SWCA Alabama Symposium: Collaborative Resistance

On September 15th, I had the pleasure of presenting alongside my colleague and friend Matthew Kemp, Learning Center Coordinator at Auburn University at Montgomery at the Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) Alabama State Symposium. Dr. Erin Chandler, director of the Harbert Writing Center at the University of Montevallo, hosted a lively and energetic event. The conference theme, "Writer Centers in an Era of Resistance," invited participants to consider several questions, including "How we can understand, use, and respond to resistance. In what instances do we see discourses of resistance in the writing center? What are best practices for understanding resistant writing or resistant acts?"

In this post, I will provide a sort of highlight reel of the ways Matt and I applied the conference theme to our ongoing project. Our presentation, Collaborative Resistance, demonstrated how reaching across institutional and disciplinary boundaries is essential to forming new partnerships with campus stakeholders and developing innovative answers to challenges. 

At the start of our talk, Matt and I discussed the history of our respective spaces. Matt's center has been a part of AUM for over thirty years and has in many ways grown and adapted with the university. In contrast, the writing center here at Wallace started in February 2014, and I joined the team in October of 2015. I believe this "age difference" has proven to be especially fruitful. Over the course of my career at four different institutions of higher learning spread across two countries and three different states, I have become a firm believer in stadial histories, meaning that things tend to move and develop through a set of clearly defined stages. From this point of view, Matt's center is at a different point in its history than my comparatively nascent center. While my center  works with students from twenty different departments and has seen a 68% increase in use since my first full semester here, Matt's center works with every discipline on campus and is staffed by over forty tutors. Partnering with Matt has allowed me to see what possible next steps my center can take as it grows and develops.

Matt and I also discussed the importance of earning the trust of faculty members. When I first arrived at Wallace, I worked to establish clear lines of communication with faculty and reached out to individuals who felt that the center was not responding to student needs as effectively as it could be. In addition to reestablishing connections with hesitant faculty, we provided specific examples of how new - and unexpected - partnerships on campus helped to strengthen our centers' reputations. For instance, during my second week working at the college, a group of nursing students came to The Writing Center and wanted help writing resumes, cover letters, and resignation letters. At the time, the center was not offering these services. Therefore, I asked the nursing students to tell their classmates to email me their materials directly and I would hold respond with track changes comments and suggestions. After conducting sixty-eight asynchronous appointments, I received an email from the instructor for the course; she was very pleased with the quality of work she saw from her students. Every semester since, The Writing Center has visited every Nursing 204 class to offer job materials workshops and all nursing students have had one-on-one appointments in the center. Meeting an urgent institutional need allowed me to form a new partnership, one that benefits students as well as faculty and gave me the opportunity to equip my team with a new skill set.

Most importantly, Matt and I discussed the importance of remembering to practice what we preach when it comes to demonstrating the role our centers play on our respective campuses. In The Writing Center, we frequently encourage students to consider purpose, genre, and audience when they are working on a particular writing opportunity. The same applies for writing center practitioners when we are tasked with sharing qualitative and quantitative data with faculty and administrators. Together, Matt and I developed a variety of different ways to show the impact our centers are having on our campuses. Beyond the usual appointment statistics (number of appointments as well as contact hours) and the importance of supplemental instruction outside of the classroom and lecture hall arguments, we came up with new and creative ways to articulate just what makes writing center work so singular. For example, taking a cue from Charlotte Brammer of Samford University, I strive to show how one-on-one instruction with a peer tutor should be understood as its own genre of instruction. So, in addition to classroom instruction, supplemental instruction, and the like, peer instruction exists as its own category and offers an experience that students can find nowhere else. My team and I also created a testimonial video series in which tutors interview frequent writing center visitors. These videos provide narrative accounts of the impact the center makes and put faces behind all of the quantitative data we provide. We also created a The Writing Center (TWC) Staff Speaks video series in order to allow faculty and students to meet some of our peer tutors and hear about how working in the center has helped them grow personally and professionally.

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The summary above provides just a glimpse of what was a wonderful conference. Stay tuned for more updates and news about a possible collaboration with AUM, Auburn University, and the University of Montevallo.