Empowering the Process: Redefining Tutor Training Towards Embodied Restorative Justice

Rachel Robinson, Michigan State University
Shelby LeClair, Michigan State University
Floyd Pouncil, Michigan State University


Writing center training often teaches tutors to be aware of the “writer not the writing” (North) across from them—the whole person —but tutors are less-informed on how to bring their whole person to sessions. In this article, we question how tutors can practice restorative justice if they aren’t aware of the harm, hurt, or, even at times, healing that our whole person, as tutors, can bring to the table. To do this, we weave together stories of and theoretical influences on the planning and implementation of our undergraduate writing center theory and practice course. Further, we provide a course model for administrators interested in moving away from tutor training as a set of how-tos and inoculations, and toward a more embodied training that relies on centering the experiences of the whole student and the whole tutor in the writing center. Similar to our time together teaching the writing center theory and practice course, we include here an ongoing conversation alongside the main text in which we reflect on our experience and model the ongoing critical reflection necessary to embody a restorative justice ethos.

Keywords: restorative justice, tutor training, wholeness, canon

“Similarly, issues around gender, race, ethnicity, religion, class, sexuality, and physical ability will inevitably arise in a writing center and the available responses to these issues vary greatly among cultures. A general, short text such as The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors cannot adequately cover all possible situations and issues, and so we invite you to explore more deeply with your tutors the concerns of subjects that affect the writers who visit your writing center.” (Ryan and Zimmerelli, 2016, p.VI)

During the summer of 2019, we (Shelby, Floyd, and Rachel) met together in a conference room that was always too hot and crowded with obnoxiously loud chairs. We were meeting to discuss plans for the upcoming writing center theory and practice course for the Fall 2019 semester. Shelby, a master’s student; Floyd, a PhD student; and Rachel, a PhD candidate, met to talk about the course they would be working on together. Rachel, as the instructor of record, created an agenda for the meeting that included looking over previous versions of the course, the service learning component, and what Shelby and Floyd’s roles would be, as two graduate student teaching assistants. We talked about our respective experiences in tutor training courses and how that preparation looked unlike what we had all come to know as writing center work, particularly when we considered the movement the Writing Center @ MSU was undergoing as we rolled out our Language Statement. Our “rollout” included a Speaker Series of invited lecturers and focused workshops on languaging in the center. We felt more traditional writing center training courses often create a utopian ideal and then complicate it, retrofitting the course to accommodate a checklist of writer identities. However, it was the complications of writing center work that felt more urgent for us in light of our center’s current initiative. We asked ourselves, how do we get new tutors, in just 15 weeks, to do this complex people-work in a way that is responsible to marginalized folks who are disserved by the institution. It was our responsibility to construct a primer that is built on social truths like systemic oppression.

Accordingly, we began to construct a course that worked against writing center commonplaces and toward a social justice framework that we hoped would foster a more equitable, embodied, and human tutoring practice. Our epigraph, pulled from Ryan and Zimmerelli’s (2016) The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, one of the most ubiquitous tutor training guides, frames identity as “issues that might arise,” tertiary concerns to the foundations of writing center work. Conversely, we tried to create a new vision of what the “basics” of writing center work entails, shifting away from the traditional trope of introducing new tutors to writing centers via the pathway: North’s “Better Writer’s”>History>What is Tutoring>Styles>Types of Students. Shifting away from this comfortable pathway was welcoming for us as teachers but still unsettling for our new tutors. We leaned into this discomfort because for us, this act was one of restorative justice. In fact, when we deviate from that pathway, we might be more likely to see the harm that the WC, as an institution itself, is complicit in and work to neutralize it.

We must stop onboarding people to orientations that do harm—we must begin to reduce the need for restorative justice as an after-thought and, instead, consider the history of writing center tutorial training and courses as unjust and reorient ourselves to centering marginalized voices and bodies as the explicit way of introducing newcomers to the field of writing centers. This reorientation to the work of tutor training, in our minds, is a restorative justice stance that lends itself to writing center faculty and staff who are the stewards of the profession—those of us who are charged with undoing the harm of writing center lore that was once held sacred. Given our experiences and understandings of this charge, in this article, we offer three stories from our unique perspectives working on this course that further illustrate how restorative justice work uses the whole person—writer, tutor, teacher, and administrator—to create a tutor training course centered on restorative justice. Further, we provide a course example for administrators interested in moving away from tutor training as a set of “how-tos” and inoculations, and toward a more embodied training that relies on centering the experiences of the whole student and the whole tutor in the writing center.

As you read our article, we want to offer our intention behind the format. While textually we follow a fairly typical organization pattern, we’ve additionally interspersed the article with comments. We did this so that we could use our individual voices to talk back to our collective voice and reflect more personally on specific moments in our experiences. They also provide space for smaller ideas that don’t easily fit into the larger narrative of our article but that still have great importance. We think these comments are representative of collaborative writing in general, but more specifically, they represent what tutoring looks like: a back and forth conversation, sometimes, even, across time and space.

Literature Review

When we set out to design this course, all of our separate interests around writing centers began to converge in thinking about, what our director Dr. Trixie Smith is fond of saying, “the tutor or writer as a whole [1]  person” and how we could prioritize valuing that whole person in our center and in our sessions. Additionally, as we mention in our Introduction, as a WC, we’d just begun the rollout of our Language Statement, a process two years in the making. We wanted to honor the principles of the statement, specifically helping writers to discover how best to use their writing voices and respecting “writers’ agency to express themselves in ways most comfortable to them” (Writing Center @ MSU, 2019, n.p.). To that end, we knew we needed to acknowledge that the act of tutoring—and of being tutored—is an emotional one and “emotional intelligence is no less important than knowledge of discourse conventions and the writing process” (Lape, 2008, p. 1). As often happens in writing center tutor training courses, especially undergraduate ones, professors tend to focus the schedule’s readings around the “how-tos” of tutoring, most likely found in the traditional WC canon of North (1984), Sherwood (2007), Ryan and Zimmerelli (2016), Lunsford (1991), Boquet (1999), McAndrew and Reigstad (2001), Gillespie and Lerner (2007), and others.

There is comfort in the canon because new tutors want a step-by-step process for approaching a tutorial so that they can “get it right” and avoid any complications that might arise; however, a restorative justice approach to tutoring and writing center practice asks us to see tutoring as a fluid process that prioritizes the people in the process. This prioritization means that tutors must be willing to see intersecting identities from the people they work with, rather than relying on their prior experiences or any how-to formulas to construct individuals for them. Consequently, the WC canon asks us to follow a well-worn path, a formula, that doesn’t allow for us to be humans working with humans in any given moment in time. Problematically, formulaic (approaches to) tutoring too often encourages new tutors to latch on too strongly to the “absolutes” in the canon without considering what the actual person across from them in the session might need or want. This focus on writer needs/wants is representative of the restorative justice stance that we, as a field, need in order to make amends for the traditional canon that treats marginalized bodies as an afterthought or not worthy of attention. New tutors like formulas because they erase complications, therefore “eliminating” harm. Formulas help tutors feel non-threatened and safe in sessions they are still learning how to navigate, but this is a myth that does the most vulnerable among us harm. So what we decided in creating this course was that we would push against a formulaic approach to seeing clients and tutors one-dimensionally and that we would, instead, start with the emotional complications, the ideas that actually make a center one of people.

Prioritizing the people in the chairs across from us in sessions doesn’t sound incredibly revolutionary, and it shouldn’t. Several WC scholars have been advocating this idea for a long time (Denny, 2010; Geller, Condon & Carroll, 2011; Geller et al., 2007; Green, 2016; Grimm, 1999; Rowan and Greenfield, 2011; Young, 2011; etc.). However, when we don’t spend enough time with critical WC scholarship and instead rely on how-to literature, the writers we see in the center suffer. For example, in McAndrew and Reigstad’s (2001) Tutoring Writing: A Practical Guide for Conferences, Chapter 8 is devoted to “Tutoring Different People,” and begins with a caveat: “however varied the settings for tutoring writing may be, nothing is more varied than the people who tutor and are tutored” (p. 89). While this is completely true, the chapter then goes on to characterize and offer approaches for working with writers of different ability levels, gender differences, ELL writers, writers with learning disabilities, and writers with different personalities and learning styles (McAndrew and Reigstad, 2001). Similarly, The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors (2016) has a chapter dedicated to “The Writers You Tutor,” which conspicuously talks about learning styles, learning disabilities, multilingual writers, writers with physical challenges, and writers with anxiety discreetly. This chapter is sequestered from the rest of the text. And, alarmingly, there is also no mention of the many social identity-based topics that we found important for a writing center training course, which the authors readily admit as you can see in our epigraph. New tutors read this and see that their writers who fall into any of these categories can be worked with via a template, rather than pausing and seeing what the actual writer needs and wants in a session. Tutors trained primarily through these texts may not understand, and aren’t trained to look for or inquire about, the whole of the writer at the table or across the screen from them. Because of this lack of understanding, tutors can miss the physical and emotional signals a writer might be giving (or not) to tell them they need or want a different approach to the session [2] .

Instead of working with the template approach of our past, what the three of us decided to do was center our approach to the class on tutor’s and writer’s bodies in the space of the center. Doing this allowed us to recognize “the inherent relationship between embodiment and rhetoric,” and how “we can make all bodies and the power dynamics invested in their (in)visibility visible” (Johnson et al., 2015, p. 39). Additionally, we understood that “to think about rhetoric, we must think about bodies”; therefore, the bodies that make up the writing center, in all their physical, emotional and complicated glory, tell the story of the center at any given moment in time (Johnson et al., 2015, p. 39). These bodies change all the time: person to person, moment to moment, and year to year. Our approach to working with them should be just as easily changed [3] .

When we follow a standard, static canonical approach to WC scholarship, we’re contributing to the notion of the WC as colonizer. Voices are inevitably left out of a 15-week syllabus, but when we stick to a canon, we have to ask ourselves: whose voices and why those? While our class’s approach didn’t necessarily blow the canon apart, it did shake it up enough to allow room for these new voices, which then allowed us as the class’s facilitators room to talk about new approaches (emotional entanglements of space, academic/institutional space as colonizer, languaging practices and Englishes, etc.). It is our hope that in hearing more about our individual experiences and seeing our class’s reading list, you will have a clearer picture of our approach in empowering the process of training for new tutors.

Floyd’s Experience: Making a Way Out of No Way

During the spring semester prior to working with Shelby and Rachel on the writing center theory and practice course, I approached our director about the possibility of being a teaching assistant in the course. As someone who was planning on studying writing centers explicitly, was doing writing center administration work currently as a graduate assistant, and planned on having a career focused on academic support services, I knew that an opportunity to be on the ground floor where students were being taught about writing centers was a place for me. There was only one apparent problem—the course in Fall 2019 was being taught by another graduate student, Rachel, who was two years ahead of me in our doctoral program. Our department had a rule against allowing graduate students to work as teaching assistants with other graduate students. This rule felt out of place for me specifically, as I had come to understand our writing center as a synergistic space that encouraged communal relationships. While not without its own structures and power dynamics, our center was largely collaborative and invited the kind of sharing of responsibility that, in turn, came with the power of influencing a new generation of writing tutors via the training course.

In this instance, it felt like the writing center, with its stance as a collaborative space where we learned from one another and used our strengths together, had reached the limits of what it could do when confronted with external stakeholders. Namely, the departments in which graduate students studied had the sole power to dictate graduate experiences. I believe this power and control is what Shari Stenberg (2015) describes when she says:

As universities mimic corporate structures, faculty labor is “unbundled,” with the bulk of undergraduate teaching assigned to part-time instructors, teaching assistants, and postdoctoral positions. This both lowers instructional costs and creates a flexible workforce, the members of which do not, typically, have a say in the governance of the university or, often, the curriculum they teach. (p. 7)

In the instance with us three graduate students wanting to work collaboratively towards a goal that would serve us and, in turn, our students, we ran into a problem. Our labor was thought of as valuable insofar as there being a liminal opportunity to teach undergraduate students as a graduate student. However, the processes we needed for graduate students to work under or alongside other graduate students did not exist. We did not have a say in how our education could unfold in this particular way; we could not learn from one another, or, more specifically, Shelby and I could not learn from Rachel.

Because of my experiences as a professional in higher education for the past ten years, I felt despondent at the idea of being barred from an experience I knew would be critical for my development. All three of us held previous professional positions before coming to graduate school, and I felt strongly we all had invaluable things to learn from one another and to teach our students. An orientation toward adopting streamlined systems that give little space for identities outside of traditional paradigms in graduate education is precisely what I believe writing center administrators must continue to push against. This pushing against is what invigorated our work once we, as the Black proverb goes, “made a way out of no way.” In our case, that way was through our director, Dr. Trixie Smith [4] . She embodied a stance that gave room for us three to subvert the department and institution’s insistence on maintaining the neoliberal labor standards that Stenberg described. She used her position as a part of the academy to create an opportunity: we were able to chart a path through other institutional apparatuses to counter the neoliberal conceptions of graduate student labor and relationships. Shelby and I enrolled in an independent study [5]  that included working within the tutor training course alongside Rachel. This process of repurposing the independent study is akin to what la paperson (2017) discusses as the witch’s flight. Simply, in the vein of the Black tradition of assemblage found in Black cinema, the witch’s flight involves subverting institutional machinations that “involves the modding of technologies raked together by the witch’s broom” (p. 50). Once gathered together, these technologies can be taken into new, decolonial futures that had not initially been imagined.

Along the same lines, Laura Greenfield in her book Radical Writing Center Praxis: A Paradigm for Ethical Political Engagement, says that “without access to a different paradigm, it is hard to tell a different story” (2019, p.8). My experience as a writing center graduate student seeking out opportunities that would benefit me as a scholar-practitioner bumped up against our institution’s neoliberal machinations around the role of students in the academy. Similarly, tutor training courses often follow the same neoliberal machinations that the academy supports. This alignment with the institution, and in turn neoliberal futures, is what I believe Greenfield (2019) invokes when she explains, “We see two paradigms clash when writing center scholars express genuine disgust at racism or homophobia but continue unintentionally to engage in and even celebrate practices that critical/activist scholars have explicitly denounced as perpetuating violence” (p. 8). Restorative justice practices, under this lens, become about reconceptualizing what our work means through embodying a stance that enables us to break free of the neoliberal academy’s insistence on following doctrine instrumental to maintaining the status quo through formulaic policy. In order to have a restorative justice orientation, writing center administrators must be in a continuous process of re-evaluating the assumptions of the academy, and in turn the colonial society in which we live. In this instance, academic norms about who can learn from whom in a purported scholarly community firmly affixed the identity of a graduate student as that of someone who learns from graduate faculty and teaches undergraduate students, but is not someone who decides. Graduate students lack agency despite their overwhelming amount of valuable experiences that could inform institutional practice and college curriculums [6] .

I agree with Greenfield (2019) when she argues, “For radical theories and methodologies to effectively take hold in writing centers, our task requires nothing less than to initiate an entire deconstruction and reinvention of the field” (p. 8) and believe we have to be willing to let go of the grand narratives of writing center work (McKinney, 2013) and embrace new, restorative futures. Our director created a launching pad for us three graduate students to do our part in reenvisioning what the tutor training course could and should be, based on our nontraditional perspectives as graduate students. Without the willingness to subvert and use the power of the institution in ways not yet imagined, writing center administrators will have a hard time reimagining tutor training toward just ends. Reflecting back, now somewhat removed from the semester, I revel in how we found a way to leverage our own positions as agents of the institution and, while embodying a critical consciousness pointed towards restorative justice, moved into the ways that allowed us to “come to terms with our complicated origins and to more fully understand our present” (Greenfield, 2019, p. 10).

Shelby’s Experience: An Unfamiliar Beginning

Working with Rachel and Floyd teaching this course was one of my most valuable experiences in my master’s program. My position as someone who was neither giving nor receiving a grade allowed me to teach and learn simultaneously, cyclically, and reflexively. I stood in awe of Rachel, someone who can walk into a classroom with a few keywords scribbled on a sticky note and deliver an engaging and effective learning experience. I also cherished my planning hours with Floyd over coffee, our respective backgrounds and expertise (his in student affairs and mine in secondary education) intertwining and adapting to this new context.[7] 

Teaching alongside two people and creating a shared vision for the course was also empowering for me as an educator in that I was pushed, with support, outside of the teaching practices I’ve grown comfortable within. For instance, I felt a knee-jerk apprehension about beginning the course in a place far from what I had come to associate with WC beginnings: a look at the tutoring schedule, some loose advice on how to have a successful session, and maybe a bit of roleplay (if we’re feeling bold). Instead, Rachel began pasting into the reading schedule Boquet’s (1999) exploration of writing center identity crises and their fraught relationships with parent and neighboring institutions, followed by McKinney’s (2013) questioning of whether writing centers really are what lore so often characterizes them to be: the cozy homes where everyone has equal access to services. Beginning in such a place seemed akin to giving a neighbor a tour of my house, starting with my drawer of tangled cords and concluding with my husband’s bins of “collector’s items” that will surely be worth money someday. It was an unfamiliar beginning. [8] 

This course does not endorse a bait-and-switch pedagogy in training new writing center professionals. Instead, it intentionally begins with complexities proportionate to the complex work of people collaborating. However, there is a discomfort that arises when attention is drawn to complexities, difference, and bodies in classroom spaces, particularly for those whose identity markers have routinely been cast as normative and thus uncomplicated. Queer and feminist pedagogues have long illustrated how discomfort creates space for learning and growth (hooks, 1994; Waite, 2017; Woolbright, 1992; etc.). However, part of how I have been socialized as a woman has always been to anticipate and prevent the discomfort of others. I’ve been taught to play hostess even within spaces where I am not proprietor and to minimize or gloss over moments of perceived discomfort via sleight of hand: a laugh, a complement, let me top off your drink [9] . I mention this to explain that my journey toward a pedagogy that centers restorative justice—one which inherently relies on the fruitful mess-making of critical, feminist, and queer theories—has been full of fits and starts. It is important to note that discomfort is not something I believe should be actively sought in classroom spaces, as it is far from the only means of learning (Pereira, 2012). Nevertheless, I have had to actively resist my desire to always smooth over—however shallowly and temporarily—the discomfort that does organically arise. As Ahmed (2017) writes, “The resolution of difference is the scene of much injustice. . . . Rather than equality being about smoothing a relation, perhaps equality is a bumpy ride” (pp. 166-167). Our students, along for this bumpy ride, likewise demonstrated some resistance to the course’s scaffolding. They expected their introduction to writing centers to begin with the magic.

For instance, after reading McKinney’s (2013) chapter “Writing Centers are Cozy Homes,” some of the students’ reading responses ironically endorsed the image of the cozy home, citing how they interpreted our own center as such. While some of these responses may have resulted from an ineffective skim of the text, I believe starting a class on writing center theory and practice with a critique of writing center mores so defied student expectations for class readings that they failed to see it as critique at all.[10]  Despite our class conversations about the article’s intention, we continued to see “cozy” and “safe” used favorably in reading responses and course projects.[11]  Dixon (2017a) explains, “The queer or upsetting practices that occur in our centers stray so far from our perceived understanding of what makes up a center that they are either ignored or are, perhaps worse, so unrecognizable as to be rendered invisible” (n.p.). Our course, and similar courses across institutions, is very much an artifact demonstrating our understandings of what makes up a center. This writing center course is a construction of our center, our whole center: its deep well of potential alongside the ways in which it can reify inequities. It is our hope that framing writing center work in such a way will help new tutors come to know writing centers as places where whole people with whole histories might gather and enact change.

Rachel’s Experience: Bodies, Empathy, and Dynamic Scaffolding

I study emotions and embodiment, but in all my years of teaching a tutor training course, I had never really pushed myself or my students to actually consider the embodied emotion(s) in the center. I taught my first tutor training course in 2006, and I’ve taught a version of it at whichever university I’ve been at nearly every year since. What I’m ashamed to admit, is that though I’ve taught this course now for almost 15 years, my course reading list has changed very little even as my administrative and tutoring stances have shifted. I found a rhythm within that first canonical reading list that started with North’s (1984) “better writers,” Lunsford’s (1991) “Burkean Parlor” and Ryan and Zimmerelli’s (2016) “tutoring hats” that both I and students felt comfortable enough in. I also knew that within the 15 or so weeks I had to train students to become tutors, there really was only so much I could do philosophically and theoretically. Ironically, I was much too focused on the “methods” or “training” portion of the course while giving much less attention to the “theory” portion. On those few occasions when I did wade into the deep pool of WC theory, I would often find my students’ eyes glaze over or see their metaphorical arms flail in struggle in the deep end. Needless to say, I proceeded with caution. And floaties.[12] 

When I found out I would have the opportunity to teach the undergraduate writing center theory and practice course at MSU, I knew my approach had to change because so much in my academic life had changed. I wanted to take advantage of our new Language Statement rollout. Additionally, I had the wonderful opportunity as a PhD candidate of having two graduate teaching assistants (GTA) in the course, Floyd and Shelby. Any teacher who has worked with an in-class GTA knows that this practice makes you really re-examine your own pedagogical stances and articulate the whys of your practice. This is exactly what Floyd and Shelby did with me in those first few planning meetings, and it was welcomed.

What Floyd and Shelby taught me was that I should trust myself more in the planning of my class, trust my own previous experience(s) and knowledge(s), trust the two of them, and trust my own students. I always thought I did this, but I realized that my standard, canonical reading list didn’t reflect this trust. While the individual readings of the WC canon aren’t necessarily problematic (we even still used several of them!), my original, traditional scaffolding of them was tired and static.[13]  Reorganizing the course readings allowed us to introduce new, current voices in WC scholarship doing amazing work that aligned closely with the philosophies of our center, our Language Statement, and ourselves.


Tutors never enter WC training courses as blank slates—they’re new tutors, but not new writers, readers, or humans. They’re in new spaces, but they bring with them the same bodies and histories that they bring with them to every space. In many ways, writing center work is not a new practice for them—just a more formal arrangement of prior practices. It is our job as writing center practitioners, the ones who train them to do the work of the center, to see that their (already) lived experiences have value in their writing center practice. As Shelby mentions in her first comment, the focus of the whole person is an ever-important restorative justice heuristic for all—writers, tutors, administrators—who want to engage in this work.

As you can see from our course’s schedule,[14]  we did keep many of WC scholarship’s canonical texts, but our reorganization of a more traditional training timeline (North “Better Writer’s”>History>What is Tutoring>Styles>Types of Students) allowed us to really sit in the muck of the complicated parts of a WC, namely what it isn’t, who it might not serve (well), and why these things make us all feel some kind of way[15]  in this space. We were intentional about our scaffolding of these readings, including lots of non-canonical voices (Dixon, 2017b; Degner, Wojciehowski, and Giroux, 2015; Fleck, 2018; Green, 2016; Kern, 2019; Nicklay, 2012; Nordstrom et al., 2019; Phillips, 2017; Sloan, 2013; and Young, 2011; etc.) alongside tried and true writing center scholars we’ve already mentioned. We aimed for this course to complicate the WC narrative for ourselves and for our students. By doing this, we see our course enacting Dixon’s (2017a) call for a closer examination of the messy WC moments:

such an uncomplicated depiction of the center without an equal representation of the unsettling, messy, or queer moments does writing centers an injustice. Such one-sided representations paint unrealistic pictures of the moments that make up an individual writing center’s identity. To adhere to, perpetuate, and publicize such a one-dimensional and tidy portrayal of the center without also presenting its messiness keeps us from engaging with the possibilities of such unsettling moments in the center. What kinds of meaning-making do we miss out on when we’re busy trying to find and make public the tidy, easily-categorizable moments?

Writing centers are complicated and messy, and our students want to see and acknowledge this. Likewise, we need to understand that empowering ourselves and our students doesn’t come from painting pictures of perfect sessions, centers, scholarship, or, even, institutional protocols. Instead, shining a light on messy, complicated moments can empower the process of truly redefining tutor training[16] .


  1. Shelby: Throughout this piece we think a lot about how to restore wholeness in writing centers: whole tutors, clients, administrators, centers, and (hi)stories. This is in response to the exclusionary traditions upon which our institutions rest that allow only fractions of identities, literacies, and practices to exist in spaces or become a part of larger narratives. In working toward wholeness, however, there is an alluring trap: the liberal multiculturalist model where those in dominant positions “make space” for Others, thus reinforcing harmful dichotomies between who belongs and who is simply welcome (Godbee, Ozias, & Tang, 2015). Critical tutor education requires a mindful framing of wholeness and difference as foundational, rather than something to be allowed.
  2. Shelby: Anglesey and McBride’s (2019) work weighs common writing center practices related to listening and uncovers the ableist notions that inform them. They argue for more robust listening training in writing centers as a means of building an awareness of the physical and emotional signals we mention here. We must, of course, be careful of how we frame the social and emotional responsibilities of writing center tutors. Yet, I am reminded of Saleem’s (2018) warning against “thinking that emotions can be separated from any form of labor.” We argue, along with Saleem, that humans interacting is inherently emotional, and that those doing the kind of people-work that writing centers call for need complex tools.
  3. Rachel: When I think about the bodies of the past in the writing center, I’m reminded of Blitz and Hurlbert’s (2000) ghost stories, particularly when they say “We’re not even sure that writing centers themselves are central to anything other than the living stories that fill, not only students’ writings, but also the air in the rooms” (p. 84).
  4. Rachel: I’m forever grateful for the day Floyd and I were casually chatting in the WC about his plans for the next year. During that conversation, he mentioned this hurdle to me, and I encouraged him to speak to Trixie to find a loophole. If my experience in academia and writing centers has taught me nothing else, it is always to ask, loudly and directly, for the thing you want. You can expect no, but yes might surprise you.
  5. Shelby: From a professional development standpoint, the independent study was valuable to Floyd and I. However, the three of us working together on the course was also beneficial to our students. Throughout the course, we often split our class of thirteen into three small groups, each led by one of us, allowing us to dig deep into facilitated conversations. Pereira (2012) remarks that pedagogies which “seek to transform students’ experiences of discomfort into generative learning tools” is “a process which requires time, energy, and emotional investment” (p. 133). This co-teaching model allowed us to distribute this labor. Teaching collaboratively was so effective that our center has continued to use the model; in the semester after we taught this course, it was taught by an associate director, a graduate coordinator, and an undergraduate tutor.
  6. Rachel: Each one of us came back to graduate school after working for years as professionals in our various academic careers (Secondary Ed., Higher Ed., Student Affairs). Returning to school as a student and realizing the immediate lack of appreciation for my past experiences was, at first, a bitter pill for me to swallow. I soon learned how to navigate this and saw where my past experiences were valued and where to give them value. I feel like this class with Floyd and Shelby was one of the places where each of our past strengths could shine.
  7. Floyd: I feel strongly as a discipline we have to continuously seek out partners that are outside of composition studies and writing center studies. Secondary education, higher education, student affairs, and sociology, among others, are low hanging fruit we must keep utilizing to help us (re)imagine how to do this work.
  8. Floyd: This feels like the current neoliberal undercurrent to our society in the United States. As humans, we want to be inoffensive and make everyone feel comfortable, even if the space we’re in isn’t designed or made for everyone in it conception. We are uncomfortable and that is precisely where we begin.
  9. Rachel: Shelby’s thought here reminds me of Michelle Miley’s (2016) embrace of her mothering, feminine identities in the writing center. Miley says, “What some might call the mothering work of the writing center fulfills me and empowers me” (p. 18). While this works for Miley, I know it’s what Shelby, and I, actively try to resist.
  10. Rachel: One of the “failures” of our course was our students’ reluctance to let go of the “cozy home” idea. As Shelby mentions, our students loved this image, and our main center really does look, to some, well…cozy. It was difficult for them to understand McKinney’s true argument that we actually need to push back against this idea and see that not all homes are cozy. This “failure” and “frustration,” though mild in the grand scheme of our course, became a running joke amongst the three of us instructors as the semester went on. We mention this failure not to help people prevent like circumstances, but rather to encourage failures and see them when they happen in the moment. This failure was a frustration for us, but it wasn’t paralyzing—for us or our students—this failure was a constant learning moment throughout the semester. In this way, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution for anyone wanting to implement this model in their own courses. What we will say is that working with whole people changes plans and creates opportunities for learning moments where you might least expect them.
  11. Floyd: Even when some students in the class did accept the premise explicitly, when under stress or asked questions from us after presentations, they would fall back on the kinds of socialization that Shelby mentions. The students’ reversion to implicit ideals was one of those “failures” Rachel talks about above that was important for us to learn from as we progressed through the semester.
  12. Rachel: I feel obligated to say that the students we had in 2019 didn’t glaze over and disengage when we talked about theory with them because we did it from the beginning. Instead, sometimes, they seemed visibly uncomfortable, even verbally expressing this discomfort in class. For example, when reading Green (2016), some white students expressed their guilt and shame, which we were able to use as a starting point for a larger conversation about race within the academy and the writing center, specifically. As instructors, we counted this discomfort as a win.
  13. Floyd: I believe we have to continuously investigate ways of being that allow us to stay vigilant. It takes new perspectives, fresh experiences, and reflective moments to help guide us to adopting and continuing restorative practices.
  14. Rachel: You’ll notice /// marks on our schedule. These are days we give back to the students to make time for their more formal observations of the WC space and sessions. I’d also like to give thanks to Elise Dixon for introducing me to many of these texts and teaching me that North doesn’t need to come first.
  15. Shelby: I’d say one of the feelings that went around this classroom was guilt. This was the first time most of the white students in our course had heard about standard language ideologies. They began to question whether their academic successes are the products of their efforts alone, or if that success is tied to the lottery of their birth, their having been born in certain places and with certain features. As an instructor I witnessed the squirm that happens in the liminal space between when you’re first introduced to the ways you’re implicated in systems of oppression and when you figure out how to use that discomfort as fuel to make changes in how you act and interact.
  16. All: The first moment the students have of defining themselves as tutors, post-course, is writing bios for WCOnline. Bios are interesting texts because they represent the first moments that tutors narrativize themselves as tutors to potential clients. Analyzing these could provide opportunities to see whether prominent course themes make their way into the tutor’s self-identification; they are important sites to identify how new tutors conceptualize their work. For many, bio writing is an innocuous task, but for one of our students, this exercise showed a real reflection of what he’d taken away from the course. This student’s bio shows a focus on the person–both himself and his future tutees–rather than the work he might see in the center as a tutor.


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