Brazil’s First Writing Center: Promoting Global Access and Enacting Local Change

Thais Rodrigues Cons, University of Arizona
Camila Ribeiro de Almeida Rezende, Universidade Estadual do Paraná

Abstract

This article discusses strategies for linguistic justice stemming from one case study from a recurring writing center at Brazil’s first writing center, CAPA (Centro de Assessoria de Publicação Acadêmica; Academic Publishing Advisory Center), located in Curitiba, Brazil. After presenting a context of writing centers in Latin America and Brazil, we discuss how CAPA’s philosophy is rooted in critical pedagogies that relate to linguistic justice scholarship. Focusing on one writer-consultant relationship, we highlight strategies of 1) building rapport through recurring sessions, 2) training tutors to promote critical language awareness in consultation sessions, and 3) encouraging consultants to become researchers. From a Global South perspective, this paper shares some of our local perspectives on writing center consultations in order to contribute to Writing Center literature with actionable strategies derived from our diverse practices and research.

Keywords: CAPA, Brazilian writing center, linguistic justice, tutorials, consultations

Introduction

This paper explores the transformative role of the Centro de Assessoria de Publicação Acadêmica (CAPA—Academic Publishing Advisory Center), a writing center at the Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR) in Curitiba, Brazil, highlighting its contributions to academic writing support, linguistic justice, and institutional change. By analyzing a writing center consultation relationship, we offer replicable strategies by spotlighting the writing process of Cora, a Master’s student navigating academic writing challenges, and the pedagogical strategies employed by Hannah, a consultant at CAPA. This analysis presents a lived example of countering deficit views of language and critically reflects underlying language ideologies within academic settings, ultimately aligning with the promotion of linguistic justice.

We begin this discussion by stating our positionalities as authors. This section is followed by a literature review that traces writing centers’ global expansion and adaptability to local contexts, particularly in Latin America and Brazil. We then focus on one particular consultation case study, highlighting strategies other Writing Centers can adopt: 1) recurring consultation relationships, 2) tutor training and pedagogical approaches, and 3) the importance of encouraging consultants to engage in research. 

Writing center audiences will gain insight into the potential of writing centers to enact meaningful change within their institutions and communities, particularly those of the Global South or in higher education systems that do not present established writing classes or first-year composition requirements. We also illustrate how CAPA leverages the internationalization of higher education to support academic writing, mostly in our local language, fighting a notion of deficit. By detailing these strategies, we hope to offer practical implications for writing center practice, emphasizing the importance of tailored pedagogical approaches, consultant training, and the critical role of research in understanding and addressing the needs of diverse writer populations.

Our positionality

We would like to emphasize our positionalities as the first two graduate students to design and conduct research at CAPA in the Brazilian context described here. We were part of the first cohort of hired tutors in CAPA and completed our master’s research in Applied Linguistics and doctoral research in Sociology in 2020 and 2021. As two white, Latina scholars, we feel privileged to combat scholarly and epistemological exclusion by encompassing our own locus of enunciation through our research (Diniz de Figueiredo & Martinez, 2019), providing our perspective of our local practices.

We both began volunteering at CAPA in 2017, and early on, it became evident that sharing our perspectives—Thais’, and Camila’s—was going to be a promising partnership. While completing her undergraduate studies in English and working as an English language teacher, Thais recognized the transformative potential of dialogue in facilitating the writing process as a consultant. Thais wore her researcher hat and explored extensive research and theoretical questions relevant to our writing center’s practices. That was what prompted her to do her master’s research, “Narratives About Writing: A Multiple Case Study on the Tutoring Sessions of the Academic Publishing Advisory Center (CAPA).” Her aim was to investigate the consulting sessions at our writing center, drawing from her background in applied linguistics and previous studies on writers’ identities. Thais’ positionality helped create a unique framework for the research—while reviewing literature from US-based writing centers, she considered the specific locus of enunciation in how our Brazilian context differs regarding populations, aims, and needs.

On the other hand, Camila brought her artistic and sociological background to CAPA. She initially went through the training given by the writing center directors, which consisted of carrying out consultations with members and simulating possible scenarios in consultations. In 2019, as a doctoral scholar, Camila was invited by CAPA’s director to lead the “CAPAcitation” project, which consisted of five extension workshops on academic writing. The intention was to discuss writing as a process, not a product—teaching, elucidating, and reframing its practice in the academic universe. It also aimed to expand CAPA’s activities inside and outside the university, advocating for the inseparability of teaching-research-extension that guides the quality of university production.

Among many others, the question that always seemed to return to Camila’s mind during her tenure at CAPA was: “What are your difficulties when it comes to writing?” This question is at the heart of Camila’s doctoral dissertation, entitled “How to Write Academically: An Artistic Sociology of Academic Writing, Emotions and the Creative Process” (Rezende, 2021). In partnership with CAPA, she developed the dissertation in the Sociology graduate program at the Federal University of Paraná (PPGSOCIO/UFPR). The structure and support of CAPA allowed Camila to deepen the scope of her research in quantitative and qualitative terms. 

From this point on, I, Thais, write from my own voice – but I can never say that my voice is solely mine. Camila’s research, insights, and friendship contributed significantly to my understanding of CAPA and all the theories I have learned over these years. Without Camila’s perspectives, much of my analyses would not have been possible. Our conversations, audios, and early drafts were filled with translations and translanguaging woven and mixed into Portuguese and English. So, even though time and space constraints led the published final version of this paper to focus on insights derived from Thais’ research, Camila is still equally an author whose influence and voice permeate every aspect of this paper.

Literature Review: Context and CAPA’s Philosophy

Writing centers have significantly influenced writing instruction and academic literacy teaching and learning for the past fifty years, especially in U.S. contexts (Carino, 1995). These institutions, rooted in writing labs and initially aimed at remedial instruction in the 1970s, later emerged in literature during open admissions, intending to address the literacy crisis (Kinkead, 1996) by incorporating peer-learning techniques into one-on-one consultations. More recently, there has been a call for rethinking traditional conceptions of writing centers. These calls suggest that centers should consider contemporary realities such as new technologies, institutional discourses, multi-literacies, multilingual writers, and evolving conceptions of language (Bouquet & Lerner, 2008; Grimm, 2009; Rafoth, 2015; Salem, 2016). Internationally, especially in the post-2000s, institutions began borrowing the idea of writing centers and adapting it to their local needs. They cater to graduate and undergraduate clients and offer assistance for texts written in local languages or English used for Research and Publication Purposes (ERPP) (Chang, 2013; Hodges et al., 2019; Reichelt et al., 2013).

Writing centers in Latin America, emerging around 2012, faced challenges in aligning their identity with institutional goals and the diverse needs of their student populations. These centers initially focused on remedial purposes but have gradually incorporated broader educational support mechanisms. Latin American writing centers encounter obstacles such as leadership, resources, and the need for administrative support despite the existence of networks like La Red Latinoamericana de Centros y Programas de Escritura (RLCPE) to aid in these areas. (Waigandt et al., 2021) In 2020, Molina-Natera and López-Gil researched directors of writing centers and writing programs in Latin America. Results showed a variety of very young programs in their conformation, and showed that writing is beginning to be included in the program agendas of Latin American universities. The programs incorporate practices mostly related to individual accompaniment through tutorials or collaborative work between language teachers and teachers from other disciplines. In consonance with Molina-Natera (2017), administrative management represents a particular challenge that might reflect on programs and points to the need to strengthen the administrative processes of these initiatives and the relevance of consolidating their research field.

Regarding the Brazilian context, we see a noticeable trend of emerging writing centers in the last ten years. Initially, these centers were scattered and lacked institutional backing or widespread acknowledgment. However, in 2016, a significant development occurred with the establishment of CAPA, the first Brazilian writing center at Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR), mainly focusing on graduate students and faculty. CAPA emerged in internationalization since its primary institutional funding stream comes from a university-wide Internationalization initiative by translating Portuguese articles1 written by faculty and graduate students into English. However, CAPA leverages this opportunity to offer consultations, workshops, and events—opportunities to support writers and create dialogues about writing in all languages, especially in their L1. It is critical to observe that the research discussed in this article happened with Brazilians writing in Portuguese, their L1.

Even though other institutions in Brazil focused on academic writing already existed before (Cons, 2020), such as the Laboratório de Letramento Acadêmico em Línguas Materna e Estrangeiras (FFLCH-USP) at the University of São Paulo and the Centro da Escrita (UNICAMP) at UNICAMP, founded in 2011 and 2016 respectively, their institutional roles were different from writing centers—as their research and disciplinary knowledge were in dialogue with adjacent fields such as linguistics, not writing Center Theory. Thus, CAPA, as the first Brazilian writing center, played a pivotal role2 in assisting master’s and doctoral candidates with their research article publications and addressing genre-based and language-related academic literacies, inspiring the adoption of similar models in other universities nationwide. Some of those are the UCS Writing Center at the University of Caxias do Sul, the Centro de Escrita Acadêmica—Writing Center at UNESPAR, and, more recently, CITE (Centro Integrado de Tradução e Escrita) at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) in Rio de Janeiro.  

Within this context, our writing center leverages the internationalization phenomenon to enact institutional and local change, primarily through consultations and workshops, as we will describe in this article. Faced with the reality that higher education in Brazil has not yet implemented a first-year writing requirement or writing classes in our higher education curriculum (Marinho, 2010), CAPA consultants are trained to work as the main and primary possibility of writing pedagogy for many students. Having such responsibility means that it is imperative to question individual notions of deficit and, whenever possible, adopt a critical and compassionate posture towards our student body—primarily composed of graduate students—when we did our research. Based on Brazil’s own Paulo Freire (1970/2007), critical pedagogies inform some of our center’s consultation training and practices. As described later in this article, some of our consultation sessions were recurring with the same writers and consultants meeting for more than a year, which allows for time and space to discuss and question language ideologies and models. 

In our interpretation, the philosophies at the base of CAPA’s work resonate with linguistic justice and writing studies scholars such as García (2017), Greenfield (2019), Inoue (2016), Shapiro (2022), and Denny (2010). CAPA’s approaches to workshops and consultations in Portuguese intend to welcome diverse linguistic backgrounds, aligning with the writing center activism from Greenfield (2019) and Denny (2010). These authors endorse writing center practices that prioritize inclusivity, compassion, and identity reflection, and engage with ethical and political dimensions, emphasizing the need for writing centers to acknowledge where the academic writing norms come from. We consider CAPA to have the potential to be a ‘radical’ space as Greenfield (2019) defines it: a “site of resistance, and teachers and tutors work together with students to exercise power, to question the naturalized authority of inherited truths, institutional norms, and systems of violence.” (p. 72) CAPA is thus radical in Greenfield’s sense, for prioritizing L1 support and writing pedagogies within a context of internationalization. 

As is the idea of this Special Issue, the literature supports the need for writing centers to address and dismantle prevailing linguistic standards to create antiracist, socially just academic environments. In that sense, we are influenced by García (2017) and Inoue (2016), who critique the dominance of standard linguistic models and explore the narratives that influence writer identities, advocating for writing centers to actively promote social justice. Shapiro (2022) adds to this discussion by arguing for developing critical language awareness among students, suggesting teaching strategies that encourage students to recognize and challenge linguistic disparities. Particularly relevant to CAPA’s context, Shapiro’s “Critical Academic Literacies” pathway is a useful linguistic justice framework to address some of the workshops and consulting practices presented in this paper. Incorporating these principles, CAPA is an example of how writing centers, especially those in the Global South, can address their local needs while at the same time questioning some impositions from globalization and academic publishing practices.

The role of the writing center in promoting social justice is also articulated by Ramblrltch (2018), a writing center scholar also from the Global South, who envisions it as a space for empowering students and enabling them to critically engage with dominant discourses, and advocates for the growing need to discuss social and linguistic justice in Writing Center theory. By citing and reading writing center scholarship from non-US realities and with multiple praxes, we want to resist Global North scholars who portray CAPA as a major example of a “neocolonial commodity” (Hotson & Bell, 2024). Such discourses imply that writing centers in the Global South would assimilate North American models and be complicit with a neocolonial movement, without in-depth knowledge of our practices especially within consultations sessions and workshops. By having our Writing center adapt to local needs, we argue we are doing the opposite: questioning and resisting Global North models and impositions. As Martinez (2024) argues in his recent article: “the writing center model born at CAPA contributes local Brazilian understandings to international writing center conversations” (p. 141).

Strategies for Linguistic Justice from a Consultation Relationship

Methodology – where this case study comes from

Thais’ master’s research was an 18-month study evaluating the impact of CAPA’s consulting services on writers’ and consultants’ writing identities and practices within their academic contexts. This focused on observing 18 hours of in-person consultations over 20 sessions. I chose six participants (three consultants and three writers) involved in three consultant-writer pairs, selected for their ongoing consultation relationships and scheduling compatibility with my availability for direct observation. These key relationships contributed to nine consultations totaling 8 hours and 03 minutes. Data collection involved recording sessions and taking notes, with all materials transcribed post-observation. Following this, I conducted semi-structured interviews with each participant between 2018 and 2019, exploring their experiences, writing practices, and the writing center’s impact on their academic journeys. These interviews, lasting nearly 7 hours total, were recorded, transcribed, and, along with observation notes, analyzed for themes influenced by Elliott’s (2018) reflections on coding methodology.

Here, I will share some insights from one particular consultation relationship within this multiple case study and its broader implications on tutoring, the writing center’s role, and my perspective as a consultant. That specific recurring consultation relationship highlighted how CAPA’s role transcends merely facilitating access to standardized academic discourses. Instead, it enables writers to question underlying assumptions about writing, such as its supposed objectivity, product-oriented approaches, and the notion of a writer’s deficit.

The case involved Cora3, a 42-year-old master’s student in Education focusing on educational policies, and Hannah, a 28-year-old doctoral candidate in Applied Linguistics and English language teacher. Their consultation relationship began in early 2018, after Cora attended a CAPA workshop seeking support for her thesis. Their sessions, lasting about 50 minutes each and taking place primarily in-person where they would sit side by side, addressed Cora’s thesis and also focused on her research process, academic life, and advisor relations. When I interviewed both of them in late 2019, they were still in touch.

Cora’s narrative, both during observations and in a late 2019 interview, centered on her struggles with feelings of inferiority and writing difficulties, exacerbated by her transition from private education to a Federal University for her Master’s degree4.  This shift added to the difficult relationship with her advisor and led to self-doubt, depression, and writer’s block. Cora described a profound sense of inadequacy in academic writing, which deepened her sense of disconnection from the university environment. When she was recalling her narrative in her masters, she mentioned: “I had depression, I had this block, I had to ask for a leave. (…) I know that there is a great prejudice in academia, for someone to admit: “Look, I had writer’s block” (Cora, Interview).

Within this context, the sessions with Hannah played a crucial role in encouraging Cora to complete her thesis and navigate through writer’s block. These consultations offered Cora a dialogue and the resources necessary to fulfill the requirements for her master’s degree, even though she did not continue with an academic career after graduation. Their recurring relationship reflects the broader impact of consultations that happened at our center. In the following sections, I will discuss, through interview and observation data, how this particular relationship can allude to actionable tutoring strategies that can be implemented more broadly.

Strategy 1: Implement recurring sessions for rapport-building 

Differing from “best practices” in terms of length and frequency of sessions (Barron et al., 2023), writers engaging with the same consultant across multiple sessions was common at CAPA, which we referred to as ‘recurring’ consultations. For Hannah and Cora, having these repeated meetings was crucial to developing their relationship. When I inquired about Hannah’s understanding of a CAPA consultation, she shared her definition:

“In general the writers are in the process of a master’s degree, a doctorate, writing their senior’s thesis… (…) I think the main difference in the recurring sessions is realizing each person is going to have a different process, so it allows us as consultants to learn together with the writer, questioning what’s behind their choices… What’s their writing rhythm like, their difficulties, and how can we mediate in this process, not just try to “fix” something in the product. (…) In this learning process, both the writer has the opportunity to reflect on what they are building, and the consultant has the opportunity to offer this space so that the student feels more comfortable. Then they understand that they can write and do not have a deficit…” (Hannah, Interview)

Hannah points out that recurring sessions typically attract writers engaged in more extensive projects, such as a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation. She emphasizes the benefits of this extended engagement, noting that it enables consultants to feel integrated into the writing process and gain a deeper understanding of the writers’ needs. Her attitude is in line with Denny (2010), who states, “the consultations are a ‘pedagogical context [that] involves thinking, writing, talking; it begs for debating where agreement and conflict arise in productive, rich, and uncomfortable ways'” (p. 28). The sustained interaction between the same consultant and writer through recurring sessions challenges negative preconceptions and allows for combating deficit notions and generating meaningful discussions about writing.

Freire (1970/2007) emphasizes the significance of dialogue in critical education, stressing the need for relationships based on equality and mutual respect. This principle forms the foundation of CAPA’s recurring sessions, which are designed to build rapport and encourage conversations about writing. Observation and interview data reveal that Cora and Hannah have developed a robust relationship over time, with their consultations lasting more than a year. This bond has enabled them to explore deeper layers of writing through discussion and questioning. Hannah elaborated on this dynamic in her interview when asked to describe their relationship:

“We have an openness and a confidence to talk to each other… Cora and I have a longer relationship, and we spent a lot of time together… There were times when Cora said: “Is it just me who has trouble writing? Am I the only one experiencing this?” So I also showed her what I was doing for my PhD, we talked, and did it little by little, according to her specific needs. (…) I think her coming to CAPA, she began to see that having a troubled writing process was very common and she began to realize that this is a common issue – and when I say common, I mean realizing that it’s not just an individual matter happening just to her, or you know? It’s not an individual thing… feeling more part of a community, it wasn’t something happening to her in isolation.” (Hannah, Interview)

During the second tutoring session I observed, Hannah introduced questions and facilitated Cora’s understanding of a specific concept (“pedagogy”) within a chapter of her thesis. Utilizing rhetorical questions, the consultant encouraged the writer to articulate the concept “in her own words.” This approach effectively put into practice Shapiro’s (2022) ‘Critical Academic Literacies,’ with Hannah dedicating session time to unpacking the implied notions and definitions in Cora’s text:

Hannah asks:  “who would your reader be? Who is your audience besides your advisor?” “In your own words, how would you describe the importance of pedagogy?”

Cora is thinking and looking at the computer screen.

Hannah asks Cora: “I want you to read it out loud. and you’re going to tell me what you understood from that. In your experience with pedagogy… what is a pedagogy? Where do we usually have pedagogues in our lives?

How does this definition fits into this part of the text? And what words are you going to use to express that?” (My notes, second session)

In accordance with Shapiro (2022), Hannah’s practice of engaging writers in questioning and reflecting on their writing processes resonates with the notion of becoming “literate”: “(…) it means engaging with academic cultures and conversations.” (Shapiro, 2022, p. 132) Hannah also embodies Freire’s (1970/2007) dialogical method, accentuating how writer-consultant relationships are central to CAPA’s pedagogical philosophy. Hannah’s philosophy, in line with CAPA’s, was to help authors see that they didn’t need ‘fixing’. For example, by sharing her own manuscripts, Hannah encouraged Cora to view her process of creating and editing drafts not as evidence of her perceived inadequacy or coming from a private institution, but as steps in a writing process. 

Throughout the recurring sessions, Cora’s understanding of the so-called “objectivity” of writing evolved. During her interview, when I asked her about the changes in her writing process following her consultations at CAPA, she reflected on how she became more aware of writing’s social dimension and even questioned her program’s opportunities for socializing writing. This development was influenced not only by Hannah’s active questioning but also by the dynamics of their relationship, wherein Hannah actively showed her own writing process through manuscripts and projects in progress:

I thought that everyone would write beautifully the first time, and it’s not like that. And my relationship with Hannah showed me that, too, when I saw her files and notebooks… her writings… I was able to see I was not alone. Through CAPA, I was able to see that no one writes like that overnight… some people find it easier, but it takes practice and time. And I also realized that I didn’t have to write “academic” or “standard” all the time… I was putting too much pressure on myself. I also questioned a lot the structure of my [masters] program, which didn’t offer me opportunities to socialize and talk about my process, or to practice writing… if I don’t practice through writing, through writing with other colleagues, who are in the same context, it’s very difficult to write, I at least need someone with me, who will grow together… and even writing with my own advisor, that we write together and so on… (Cora, Interview)

This realization, encouraged by the support and engagement in this modality of sessions, exemplifies how CAPA’s approach goes beyond mere technical assistance. This positive view of recurring sessions is in sync with results presented by Stegman and Watkins (2023) with multilingual writers at a writing center in the US. Their results showed that, in their writing center in the 2021-2022 school year, 82% of single sessions with multilingual writers focused on grammar, while considering the longitudinal partnerships, this number goes down to 27%. When multilingual writers engage in multiple tutoring sessions rather than a single meeting, it opens up the possibility to establish goals with their tutors and delve into wider topics like the writing process, academic experiences, and technical aspects of writing. Stegman and Watkins highlight that forming a “Long-Term Tutoring Partnership” enables multilingual writers to move beyond the pressure of time limitations associated with single sessions, fostering the development of broader skills. These include overcoming perfectionism and procrastination, as well as enhancing confidence and motivation (Stegman & Watkins, 2023).

Thus, writing centers might consider implementing a context-specific version of recurring meetings between consultants and writers. As observed in my master’s research, this strategy facilitates broader discussions on language, writing processes and building confidence, especially for multilingual or underprivileged populations. In our context, recurring consultations proved critical in offering support to our writers, and reinforcing relationships that challenge the misconception of writing center consultations as mere “fix-it shops” (Ede, 1989, p. 102).

Strategy 2: Consultant’s Pedagogies and Training

As we have discussed so far, Hannah’s approaches to questioning and supporting Cora in their recurring sessions were helpful in reframing previously established notions of writing and deficit. Moving forward, I highlight how Hannah’s educational background significantly shaped her tutoring style, emphasizing how the tutor’s background influences their approaches to linguistic ideologies. This discussion indicates how training writing center staff is relevant in this context. 

Hannah’s “teacher hat” was present since the first observation. She employed specific pedagogies to discuss grammar and mechanics, such as pronoun usage, comma placement, and voice, which involved explaining grammar rules sourced from websites, followed by engaging Cora in practical exercises to distinguish between active and passive voice, and discussing their rhetorical effectiveness in different contexts (“do we need to worry so much about passive/active voice in an email? Which one sounds more formal?”). Additionally, Hannah facilitated discussions around sentence construction, where she would read text segments aloud and pose questions to simplify complex grammatical concepts for Cora. One example was this discussion of demonstrative pronouns:

Cora commented that she had been corrected on the use of “this” and “that”. Her advisor warned her she was using it “wrong”. Hannah then reads about the rule on proximity/distance within the text:

Hannah: On some other occasions, like writing a text or an email to a friend, we don’t worry about this too much. But since in your thesis your advisor is asking us to reconsider… Let’s look at that rule, it is for standard academic writing, isn’t it?

Hannah (reading the rule from a website): “The demonstrative pronouns “this” and “that” indicate the position of a term in relation to the person of discourse, and can refer to proximity or distance in space, time or text.

Cora: “I still don’t understand how to apply this rule…”

Hannah: “Let’s learn together… let’s look at two examples in the text to see if we understand?”

Hannah suggest they use the control + f to check all the uses of “this/that” in the text and read aloud sentences with these examples. (My observation notes)

In this particular dynamic of reading and interpreting a grammar rule, Hannah is mediating Cora’s understanding of it within the text and pointing out how this rule might not be relevant in another writing context as texting or emailing a friend. Hannah considered how Cora’s writing identity had been negatively affected by her advisor’s strict focus on grammar, so the tutor mediates this dialogue by emphasizing how this rule might be more important for standard writing than other mediums, contexts, or audiences, thus subtly addressing and mitigating Cora’s insecurities. This understanding was further supported by insights from interviews that explored their professional backgrounds and self-perceptions as writers and consultants. Hannah’s teacher identity was consistently reflected in our discussions:

My past experiences completely influence me… even though we have very fluid identities, positions or identifications, one thing is not unrelated to the other, right? So my being a teacher goes hand in hand with my being a friend, my being a girlfriend, being a consultant (…) When I’m there as a consultant, I’m not going to formally teach, but I have to take all the experience I have, of the world, of life, of reading, with me. (…) Everything can be “pedagogized” in a way [laughs]. So I think that all of these experiences help me when I’m working at the writing center. (Hannah, Interview)

In addition to her teaching experience, Hannah was a graduate student in the field of Applied Linguistics at the time. She was studying decolonial theories and post-structuralist notions of language, and writing her own dissertation about critical literacies in the context of English as an Additional Language. Her positionality as a whole enabled her language awareness approach during the consultations. The interview data points to how Hannah’s perspectives, perhaps influenced by her own educational backgrounds and readings, align with critical language awareness pedagogies and an anti-deficit view of subjects within the writing center. As Greenfield (2019) does when she conceptualizes a ‘radical writing center’, Hannah seemed to question established notions of power. She specifically addresses how her perspective differs from “fix-it shop” in this interview excerpt:

There are people who go to CAPA or to a consultation thinking that we’re going to correct [their texts], as if it’s something you go there and ‘fix’… there are people who really think that a writing center is going to correct the piece of text. We have to break down these notions, because our role goes far beyond correcting a text. We give authors confidence and encourage them to see that they don’t need fixing. Talking about power relations, which are always there, and why some institutional issues are the way they are. Why do many authors find it difficult to write? It’s not an individual thing… and we at CAPA are the institution’s reference point for talking about writing. (Hannah, Interview)

Hannah’s discourse in the interview shows the “shift from remediation—i.e., “fixing” student’s writing/language—to mediation” (Shapiro, 2022, p. 132), allowing the writers who she works with. In addition, Hannah’s questioning established uses of languages point to how the consultant has perspectives aligned with Greenfield (2019) and Denny (2010) in terms of linguistic justice at the writing center:

Every reader has their own experiences, their own frames of reference, the things we believe in…. so when a writer comes along with their beliefs that “English is more objective”, or “you can’t use the first person in academic texts” I already see an opportunity to say: is it? Is there only this way of thinking? Is there only this kind of understanding? If so, could we start to question other things, if we’re not going to think differently? Is it general, or maybe just in your discipline? (Hannah, Interview)

Thus, Hannah’s educational background emphasizes the importance of incorporating pedagogical discussions and ongoing training into tutors’ experiences at writing centers. Since not every tutor has a pedagogical background or teaching experience5, it becomes crucial for writing center administrators to integrate training on language ideologies and praxis into tutor education so tutors can be equipped to act as “engineers of critical praxis” (García, 2017, p. 41). Our argument is that tutors need to be taught and trained on how to engage in discussion, according to what Shapiro (2022) argues: “By engaging in conversations about language, identity, power, and privilege, we can help all students navigate the rhetorical possibilities that lie before them with confidence They—and we—do not have to be confined to a single ‘voice’” (p. 61).

Regardless of a tutor’s prior experience, this approach is beneficial and aligns with Zimmerelli’s (2015) claim: “Service-learning tutor education as a rich site for social justice work.” (p. 65) This allows for the practical application of theoretical concepts in writing center praxis. At CAPA, we facilitate weekly training sessions and reading groups for all members to discuss and refine consultation strategies. Although we had initially focused on seminal U.S. writing center pedagogy, we had to expanding to other readings and interests, as Martinez (2024) points out: “We all stopped trying to find what we had in common with the North American writing center community, and instead embraced our own unique beat” (p. 140).

Additionally, Martinez (2024) highlights that during tutor training sessions at CAPA, consultants engaged with specific texts to critically examine the prevailing ideology of English as the dominant language in scholarly publishing. Discussing this text with consultants and challenging assumptions creates a pedagogical context in tune “thinking, writing, talking; [the pedagogical context] begs for debating where agreement and conflict arise in productive, rich, and uncomfortable ways.” (Denny, 2010, p. 28) This reflective examination of English informs consultants’ attitudes and approaches in their tutoring sessions, according to Martinez’s (2024) perspective:

Bennett talks about how people who work with texts destined for publication in English can inadvertently contribute to the killing of the knowledge system of an entire culture (i.e., epistemicide). She also suggests that such people can nonetheless empower themselves and others to subvert epistemicide (Bennett, 2013). So when a Brazilian student or faculty member comes to the center and says “Brazilians don’t know how to write,” CAPA tutors hear that self-deprecation with warranted concern. And as an opportunity. (p. 140)

In this subsection, we analyzed the dynamic between Hannah and Cora and how it illustrates the consultant’s strategic use of an ‘opportunity’ presented by Cora’s discourse, gradually challenging it over the course of their consultations. Hannah embodies the role described by Inoue (2016), where “tutors help writers find ways to problematize (in the Freirean sense) these aspects of their own reading and writing practices and products” (p. 98).

Strategy 3: Encouraging consultants to become researchers

Writing centers, especially within our specific context, have the potential to drive significant change by empowering our writers, providing access to rhetorical and writing pedagogies, and promoting critical perspectives on our institutions’ policies. Such potential leads us to discuss the last strategy, which is to encourage consultants to adopt a researcher mindset, like we (Thais and Camila) did. Engaging deeply with the linguistic, identity, and sociologic complexities at CAPA, we were always encouraged by our administrators to pursue our research questions and wear our researcher hats. By doing so, every writing center staff—especially if international, from the Global South, or marginalized communities—can contribute to challenging and reevaluating the entrenched assumptions within writing center theory and academic discourse. In our case, Martinez (2024) highlights, 

One of the best pieces of evidence that the writing center growth in Brazil is a local phenomenon with its own emerging epistemology is the fact that some of those tutors have developed research praxis of their own. Their scholarship is not derivative of North American writing center research, but original knowledge rooted in Brazil. Since 2020, theses and dissertations such as those of Cons (2020), Rezende (2021), and Junaid (2022) are evincing the growing interest by Brazilians in Brazilian writing center practice. (p. 140)

The analysis of case studies such as Cora and Hannah’s significantly shaped my growth as a researcher and consultant. Initially, my focus was on Brazilian writers navigating English writing processes. However, observing that the majority of sessions were conducted in Portuguese made me shift my perspective toward recognizing the primary need for instruction in our native language amidst the push for English proficiency. This insight framed CAPA as a fundamental space for writing education in our local context. Reflecting on observations, such as Hannah’s interactive questioning, prompted me to reconsider the emphasis on adhering to linguistic norms or even the push for writing in English.

As a consultant, my experiences led me to a deeper empathy for our writers’ challenges, influenced by the pressures of graduate studies. This evolved my consulting approach to encompass broader linguistic and discursive considerations beyond mere textual analysis. Since then, I have encountered beliefs about English’s “objectivity” and its status as the “language of science” during consultations. These claims, often repeated, are rooted in deep-seated sociolinguistic ideologies that associate English with precision, clarity, and universality—traits that are supposedly essential for scientific discourse. 

However, asserting English’s objectivity is not merely a neutral linguistic preference. Recognizing this as a form of linguistic imperialism, I began to question and challenge these beliefs in my sessions, exploring their impact on our identities in the Global South. This ideology privileges English over other languages, reinforcing an unequal power dynamic where English-speaking cultures and individuals dominate economically and intellectually (Pennycook & Makoni, 2019). It marginalizes non-English speakers, devaluing their contributions and knowledge systems and imposing additional barriers to their participation in the global academic and scientific communities. This belief system not only perpetuates economic disparities by favoring those who have formal education access to English, often through privileged educational opportunities in Brazil but also contributes to the erroneous notion that publishing in Portuguese or other languages is less worthwhile than in English.

In confronting this ideology within my own sessions with writers and my own practice as an English as an Additional Language instructor, I also started to bring questions and think of how these linguistic ideologies are present in our Global South identities. We can begin dismantling these harmful elitist and exclusionary ideas by challenging the notion of English’s inherent objectivity. Writing centers, like ours, can play a crucial role in challenging those ideologies. We can advocate for practices that validate all linguistic backgrounds, questioning deficit notions and actively promoting the inclusion of diverse linguistic perspectives in academic discourse. In our translating practice and tutor training, we can also discuss social justice literature through a decolonial (Grosfoguel, 2007) and technical and professional writing lens (Gonzales, 2022) to critically reflect on our translation practices within our writing center. By doing so, we advocate for linguistic justice and enrich the academic community with a broader range of insights, perspectives, and knowledge.

Final Remarks

In this paper, we discussed how CAPA contributes to linguistic justice by being a primary initiative not only for access to academic discourse through education and training, which often occurs longitudinally through recurring consultations, but also through access to questioning wider ideologies of the writing process. 

 The consultations proved to be ways of dealing with inequality, and our own identity as researchers through this process enabled us to have this new perspective. In this process of researching and being a writing center consultant, we became and reflected on our own practices as writers and researchers, and even in our research questions we could see how, in our context, it is more urgent that we meet the local writing education demands and provide instruction and research in our L1 even before we think about writing in English.

While official discourses on internationalization, for example, emphasize the role of the English language and writing (in English) as a product, we have in CAPA an example of a writing center that works (also and mainly) with writing in the language most used locally (Portuguese), considering writing as a dialogical process. In addition, CAPA offers dialogue about writing in a curricular context that mostly and historically neglects writing courses, workshops, and academic literacy (Marinho, 2010). Therefore, there is room for other research designs and subjects in the Brazilian context, and relationships between the consultations for pieces in English and other languages can be explored.

Other writing centers can begin by conducting research within their specific contexts to understand the unique linguistic and educational needs of their communities. This involves assessing the prevalent language ideologies, the access to and quality of writing education, and the specific challenges faced by writers in their locale. By identifying these unique characteristics, writing centers can tailor their consultations and workshops to meet local demands while also challenging wider linguistic inequalities—and, if their needs are similar to ours, recurring consultations would be an interesting option.

Writing centers can design their services not only to improve academic writing skills but also to encourage critical reflection on linguistic norms and practices. This can include workshops that address multilingualism, the use of local languages in academic writing, and strategies for navigating different discursive norms. Moreover, consultations can be structured to be more reflective and dialogical, where both the consultant and the writer engage in a process of mutual learning and exploration of linguistic identities.

Our research and pedagogical actions at CAPA showcase its vital contribution to linguistic justice and academic empowerment in our academic community. Writing centers like CAPA can ensure access to academic discourse while questioning, too, its underlying exclusive and colonial ideologies. For the field of writing and composition research, this work further reinforces how writing centers can act as agents of “society, disciplines, and the institution itself” (Inoue, 2016, p. 94).

Notes

  • [1] To see a story of how CAPA emerged from the need of translation practices, see Martinez (2024).
  • [2] Different from some writing centers in the United States or other contexts, which may struggle to justify their importance, centers in Brazil are seen as essential due to their emphasis on scholarly journal articles. This approach satisfies the needs of various stakeholders, including writing center clients, university administrators, and writing center staff. However, it is essential to note that the model’s success relies on the perceived pressures to publish graduate-level research. It may be less applicable to teaching-first institutions or those without many graduate programs. Nevertheless, the emergence of writing centers in Brazil has the potential to contribute unique knowledge and practices to the field.
  • [3]  All participants signed informed consent forms and chose their own pseudonyms according to women writers that inspired them; Hannah Arendt and Cora Coralina were the writers chosen by the writer and consultant in this particular relationship.
  • [4] It is worth mentioning that publicly funded universities in Brazilian higher education are considered top schools since they are hubs of research, teaching, and outreach, and offer tuition-free education (Neves, 2017). The entrance exam (vestibular) to access these institutions is highly competitive and, therefore, students from public institutions in the social imaginary are regarded as more prestigious than students who come from private colleges. Private colleges, on the other hand, have fewer research initiatives and are frequently more focused on producing workers to go on to the labor market in technical and shorter degrees. Antonio Guimarães (2010) summarizes the context, also mentioning K-12 public and private schools and the inequality in the educational system: “Brazilian public universities are free, and they hold a monopoly on educational excellence, as well as on scientific and artistic research in the country. However, public elementary and high schools are run mainly by the municipalities and the states, and their performance is inadequate. For this reason, it is very difficult for a poor student who can only attend public schools to succeed in the Vestibular—the public universities’ entrance examinations. It is, therefore, much easier—and now quite common—for pupils from private schools to attend public universities.” (Guimarães, 2010, pp. 59-60). Martinez (2024) also provides a good historical background of the higher education system in Brazil and how it influences the context of our writing center.
  • [5] It is relevant to highlight that CAPA’s hiring practices at the time was to hire mostly undergraduate and graduate students from Language, Linguistics and Literature majors (Letras, in Portuguese), most of whom had a teaching emphasis and received pedagogical training and coursework. That is why consultants such as Hannah were common at our writing center.

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