Faculty’s Stake in a Writing Center

October 31, 2016 / By: Dr. Susan Callaway, Associate Professor of English / Director of the Center for Writing

Dr. Susan CallawayThanks to robust strategic planning, our campus is expanding academic support services for students at every level of every discipline. The time is right to examine assumptions about student academic support, particularly the role a writing center takes in the life of a university.

It’s common for students and faculty to assume that a writing center is only for writing. In fact, much of what we do in the Center for Writing focuses on critical thinking about a text or an argument. We talk about the reading process and model analytical thinking. Good writing emerges from these practices.  

Some subscribe to the myth of the perfect paper and think that a writing center should help students achieve that perfection. But a focus on error-free prose robs the student of their responsibility to grapple with the very nature of language in your discipline and making meaning in your field. Good writing comes first from talk, especially when someone challenges you, questions you, encourages you to clarify what you mean. Then you can struggle to get those ideas on the page, attending to the ultimate reader of your text. The very last stage of writing—editing—is as complex and profound as the very first, and we respect that and teach editing strategies to everyone. Yet ultimately we privilege the thinking and learning over perfection.

Others believe that staffing student services with peers is an inferior response to students’ needs. Yet peers create safe space; no one will judge or grade them here. And they are natural translators: they can help put a technical concept or a professor’s assignment in plain language. And peers have taken the same core courses, struggled in their learning, and are concerned about their futures. We are “generalists” who know how to support learning and literacy but can’t know every reading or topic students bring to us. Your students teach us about what they’re learning. In those moments—peers teaching peers—deep learning occurs.

Finally, student academic services seem to serve only students. My staff mentors refugees and immigrants learning English in the Twin Cities, building their own cultural awareness and sensitivity to social justice issues that affect access and engagement in education in the community and, in turn, on our campus.

Think of us—and all academic support—as sites of social and intellectual engagement where your students will:

  • Genuinely grapple with your course content.
  • Learn the discourse conventions of your field.
  • Experience a real audience.
  • Explore.
  • Inquire.
  • Focus.
  • Deepen their thinking.
  • Clarify their ideas.
  • Read.
  • Analyze.
  • Think critically.
  • Write.
  • Teach.
  • Learn strategies for how to work.
  • Gain perspective.
  • Gain confidence.

 Your students may come with their own assumptions, but they’ll discover much more. Please support all who will be contributing to the future safe and brave academic support services for your students, and for you.