultant and the writer need to respond to each other honestly and respectfully. We also approach teaching writing from the perspective that we are always open to learning from the writer and the draft, even as we have things to teach in return. In this way we model a stance of response and teaching that is more collaborative and less hierarchical.

Trust and Creativity

In such an environment of trust, writers can feel safe in testing ideas without worrying that the failure of an idea will mean a failing grade. Good writers need to be able to try new approaches, make mistakes, and try again. We pride ourselves as a space in which writers can get honest, constructive responses to their work without worrying about the inherent limitations and risks that grading brings. By focusing on learning, not grading, we offer spaces where writers can experiment and foster habits of creativity. We also remember that students may have previous experiences that make them reluctant to risk failure, and we reassure them that we can try different approaches until we find one that works.

Taking Our Time

What’s more, one of the central benefits and values of the University Writing Center is that we are not bound by the limits of a single semester. We have the opportunity to view our teaching through long timelines, in which writers can come in multiple times, not just during a semester, but over their academic careers. Being able to take the long view allows us to approach learning as an ongoing, always recursive, process. We can emphasize that learning to write is an ongoing process for all of us. Writing well is not an inherent talent, but an achievable ability. We do our best to convey to writers that achieving their goals may be a challenge and require hard work, but that we have confidence in the their abilities to meet the challenge.

It’s exciting for me to hear the enthusiasm and imagination the new consultants bring to their work. In the year ahead these consultants will provide more than 5,500 consultations for UofL writers, grounded in these core values, making an important and substantial contribution to the University community.

A Culture of Writing

In addition to our individual consultations, we will continue to offer other ways to support and sustain writing at UofL. We will offer workshops on writing issues for classes and campus organizations.  Once again we will facilitate writing groups for Graduate Students and Faculty, Creative Writers, and LGBTQ+ Writers. For graduate students we will offer workshops on writing issues and our annual Dissertation Writing Retreat. We will sponsor events, from our annual Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, to our celebration of International Mother Language Day. What’s more, we will continue our community partnerships with the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library and Family Scholar House.

It’s a privilege to be trusted with the ideas and writing of others, and it can be fun too. We’re eager to start the year ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

All Pathos All the Time: In Pursuit of Credibility in a Post-Truth World

Taryn Hall, consultant

Last week in the University Writing Center, I had the pleasure to work with a writer on a paper which I’ve been thinking a lot about since. The paper was considering the role of education in the post-truth era, a term which I’ve heard before, but hadn’t fully Tarynconsidered the gravity of its meaning. Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 word of the year, post-truth refers generally to the idea that facts have become less significant in the public opinion—and in policy making—than political appeals to emotion (Wang). It’s a pretty postmodern idea, right? Objectivity (and reality, maybe) seems to mean little in terms of our relationship to what we stand for as voters and what we look for in our elected officials. This consultation took place on the morning after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and like many of us, I felt the weight of that event like I have many times before. The empty emotional appeals, rather than actionable plans, that I was seeing on social media from politicians and citizens alike perhaps made me sensitive to the conversation I had with the writer, but I left the consultation really thinking about the idea of the post-truth world and our place within it.

The tendrils of post-truth have seeped into further corners of our consciousness than solely the ways in which we connect with politics, however. That emotional appeals are given greater weight than truth is often evident in the work we do as writers and thinkers. Here at UofL, we’ve reached a point in our semester where many of our English 101 and 102 classes are working on either annotated bibliographies or rhetorical analyses. When I work with these students in the UWC, I often find that these assignments are their first experiences delving into secondary sources or examining the rhetorical moves of authors. While I’m sure that professors do an excellent job of preparing students to look beyond the emotional appeals in pursuit of the ethos of their source authors, I still occasionally find myself reading drafts which are predicated on the emotional response a piece elicited from them. Maybe a student didn’t trust the validity of a source because it was arguing for something that they personally don’t believe in, or they have chosen a news article which came from a definitely-not-credible corner of the internet because the emotional appeals made it easier to connect to and thus write about. It’s challenging, though rewarding, to help students learn what it means to find appropriate sources for academic work, but I think my job as a tutor working during this post-truth era is larger. I want to help writers develop their own authorial ethos.

Ethos, in academic writing, is generally used in reference to the credibility of the author: Who are they? How do their credentials affect the authenticity of their argument? As one of Aristotle’s appeals, ethos is an essential concept for those who are working on a rhetorical analysis. Most students learn to interpret the ethos of the authors of their sources, yet sometimes it seems like we don’t teach students to consider their own ethos as they write. You establish your credibility by citing sources, of course, but there’s more to it than that. As Tim noted in his blog post a couple of weeks ago, we are always engaged in manipulation in writing; you couldn’t persuade anyone if you weren’t, yet we have a responsibility to use that manipulation ethically. We do this by privileging facts over blatant or underhanded emotional appeals and by vetting our sources consistently and appropriately. Ultimately, it seems that our duty as learners—and citizens—is to help make this post-truth world a little more truthful.

Work Cited

Wang, Amy B. “‘Post-truth’ Named 2016 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries.” Washington Post, 16 Nov. 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/16/post-truth-named-2016-word-of-the-year-by-oxford-dictionaries/?utm_term=.4d3811168f02.

Looking Forward – and a Last Look Back – As We Get Ready For a New Year in the Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director, University Writing Center

When I talk about working in the Writing Center to new consultants at our orientation, I make the point that the work we do has to be grounded in an ethic of care, an ethic of service, and respect for students. I never feel like this is a hard sell – people who didn’t already feel this way don’t usually apply to work in a Writing Center – and this year was no exception. After a day of conversation with the new group of consultants, I realized that they were all deeply committed to these ideas when they walked through the door.

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2013-14 UofL Writing Center Consultants

Working in a Writing Center is always a matter of striking balances. You need to listen to students and ask questions that help them discover for themselves how best to   improve their writing, while not withholding expertise and advice that will give them insights on how to revise their work. You need to be patient and not rush writers in a session, but you also can’t waste time and not get anything accomplished. You need to attend to the concerns writers identify during a session, but also bring up other issues you see in their work. You need to be friendly and reassuring, but also professional and honest. What struck me about the new group of consultants at our orientation was how quickly they identified these issues of balance on their own, and the productive conversation we began about how best to draw on these various qualities when working with students.

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Writing Center Orientation

A number of our new consultants come to us already having worked in other writing centers or as teachers, and all of them have the talent and enthusiasm necessary to be effective writing teachers. They bring a diverse set of interests and backgrounds to their work. Yet all of the new consultants understand, from the beginning, that our goal in the Writing Center is to not only help students with their immediate writing projects, but also help them develop skills and strategies writers that will benefit them throughout their university lives and beyond. Some of the new consultants are native Louisvillians, while others come from places including California to Virginia to Georgia. We talked at orientation about the ways that the Writing Center works with all writers in the UofL community – students, faculty, and staff – on any writing project, at any point in the writing process. I left orientation excited about the year ahead and confident that UofL writers will gain a great deal from visiting the Writing Center this year.

A Last Look Back

While late August is always a time of excitement as the new academic year begins, it also is a moment when we can take a last look back at the year we just completed. We had an exceptional year at the Writing Center, thanks to a great group of consultants and assistant directors and especially thanks to the work of Associate Director Adam Robinson.

A few of the highlights of the 2012-13 academic year were:

 Writing Center Consultations: The Writing Center had a successful year of more than 5,400 consultations on the Belknap and Health Science Campuses and through our Virtual Writing Center. This was a 10 percent increase in visits over the previous academic year.

 Exit Survey Results: Our exit survey indicated a high level of satisfaction with the Writing Center, by both quantitative and qualitative measures. Highlights of the survey are:

  •  In answer to the statement: “My Writing Center consultation addressed my concerns about my writing project,” more than 96% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (70%) or “Agree” (26%).
  •  In answer to the statement: “What I learned during my Writing Center consultation will help me with future writing projects,” more than 92% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (64%) or “Agree” (28%).
  •  In answer to the statement: “I plan to use the Writing Center again,” more than 96% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (78%) or “Agree” (18%).
  •  In answer to the statement: “The Writing Center staff were welcoming and helpful,” more than 97% of respondents selected “Strongly Agree” (78%) or “Agree” (19%).

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Writing Center Orientation

 Presentations and Workshops: During the academic year, Writing Center staff conducted 75 in-class workshops on writing issues (and increase of 51 over 2011-12) and 76 presentations about our services (an increase of 15 over 2011-12).

Dissertation Writing Retreats: The Writing Center held two Dissertation Writing Retreats during the spring and summer of 2013. In the May retreat, funded by SIGS, 14 Ph.D. students representing four different colleges and nine different disciplines spent a week in the Writing Center working on their dissertations. In July the Writing Center collaborated with College of Education to hold a retreat on three consecutive Saturdays, in order to provide opportunities to graduate students from that college who work full-time jobs. Nine students took part in this retreat.

 Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing/Health Sciences Campus: In Fall 2012, the Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing was established. This full-time GTA position (20 hours/week) is dedicated to the support of graduate students, paying particular attention to the needs of international graduate students on both the Health Sciences and Belknap Campuses.

 Writing Center Blog and Social Media: The Writing Center Blog, to which all members of the staff contribute posts during the year, was viewed more than 5,000 times in 2012-13.  In addition, the number of visits to our Facebook page and our Twitter account have both grown substantially during the past year.

 Campus Outreach: Writing Center staff worked with a number of University programs, giving presentations and conducting workshops. These programs included the Porter Scholars, A&S Advising, UofL Athletics, the Career Center, the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program, Family Scholar House, the Delphi Center, E.S.S.E.N.C.E, Housing and Residence Life, First Year Initiatives, the Dental School, Student Affairs, Information Technology,TRIO, Ekstrom Library, and the International Center.

Now, to Look Forward

The accomplishments of the past year are things that we’re eager to repeat – and build on – in the year to come. We’re all eager for the year to get started and to work with all writers in the UofL community.