Affirming Our Liminality & Writing on the Walls: How We Welcome in Our Writing Center

Georganne Nordstrom
Isaac Wang
Kaitlyn Iwashita
Nicole Furtado
Nicole Kurashige
Avree Ito-Fujita
Kristina Togafau
Gregory Gushiken[1]


E komo mai,[2] or welcome in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language), frames our entrance. As a Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) practitioner recently reminded us, when you call welcome, you invite everything—even that which you may not have intended. All of our centers are dynamic, with innumerable factors influencing how writers experience our centers as welcome spaces—or not. Our goal in this article is to capture the multitude of variables students, both writers who visit and writer/consultants who work there, are confronted with, with all their promise and pitfalls, to better elucidate the ways welcoming is a moving target that needs to be contextualized in our specific places of practice.

This article features snapshots of efforts we have initiated in our center to promote our space as welcoming to our entire student population and identify challenges we have encountered in their enactment. We discuss how we draw from Kanaka Maoli methodologies and pedagogical constructs to affirm what Harry Denny (2005) has called the liminality of our spaces, embracing our institutional positioning as “both privileged and illegitimate” (p. 41) to push the boundaries on what inclusivity means for us. In this article, we build on our 2017 IWCA roundtable, “Affirming Our Liminality & Writing on the Walls: A Roundtable on Promoting Inclusivity in Our Writing Centers,” moving beyond the presentation of these efforts to engage in discussion of the unanticipated repercussions and/or implications we have had to navigate in their enactment.

In alignment with our positionality as and commitment to being a liminal space, the structure of this article will also divert from a traditional format and present a pastiche of voices representing different members of our writing center staff—the Director (GN), undergraduate (NF and GG) and graduate consultants (AIF, IW, NK, KI, and KT), with many of these consultants having assumed administrative positions, (i.e., Center Coordinator, Website Coordinator, Workshop Coordinator, and Public Relations Coordinator). Each of us has chosen to present an aspect of our center to which we felt intimately connected to demonstrate how welcoming has been attempted, modified, and realized. AIF and IW talk about our physical space, the pedagogies that influence its design and the consequences—both anticipated and unanticipated— of decisions we have made. NK and KI describe how our practice of writing on the walls unexpectedly evolved into a Burkean Parlor. KT explains our gender neutral pronouns poster as a means to promote critical considerations of gender constructions and their impact on writing. NF and GG each discuss how we negotiate pedagogy to promote inclusivity—NF examines the ways a universal design approach can accommodate and also isolate, and GG debates the efficacy of a heuristic designed by consultants in our practicum as a means for new consultants to claim agency in the center. Finally, GN considers how the team drew from the Kanaka Maoli tradition of hoʻoponopono to come together following challenges integrating a new cohort of consultants.

To fully capture the dynamism of these efforts, these snapshots of our efforts are embedded in an interactive panorama of our center. On the panorama, each author’s initials are placed on a specific artifact and hyperlinked to their narrative that explains the ways the artifact or practice works to welcome people into the space and the challenges that we have and continue to negotiate through its incorporation.

Despite the enthusiasm that usually accompanies new ideas for our center, all the welcoming efforts we discuss here have presented unanticipated complications that we have had to mediate and work through; however, it is through this work that we have gained a heightened awareness of the complex nature of welcome and its impact on inclusivity. And, just as the writers we work with are fluid and change across semesters and years, this work has engendered an understanding of welcome as demanding constant interrogation and adaptation that is necessarily an integral part of our practice.


Denny, H. C. (2005). Queering the writing center. The Writing Center Journal, 25(2), 39-62.


The famous line of the 1989 film Field of Dreams states, “If you build it, they will come.” In 2012, our writing center director and a handful of graduate students set out to do just that: rebuild the university’s writing center. The team sought to create a space that welcomed visitors to engage in discussions about their writing while providing a training ground for new consultants to transition the writing center theory they learned in class into practice. In order to set the stage for this learning environment, the team brought warmth to a small storage closet, including creating a reception area featuring coffee, tea, and an ʻōlelo noʻeau (Kanaka Maoli proverbial sayings) greeting visitors as they entered into the center; decorating chalkboards with illustrations; and placing Legos at desks to be used in sessions (Fig. AIF.1 and Fig. AIF.2). The presence of compassionate and hardworking consultants also invited life into the space, for writers began to pour through the center’s doors as word spread about the new service; however, in realizing the message of “If you build it, they will come,” the center was confronted with a new challenge: if you build a writing center and welcome writers into its doors, you must also be able to accommodate growing numbers of visitors.

[Fig. AIF.1] The reception area of the old writing center space.

[Fig. AIF.2] The old writing center space has been repurposed as a meeting room and classroom.

Although the writing center staff worked to transform the small closet into a writing center, the room afforded to us could not facilitate the collaborative environment we envisioned. I was a part of the first undergraduate cohort to work at the center, and Kenneth Burke’s (1941) unending conversation model of the Burkean Parlor informed our cohort’s ideals of how a center should function. We hoped that just like the Burkean Parlor, our center would provide a space for people to meet and discuss writing; however, we also reflected on how the center welcomed writers, but did not invite them to stay outside their sessions. Our center did not have room for a separate reception area, so clients who were waiting for appointments and those who just wanted to use the center to work would sit at tables situated in between those where sessions were held. The noise from sessions as well as the cramped configuration of tables discouraged both consultants and writers from staying past their scheduled times. Instead of a Burkean Parlor, our center seemed more like a stop-and-go resource. Although writers and consultants thrived during sessions, we thought more could be achieved if the space encouraged everyone to stay and work on assignments and projects, opening up possibilities for collaboration. We aspired for a larger center with a reception area for clients to work, whiteboards to use in tutoring sessions, and more.

Our dreams were realized in 2014 when the writing center moved to its new home, a former computer lab down the hall from our original closet. The move was made possible by overcoming another challenge that plagues many writing centers: funding. Thankfully, it was not only us who believed in the potential the center had to expand its services and wished to see it grow. A $10,000 grant was awarded to the program by our student government organization in recognition of the writing center as a valuable student resource. The grant allowed the rebuilding process to begin again in a room that was over twice the size of the original center and featured separate areas for welcoming and tutoring. We now had a reception area complete with basic essentials like tables, chairs, and couches that made it possible for consultants and writers to use the center as a discussion and work space outside of sessions. Elements that we initially used to add warmth to the center, such as the coffee, decorations, and Legos remained, but the larger room also opened up more ways to cultivate the center’s identity, speak to the place that the center occupies, and celebrate the diversity of writers who enter it.

Although we achieved our dream of having a larger writing center, we still continue to reflect on our practices and how we can continue to better support writers and a collaborative learning environment. In doing so, it is important to remember the history of our center, for places and spaces are embodied with the kinds of stories, myths, and legends that can stimulate, refresh, and challenge their inhabitants and visitors (Reynolds, 2007, p.2). By remembering the center’s journey from the closet to our current location, we are constantly reminded of how our center must both accommodate and stimulate growth of writers and staff. In the 2016 spring semester, the center staff engaged in an activity that asked consultants to envision the future of our writing center space through drawings (Fig. AIF.3). You can see the inclusion of break out pods, meeting tables, large open windows, and pets into our center. The activity was repeated again during the 2017 spring semester (Fig. AIF.4) and at a roundtable presentation for the 2017 IWCA Collaborative at CCCC, which moved visual representations of writing centers to butcher paper taped on the walls. Consultants’ illustrations have inspired more changes in our center, for we have reconfigured our reception area again to account for more break-out areas that encourage small group activities. The panorama of our center reflects the space’s most recent configuration.

[Fig. AIF.3] Illustrations from a spring 2016 activity that asked consultants to reimagine the writing center space.

[Fig. AIF.4] Consultants engage in a spring 2017 activity that asked them to draw reimagined writing center spaces on the center’s walls.

Through this experience, our staff learned that the center’s growth is rooted in our space that connects past, present, and future staff members. Discussions about space are often preserved through works, such as the drawings reimagining our center. While reflecting on her own writing center’s relocation from the metaphorical “janitor’s closet” to the school’s library, Elizabeth Boquet (2014) notes the coexistence of past writings about the Fairfield University’s original center “tucked away in the same crevices where [she] unearthed [the center’s] more recent past” (p. 238). Similarly, I came across the drawings that would inform our center’s 2017 IWCA Collaborative at CCCC roundtable presentation a year after they were made while I was browsing through the center’s closet. I was not a part of the spring 2016 staff who authored these drawings, but I as well as the rest of the spring 2017 staff were inspired by them, which led to changes to our space as recent as the spring 2018 semester.

When Boquet (2014) invokes Nanci Griffith’s question of whether the music produced in a studio is “in the mortar, between the bricks,” (p. 238) one could argue that the magic of writing centers derives from their spaces and the materials and histories they house. Staff members benefit from centers and their histories; however, we must acknowledge it is the work of staff members who use spaces that enact change and keep discussions about writing centers alive, no matter where they are located. Our initial admiration for the Burkean Parlor model in relation to writing centers has evolved so that we look beyond the people regularly visiting the parlor to include those who may yet enter, for the unending conversation cannot continue if the space fails to facilitate it. Therefore, it is up to those who occupy the parlor to ensure that it grows alongside the discussions that it houses. Mindful of our space and growth tied to the history of our center, we continue to work towards creating an environment that supports all writers and staff.

Looking forward, I encourage you to ask your writing center communities to envision what positive change can look like for your spaces. If you build a writing center, writers will come, but if you challenge yourself to build a space that welcomes writers and invites them to stay, both your center and those who enter it will continue to grow.


Boquet, E. (2014). In the mortar, between the bricks. College Composition and Communication, 66, 237-239.

Burke, K. (1941). The philosophy of literary form. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Reynolds, N. (2007). Geographies of writing: Inhabiting places and encountering difference. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.


As writing center practitioners, we must carefully attend to the ways that our spaces can empower or disempower writers. In her germinal essay, “Composition’s Imagined Geographies,” Nedra Reynold (1998) pithily remarks, “where writing instruction takes place has everything to do with how” (p. 20). Although our garrets, basements, and attics have garnered attention since the beginning in writing center scholarship, shifts in focus towards more inclusive praxis has led to the material and metaphorical space of writing centers being problematized by scholars such as Jackie Grutsch McKinney (2005), who questions whether the physical short-hands (coffee makers, couches, plants) that are used to create “home” necessarily welcome all writers. Indeed, the spatial and material political artifacts of home can be particularly troubling in the context of colonial occupation of Indigenous land. In Hawai‘i, the history of colonialism has been characterized by material erasures largely through the development and industrialization of land that obscures the rights of Kānaka Maoli to their land.

This trend continues in the academy, where the unmarked beige of lecture halls and computer labs produces the same effect as the interchangeable sheen of the skyscrapers in downtown Honolulu. Although the creation of comfortable and homey writing centers responds to depersonalized institutional architecture, both can have the same result when the material design decontextualizes space and creates environments in which Kānaka Maoli claims to their homeland are hidden, and settlers are able to feel at home, never confronting the pernicious mechanisms of colonialism. Specifically in the context of our writing center, which sits on land stolen from Kanaka Maoli during the construction of our university (Kamins & Potter, 1998), we must acknowledge and address the ways in which space can work to colonize, disempower, and erase—as well as open up potentialities for Indigenous self-determination. If our center is to welcome Kanaka Maoli students, we must acknowledge their identities and create a space where Indigenous students feel comfortable drawing on their own epistemologies and knowledges when writing and collaborating with consultants. In our writing center, we have consciously incorporated ‘ōlelo noʻeau (Kanaka Maoli proverbial sayings) and Kanaka Maoli-themed visual design elements in order to acknowledge our positionality as a writing center on Kanaka Maoli land and to welcome Indigenous and marginalized writers.

The first words that a writer coming into our center encounters are in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, an intentional move to acknowledge Kanaka Maoli perspectives and decenter western knowledge. Students coming into our center are greeted with an ‘ōlelo no‘eau on the door which reads “I kū ka makemake e hele mai, hele nō me ka māloʻeloʻe,” which is translated below as “If you wish to come, do not be hesitant, for you are welcome” (Fig. IW.1). ‘Ōlelo no‘eau are traditional Kanaka Maoli proverbial sayings that play an important role in conveying cultural values, providing protocols for how Kānaka Maoli should interact with one another and the environment around them. By bringing writers into our center with this ‘ōlelo no‘eau and English translation, we are communicating inclusivity—anyone who wants to come in is welcome—and grounding that inclusivity, linguistically and metaphorically, in Kanaka Maoli knowledge. This ‘ōlelo no‘eau has, indeed, been used to establish protocol for our center: In talking about potentially banning a disruptive and disrespectful writer, the ‘ōlelo no‘eau was referenced in group discussion, and we collectively decided not to turn away any writer who wanted to enter the center (unless their interactions gave us no recourse because of potential violence to other writers or consultants). While this ‘ōlelo no‘eau provides guidance for consultants in dealing with writers, it also indicates to writers entering our center that the space is both “brave” and “safe”: the ‘ōlelo no‘eau signals to Indigenous and minority writers that they are welcomed to draw on their own epistemologies, but works to discomfort writers who may not have been provided with previous opportunities to interrogate the centrality of English and western knowledges.

[Fig. IW.1] ʻŌlelo Noʻeau on the writing center door.

We also decenter western instructional models and draw on Indigenous concepts of education and literacy through the use of colorful pareo (print material worn throughout the Pacific) hung throughout our center, acknowledging that even bare walls are battlegrounds (Fig. IW.2). In her piece, “Walls of Empowerment: Reading Public Murals in a Kanaka Maoli Context,” Mārata Ketekiri Tamaira (2017) gives a close reading of graffiti murals by Native artists, arguing that the walls of buildings constructed on Kanaka Maoli land are both material representations of unequal power relations inherent in the colonial project, but can also “function as sites for creative production that is at once affirming of Native Hawaiian sovereignty and resistance to ongoing colonialism” (p. 5). The bright floral patterns of the pareo on our walls, featuring tropical and native foliage, illustrate the tension inherent within our institutional positioning and weaves our center to the land. kuʻualoha ho‘omanawanui (2008) argues the importance of ‘āina (land) in education to meet the needs of Kanaka Maoli students, outlining a curriculum based on ‘ike ‘āina (knowledge about or from the land) (p. 204). Visually, our pareo link the setting of instruction to nature and to the ‘āina. In contrast to the western concepts of calming and pacifying conveyed by the institutional-beige walls of our English department, the pareo welcome students to make connections to Kanaka Maoli land and culture. We may not be able to change every aspect of our space, but from our walls we hang a vibrant protest, a message that our writing center is not just a generic room, institutionalized and displaced, but is connected to conflict and struggle for Kanaka Maoli sovereignty.

[Fig. IW.2] Pareo on the writing center walls.

We have consciously tried to ground all design aspects of our writing center in our Indigenous place so that the decorations (and even furniture) bring the outside in—making boundaries between the institution and the community porous and open to the flow of diverse groups of people, ideas, epistemologies, and ways to think about writing and writing process. The furnishings throughout the room have been brought in piecemeal (though deliberately) and represent the ties our center has to Hawai‘i: a poster hanging prominently on the wall depicts an ahupua‘a (a traditional agricultural system), acknowledging the sustaining familial relationship between Kānaka Maoli and the ‘aina; on another wall is a picture taken by a Kanaka Maoli photographer; and even the poster-boards in our center come from one of the largest Kanaka Maoli non-profit organizations. In the volatile and dangerous political climate, it is essential that we double our efforts to acknowledge and welcome marginalized and Indigenous students into our writing center, letting them know that they are heard and their identities do matter.


ho‘omanawanui, k. (2008). ‘Ike ‘āina: Native Hawaiian culturally based Indigenous literacy. Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being, 5, 203-244.

Kamins, R. M., & Potter, R. E. (1998). Mālamalama: A history of the University of Hawai’i. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

Mckinney, J. G. (2005). Leaving home sweet home: Towards critical readings of writing center spaces. The Writing Center Journal, 25(2), 6-20.

Reynolds, N. (1998). Composition’s imagined geographies: The politics of space in the frontier, city, and cyberspace. College Composition and Communication, 50(1), 12-35.

Tamaira, A. (2017). Walls of empowerment: Reading public murals in a Kanaka Maoli context. The Contemporary Pacific, 29(1), 1-35.

NK & KI:

As Andrea Lunsford (1991) notes in her germinal article “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center,” the Burkean Parlor is an ideal model for welcoming students, consultants, and administrative faculty/staff into the folds of ongoing conversations both in and out of academia. Lunsford explains the importance of this kind of collaborative work in instilling members of the writing center with a greater sense of community, asserting, “[i]n spite of the very real risks involved, we need to embrace the idea of writing centers as Burkean Parlors, as centers for collaboration. Only in doing so can we…enable a student body and citizenry to meet the demands of the twenty-first century” (p. 4). Though written twenty-seven years ago, Lunsford’s words are powerfully relevant to our need to build and increase access to “brave” discursive spaces, especially in this socio-politically tense and uncertain time.

In this section we discuss how the Burkean Parlor is facilitated in our writing center through whiteboard paint on the walls, and how writing on the walls has served as a communal space for both consultants and writers to express themselves. Disclosing information like our favorite color, food, or band through written responses on the wall opens up avenues for conversation to occur and reveals commonalities and differences. Through writing in this space, consultants and writers participate in an active learning community while also grappling with the alienation that newcomers may experience when confronted with this invitation that demands a certain level of bravery to respond. Here, we use the working definition of the term “brave space” found in Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens’ (2013) “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice” to deepen our discussion of how the term “safe space” falls short in addressing internal issues that can result from operating within an academic space. In their work, Arao and Clemens contend that the term “safe space” is used to “reassure participants who feel anxious about sharing their thoughts and feelings regarding…sensitive and controversial issues” (p. 135). The implication that safety is guaranteed, however, conflicts with the amount of risk involved in participating in open acts of personal disclosure. As such, Arao and Clemens suggest, “shifting away from the concept of safety and emphasizing the importance of bravery instead, to help students better understand—and to rise to—the challenges of genuine dialogue on diversity and social justice issues” (p. 136). By literally writing on the walls, our consultants and writers are able to provide a welcoming environment and express themselves, voice their concerns, and engage in the creation of a communal brave space.

We have created a kind of tangible Burkean Parlor through our whiteboard walls (Fig. NKKI.1), where we can visually see the responses from those entering our discursive community even when they are no longer physically present. These walls have been populated with various phrases, drawings, and names over the years, but one thing remains consistent: their community and team-building value. Our consultants are creating a community—one that is not limited to the staff—and a space for their voices to be heard. Initially the whiteboard at the front of the center was occupied by a cheeky shopping list and the results of fun quizzes sent to the staff (i.e., “To Buy: coffee, creamer, a will to live,” “What Hogwarts House are you?,” “What is your Myers-Briggs Personality Type?”). Upon further reflection, however, we found this practice to be potentially alienating and limiting due to its exclusivity, despite its benefits to community-building. As such, we have recently changed the scope of our whiteboard discussions to be more inclusive. We now post weekly open-ended questions addressed to the entire space that, in turn, encourages participation from writers, professors, lecturers, and other visitors to the center.

[Fig. NKKI.1] The writing center whiteboard with prompt.

Our act of “exchanging disclosures” with either another individual or a group of people enables engagement with personal vulnerabilities and helps us generate a more open and responsive community. In “Queering the Writing Center,” Harry Denny (2005) describes writing centers as sites where consultants can “seek strategic occasions to subvert conventional dynamics,” (p. 55), which our center has enacted through sharing stories about ourselves. Such low-stakes disclosures are crucial in the promotion of a brave space. To build on Arao and Clemens’ (2013) work, we define brave space as a place where participants feel empowered to speak out against inequities and to generate more reflective conversations. Through the whiteboard platform, all who enter our writing center are welcomed to share their ideas and observe how their voices intersect, diverge, or challenge those around them. Through these seemingly innocuous question-and-answer activities, members of our expanded writing center community are able to learn more about each other—sometimes they will answer questions about their favorite foods, their favorite books, what Hogwarts House they would be in, and so on. This visual display also invites critical engagement and conversation between different people and can, sometimes, help shed light on issues regarding how hegemonic structures continually attempt to displace or de-value our shared and individual experiences. As soon as writers enter our center, they are immediately greeted with the musings of other writers, faculty members, and consultants, which serve as a low stakes anchor and entry points into a wider communal conversation. In participating in the weekly whiteboard question-and-answer activity, a consultant is not only entering our center as a writer and contributor, but also entering as an equal and peer.

Though writing on the walls provide all who enter our space with the opportunity to be heard, the risk of accidentally alienating other voices is also a real challenge as political tensions inside and outside the university increase with each passing semester. Despite our best efforts, our unique form of expression and team-bonding sometimes comes with its own exclusionary aspects. Although it is important to foster a community that is tight-knit, in doing so, people who enter the writing center who are not a part of the staff may feel isolated or unsure of how to enter this community. In our center, members of the English department who are not part of the staff participate in writing on the walls, but these interactions are often limited to those who already have pre-existing connections with the writing center or its staff.

We recently began having discussions about the ways this whiteboard space may appear limited to a solely English-speaking, academic audience after one of our consultants who speaks Japanese as their first language expressed some confusion and frustration at being unable to fully capture the meaning of their answers to questions in English only. As this consultant expressed, prompts such as “Describe your sense of fashion… badly” and “Give yourself a useless award” were challenging for them to answer in English, so they decided to start answering in Japanese. For example, one of the questions of the week was, “What is a word that someone would never describe you with?” In response to this question, this consultant wrote “元気,” or “genki,” which roughly translates to a range of meanings from “energetic” to “healthy.” While this consultant may have felt far from “safe” due to being surrounded by predominantly native English-speaking writers and coworkers, they certainly felt “brave” enough to express their frustration in a productive manner that drew attention to the linguistic and cultural shortcomings of our previous whiteboard interactions. Though this situation began from a place of frustration for the consultant who felt isolated, the situation was ultimately resolved and is a demonstration of the whiteboard’s success in encouraging dialogue from multiple perspectives and engendering a heightened awareness in us of the potential problems that we face in determining its uses—in this case, making some people feel isolated and unable to enter the writing center’s “Burkean Parlor” due to language barriers.

As we move forward, we seek to adopt a pedagogy of “reflectiveness and attentiveness,” as suggested in Rasha Diab, Beth Godbee, Thomas Ferrel, and Neil Simpkins’ (2012) article “A Multi-Dimensional Pedagogy for Racial Justice in Writing Centers.” While our focus extends well beyond issues concerning racial justice, we find Diab et al.’s call for ongoing reflective attentiveness in our daily conversations with all who enter our space to be helpful in finding ways to better empower the members of our growing writing center community: “[s]uch an approach recognizes the multiple identities of consultants, writers, and outside others (e.g. faculty members, prospective employers, and other audience members) as well as the complex social dynamics at play in any conversation around writing” (p. 4). Writing on the walls has served as an integral part of our work in breaking down the barriers between the personal and professional self, which encourages participation in further developing our center into a “brave space.” Building inclusivity into concepts of welcoming is not always easy, as the risk of misunderstanding exists even in the safest of spaces. In this regard, we acknowledge that the act of physically entering into the writing center for the first time takes courage, making it imperative to be cognizant of how integral creating a brave space is to a true welcome. We hope that by shifting our focus to brave spaces, where people are encouraged to speak freely about both their joys and concerns alike, we are able to welcome new voices to our community and form a more inclusive environment. The whiteboard, therefore, serves not only as a place to write down chores or to-buy things but also as an entrance into the writing center, a place where consultants both relatively new and relatively experienced can have fun discussing a variety of topics that resonate with them and form lasting bonds that reverberate into their performances while tutoring.


Arao, B. and Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces: a new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In L. Landerman (Ed.), The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators (pp. 135-150). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing LLC.

Denny, H. (2005). Queering the writing center. The Writing Center Journal, 25(2), 39-62.

Diab, R., Godbee, B., Ferrel, T., and Simpkins, N. (2012). A multi-dimensional pedagogy for racial justice in writing centers. Praxis, 10(1), 1-8.

Lunsford, A. (1991). Collaboration, control, and the idea of a writing center. The Writing Lab Newsletter, 16(4-5), 1-6.


[Fig. KT.1] Pronoun Poster with gender-neutral options.

Our pronoun poster (Fig. KT.1) is situated in conversation with other posters—some written in English and others in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi —to represent the polymorphic identity of our writing center to welcome our guests. On a white background, six lavender lines divide the page of the poster into seven sections. Across the top, a question is proposed in large letters: “Tired of the same old PRONOUNS?” Beneath this question, surrounding the other five lavender lines, are gender-neutral options categorized by part of speech. Off to the side, the commonly recognized bathroom icon, an outline of a body, is placed just above a quote from Judith Butler (1997) that pinpoints the “violence of language” as its desire to “capture the ineffable” (p. 9). What “must remain elusive”—and that language is attempting to contain—is that of the self. By defining, naming, or as Butler (1997) calls it, “hailing,” language brings the subject into being regardless of the subject’s desires. In opposition to that violence, the Pronoun Poster invites our visitors to usher themselves into existence by allowing them to choose the language that defines them.

Hanging near the entrance of our writing center, welcoming all visitors into the space, the pronoun poster acknowledges the violence that is produced by (academic) language and writing. As Butler (1997) points out in her book, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, the violence of the English language is its ability to erase and disembody one’s identity from the self. In her introduction, “On Linguistic Vulnerability,” Butler questions where this violence originates and explicates that “the power of language to injure come[s] from its interpellative power”; its ability to transform an individual into a subject regardless of the dissonance that transformation creates (p. 2). The act of defining an individual as a subject is to place a specific view, with its own system of values, upon said subject. The subject’s value is then augmented to fit the needs of the language, and therefore the society in which the language is being created. In the context of our writing center, academic language is pressed upon our student-writers and assumed to be embodied by us, the student-consultants. In this manner, academic language displaces and, at times, eliminates identity and individual voice all together.[3]

The placement of this poster, as with its construction, may seem simple, but each are crucial in calling attention to the way queerness, in all its iterations, is too often deemed “delinquent” within academic spaces. This interpellation of queerness (bodied, textual, etc.) is not a conscious act, but inherent to the patriarchal hierarchy—cis, male, white, and heterosexual—of the academy that seeks to reproduce its ideologies by replacing the identities of a subject (body) and recasting it in its own image: elitist, exclusionary, and, predominantly white. Much like young children mimicking their parents’ behaviors, students learn to imitate the mannerisms, gestures, and, most importantly, the words of the academy.

Writing centers, although an extension of the academy, resist that interpellation in favor of the student-writer’s individual voice. Because writing centers focus primarily on the writer, not the writing—thus encouraging the full exposure and acceptance of the personal identity— they exist in the “liminal zone” between the academy and student (Denny, 2005, p. 41). Still, as Denny (2005) astutely acknowledges, these centers are still “overflowing with structuring binaries” that they are obligated to pass on to the student-client (p. 41). Furthermore, since the body of the center is also made up of student-writers, consultants, too, are being interpolated in the same way. We strive to become one of the academy’s “bodies of knowledge” as students by modeling its accepted discursive forms; however, in doing so, we are giving up our own bodies’ identity and agency (Waite, 2017, p. 17). Due to this positionality of being both student and consultant—the queer space between the binary—writing center consultants function as illegitimate heirs of the academic parent as this space allows them to resist being completely rebirthed in the academy’s image. Therefore, consultants are committing themselves to a drag performance of the academic body as a means of subverting its violence by acknowledging the queerness of the writing center space. We, as consultants, are performing an elaborate dance that is recognizable to the academic body as imitation: a serious recitation of what the academic body knows. To the student body—the expectant vessels of knowledge—it is a burlesque parable that highlights the kinks and idiosyncrasies of academic intimacies. As consultants, we are playing to two audience at once like a Shakespearean fool; we are something else, not completely separate, but adjacent.

For consultants, the danger occurs when this positionality is not consciously interrogated and allows itself to be overwritten by the academic body. What remains is a limpid and sexless vessel that is expected to reproduce and foster other academic bodies, potentially legitimate heirs, through the structured intimacy of academic writing. In this instance, consultants then transition from being the illegitimate progeny to academic writing wet nurses, who support the true heirs of the privileged “body of knowledge.” In this model of a “storehouse writing center,” student-writers are fed skill-building and academy-approved knowledge while “identity becomes conferred as a sort of membership card or rite of passage” into the academy (Denny, 2005, p. 39). Repositioning consultants’ focus this way is not just a detriment to the consultants themselves, but also to the student-writer.

The queer body, on the other hand, like the body of color in a predominantly white space, is often hypervisible and therefore always seen first as a stark contrast to the heteronormative academy. For example, as a masculine-of-center (MOC) cis woman, I often work with students who are visibly confused or shaken by the contradictions between my masculine way of dressing and feminine voice and gestures. This confusion in conjunction with the innate intimacy of writing has the potential for violence because they see my body first before they see my position as a consultant. The expected power dynamic, my authority as a “body of knowledge,” is disrupted by my queerness. In situations like these, the academic body is displaced or, more accurately, becomes drag. The academic body with all of its mannerisms, expectations, and forms becomes a costume that is put on instead of something that replaces the student-consultant’s body. It is a mask I wear, not my identity.

In a similar way, the seemingly minimalist aesthetic of this poster is performing academic drag by presenting itself simultaneously to two audiences: to the first-time viewer, as a simple, informative and eye-catching poster depicting a “new” use of language; to the queer observer, a welcoming acknowledgement of their communities and identities. Within academic settings, posters are often used to distribute complex ideas in a digestible manner to provide the viewer with a clear sense of the subject. This practice is in part accomplished by employing symbols and icons that are recognizable to other members of the discourse community, which in this case is the academic body. This pronoun poster utilizes these generic tools as a means of problematizing the writing center by inserting a politicized queer body into the privatized academic space. For example, the color scheme is eye-catching, and for some viewers the meaning of the chosen palette may end at that, but the colors are also the same as those of the gender-neutral pride flag. Each of the colors comes with a specific denotation: lavender for androgyny, white for agender identity, and green for those who identify outside of the gender binary. These colors are being used to call attention to the political issues that the text is attempting to dismantle. Not only does the poster interrogate the usual writing, grammar, and heteronormativity of the academy, but it tells all students who enter through our doors that the writing center is a place for them: legitimate or illegitimate children as they may be.

Additionally, the image on the poster is working in two registers: 1. it provides a visual representation of the application of the grammar; and 2. through its incorporation of the gender symbol, it references North Carolina’s now repealed House Bill No. 2 (Public Facilities Privacy), which prohibited transgender people, but more accurately people who don’t adhere to the binary, from using the public bathroom designated for the sex that they identify as. After the bill was passed in 2016 there was a surge in unisex bathrooms using the same image seen on the pronoun poster to denote that all are welcome. Conversely, following the passing of Bill No. 2, there was also an increase in people being detained for not having proof of gender or not performing the “appropriate” gender. In the case of the North Carolina bill, trans and non-binary identities are pushed to the margins of public discourse by the bill’s misuse of the word “gender” as a synonym for biological sex. In this instance, the dominant narrative surrounding gender has been reduced to biological essentialism of genitalia in a play to maintain the rhetoric that mobilizes heteronormativity as a means of policing queer bodies.

This bill was not the beginning of government sanctioned surveillance of queer bodies nor was it ever limited to a single state. One such instance occurred a few months prior to the passage of House Bill No. 2 in a women’s public bathroom where a MOC woman, dressed in a baggy t-shirt and pants, was forcefully removed from the restroom after not providing documentation of her government recognized gender. The altercation was filmed on a phone camera by an unknown witness. In the video the woman can clearly be heard declaring that she is “a girl” and correcting officers when they refer to her as “sir.” She is then physically removed from the restroom while the other women, who were not detained or questioned about their gender, reprimand the officers for removing her. This incident is an example of the violence language can and does produce outside of the academy. Within the academy, the repercussions of the expected use of privileged language forms are realized in the loss of identity (body) and the undermining of students’ authority and agency. In my case, as a consultant, I am seen as having some type of power; however, that is disrupted when the queerness of my body comes into play.

The violent mobilization of language, as represented in the instances above, can also be deconstructed and re-formed into acts of resurgence and resistance, as I am doing in writing this article. We as student-consultants—not just those of us who identify as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, but all of us—have the potential to displace the academic body and heal the linguistic wounds it has created. By first acknowledging our own bodies and their agency, we are reaffirming a “certain possibility for social existence . . . that exceeds the prior purpose that animated” our interpellation (Butler, 1997, p. 2). We cannot re-call the academy’s “hail” to consultants as a “body of knowledge,” but through this interpellation consultants are given possibilities to use (academic) language to counter the injurious call. As we continue to trouble these notions of gender and sexuality within our center, I hope that we can also move toward creating more practices that foreground all writers’ bodies in all their queerness and sensuality so as to transform our humble hospitality into an extravagant welcome.


Butler, J. (1997). Excitable speech: A politics of performance. New York, NY: Routledge.

Denny, H. (2005). Queering the writing center. The Writing Center Journal, 25(2), 39-63.

Lyons, S. (2000). Rhetorical sovereignty: What do American Indians want from writing? College Composition and Communication, 51(3), 447-468.

Waite, S. (2017). Teaching queer: Radical possibilities for writing and knowing.

Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.


The last decade has seen increasing attention towards supporting diversity through writing center administration, tutor training, and policy development (Conard-Salvo, Santee, & Severe, 2008). Aligned with this position, in sessions between writing consultants and writers, having a conscious awareness of universal pedagogy practices that accommodate a wide variety of learners is encouraged at our writing center. Part of our training dictates we remain cognizant of students’ individual abilities when processing information to guide how we approach our work. We take into consideration the diverse linguistics, age, race and culture, gender, sexuality, and (dis)abilities that a student may have. According to the official website of the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST, 2018), an educational organization that researches Universal Design for Learning, universal pedagogy revolves around optimizing learning experiences that meet the needs of all learners. Equipped with various, flexible techniques to use in sessions with writers, our consultants employ frameworks based in collaborative, universal design approaches that reflect a sense of inclusivity to welcome the spectrum of learning styles writers have. At each desk in our center, consultants and writers have access to highlighters, sticky-notes, stress balls, and Legos. Each station also includes access to a computer and whiteboard. These tools facilitate visual and kinesthetic approaches to better support different writers learn and express themselves in their writing and overcome potential obstacles they may negotiate throughout their writing processes. Consultant strategies at our center then are grounded in identifying various kinesthetic, visual, and auditory techniques that can be adapted to individual students’ learning processes.

In traditional academic settings in higher education, most students do not have access to flexible options for learning and engagement during their classroom lectures. While universal pedagogy approaches work to address this privileging of certain learning styles by accommodating the widest spectrum of learners, it is not without its own challenges. When a student receives specialized attention to aid with learning during formalized class-time or in a session, issues of isolation, humiliation, and the fear of being “othered” in the very public space of the classroom/writing center can be an unintended consequence of inclusive learning options. With students who have marginalized intersecting identities, potential institutional caveats about confidentiality can also arise. In particular, issues surrounding disclosing a (dis)ability to a consultant or the need for specialized approaches can exacerbate feelings of marginalization. Negotiating the boundaries that consultants occupy as peers yet individuals with power within an institutional structure can result in a precarious balancing act as consultants try to determine how best to work with each writer, but at the same time not “other” the very students we attempt to welcome into our academic space. As consultants, we are tasked with fostering a nurturing and safe environment for writers to share their private work, yet we must remain cognizant that employing “specialized” techniques can lead to the marginalization of writers who do not fit the model of the “idealized writer.” Such interventions may isolate students by highlighting their (dis)abilities and differences in learning processes, making them feel as if they are not as capable as other students. Thus, by normalizing alternative learning methods during sessions, we aim to give students the support they need without forcing them to disclose their different abilities.

Working at our center, I’ve used a variety of flexible techniques in sessions to negotiate the precarious boundaries between accommodating diverse learning styles and welcoming students regardless of their perceived “academic ableness.” Each writer I work with has a different learning style. With universal pedagogy in mind, I work with writers to find the technique that benefits their individual writing process best. Some writers have difficulty concentrating and articulating their ideas, others need help visualizing the structure of their writing, and still others routinely reverse or misspell certain words. In these situations, I employ a variety of techniques, such as color-coding, tactile learning methods (using Legos to clarify and separate main ideas versus supporting details), and visual schemas (colored markings to identify different paragraph parts) in sessions with writers. Working together with the writer in sessions to identify the best tools for a writing situation is essential. It has been proven that using strategies and tools based on interdependence, sharing, and collaboration can provide effective means for having productive sessions (Gersten & Baker, 2001, p. 252). Therefore, having access to colored pens, sticky-notes, and Legos—while it might seem frivolous on the surface—has given me the chance to offer new/different ways of engaging with students during sessions.

Practices informed by universal pedagogy rather than skills-driven approaches can result in an interactive approach that can unlock and streamline the ideas within writers’ minds. For example, in one session, I used Lego pieces as visual aids to illustrate building an argument within an essay. The base Lego represented a thesis or foundational idea. I then asked the writer to stack a Lego on top of the base to represent a topic sentence. An even tinier Lego placed on top of another became a metaphor for a supporting detail or a piece of evidence in the essay. Tactile representations such as this can help writers stay focused on the assignment requirements, as well as provide a physical manifestation of how their work is structured. It also aids in reinforcing cohesion between ideas throughout the essay. Colored pens and the whiteboard can be used similarly to create visual representations of ideas in students’ essays. I often will encourage a writer to delineate parts of the argument and flow of their essays on the writing center’s whiteboard walls using different colored pens to represent different ideas. The structure of a complex idea can be extrapolated upon and recorded using these visual schemas on the whiteboard, which the student can then take a picture of with their smartphone and use as a reference later. Figures NF.1 and NF. 2 are photos of the different tools I have used in sessions. Figures NF.3 and NF.4 are photos of the visually stimulating guides I have created with students utilizing a whiteboard.

[Fig. NF.1] Tools (computer, whiteboard, colored pens, sticky-notes) that are available for writers to use during sessions.

[Fig. NF.2] Close-up of the different tools.

[Fig. NF.3] Visual guide from my work with a student to help brainstorm main ideas for an essay.

[Fig. NF.4] A guide for a student’s essay that was written verbatim during a presentation.

When attempting to provide a welcoming environment that accommodates the individuality of writers’ learning styles, it is important to respect their values, make connections, and view differences as strengths not deficits (Orosco & O’Connor, 2014, p. 516). Hegemonic academic norms, methods, and practices generally reflect those of the culture of power; thus, a wide range of non-mainstream individuals and cultural groups are too often marked as marginalized and/or “inadequate” within higher education school systems. In colleges and universities, learning-style differences at times can be viewed as deficiencies and can therefore position non-mainstream students as outsiders (Luna, 2002). In our efforts to resist this academic norm of privileging students who have been acculturated in particular ways, we have been inspired by the tenets of universal design in our work to identify ways to not just support, but welcome, all learning styles.


CAST. (2018). CAST Inc. Retrieved from

Conard-Salvo, T., Santee, J., & Severe R. (2008). Proceedings from IWCA Conference ‘08: Mapping Support for Diversity through Writing Center Administration. Las Vegas, NV.

Gersten, R., & Baker, S. (2001). Teaching expressive writing to students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis. The Elementary School Journal, 101(3), 251–272.

Luna, C. (2002). Learning from diverse learners: (Re)writing academic literacies and learning disabilities in college. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(7), 596-605.

Orosco, M. J., & O’Connor, R. (2014). Culturally responsive instruction for English language learners with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 47(6), 515-531.


Welcoming in the writing center can take on many forms. As writing center practitioners, we work tirelessly to include all the writers we work with, many of whom are too often isolated by the academic institution. At the same time, we must also consider how consultants claim space in these contexts. In our writing center, consultants are often challenged to make the space our own, to leave an impact that reverberates through institutional memory, and to thoughtfully weave in our positionalities, skill sets, and alliances to form a more powerful coalition advocating for our writers; however, in this labor, how we welcome new consultants in our center is too often under-examined. In response to the problems we faced in this period of “welcome,” my own cohort of undergraduate writing consultants attempted to enact a praxis of welcome protocols for future cohorts by allowing new consultants to claim space in our writing center through a digital class heuristics archive.

The heuristics archive, developed in our undergraduate writing center practicum course, ENG 405: Teaching Composition, functions as a pedagogical space. Based on research projects conducted by ENG 405 consultants to expand their comprehension of the theoretical underpinnings of their pedagogies, the archive attempts to bring these individual understandings of complex theory to a digital space in the form of a website where consultants can easily recall strategies for tutoring. Thus, at its core, the archive is based on the circulation of ways of knowing and being in the writing center, enacting a meta-collaborative environment between consultants and the writers we work with. The first page of the archive reflects the collaborative and student-centered nature of the content, stating:

Driven by a need for localized and relevant pedagogy, this webpage serves as a heuristic archive compiled by students in the English 405: Teaching Composition class at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to aid each other and fellow tutors in their practice.

The archive destabilizes what Freire (1970) calls a “banking system” of education, a system that treats “students as objects of assistance” (p. 83). The archive subverts this system, predicated on the transaction of knowledge between the teacher and the unquestioning student, directly by postulating a need for “localized” and “relevant” pedagogy in terms of the student. Especially in the case of Hawaiʻi, these place-based methods are critical. As Kanaka Maoli scholar Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua (2013) articulates, academic institutions inevitably affect the ways “Indigenous people living alongside, within, and against settler colonial societies experience [powerful forces of elimination, alienation, and belittlement] daily” (p. 5). That is, real colonial forces, at least in the context of Hawaiʻi, can and do cause the educational displacement of students, particularly Native students. The discursive alienation of Indigenous students and their peers, following this logic, creates an exigency demanding the adaptation of pedagogies to the social idiosyncrasies of education in Hawaiʻi.

The components of the heuristics charts are as follows: term, definition, and implications for tutoring. In Figure GG.1, my own entry in the archive, I reference my literature review and determined “culturally relevant pedagogy” to be a particular pedagogical method. For this class project, I was then asked to research what the term succinctly means. Finally, I was challenged to state the implications for consulting in practice. The act of asking myself to apply this knowledge is not only a lesson in critical thought; because our class’s response serves as a training guide, the iteration of these implications creates space for consultants to “write back” against the traditional narrative by showing how we see pedagogical knowledge employed in our own center. The final question asks the consultant to define the broad implications of the concept in a writing consultation. This process creates a unique capacity in consultant training to localize the theories we work with in our engagements with writers.

[Fig. GG.1] Heuristic chart example of “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.”

While I, the consultant in the example here, take a dissenting position towards the scholarship, my own research interests and life experiences influence the final implications section where I state that consultants should employ “tactics that may work better [for writers] as individuals.” In addition to the very action of identifying “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy” as a heuristic category, I put an emphasis on the possible deficit of cultural understanding between consultants and writers. By acknowledging these potential problems, the space of the archive allows me and my peers to articulate how they envision the theory being employed in our own practices. While this example does not necessarily radically change the narrative of the scholarship it is referring to, the act of interpreting and grounding terminology in a certain place or alternative discursive mode creates the capacity for applicability in the teaching of writing center practitioners.

The archive was intended to make culturally relevant pedagogy readily available to consultants in our center. First, a consultant would open their appointment on our scheduling software and evaluate the potential needs of the writer as indicated by the information provided, such as home language, class standing, and major. The consultant would, following their assessment of the session, look at the assignment the writer is bringing in––What sort of assignment is being discussed? What course, if any, is the assignment for? What level is the course? What stage in the process did the writer want to work on? Then, a consultant would read through relevant entries of the archive in order to brush up on a certain pedagogy or concept. By intervening in the colonial knowledge production of dominant educational narratives, I see this archive embodying a “Red Pedagogy,” as defined by Critical Indigenous studies scholar Sandy Grande (2004), which “necessitates […] the decoupling and dethinking of education from its western, colonialist contexts” (p. 56). This act of “decoupling” manifests in the “implications for tutoring” section of the archive, which allows consultant trainees to enumerate what exactly a theory means in their own practice, which cannot be divorced from the colonial conditions they are raised in. While not inherently Indigenous, creating a space for consultants to make these connections moves towards localizing in a geographical space the pedagogies we employ. Enacting this “decoupling” of education from its colonized context creates the capacity for the “regrounding” of consultants in their own ways of knowing and tutoring. By putting students’ voices into circulation with other writing center scholars by, as Harry Denny (2010) articulates, “whispering to one another insider knowledge” (p. 81), our consultants and writers can enact “sustainable change [that] comes from having [their voices and codes] in circulation, forcing institutions and the academy to evolve and adapt” (p. 54). By simply creating a space for dialogue, “welcome” and, more importantly, acceptance become possible in the sometimes violent apparatus of welcoming in the writing center.

By creating a space for consultants to share their manaʻo (insights) on how we might apply writing center theory, our centers can begin to welcome new staff members beyond simple introductions and orientations. If we seek to make researchers, scholars, and educators out of our consultants, then, surely, we must also consider the implications of the materials they draw from in articulating their pedagogies and give their experiences the same weight as consultant education materials. The heuristics archive and its implications for welcoming new consultants into an academic community can be understood in terms of the Kanaka Maoli proverb, “Ma ka hana, ka ʻike” or “in working one learns” (Pukui, 1983, p. 227), manifested in this case by consultants acquiring the conventions of a discipline through imagining processes, methodologies, and potential applications it embodies. Thus, the archive as a “welcome” to consultants as they embark on a pedagogical-academic journey is actualized through putting consultant voices in dialogue with scholars, and allowing consultants to define on their own terms for their peers what scholarship means to in their communities.


Denny, H. (2010). Facing the center: Toward an identity politics of one-to-one mentoring. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Seabury Press.

Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, N. (2013). The seeds we planted: Portraits of a Native Hawaiian charter school. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Grande, S. (2015). Red pedagogy: Native American social and political thought (10th ed.). Lanham, MD: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.

Pukui, M. K. (1983). ʻŌlelo no‘eau: Hawaiian proverbs & poetical sayings. Honolulu, HI: Bishop Museum Press.


When we think about welcoming in our centers, our focus is often on the writers who come in to work there and the uninitiated we hope will respond to our welcoming efforts. With our attention directed towards these writers, the effectiveness of practices to initiate new consultants into the fold can go uninterrogated—until there is a problem. As Jackie Grutsch McKinney (2013) insightfully points out, intending to share our space does not necessarily correlate to others claiming that space, and this predicament can apply to new consultants just as it does to the writers who visit our centers.

We were forced to revisit our “welcoming of new consultants” protocols two years ago when a colleague taught the writing center practicum course instead of me, the director of our center. I thought this change would present an opportunity for new ideas and energy to permeate our space. This professor modeled their syllabus after mine, which incorporated an extensive set of practices to welcome the practicum consultants, including assigned liaisons from amongst the experienced consultants, required observations and tutoring sessions, class visits by the experienced consultants and administrative staff to discuss roles and answer questions (without teachers present), and on-the-job training on maintaining the center.

I was surprised, then, when a few weeks into the new practicum consultants being on the schedule, my center coordinator approached me to discuss pilikia (trouble/difficulty) between them and the experienced consultants. They told me that the experienced consultants had been voicing concerns on a range of issues, from taking initiative in greeting writers and staff-to-staff interactions, to helping with the mundane tasks of taking care of the center. Their frustration was palpable. They had been eager to meet and work with the new cohort, and the inability of the new consultants to meet their high expectations had left them feeling disappointed and quite protective over our space. They expressed concern that the practicum consultants were not readily taking initiative and seemed to be waiting to be told to perform basic tasks. After talking casually with members of both cohorts, it was apparent that the practicum consultants were also feeling disgruntled. They too had been eager to get to work in the center and felt hamstrung in their attempts to exercise agency in the space because the experienced consultants enjoyed such a high level of comfort and ownership in it. I quickly realized that although the teacher of the course and I were on the same page, our collaboration was not enough to counter the subjective boundaries the consultants were encountering.

When deciding how to negotiate this problem, I immediately grounded my approach in the foundational concepts upon which our center is built: collaboration and place. Collaboration is unquestionably a key term in writing center studies, and at our center, how we perform collaboration is informed by Indigenous principles. As such, we strive to respect and engage individual ideas and goals throughout every aspect of our work, from arranging the furniture to articulating our tutoring practices and policies—and grappling with different approaches when we are not all on the same page. The Indigenous theories at the foundation of our writing center pedagogy also dictate an accounting for the place in which we operate, and for us this means informing our work with Kanaka Maoli ways of being and knowing as much as possible. It made sense to me, then, that the Kanaka Maoli practice of hoʻoponopono, used to “correct or set things right,” might provide us direction.

Hoʻoponopono is described by Kanaka Maoli historian Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert (1986) as “family conferences in which relationships were set right through prayer, discussion, confession, repentance, and mutual restitution and forgiveness” (p. 341). Lilikalā Kameʻelehiwa (1992) correlates pono (the root of hoʻoponopono) to “perfect equilibrium” (p. 13), and kuʻualoha hoʻomanawanui (2005) explains that pono embodies a sense of balance achieved through the complementary pairing of opposites. The redoubling of pono, then, can be translated as, “in order, cared for, attended to…what is socially-morally approved and desirable” (Pukui, Haertig, & Lee, 1972, p. 60). In Nāna i ke Kumu: Look to the Source, Pukui, E. W. Haertig, and Catherine Lee (1972) provide an explication of how hoʻopononopono is enacted in a Hawaiian context, noting that it is a “family matter,” not a “community-wide therapy” (p. 60). It is a spiritual undertaking, involving prayer and highlighting the Kanaka Maoli worldview that foregrounds the connections between physical, emotional, spiritual, and social health. For many reasons—including the focus on the immediate family, the important role of prayer, and, most importantly, my not being trained in such an undertaking—it would be inappropriate for me to claim or attempt hoʻoponopono in our academic context. Key procedural concepts and attitudes of hoʻoponopono, however, could offer us guidance in addressing the one element our situation did share with hoʻoponopono: the desire to set things right. Moreover, accounting for the intersections of physical, emotional, spiritual, and emotional health would encourage us to understand our roles as consultants and colleagues more holistically.

In outlining procedures and attitudes necessary in hoʻoponopono, Pukui, Haertig, and Lee (1972) note the following elements which I felt could be adapted to our setting: the process should be mediated by a leader and begin with a clear statement of the problem; all participants should enter into the exercise with a willingness to scrutinize individual conduct, attitudes, and emotions as well as share grievances, grudges, and resentments with a commitment to truthfulness and sincerity; and the process should include a plan for restitution and willingness to let go of tensions and resentments (p. 62). Thus, in articulating a practice inspired by hoʻoponopono, it would be essential to create a space where everyone felt safe to speak about their concerns and then acknowledge those concerns as equally legitimate to achieve balance. To explicitly convey that I was invested in having a discussion with this level of candor demanded that I take into account any factors—most obviously my presence as the director and any agenda I may have, perceived or otherwise —that could work to silence or influence responses in any way. To this end we structured discussions as follows:

  • Our entire staff met, including both the practicum and experienced consultants, and I explained that the purpose of the ensuing activity was to articulate our center as a shared space to which we all have kuleana (rights and responsibilities) by providing everyone an opportunity to candidly express concerns and goals for the center. I strongly encouraged people to suggest solutions to concerns when they noted them.
  • I emphasized that while it did not seem we were all on the same page at the moment, we actually all shared an investment in the center and our work, and this was a valuable starting point because it pointed to common goals. I then asked everyone to fully participate in the exercise so we could move forward, noting that without everyone’s full participation, it would not work.
  • Guided by the stance that the intimacy of hoʻoponopono is designed to address matters within a small family unit, we began our exercise in smaller groups. The experienced consultants and I left the room, leaving the assistant director (a PhD student) and the center coordinator (an MA student) to facilitate the discussion and take notes with the practicum consultants.
  • After a half hour, the practicum consultants left the room (and left for the evening), and the experienced consultants met with the center coordinator, who facilitated discussion and took notes. The assistant director and I left the room during this time.
  • The assistant director and center coordinator then met with me to discuss the conversations.

By all accounts the meetings were “intense,” but this suggested to me that people were candid and invested—and that was the solid ground we needed to move forward.

At our staff meeting the following week, I presented all points of view and suggestions for addressing them. For example, the practicum consultants felt they had no literal place in the lounge area as the experienced consultants were often actively engaged in discussion or activities there. I asked the experienced consultants to move to a place away from the door where everyone enters, leaving space for others to claim. I also asked them to be mindful of inviting practicum consultants into their discussions. Both groups also collaboratively decided on expectations of practicum and experienced consultants in terms of when to model and when to take initiative.

Throughout this process, I was in unchartered territory. I was not sure this exercise was going to work. It was informed by the Kanaka Maoli tradition of hoʻoponopono, but I am not Kanaka Maoli and I had never facilitated anything like this before. But it did work. As one group, we articulated the protocols for the exercise that included everyone having time to speak and a requirement that when one was speaking, everyone else was listening—listening not to respond, but to understand. Our objective was not to identify “right” or “wrong” behaviors and rectify them because such constructs can isolate and divide. Rather, our goal was to understand the way each of us was experiencing our space. Over the course of several weeks (things turned around quite quickly), we grew to have a better understanding that while a collaborative stance informs our collective kuleana in and to our center, each individual must have the agency to articulate their own role in the context of this shared kuleana and that position must be respected by the rest of us. Foundational to this ongoing work is a basic premise that we all have good intentions toward our space, each other, and the work we do, which engenders an assumption of miscommunication when things go wrong rather than good/bad, right/wrong binaries that reinforce division and inhibit redress.

Our centers are defined by a multitude of dynamic interactions, and in our focus on the consultant-writer relationship, sometimes the consultant-consultant dynamic can be overlooked. Our consultants are the lifeblood of our work—they are our face to the communities we serve, and they create the identity of our centers. When we think of welcoming new writers into our spaces, whether visitors or consultants, the lesson is that how welcoming is realized goes beyond the intentions of those doing the welcoming. How our new consultants are socialized into our spaces requires attention and care, which calls on us to attend to the figurative places where enacted efforts are received and understood and demands providing individuals both physical and temporal places to claim agency.


hoʻomanawanui, k. (2005). He lei ho’oheno no nā kau a kau: Language, performance, and form in Hawaiian poetry. The Contemporary Pacific, 17(1), 29–81.

Kameʻeleihiwa, L. (1992). Native lands and foreign desires: Pehea lā e pono ai? Honolulu, HI: Bishop Museum Press.

McKinney, J. G. (2013). Peripheral visions for writing centers. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Pukui, M. K., and Elbert, S.H. (1986). Hawaiian dictionary. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai‘I Press.

Pukui, M.K., Haertig, E.W., & Lee, C. A. (1972). Nānā i ke kumu (Look to the source) (Vol. I). Honolulu, HI: Hui Hānai.

Author Biographies

Gregory Pōmaikaʻi Gushiken is a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) writer and PhD student in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, where he writes about the Kanaka Maoli diaspora in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Southern California. He is an alumni of the English and Political Science departments at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Avree Ito-Fujita is a PhD student in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s English Department where she specializes in online and community writing center pedagogy. She holds administrative and writing consultant positions at two of the campus’ writing center programs.

Nicole Furtado is a former writing center tutor from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is currently a Ph.D. student in English at the University of California, Riverside. She studies Speculative Fiction, Indigenous Studies, Digital Humanities, and Decolonial Futurities.

Kaitlyn Iwashita is a third-year student at the William S. Richardson School of Law. She has spent the past four years working in writing centers, and currently serves as a writing consultant for the Online Learning Academy with the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Her academic interests include criminal justice reform rhetoric, popular culture, and feminist and queer theory. She will be working at the Office of the Public Defender, State of Hawaiʻi after graduating.

Nicole Kurashige is a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, English Department. She currently teaches first-year composition, second-year composition, and second-year literary studies as part of her GAship duties. Her research interests include Life Writing studies with an emphasis on trauma narratives and graphic (auto)biographies, Digital Humanities and New Media studies with an emphasis on webcomics, podcasts, and video games, and Writing Center and Writing Program Administration.

Kristina Togafau is a doctoral student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. They’re areas of interests are Indigenous science fiction, posthumanism, and haunting narratives. They are currently an editor for The Hawai’i Review, UH Mānoa’s literary journal.

Isaac Wang is a second year PhD student in rhetoric and composition at Purdue University. His primary interests are writing center research and Indigenous rhetorics and methodologies. He hopes to one day leave the dreary Midwest and return home to Hawai‘i and “ke kai malino aʻo Kona.”

Georganne Nordstrom is an Associate Professor of Composition and Rhetoric and Director of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s (UHM) Writing Center. Her research and teaching focus on writing center studies, critical and place-based pedagogy, and examinations of Indigenous and minority rhetorics, with a specific focus on Hawaiʻi’s Creole, Pidgin. She is the co-editor of Huihui: Aesthetics and Rhetorics of the Pacific (UH Press, 2015). A 2018-19 Fulbright Scholar (at the National University of Ireland, Galway), Georganne is the recipient of UHM’s 2016 Chancellor’s Citation for Meritorious Teaching and the 2012 Richard Braddock Award.

  1. We would like to acknowledge and mahalo the rest of our writing center team, who have supported our work on this project throughout. Mahalo nui also to Shayle Benjamin Matsuda, who took the pictures of our center.
  2. We do not italicize words in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian) in this article as ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi is not a foreign language in Hawaiʻi, where we are writing from.
  3. This can most noticeably be seen in Native communities where the institutional education system of Indian boarding schools forced the English language on Native children as a means of assimilation and colonial praxis. See Scott Richard Lyons “Rhetorical Sovereignty: What Do American Indians Want from Writing?” (2000).