Writing Center Philosophy
I believe that writing centers are uniquely poised to make a profound impact on their institutions because they sit at a crossroads - a crucial liminal space - for students, faculty, and their own staff members.
For students, writing centers sit between the beginning and end of writing opportunities.Writing center practitioners must work to help students see the larger value of each piece of writing. A cursory glance of writing center mission statements will show variations on a theme, with each essentially claiming to help all students with any form of writing at any stage of the writing process. Our center’s mantra of “all students, all writing” is one such example. While articulating the mission of each center in promotional materials, websites, and assessments is importanct, the real work occurs during our interactions with students. In my current position, I work diligently to help students understand that they do not need to come with a full draft or even a complete idea of what they want to work on to have a great session. During class visits, and certainly during sessions, we strive to take a personal interest in students and their goals.
After all, while writing center practitioners recognize the value of essays, cover letters, research projects, dissertation proposals, and a myriad of other textual genres, students may struggle to connect particular assignments with larger educational and professional goals. Therefore, when I introduce students to the services we offer, I ask them why they are taking a particular course. Once we get past the familiar “because it is a requirement” refrain, I ask students what their long-term goals are. Some tell me they are planning on transferring to a university, with many hoping to become the first member of their family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree; some say they want to set an example for their children and family members; and others say they want to improve their quality of life.
By connecting the assignment and the course to these larger objectives, writing centers guide students towards a deeper understanding of the role that a local writing opportunity might play in their lives. The writing center emerges as an ally, a vital and vibrant one, standing ready to help them achieve their goals. Our center shows students that every form of writing is not just a mere assignment but also an opportunity to discover and develop their own voices.
For faculty members, writing centers reside between learning objectives and students. Over the course of my career, I have seen the ways in which four different writing centers interact with faculty members. Trust, mutual respect, and open lines of communication are absolutely vital; therefore, I actively seek out feedback from faculty. In fact, suggestions from faculty have allowed me to serve our students more effectively. Since my arrival in my current position, I have made several changes – some small, some large – in response to faculty observations. I also built a website, randallsessler.com, in order to provide an additional window into new staff training, professionalization activities, and special events. The website serves as a means of introducing the center to new departments and new faculty members. When faculty members and writing center practitioners collaborate, no learning objective is too ambitious.
For writing center staff, the position of writing consultant sits between educational goals and professional ambitions. To quote one of my former peer consultants, working in the center was “my first professional gig.” Indeed, much is asked of my dynamic team; however, I also invest in my team members the way that I ask them to invest in our students. For example, one of my former peer consultants is a talented artist. I therefore partnered with the head of the art department to host a special interactive three-night exhibit of her Miss Represented project in the college’s theater. The event drew students from a variety of classes, faculty members from other institutions, and members of the general public. It also gave a consultant a new platform and provided a new avenue through which to introduce the writing center to its constituents. Thanks to another creative team member, the center also hosts an open mic night event every semester. Students share poetry, short stories, songs, and even essays. In addition, former peer consultants have continued their careers at writing centers at other institutions, including Auburn University, Auburn University at Montgomery, the University of Montevallo, and Columbia Southern University. In short, working at the writing center equips staff members with skills that will serve them throughout their careers and provides them with opportunities to showcase and develop their own individual interests.
While sitting at a crossroads can in many ways be precarious, writing centers occupy an absolutely vital position.