Tag: writing center work

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.

DSCN1670
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.

DSCN1662
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%).

DSCN1616
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.