Welcome for Whom: Introduction to the Special Issue

Elise Dixon
Rachel Robinson

“Welcome. Come in. Would you like a something to drink? Is this seat okay?”

What does welcome look like to you? To the writers who visit your center? To your fellow consultants? Is it the same? Does welcome equate a certain level of comfort and/or safety? Should it?

When we work in a writing center, we (often unknowingly) become preoccupied with the idea of welcome. We welcome our clients into our space, hoping to make them comfortable in order to ease the discomfort of baring our most vulnerable writing to a stranger. We welcome our consultants into a space, hoping to create a “cozy home” (McKinney 2013) where they can settle in and feel comfortable working for hours at a time. We perpetuate the idea of comfort to foster a setting for vulnerability, yet how do we know what is comfortable, what welcome means, for everyone who comes into our space? Who do we prioritize welcome for and how? In this special issue, we (Rachel and Elise), want to interrogate the varying meanings of welcome that writing center consultants, directors, and clients experience and how those experiences complicate the trope of the welcoming space of WCs.

We had been working on this special issue for quite some time when we were both offered interim assistant director positions in the Writing Center @ MSU, where we’re both Phd candidates. During this time, in August of 2018, Rachel was grieving the loss of her mother who’d passed away that January, and Elise was pregnant a second time, having just recovered emotionally from a miscarriage the previous December. With this new appointment, we found ourselves occupying uncomfortable and vulnerable positions as women publically embodying grief and pregnancy, all while trying to occupy positions of authority. Suddenly, a writing center that we had once been welcomed into by our director, Trixie Smith, as graduate coordinator consultants with limited authority on what that welcome meant, was now “ours” to welcome others into. We now lived in a liminal existence of authority figure (assistant director) and peer (fellow graduate student) to the graduate coordinators we supervised.

Surprisingly, the most unwelcome and vulnerable place this liminal existence appeared was on our changing bodies. Often, in our shared office, we discussed how to best navigate the constant vulnerability of our bodies as grieving and growing women, both balancing on a tightrope between boss and friend. The kairotic moment of coming together to work so closely while grieving a mother and becoming a mother was not lost on us. So often during the last year, our bodies felt like they betrayed us: Rachel’s grieving meant that her emotions were always just below the surface of her daily performance of “keeping it together,” and Elise’s daily experience of a growing and changing body that physically impacted the work she could do and marked her as immediately maternal and mothering in ways in which she did not feel comfortable. This new bodily discomfort we were experiencing meant that the WC, a place where we both once felt incredibly comfortable, became a place where our physical and emotional discomforts were always on on display. Welcome, for us, took on a whole new context as it included making other people feel welcome around our own changing bodies while we, ourselves, didn’t always feel welcome in them or in public spaces. Simultaneously, our new position as administrators in the WC required us to help make our WC space welcoming. How could we make others feel welcome when we weren’t always sure we felt welcome (in this space, in this position, in our bodies)? Curating this special issue, replete with many creative and wise approaches to “welcome” in the center, helped us to better navigate this tension and to see just how much our identities, spaces, ideologies, and practices are tied up in the idea of “welcome.”

The concept of “welcome” is complex in terms of writing centers. Specifically, a center’s positionality within an institution creates a layered notion of power and hierarchy that can complicate how and to whom “welcome” is made. Indeed, as early as 1999, Nancy Grimm posited that institutionally, “the ability of a writing center to move differently within [a pluralistic democracy] is dependent on a better understanding of how literacy and power operate within a democratic system” (pp. 82-83). This situatedness often comes more in the form of writing centers positioning themselves as “cozy homes,” and in thinking about writing centers as “cozy homes.” McKinney (2013) asks, “If a writing center is a home, whose home is it? Mine? Yours? For whom is it comfortable? Everyone, likely more than once, has entered another person’s home and immediately felt uncomfortable, however welcoming the host or however strong our desire to be there” (p. 25). As “welcoming” hosts, we might think about the ways in which our work toward being hospitable might turn certain clients away. In addition, writing centers may be considered welcoming for consultants or administrators but not clients, as consultants or administrators often have a hand in decorating the center; such decorations might mark a space as exclusive, rather than inclusive (Gellar, et al. 2007; McKinney, 2013).

Much scholarship and lore has centered around the key elements of a physical writing center space, like the iconic three “Cs” of the center: coffee, cookies, and couches (Carino 2003). Writing centers can be creative, safe, comfortable, homey places, yet they can also just as easily be dull, dangerous, triggering, uncomfortable businesses. The overarching grand narrative of writing centers, though, is that they do encourage spaces that are welcoming and homey, yet these narratives do not necessarily address the tensions found everyday among the various communities inhabiting a center at a given time (Gellar et al. 2007, McKinney 2013). As McKinney (2013) reminds us, “A homey center may work against the job writing centers want to do” (p. 27). Understanding more of what is welcoming and homey to different communities can better help centers come to terms with their own identities as (un)welcoming places.

“Welcome” also includes connotations of inclusivity, especially with regard to race, gender, sexuality, ability, and language. However, working toward inclusivity through the concept of “everyone is welcome” may lead to its own problems. Inclusivity becomes complicated when writing centers have clients who visit the center with racist, sexist, homophobic, abilist, or otherwise oppressive papers. For example, Boquet (1999) discusses an incident in which difficult clients with offensive papers were often sent to a conservative, white male consultant to look over the paper (p. 27). In our own issue, Nadler discusses the troubles, including his own, of sexual harassment in online writing center sessions, and Nanton and Haltiwanger Morrison consider how writing center directors with (white) privilege un-welcome their consultants of color. In all these cases, the supposed inherentness of welcome in a writing center is challenged by the insidiousness of power and privilege wielded selfishly.

In this special issue, we endeavored to extend the conversation already begun in previous issues of The Peer Review, such as the Spring 2017 “Brave(r) Spaces” issue, by asking writers to complicate their own understanding of writing center spaces as spaces that should, must be, or always are comfortable and welcoming. Essentially, we asked our authors to (re)define welcome, and we certainly believe that they succeeded in offering a rich understanding of what welcome can mean in terms of space, identity, and praxis.  This issue is split into four sections: (Re)Defining Comfort, (Re)Defining Our Spaces, (Re)Defining Ideologies, and (Re)Defining Practices. In each section, our authors examine and complicate what welcome means for them, for their centers, and for their clients while also wrestling with the understanding that there is no singular definition of welcome in these spaces.

Part One: (Re)Defining Comfort

In this section, our contributors elaborate on what it means to be hospitable to various clients and how these clients themselves understand what comfort and welcome mean in writing center spaces.

In “‘She Doesn’t Even [Work] Here!’: (Re)Defining Welcome to Include Student Voices,” Jennifer Carter and Kathryn Dean interrogate what assumptions of welcome students bring to their sessions at Georgia State University by asking them to define what was welcoming and unwelcoming about their experiences, the center’s space, and the people working in the center. Their findings corroborate what we’ve said earlier in this introduction: what consultants find welcoming in a writing center space is not always what clients find welcoming. Similarly, in “Underground Hellos: Signaling Welcome to Marginalized Writers in the South,” Leia Eller and Olivia Wood outline interventions they used in their center to reach specific populations of clients. They wonder: “If our writing center is shaped for use by white, cis, straight (able-bodied, upper middle class, etc.) writers and consultants, how could we alter its shape to make its use less taxing for other writers?” While they cannot claim their interventions explicitly caused increased feelings of welcome among these populations of students, they do see positive changes in their center and provide clear examples for other centers to adopt.

Part Two: (Re)Defining Our Spaces

It is sometimes difficult to reconcile our feelings of welcome or unwelcome with our physical spaces. The authors in this section unpack how our spaces affect those feelings and what we might do to increase welcomeness in our physical writing center space.

In their interactive Prezi article, “Affirming Our Liminality and Writing on the Walls: How We Welcome in Our Writing Center,” Georganne Nordstrom, Isaac Wang, Kaitlyn Iwashita, Nicole Furtado, Nicole Kurashige, Avree Ito-fujita, Kristina Togafau, and Gregory Gushiken use multiple voices to walk readers through their center at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, explaining how they have added various physical elements to their center to make it a more inclusive  space for all who enter, including LGBTQ+ and native students. They creatively and thoughtfully acknowledge how they have disrupted colonial ties to oppression, as their writing center and university rest on colonized lands. We hope you’ll spend some time digitally making your way through their writing center using this Prezi. On the digital and online front, Destiny Brugman’s “Brave and Safe Spaces in Online Tutoring” presents considerations of how she has worked to make the online writing center space more welcoming through inclusive practices. In particular, she discusses the melding of Eodice’s (2018) concept of “participatory hospitality” and brave and safe spaces as what Brugman calls “an entry point for ‘welcome’ as a model” for online writing centers. Finally, we conclude this section with John Beebe and Miranda Zamarelli’s “A Physical Approach to the Writing Center: Spatial Analysis and Interface Design.” In this article, the authors present a study on the ways in which physical space has and has not impacted their consultants’ and fellows’ perceptions of the various writing center locations on campus. Drawing from Vine Deloria Jr.’s “God is Red,” they suggest “the influence of European cultural tradition puts pressure on students to perform specifically for progressive self-improvement in the form of higher grades.” In response, they orient toward indigenous epistemologies in their study to consider spatial-historical reasoning rather than just a temporal model as they think about how writing center spaces impact us all.

Part Three: (Re)Defining Ideologies

Many of us in the writing center community see our writing centers as spaces of inclusion and liberation. It is easier for us to think of the ways a writing center makes those in it feel welcomed than it is for us to think of how our space makes some feel just the opposite. In this section, our authors confront these ideological complications from multiple angles.

We begin this section with Talisha M. Haltiwanger Morrison and Talia O. Nanton’s “Dear Writing Centers: Black Women Speaking Silence into Language and Action.” This piece is split into three sections: a story of Nanton’s experience with racism in her writing center, her powerful manifesto in response to this racism, and a dialogue between Haltiwanger Morrison and Nanton about how and why Nanton wrote the manifesto. The power of this piece lies in its call for writing center scholarship to center the voices of people of color and for white writing center scholars to honor and listen to those voices. Next, in “Talking Through: The Detriment of Avoidant Discourse in WC Allyship,” JJ Gramlich critiques what it means to be an ally in a space like a writing center and wonders to whom and for whom we are creating safe and welcome writing center spaces when “we avoid ‘negative feedback’ from that space at all costs.” Ultimately, she concludes that embracing negative feedback without shame “will result in a center that is more welcoming not only in terms of people, but also of progress.” This piece provides a unique perspective of allyship and offers an unabashed critique of the privilege often swept under the welcoming rugs in writing centers. In “Burn the House Down: Deconstructing the Writing Center as Cozy Home,” Eric C. Camarillo uses an antiracist ecological lens to critique the notion the writing center as a cozy home and presents some strategies for writing center directors to use to burn that figurative cozy home down. He suggests, among other actions, for writing centers to pay attention to and address their institutional histories (especially in terms of their ties to racism and colonialism) in their tutor training courses. We believe this piece is an important addition to the discussion of writing centers’ complicity in and connection to oppressive powers in the institution. To conclude this section, we offer “Extending “The Idea of a Writing Laboratory”: A Simulation-Based Workshop for Computer Science Majors,” by Krista Speicher Sarraf. In this piece, Sarraf considers the ways writing centers may cater their assistance to writers in the humanities, and responds by discussing the strategies her writing center created to welcome computer science majors, who make up a large portion of her university’s population. She walks readers through a simulation-based workshop offered in her writing center. We are excited by the practice, and hope to adopt something similar in our own center.

Part Four: (Re)Defining Practices

In this final section, we look at three articles that reconsider some of the common practices of the center and pull them apart in complicated ways.

In “What Do We Do With This Cold Coffee?: How Appreciative Advising Helped One Center (Re)Define Welcome,” Alex Wulff investigates why students deemed “struggling” by his university were not utilizing the writing center services. He found that when he partnered with the Appreciative Advising office on campus and began adopting some of their already-center-like techniques with his consultants, like communal goal setting, these “at-risk” students began coming in droves. Wulff provides an interesting model for how one center can use its own campus resources to redefine its practices and, in turn, create a more welcoming environment for a particular population of students. In Robby Nadler’s “Sexual Harassment, Dirty Underwear, and Coffee Bar Hipsters: Welcome to the Virtual Writing Center,” he recounts a time in which he was sexually harassed by a writing center client in an online session. After providing an extensive review of what members of the rhetoric and composition and writing center disciplines have written on sexual harassment, Nadler argues for further discussion on sexual harassment in writing centers, especially in terms of how they can be complicated by growing investment in our online presences and lives. To close out our issue, Leslie Anglesey and Maureen McBride’s “Caring for Students with Disabilities: (Re)defining Welcome as a Culture of Listening,” offers up what listening to shelter versus listening to respond means in our writing center sessions. In doing so, they attempt to “[explore] the ways in which a basic component of writing center work—listening—can be reimagined as an essential function of a center’s ethos of welcome for all students.” By deploying a study of their own center and consultants as a means to developing more training in this area, they conclude that in order for centers to be welcoming spaces for all students, they “must be places where students are listened to in ways that respect their experiences and respond to their bodily and academic needs.” This piece helps fill a much-needed hole in writing center scholarship and praxis by not only investigating what it means to help students with disabilities feel welcome in our centers, but also by interrogating how our consultants practice the art of listening during sessions, which is so vital to our practice.

So what, after reading this issue, should we do with “welcome?” How should we (re)define it for our writing center spaces, for our consultants, for our writers, for ourselves? Has welcome worn out its welcome? We don’t think so, but we do think that writing center scholars must acknowledge that there is no one way to welcome everyone, and so we must always pose the question for ourselves: welcome for whom?

We are excited for the pieces in this special issue to contribute to the field’s ongoing conversation of “welcome,” and we hope the pieces here challenge you to think about how your center defines welcome and, perhaps, redefine it.

–Elise and Rachel

References

Boquet, E. (1999). ‘Our little secret’: A history of writing centers, pre- to post-admissions. College Composition and Communication 50(3), 463-482.

Carino, P. (2003). Power and authority in peer tutoring.” In M. A. Pemberton & J. Kinkead (Eds.), The Center will Hold: Critical Perspectives on Writing Center Scholarship (pp. 96-113). Logan: Utah State UP.

Geller, A. E., Eodice, M., Condon, F., Carroll, M., & Boquet, E. (2007). The everyday writing center: A community of practice. Logan: Utah State UP.

Grimm, N. (1999). Good intentions: Writing center work for postmodern times. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Martini, R., & Webster, T. (2017). Writing centers as brave/r spaces. The Peer Review, 1(2), Retrieved from http://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/braver-spaces/.

Mckinney, J. G. (2013). Peripheral visions for writing centers. Logan: Utah State UP.

About the Special Issue Editorial Team:

Elise Dixon (special issue co-editor) is a PhD candidate in writing and rhetoric at Michigan State University and one of the 2018-2019 co-Assistant Directors of the WC @ MSU. Before she began her studies at MSU, she earned her Masters’ in Rhetoric and Composition from Ohio University, where she taught composition and women’s and gender studies. She has worked in four different writing centers as a consultant, coordinator, and now as an assistant director. At MSU, she has worked as the outreach coordinator, where she has worked on multiple community composing projects, including the writing center’s current project, “Connecting Communities, Creating Stories.” Her research focuses on queer/feminist rhetorics and making/multimodality; she is currently working on a dissertation on the collaborative making processes of the Lesbian Avengers. Recent publications include “Uncomfortably Queer: Everyday Moments in the Writing Center” (TPR, vol 1, 2017), “Strategy-Centered or Student-Centered?: A Meditation on Conflation” (Writing Lab Newsletter, vol 42), “Big Happy Family” (with Baldwin, Brentnell, Donelson, Firestone, and Robinson TPR vol 2, 2018), and a few book chapters and articles currently slated for publication in 2019. She is currently at work on two pieces (an article and book chapter) with Rachel Robinson and Lauren Brentnell about emotion and affect in writing center spaces.

Rachel Robinson (special issue co-editor) is a PhD candidate at Michigan State University and one of the 2018-2019 co-Assistant Directors of the WC @ MSU. Before returning to school in 2016, she served as the assistant director of the writing center at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and, prior to that, as the assistant director of the writing center at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. Her current research focus uses intersectional feminism and cultural rhetorics methodologies to explore the embodiment of imposter syndrome in academic spaces, particularly by writing program administrators. Her previous The Peer Review publication, “Big Happy Family” (with Baldwin, Brentnell, Donelson, Dixon, and Firestone), is included in vol 2, 2018. She’s also published several chapters in COMPbiblio: Leaders and Influences in Composition Theory and Practice (with Allison Smith and Karen Wright, Fountainhead Press, 2007) and edited Surviving Freshman Composition (vol. 4 with Smith and Smith and vol. 5 with Watkins). She is currently at work on two pieces (an article and book chapter) with Elise Dixon and Lauren Brentnell about emotion and affect in writing center spaces.

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