Writing Center Offers Step-By-Step Support for Student Body
February 10, 2011 Leave a comment
by Erica Clark
Some people confuse writing centers with fix-it shops.
“We’re not the ‘Jiffy Lube’ of grammar,” said Dr. Scott Whiddon, director of the Writing Center. “We’re a lot more complex — and a lot more cool.”
The Writing Center at Transylvania University is often mistaken for a mere editing service.
“(But it) is a space where trained peer tutors from a range of academic disciplines work with student writers at every stage of the writing process,” said Whiddon.
Located on the bottom floor of Haupt Humanities, the Writing Center is a hive of activity. Students may be seen working at one of the tables, drafting in the conference room, studying in the computer lab or even relaxing on the furniture surrounded by the many pieces of student artwork.
“Occasionally there’s even someone sacked out on the couch,” said Professor Martha Gehringer, former director of the Writing Center.
In the main office, Becky Mills, the “spine” of the Writing Center according to Whiddon, maintains organization among the buzz.
Though the Writing Center isn’t used by everybody, it is a necessity for others.
Transy’s Writing Center had its origins as the Writing Lab, a class that first-years can sign up for if they want extra help with writing during their first semester.
“At the time there were more people interested in it than there were chairs in the room,” said Gehringer.
Gehringer quickly saw this as a campus need for what the Writing Center has now become.
After approaching the dean of the time with the problem at hand and hiring the first student writing tutor, Lisa Jones, an alumna of the class of 1989, Gehringer created a place where students could find help with writing.
Today the Writing Center employs 13 tutors guided by faculty who have together become a community of writers.
“When I came through the ranks, writing centers were pretty much part of the college landscape,” said Whiddon. “But 20 years before that, it was pretty radical, revolutionary stuff where the student was seen as the most important part of the equation. It’s people like Martha in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s who saw that spaces like these needed to be established.”
Whiddon hopes that centers such as this one will teach students to see writing as a process, as an identity and as a way to navigate the university.
“Don’t get me wrong; this is rigorous,” said Whiddon. “It’s scholarly; we have professional journals, we have the Ph.D. This is real. But, it’s also about opening a space to talk about writing in a way that is engaging and informative as opposed to top-down and destructive.”
“We’re about the student, the writer,” said Gehringer. “We’re committed to writing.”
Even for those who hate writing and dread starting that 15-page assignment for Foundations of the Liberal Arts II, help is always offered. No matter if you’re a first-year writing a FLA paper or a senior writing an essay for graduate school, everyone is welcome.
“If you’re given an assignment and you don’t know where to begin, that’s an excellent time to come to the Writing Center,” said Whiddon. “If you’re midway through a drafting or a research process and you feel like you’re fumbling the ball, that’s a great time to come. If you feel like you’re at the end of the process and want to do some polish work, it’s a great time to come.”
Whiddon describes the student writing tutors who help at these various stages as “very accomplished writers” with “listening skills” and the ability to help other students brainstorm, plan, revise and ask questions.
“I get to work with some of the most amazing colleagues imaginable. They happen to be undergraduates,” said Whiddon.
“For some students, tutoring or getting help often has a stigma attached to it,” said junior writing tutor Monica Lawson. “I think getting students to see their experience or trip to the Writing Center as a positive thing and not an ‘Oh my god, I suck at writing so I’m here’ experience is important.”
The Writing Center is largely supportive of “talk” to generate writing.
“One of my favorite parts of working in the Writing Center is being able to sit down with the student and discuss their thoughts and see how the writing comes together simply by talking through their interests in the subject matter they are exploring,” said Lawson. “Typically, the student leaves feeling much more confident and excited about their writing, because they’ve been given the time and space to explore ideas in a nonjudgmental setting. Being able to see a writer gain confidence about their ideas is the best part of my job.”
Even Lawson uses the Writing Center for papers she writes.
“I really love the atmosphere,” Lawson said, “be it the color scheme, the fact that (the tutoring) room is always warm or the group of people that make up the Writing
Center, students included, the atmosphere is welcoming and inviting.”
Gehringer hopes that the students will realize the value of the Writing Center experience in their intellectual lives.
“Many people want us to be an editing service, contrary to what we are,” said Gehringer. “It’s not working with papers, it’s working with people.”
The Writing Center is open Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Evening hours are on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8 to 10. To make an appointment contact Becky Mills at 859-281-3594.
“Show up,” said Whiddon.