Megan Connor, John Carroll University
Mackenzie Clinger, John Carroll University
Writing Center scholarship has not paid enough attention to the commonplace administrative practices of recruiting, hiring, and training writing center consultants and how these practices are “reproducing and generating systems of privilege” (García, 2017, p. 32). This article begins to address the gap by sharing results from our ongoing examination of how to improve the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) of our recruiting, hiring, and training practices at a small midwestern liberal arts university. This article showcases a heuristic we developed that will assist writing center administrators to navigate similar interrogation processes. Drawing from Romeo García (2017) we began with listening. We listened to the existing literature, we listened to our colleagues at our university; and we listened to our colleagues within the writing center community. Our heuristic represents the recursive process of this interrogation. For each step in the process, we provide explanations, examples, and recommendations. We conclude by presenting three of our key findings from this ongoing process: 1) the Writing Center community needs to more critically question the equity, and potential exploitativeness, of three-credit hour tutor education courses, particularly when these courses are a requirement of employment; 2) if we want to create an inclusive, equitable environment where students with non-majority identities can feel like they too belong, then we need to integrate DEIB into all aspects of our work; 3) our interrogation of the equity and inclusion of recruiting, hiring, and training practices needs to be an ongoing, recursive, learning process. In short, we hope this article will serve as a call to action for other writing center administrators to interrogate and improve the equity of their recruiting, hiring, and training practices, as well as act as a catalyst for much needed research in this area.
Keywords: recruiting and hiring practices, recruiting, hiring, training, tutor training, tutor education, diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, DEIB, diverse and equitable hiring practices, SWOT analysis
Periods of change and transition present challenges, but they also present opportunities to question our commonplace practices. Like many writing centers in this post-COVID world, our writing center is in a period of change and transition. In addition to the obvious transitions of figuring out what our “new normal” looks like, we are also facing two significant administrative changes, both of which began in the 2021-2022 academic year. First, we welcomed a new Writing Center Director (Megan Connor) in August 2021. Second, partway through the Fall 2021 semester, we learned that our university is putting the English Department Master’s program on hiatus and will no longer be accepting new students into the program. Currently, the English Department graduate assistants (GAs) provide 50% of the writing center’s consulting hours. Because our university is no longer admitting students into the English Master’s program, the writing center will lose these GA consulting hours at the beginning of the Spring 2023 semester. To address this imminent and extreme staffing shortage, we knew that we needed to critically examine and rethink our recruiting, hiring, and training practices.
As we began this work, we quickly realized that our staff is disproportionately White and female. During the 2021-2022 academic year, our Writing Center staff consisted of 14 undergraduate consultants and eight GA consultants. Of our 22 staff members, 77.3% (17) identified as female and 90.9% (20) identified as White. For comparison (see Table 1), in the 2021-2022 academic year, only 47.7% of university students identified as female and 84.7% identified as White.
Our center’s period of change and transition led to a kairotic moment to question the equity of our commonplace administrative practices of recruiting, hiring, and training writing center consultants. Our numbers told us that our staff lacked diverse representation. We knew, however, that simply approaching diversity as a numbers problem would not create an inclusive and equitable environment where students with non-majority identities could feel like they belonged (Del Russo et al., 2020; Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019). As Romeo García (2017) explains, “Writing Centers function within a tapestry of social structures, reproducing and generating systems of privilege” (p. 32). In order to combat the equity issues within our recruiting, hiring, and training practices, we need to understand the tapestry of structures that is reproducing and generating systems of privilege. García (2017) argues that this process “begins with listening, both in the sense that Krista Ratcliffe (2005) discusses it—as a code for cross-cultural communication—and as I conceive of listening—as a form of actional and decolonial work” and calls on the writing center community to engage in transformative listening (p. 33). We echo Garcia’s call.
Writing center scholarship has not paid enough attention to the commonplace administrative practices of recruiting, hiring, and training writing center consultants and how these practices are “reproducing and generating systems of privilege” (García, 2017, p. 32). In an effort to begin addressing this gap, we share our ongoing journey to critically examine and improve the equity of our recruiting, hiring, and training practices. As García (2017) suggests, we began with listening. We listened to the existing literature, we listened to our colleagues at our university; and we listened to our colleagues within the writing center community. As we listened, we reflected, made action plans, listened some more, adjusted, and improved the action plans.
Like García (2017), we call on writing center community members, particularly writing center administrators, to engage in a similar examination and rethinking of their recruiting, hiring, and training practices. To that end, we have developed a heuristic that others can use to help navigate through this process. For each step of the heuristic, we provide explanations, examples, and recommendations. We conclude by sharing the lessons we’ve learned so far.
Review of Literature
In considering possible revisions to our recruiting and hiring practices, we began to ask ourselves questions like the following: Although our Writing Center has always claimed to value diversity, are our practices truly equitable and inclusive? Is our message actually reaching students with diverse backgrounds and experiences? Are our hiring/training practices (a mandatory three-credit hour course offered each spring) accessible to all students on our campus? And, once tutors are hired, are we creating a genuinely welcoming environment for students with diverse backgrounds?
As we began reviewing the scholarship on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in writing centers, we found that most of the scholarship focuses on examining how institutionalized racism in the United States shapes the culture of literacy and language education in writing centers (Basta & Smith, 2022; Greenfield, 2011; Suhr-Sytsma & Brown, 2011; Villanueva, 2011; Young, 2011), how we can promote antiracism through our tutor education and professional development (Aikens, 2019; Coenen et al., 2019; Greenfield & Rowan, 2011), and what it means for writing centers to be welcoming and safe/brave(r) spaces (Bunting, 2022; Dixon & Robinson, 2019; Grutsch McKinney, 2005; Martini & Webster, 2017). However, we found few resources that specifically addressed DEIB related to the administrative work of recruiting and hiring writing consultants.
The lack of research on recruiting and hiring practices suggests that as a field, we are not interrogating this administrative commonplace practice. Nancy Barron and Nancy Grimm (2002) warn us, “People just doing their jobs, without reflecting about how they currently and potentially affect the system, end up perpetuating oppression because they do not understand themselves as agents of oppression” (p. 69). This lack of reflection on our recruiting and hiring practices is particularly problematic because a recent survey suggests that writing center administrators (WCAs) are a relatively homogenous group: 71.5% of respondents identified as female, 91.3% identified as White, 96.8% identified as not disabled, and 93.5% identified as not GBLT (Valles et al., 2017).
Jackie Grutsch McKinney’s (2005) critique of writing centers as a comfortable “home” highlights one of the dangers of a relatively homogenous field failing to critically reflect on its systems and commonplace practices. She argues that most writing centers’ notion of “home” closely reflects a White, feminized middle-class home, which often means a commitment to non-confrontational dialogue instead of “uncomfortable” conflict on the topics of race, class, and gender (pp.16-17). The result is a “welcoming” space that caters to the White, middle-class majority instead of a truly inclusive space in which all identities are validated and all voices are heard. Without acknowledging and working to address the administrative practices that underlie and shape this supposedly welcoming culture, writing centers will always fall short of promoting a truly equitable and inclusive environment.
The results of a recent climate survey further suggest the toxicity of such a homogenous field (Azima et al., 2022). Both White and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) members of gatherings reported their dissatisfaction with current diversity presentations that were too often overly “academic” and “non-confrontational” instead of “action-oriented” (Azima et al., 2022, p. 12). There were also some statements from participants that reflected White lack of awareness of and indifference to minority struggles (Azima et al., 2022, pp. 10-11).
Wonderful Faison and Frankie Condon (2022) “ask that tutors, directors, and writers first listen and choose to be touched, changed even, by the stories of those whose working lives in writing centres have been conditioned by their lived experience of racism” (p. 9). These consultants’ experiences with racism and discrimination occur both within writing center sessions and with their writing center colleagues and supervisors. Multilingual BIPOC tutors often find that students question their credentials and qualifications (Choi et al., 2017). Dipo Oyeleye recalls that on his first day as a writing center instructor, he had two separate students question his qualifications. The second time this questioning happened, he realized that “there is an expectation that students bring to the space. It seems they don’t expect non-native speakers of English as tutors. It also seems as if the ideal instructor has to be white and all-American” (Choi et al., 2017, para. 6). Another common experience for tutors who are part of a marginalized community seems to be having a session with a student who is presenting racist or discriminatory views about the tutor’s identity community. For example, Kaidan McNamee, a transgender man who at the time of the experience passed as a cisgender woman, found his identity challenged when a student he was working with complained about a medical school prompt that asked her to critically examine how she represented diversity. She told Kaidan, “I get the need for diversity, obviously, but like—stuff like being transgender, or being a person of color—I wish that weren’t the focus. I wish we could just move on” (McNamee & Miley, 2017, para. 33).
BIPOC and LGBTQ+ consultants also encounter racism and discrimination in their interactions with their colleagues and peers. Talia Nanton, a Black female peer tutor, recounted the pain and frustration of her experiences with racism within her writing center (Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019). Despite doing everything she could to make a positive impression on her supervisor and colleagues (volunteering to take undesirable shifts, arriving on time, never complaining about her work), she was made to feel unwelcome and uncomfortable. Over the course of her employment, Talia was reprimanded for small oversights, blamed for the actions of others, and accused of being “aggressive” (Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019). Elise Dixon (2011), a bisexual female peer consultant, speaks of the sexual harassment and bisexual erasure she experienced at the hands of her some of her writing center colleagues. Both Talia and Elise talk about how these experiences were made more confusing and traumatic because of the “grand narrative of the writing center as a cozy, iconoclastic space,” which ran counter to their experiences (Dixon, 2017, para. 20; Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019). The treatment of Talia and Elise demonstrates the troubling biases that often exist in homogeneous work environments.
Increasing tutor diversity is repeatedly mentioned as a way to make writers of marginalized identities feel more comfortable. Haltiwanger Morrison and Nanton (2019) argue, however, that Talia’s experiences of racism within her writing center “demonstrate clearly that numbers on staff do not mean inclusion in a community or sense of safety or welcomeness” (Conclusion, para. 1). They conclude by recommending specific actions writing centers can take, including “revamping tutor training and hiring practices” (Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019, Conclusion). Similarly, Celeste Del Russo, Sharada Krishnamurthy, and Donna Mehalchick-Opal (2020) emphasize the importance of revamping their hiring, staffing, and tutor training practices to create an ethos for their center that is more inclusive and supportive of diversity in all its forms. They explain: “Hiring tutors from diverse backgrounds played an important role in shaping our writing center mission, values, and transformation as we sought to draw from the experiences and existing knowledge of our tutors in shaping the future of the center” (Del Russo et al., 2020, Hiring). Their commitment to diversity and inclusion extended beyond just increasing representation; it was also integral to their tutor training and ongoing professional development.
Our review of the literature underscores that focusing DEIB efforts solely on increasing the number of our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ writing consultants is not enough (Del Russo et al., 2020; Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019). Combating systems of inequity requires making DEIB an integral part of all aspects of our writing center work. We need to have systems in place to interrogate Whiteness so that we are not unwittingly perpetuating oppression (Barron & Grimm, 2002; Faison & Condon, 2022; Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019). And, while Del Russo et al.’s (2020) article provides valuable information, we need scholarship that focuses specifically on creating more equitable and inclusive recruiting, hiring, and training practices. In the remainder of this article, we will outline our ongoing journey to create more inclusive and equitable recruiting, hiring, and training practices that will help foster a community committed to DEIB. We will present a heuristic for the process we are following, along with our suggestions for tailoring these steps to your center’s specific needs.
Our Recruiting, Hiring, and Training Practices Prior to Fall 2021
Going into the Fall 2021 semester, consultants were recruited primarily through professor recommendations and word of mouth advertising. Several of the current consultants had taken the previous director’s composition or business writing class and had been recruited that way.
In order to work in the Writing Center, students first had to take a three-credit hour tutor education course, EN 290: Tutoring Writing Across Contexts. This course counts towards the English major and minor, the Professional Writing major and minor, and the Integrated Language Arts major and involves a practicum component where students observe and then conduct sessions under the supervision of experienced consultants. The course served as a sort of extended application/interview process; if the students performed well during the course, they were offered a position in the Writing Center. This course was offered once per year in the spring semester and was capped at 20 students. Occasionally, the previous director would let promising students who couldn’t fit EN 290 into their schedules complete an independent study with her instead. Because of the timing of the course, almost all new consultants started in the fall semester. Once hired, consultants attended an hour-long pre-semester meeting followed by 50-minute monthly staff meetings.
One of our goals for this article is to present our experiences in a way that will be helpful for other WCAs wanting to engage in this kind of work. We, therefore, developed a heuristic that represents the process we are using to interrogate the equity and inclusivity of our administrative commonplace practices of recruiting, hiring, and training. Our heuristic (see Figure 1) represents an ongoing, recursive process consisting of the following steps: 1) investigate and understand your current practices; 2) investigate and understand the broader context; 3) identify and prioritize potential improvements; 4) perform a SWOT analysis of proposed improvements; and 5) develop an implementation and assessment plan.
Undergirding each of these steps is rhetorical listening. Krista Ratcliffe (1999) explains that rhetorical listening, “means listening not for intent but with intent” and argues that “we might best invert the term and define understanding as standing under—consciously standing under the discourses that surround us and others, while consciously acknowledging all our particular and fluid standpoints” (p. 205). In order to critically examine and question our administrative commonplace practices, we must first “stand under” our practices and the discourses surrounding them.
Much like writing, the process represented in this heuristic is recursive, and often messy. While we have presented this process in terms of distinct steps, we want to emphasize that these steps do not, and likely will not, occur linearly. As our discussion of each step will show, we often found ourselves engaging in different steps simultaneously, jumping ahead to “later” steps, and then moving back to “earlier” steps. We also want to acknowledge that we are still very much in the middle of this process. In the discussion below, we will share what we have done, what we are learning, what we’d do differently, and general recommendations for each step.
Step 1: Investigate and Understand Your Current Practices
Before making changes, we feel it’s important to gain an in-depth understanding of your current practices. What are you doing and why are you doing it that way? How are campus partnerships and politics impacting your practices? How are larger institutional systems impacting your practices? What impact do your practices have on various stakeholders (e.g. students, faculty, staff, administration, donors, etc.)? With these questions in mind, we used two primary tools to help gain more insight into our current practices: (1) a listening tour with our writing center stakeholders and (2) a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of our current recruiting, hiring, and training practices.
We want to note that in our case, we engaged in this step and the next step, Investigate and Understand the Broader Context, simultaneously. For example, we found that reviewing the literature on diversity and hiring practices in writing centers (Step Two) helped us understand and situate what is happening at our specific institution (Step One). Additionally, the listening tour and SWOT Analysis (Step One) helped us identify some potential improvements to our practices (Step Three). To help with clarity, we are separating our discussion of these steps but in practice Steps One, Two, and Three will likely overlap.
During the listening tour, we wanted to hear from stakeholders about how they and their students currently use the writing center and suggestions they have for improving writing center services. We also sought specific feedback on our recruiting and hiring practices, asking questions like, what do you feel is the most effective way to recruit students in your area? What barriers might be preventing students in your area from seeking employment at the writing center? What can we do to more effectively recruit students in your area?
This listening tour, which is still in progress, has unearthed a myriad of ideas and opportunities. While we will include a list of the potential improvements we identified from this listening tour in our discussion of Step Three, Identify and Prioritize Potential Improvements, we want to acknowledge the benefits of engaging in a listening tour here. We received specific suggestions and referrals to other people and programs that are doing similar work. For example, we learned that our ResLife Office has also been working to increase the diversity of their RA staff. They updated their recruiting practices so that they now email every faculty member, including part-time faculty, and ask if they can recommend students from marginalized groups who meet particular criteria and encourage them to apply for an RA position. They found that adding this statement to their recruitment email increased the number of BIPOC students who applied for RA positions. In addition to suggestions and referrals, our listening tour has also helped us identify champions and allies across campus, increased awareness of our work, created opportunities for us to educate our colleagues about the work we do, and provided opportunities to develop meaningful collaborations with other departments.
If you are thinking about engaging in a listening tour on your campus, we recommend that you first brainstorm a list of current and aspirational stakeholders. What existing partnerships and collaborations do you have? Who are your current allies and champions? What other departments on or off campus might help you achieve your mission? What people, departments, or organizations do you aspire to collaborate or partner with in the future? Your answers to these questions should help you identify your writing center’s current and aspirational stakeholders. We do, however, recommend that you revisit this list periodically. When we first brainstormed our list, we forgot to think about assessment. What we learned through our listening tour and SWOT analysis helped us realize that we needed to reach out to the Assistant Provost of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment. We also realized that we didn’t initially have the perspective of students who use our services represented in either our listening tour or SWOT analysis.
SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis
We used data from our listening tour as well our experiences, observations, and conversations with writing center consultants and other stakeholders to perform a SWOT analysis of our recruiting, hiring, and training practices. A SWOT analysis “generates a profile of an organization based on the organization’s internal attributes (strengths and weaknesses) and its external environment (opportunities and threats)” (Ortoleva & Dyehouse, 2008, p. 2). Matthew Ortoleva and Jeremiah Dyehouse (2008) argue that writing centers should be using SWOT analysis to help with strategic planning because it allows writing centers to engage in collaborative, open-ended conversations while simultaneously providing us with a tool to share the results of our inquiry.
We used a SWOT analysis to critically examine the equity of our recruiting, hiring, and training practices. We placed the guiding question, “What systemic biases and barriers exist within our current recruiting, hiring, and training practices?” at the top of our SWOT analysis document. Megan and Mackenzie each completed a separate SWOT analysis. We then met to discuss and combine our SWOT analyses. This combined SWOT analysis gave us a snapshot of our recruiting, hiring, and training practices through the eyes of multiple stakeholders (Ortoleva & Dyehouse, 2008). Our combined SWOT analysis included five pages of bulleted items. Below, Table 2 shows a few of the most significant insights from each category.
The three-credit hour tutor education course is one of the biggest strengths of our current hiring and training practices. Elizabeth Buck (2019) summarizes a central tension that often frames writing center training: “whether it is preferable to educate tutors via a hands-on, contextual approach and/or the extent to which tutors should also be required to interact with writing center-related theory and scholarship” (para. 2). Our three-credit hour course goes beyond just training future writing consultants and instead educates them. Dana Lynn Driscoll and Sarah Harcourt (2012) argue that the term “tutor training” “de-emphasizes the importance of transferable learning” (p. 2). They explain,
The National Research Council dedicates a chapter of its extensive literature review on educational research to “Learning and Transfer” and argues that transfer occurs in learning contexts, where students learn adaptive approaches, but not in training contexts, where skill sets for specific contexts are acquired (39). (p. 2)
Having a dedicated tutor education course enables us to engage our future writing consultants in the dialogue between theory and practice. Throughout the course we emphasize three, often interconnected, threads: 1) writing transfer and other learning theories related to how writers develop, 2) social justice and antiracism in writing centers, and 3) wellness and care in writing centers. Additionally, we have found that a for-credit tutor education course professionalizes our consultants and provides them with credentials that have helped establish our reputation as an excellent and trusted resource that faculty across disciplines support.
Requiring students to take a three-credit hour course to become writing consultants is also one of the biggest weaknesses of our hiring practices. The listening tour helped us realize that many students, particularly in the STEM and business programs, have little room in their schedules for a three-credit hour elective. Similarly, our conversations with people from the DEIB Division at our university pointed out that students from marginalized and less socioeconomically privileged communities may feel they can’t afford to take a three-credit hour course that doesn’t count towards their degree.
Our conversations thus made us question the labor practice of requiring writing center consultants to take an unpaid, three-credit hour course as a prerequisite to employment. Liliana Naydan (2017) argues that writing center professionals tend to overlook the fact that peer writing tutors are contingent workers. She explains,
writing center administrators tell themselves that they help to provide undergraduate peer tutors with opportunities that are good for them because these peer tutors are learning. The notion that we provide these educational opportunities—opportunities that I certainly do see as beneficial—helps us to rest easy as we participate covertly in a very real sort of labor exploitation. This exploitation contributes to leaving those with Ph.D.s in hand out of work. It also contributes to leaving undergraduate peer tutors to either pay to work by virtue of paying tuition for tutor education courses or as grossly underpaid given the institutional necessity for and significance of their labor. (Naydan, 2017, p. 32)
Our listening tour and this SWOT analysis have helped us to understand that our current hiring practices are exploitative; we are asking students to pay for a three-credit hour course so that they can be eligible to work a slightly above minimum-wage position in our writing center.
The SWOT analysis gave us the space to bring all the ideas we gathered from our observations and conversations into one document and reflect on them. We were excited by the sheer number of ideas we were able to generate and quickly realized that the ideas had varying levels of complexity. Some of the ideas were relatively simple and could be implemented quickly, while others were much more complex and will require challenging our institutional/institutionalized ways of thinking. We found that having the time and space to think about all of the opportunities related to improving the equity of our recruiting, hiring, and training practices helped us find patterns and connections between ideas, which in turn helped us begin to think about how we might prioritize and implement these improvements (Step Three, Identify and Prioritize Potential Improvements, and Step Five, Develop an Implementation Plan).
The lack of diversity amongst our staff is one of our biggest threats and correlates with BIPOC students underutilizing our services. Barron and Grimm (2002) note that writing centers are often sites of “acculturation” in which “students who bring differences of color, class, and culture are expected to make themselves over to match the institutionalized image of the typical student, while white middle-class students’ sense of complacency is reinforced by the familiar values and routines of university life” (p. 59). Our lack of diversity, therefore, limits opportunities for BIPOC students to connect with peer consultants who share common experiences and to feel supported in embracing their unique stories and writing styles.
Additionally, like many other departments on campus, we are also feeling the effects of lower overall enrollment and are facing increased competition for fewer student workers. While we are now one of the highest paid jobs on campus, we still pay less than many off-campus part-time jobs. Anecdotally, we are hearing that many students are opting to get off-campus jobs because they pay better.
On a more macro level, we are aware that we will likely receive pushback and resistance when we challenge institutionalized ways of doing things. We also recognize that our positionality within the university impacts our ability to effect change. At the time we began this process, Mackenzie was a second-year graduate assistant in a two-year English Master’s program. She has since graduated (May 2022) and is now an alumna. Megan was (and still is) a new employee who is classified as staff with a one-one teaching load. While she has been added to both faculty and staff listservs and is invited to both faculty and staff meetings, her faculty responsibilities (i.e., teaching and research) are not officially recognized by the university and are not part of her annual performance evaluation. Megan recognizes that her position in the university is relatively vulnerable and that she will need allies and advocates to effect change. Fortunately, the listening tour has helped her identify and befriend several faculty and staff allies and advocates across campus.
Additionally, as two able-bodied, cis-gender, middle-class White writing center professionals, we are not always aware of the ways our privilege has been institutionalized. One of the ways we’re personally trying to combat this is to continually educate ourselves and stand under the stories of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ scholars in the field (e.g.. April Baker-Bell, Eric Camarillo, Wonderful Faison, Neisha-Anne Green, Talisha M. Haltiwanger Morrison, Aja Martinez, Victor Villanueva, Vershawn Ashanti Young). We have also learned the importance of approaching this work with a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. In her book, The Person You Mean To Be: How Good People Fight Bias, Dolly Chugh (2018) argues that we need to stop seeing ourselves as good people and instead strive to be good-ish people. She explains that when we see ourselves as good people (a fixed mindset), we are more likely to react defensively when that identity is threatened by someone pointing out how something we said or did was racist, biased, or discriminatory in some way. She explains that psychologists call this a moment of self-threat because we feel “our identity is being challenged or dismissed” (p. 4). She urges us to:
embrace being good-ish, which is a good person who is always striving to be a better person, a true work-in-progress. To do that we need to let go of being a good person in order to become a better person. Good-ish people are always growing, which is why being good-ish is better than being good. Being good-ish sets a higher ethical standard for ourselves, because when we are good-ish, we are learning. (Chugh, 2018, p. 8)
We suspect that most institutions are likely to react to calls for change much as “good people” might react-–seeing the calls for change as a form of self-threat. Instead of taking the opportunity to listen, or “stand under”, the calls for change, they are likely to react defensively and double down on the way things have always been done.
We recommend getting your staff involved in the SWOT analysis. Both Megan and Mackenzie completed separate SWOT analyses and then met to discuss and combine them into one. We realized after the fact that we should have also more formally involved the writing consultants in this process. We could have, for example, had the consultants complete a survey or their own SWOT analysis. We also could have invited them to a meeting to discuss the SWOT analyses and combine them into one document. As we continue to move forward, we are planning to more actively engage our consultants with this process.
Step 2: Investigate and Understand the Broader Context
Gaining an understanding of our localized context must happen in tandem with understanding our broader context. We sought this broader understanding by (a) reviewing the literature, as discussed above, and (b) talking with other writing center professionals and getting more involved in the writing center community.
We had to “stand under” (Ratcliffe, 1999, p. 205) and “choose to be touched” by (Faison & Condon, 2022, p. 9) the stories of racism and discrimination within the writing center. Standing under the scholarship and hearing stories of “the very real experiences of racism faced by tutors of color in writing centers” (Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019, Conclusion) helped us understand that increasing the number of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ consultants at our writing center would not automatically lead to inclusivity in our community or a sense of safety or welcome (Dixon, 2017; Faison & Condon, 2022; Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019; McNamee & Miley, 2017).
Our conversations with other writing center professionals led us to new articles and books and gave us insight into policies and practices that did and did not work at other writing centers. These insights helped us make sense of what we were learning from our listening tour and SWOT analysis (Step One) and gave us new ideas for potential improvements we can make to our recruiting, hiring, and training practices (Step Three).
We recommend getting involved in your local writing center community. We made connections with several of the directors we spoke with while attending our regional conference. We made more connections and gained further insights by participating in regional workshops and professional development events like the Storytelling as Activism Speaker Series sponsored by The Writing Center at Michigan State University and ECWCA (East Central Writing Center Association), the ECWCA/NEWCA (Northeast Writing Centers Association) book club on April Baker-Bell’s Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy, and the OWCA (Online Writing Centers Association) May Reading Club: Rhetoric of Labor Activism in Writing Centers.
Step 3: Identify and Prioritize Potential Improvements
We found that gathering all the information for the SWOT analysis provided us with a fairly comprehensive snapshot of the problem and our options. Having all that information in one place also gave us a starting point for prioritizing changes and improvements. During this step, we pulled ideas from Steps One and Two to create a comprehensive list of potential improvements. We then organized the list into three categories: quick improvements, ongoing improvements, and long-term improvements. While there is some natural overlap between these categories, we found it helpful to loosely group together the ideas that we could implement relatively quickly (quick improvements) and the ideas that would require more time and conversation to implement (long-term improvements). As we were separating the ideas into these categories, we found that there were some ideas that required more ongoing attention and, therefore, didn’t really fit within the quick or long-term improvements categories. We placed these ideas in the ongoing improvements category.
The quick improvements are ideas we can implement fairly quickly. These ideas typically fall under the purview of the writing center and/or writing center director and therefore do not require collaboration or additional stakeholder input to implement. Table 3 shows some of the ideas that we have either already implemented or are planning to implement during the 2022-2023 academic school year.
Table 4 represents some of the ongoing improvements we identified during Steps One and Two. We have begun to plan and lay the groundwork for most of the ideas listed in Table 4 but recognize that most of them are ongoing projects that will require regular maintenance.
Long-term Improvement Projects
Table 5 contains some of the long-term projects we have identified. Most of these projects attempt to address more deeply rooted systemic inequities, which requires extended conversations with stakeholders and collaborators.
We included “increase the pay for writing consultants” in this category because securing additional funds and resources typically involves a lengthy process. However, during our listening tour, we learned that the Learning Commons (our university’s tutoring center) secured a pay increase for their Peer Learning Facilitators (PLFs) that was implemented at the beginning of the Fall 2022 semester. On the advice of the Learning Commons Coordinator, Megan put together a successful proposal for a pay increase for writing center consultants. In the proposal, Megan argued “the Writing Center Consultant’s pay needs to reflect the fact that they undergo extensive, specialized training and are required to be highly qualified and highly skilled student workers.” She also argued that writing center consultants should be earning the same amount as other highly qualified and skilled student workers on campus, like the Learning Commons’ Peer Learning Facilitators and IT student workers. As of the start of the Fall 2022 semester, writing center consultants are now one of the highest paid student positions on campus.
Step 4: SWOT Analysis of Proposed Improvements
One of the benefits of a SWOT Analysis is that it “offers a momentary snapshot of an organization through the eyes of stakeholders who believe in, work closely with, or rely on our writing centers” (Ortoleva & Dyehouse, 2008, p. 2). For most of the quick improvements, this kind of snapshot isn’t necessary; however, for the longer-term and many of the ongoing improvements, we believe that conducting another SWOT analysis can help WCAs critically reflect on where they are and where they still need to go. We also believe that a SWOT Analysis can help WCAs gather data they can use to help make a case for changing institutional commonplaces. For example, we already know we are likely to receive pushback on our plans to develop alternative hiring pathways. Many of our faculty want to make sure that our consultants are “highly qualified” and are worried that anything less will inadequately prepare them to be effective writing consultants. There have also been concerns that having some consultants take a three-credit hour course while others take a one-credit course or internship-to-consultant pathway is unequal and unfair. Also, from a pragmatic position, we need the course to run every semester, so we don’t want to de-incentivize it. We, therefore, plan to conduct a SWOT Analysis for this initiative to help address the complex landscape surrounding the development of alternative hiring pathways.
Step 5: Develop an Implementation and Assessment Plan
We suggest developing an implementation plan for all long-term improvement ideas and any other ideas that involve multiple steps and/or require collaboration. Developing an implementation plan can help WCAs break down a project into manageable chunks and provide them with an opportunity to think through the various components and stages of the project to create a realistic timeline.
Considering assessment is another crucial part of an implementation plan. WCAs who are proposing changes to administrative commonplace practices are likely to receive pushback. It is, therefore, important to have data to show what kind of a difference the improvements are making. This data also provides WCAs valuable information they can use to determine if any tweaks or adjustments are needed. We strongly encourage WCAs to proactively plan for assessment as part of their implementation plan.While we are still very much in the middle of this process, we are finding that we are making notes for our implementation plan at the same time that we’re collecting data for our SWOT Analysis of Proposed Improvements (Step Four).
What began as finding a solution to our understaffing problem in our writing center quickly turned into a conversation about equity within our commonplace administrative practices. Rather than merely implement a few suggestions to reach pre-pandemic levels of employment, we took this challenging period of transition as an opportunity to ground DEIB in the very foundation of the work we do. Too often, DEIB is seen as a destination, as meeting a quota. Instead, we wanted to start at the core of our administrative systems, completely reshaping our practices to actively address and work to improve shortfalls that limit BIPOC and LGBTQ+ peer consultants from joining and thriving in our writing center.
While we have learned many things through our interrogation of recruiting, hiring, and training practices, we have identified three key findings we feel need more attention in our scholarship. First, the writing center community needs to more critically question the equity of three-credit hour tutor education courses, particularly when these courses are a requirement of employment. Our own examination helped us realize that our current hiring practices are exploitative (Naydan, 2017). We are now working to develop alternative hiring pathways that are less exploitative for students who are not majoring or minoring in English, Professional Writing, or Education (our tutor education course counts towards each of these programs).
Second, if we want to create an inclusive, equitable environment where students with non-majority identities can feel like they too belong, then we need to integrate DEIB into all aspects of our work. This includes, but is not limited to, updating our websites and mission statements to address our commitment to DEIB, updating center policies to help promote and support DEIB (including having systems in place to interrogate Whiteness so that we don’t unwittingly perpetuate oppression), considering how we can visually represent our commitment to DEIB within our centers, and making antiracist pedagogy and the examination of other DEIB issues a central and integral part of tutor education and ongoing professional development (Aikens, 2019; Barron & Grimm, 2002, Del Russo et al., 2020; Faison & Condon, 2022; García, 2017; Haltiwanger Morrison & Nanton, 2019).
Finally, interrogating our recruiting, hiring, and training practices needs to be a continuous process. As Dolly Chugh (2018) explains, “Good-ish people are always growing, which is why being good-ish is better than being good. Being good-ish sets a higher ethical standard for ourselves, because when we are good-ish, we are learning” (p. 8). If we want to address underlying biases to bring about not just a “welcoming” writing center but a truly equitable one, then we need to embrace DEIB efforts through the lens of a continual, ongoing learning process. To this end, we call on other writing center administrators to interrogate and improve the equity and inclusion of their recruiting, hiring, and training practices, as well as act as a catalyst for much needed research in this area. We hope that this article and our heuristic will help others as they engage in this much needed work.
Megan Connor (she/her) is the Writing Center Director at John Carroll University and teaches a writing center tutor education course each semester. She was originally attracted to writing centers as an alternative to the often one-size-fits-all approach to education. Her current research interests include antiracist pedagogy, linguistic justice, growth mindset, tutor education, writing transfer, and writing center threshold concepts.
Mackenzie Clinger (she/her) is a recent alumna of John Carroll University’s Master of Arts in English program (May 2022). While at John Carroll, Mackenzie acted as Assistant Director of the Writing Center, taught courses in rhetoric and composition, and assisted in teaching courses on writing center tutor education.
Aikens, K. (2019). Prioritizing antiracism in writing tutor education. In K. G. Johnson & T. Roggenbuck (Eds.), How we teach writing tutors: A WLN Digital Edited Collection (Chapter 14), WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship. https://wlnjournal.org/digitaleditedcollection1/Aikens.html
Azima, R., Hixson-Bowles, K., & Simpkins, N. (2022). “Starting from square one”: Results from the racial climate survey of writing center professional gatherings. Writing Center Journal, 40(1). https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/wcj/vol40/iss1/2
Baker-Bell, A. (2020). Linguistic justice: Black language, literacy, identity, and pedagogy. NCTE-Routledge Research Series.
Barron, N., & Grimm, N. (2002). Addressing racial diversity in a writing center: Stories and lessons from two beginners. Writing Center Journal, 22(2), 55–83. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43442150
Basta, H., & Smith, A. (2002). (Re)Envisioning the writing center: Pragmatic steps for dismantling White language supremacy. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 19(1), 58-68. https://www.praxisuwc.com/191-basta-and-smith
Buck, E. H. (2019). From CRLA to for-credit course: The new director’s guide to assessing tutor education. In K. G. Johnson & T. Roggenbuck (Eds.), How We Teach Writing Tutors: A WLN Digital Edited Collection (Chapter 2), WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship. https://wlnjournal.org/digitaleditedcollection1/Buck.html
Bunting, G. (2022). Tutoring, minus bigotry! LGBT writers, SafeZone tutors, and brave spaces within the rural writing center. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 19(1). https://www.praxisuwc.com/191-bunting
Choi, H., Oyeleye, D., Marshall, Z., Marrota, C., Elion, L., Kim, M., & Findlay, E. (2017, May 1). With, not for: Building and strategizing diversity in the writing center. Another Word: From the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. https://dept.writing.wisc.edu/blog/with-not-for-building-and-strategizing-diversity-in-the-writing-center/
Chugh, D. (2018). The person you mean to be: How good people fight bias. Harper Business.
Coenen, H., Folarin, F., Tinsley, N., & Wright, L. E. (2019). Talking justice: The role of antiracism in the writing center. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 16(2). https://www.praxisuwc.com/162-coenen-et-al
Del Russo, C., Krishnamurthy, S., & Mehalchick-Opal, D. (2020). Shifting the center: Towards an ethos and practice of social justice. The Peer Review, 4(2). https://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/issue-4-2/shifting-the-center-towards-an-ethos-and-practice-of-social-justice/
Dixon, E. (2017). Uncomfortably queer: Everyday moments in the writing center. The Peer Review, 1(2). https://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/braver-spaces/uncomfortably-queer-everyday-moments-in-the-writing-center/
Dixon, E., & Robinson, R. (Eds.). (2019). (Re)Defining welcome [Special issue]. The Peer Review, 3(1). https://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/redefining-welcome/
Driscoll, D. L., & Harcourt, S. (2012). Training vs. learning: Transfer of learning in a peer tutoring course and beyond. The Writing Lab Newsletter, 36(7-8), 1-6. https://www.wlnjournal.org/archives/v36/36.7-8.pdf
Eller, L., & Wood, O. (2019). Underground hellos: Signaling welcome to marginalized writers in the South. The Peer Review, 3(1). https://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/redefining-welcome/underground-hellos-signaling-welcome-to-marginalized-writers-in-the-south/
Faison, W., & Condon, F. (Eds.). (2022). Counterstories from the writing center. University Press of Colorado.
García, R. (2017). Unmaking Gringo-centers. The Writing Center Journal, 36(1), 29-59. https://doi.org/10.7771/2832-9414.1814
Greenfield, L. (2011). The “Standard English” fairy tale: A rhetorical analysis of racist pedagogies and commonplace assumptions about language diversity. In L. Greenfield & K. Rowan (Eds.), Writing centers and the new racism: A call for sustainable dialogue and change (pp. 33-60). Utah State University Press.
Greenfield, L., & Rowan, K. (2011). Beyond the “Week Twelve Approach”: Toward a critical pedagogy for antiracist tutor education. In L. Greenfield & K. Rowan (Eds.), Writing centers and the new racism: A call for sustainable dialogue and change (pp. 124-149). Utah State University Press.
Grutsch McKinney, J. (2005). Leaving home sweet home: Towards critical readings of writing center spaces. Writing Center Journal, 25(2). https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/wcj/vol25/iss2/4
Haltiwanger Morrison, T. M., & Nanton, T. O. (2019). Dear writing centers: Black women speaking silence into language and action. The Peer Review, 3(1). http://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/redefining-welcome/dear-writing-centers-black-women-speaking-silence-into-language-and-action/
Haney, P. (2020). Collaborative practices to increase representation in the writing center. The Peer Review, 4(2).https://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/issue-4-2/collaborative-practices-to-increase-representation-in-the-writing-center/
Martini, R. H., & Webster, T. (Eds.). (2017). Writing centers as brave/r spaces [Special issue]. The Peer Review, 1(2). https://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/braver-spaces/
McNamee, K., & Miley, M. (2017). Writing center as homeplace (A site for radical resistance). The Peer Review, 1(2). https://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/braver-spaces/writing-center-as-homeplace-a-site-for-radical-resistance/
Naydan, L. M. (2017). Toward a rhetoric of labor activism in college and university writing centers. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 14(2), 29-36. http://www.praxisuwc.com/naydan-142
Ortoleva, M., & Dyehouse, J. (2008). SWOT analysis: An instrument for writing center strategic planning. The Writing Lab Newsletter, 32(10), 1-4. https://www.wlnjournal.org/archives/v32/32.10.pdf
Ratcliffe, K. (1999). Rhetorical listening: A trope for interpretive invention and a “code of cross-cultural conduct.” College Composition and Communication, 51(2), 195–224. https://doi.org/10.2307/359039
Suhr-Sytsma, M., & Brown, S.-E. (2011). Theory in/to practice: Addressing the everyday language of oppression in the writing center. Writing Center Journal, 31(2), 13–49. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43442366
Valles, S. B., Babcock, R. D., & Jackson, K. K. (2017). Writing center administrators and diversity: A survey. The Peer Review, 1(1). https://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/issue-1/writing-center-administrators-and-diversity-a-survey/
Villanueva, V. (2011). The rhetorics of racism: A historical sketch. In L. Greenfield & K. Rowan (Eds.), Writing centers and the new racism: A call for sustainable dialogue and change (pp. 17-32). Utah State University Press.
Young, V. A. (2011). Should writers use they own English?. In L. Greenfield & K. Rowan (Eds.), Writing centers and the new racism: A call for sustainable dialogue and change (pp. 61-72). Utah State University Press.