Featured Issue: (Re)Investigating Our Commonplaces in Writing Centers

In 2020, Julie Lindquist’s Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Call for Proposals asked writing studies scholars to return to “the truths that are most deeply lodged in our collective imagination” (p. 1). However dear we hold them, these “truths” are contingent rather than universal, and sometimes regressive rather than emancipatory. Competing truths reflect and are reflected in the commonplaces of our disciplines: our quotidian, unremarkable and unremarked, granular practices, our foundational assumptions, our routines, our beliefs, and our institutional obligations. It is important, therefore, that we reinvestigate our mundane actions, and the truths that they reveal, as we heed the calls for a more just and equitable community of practice.

In 2005, Victor Villanueva challenged writing center practitioners to confront, among other things, the submerged linguicism and racism of our practices, and to move towards liberatory goals (Villaneuva, 2005). In 2017, Neisha-Anne Green issued an urgent call for writing center practitioners to show up as accomplices in the work of antiracism. Over the last decades, North American writing centers have answered calls to liberatory action by making commitments to social justice. We have attempted, albeit inadequately, to respond to Black Lives Matter, disability justice and LGBTQ2IA activism, and other grassroots movements, and to user demographics that reflect ever greater diversity[1] , by publishing antiracism statements, overhauling tutor education, and redefining the central concerns of research and scholarship in our field. An aspect of our response has been periodic reexamination and rethinking of our commonplaces. Commonplaces such as using indirect tutoring strategies and asking students to read their papers out loud are being replaced with more flexible, inclusive strategies. Writing center tutors are taught to apply universal design principles to tutorials, to use a range of modalities and dialects to explain concepts, and to write their own diversity, equity, and inclusion statements to guide their approaches to tutoring.

Thus, a good deal of current discourse—the “talk”—in and about writing centers reflects a focus on emancipatory pedagogies and a concern for equity. For example, The Peer Review featured issue on “Researching and Restoring Justice” proposed best practices for diversifying staff (Del Russo, Krishnamurthy, & Mehalchick-Opal, 2020), building asynchronous tutoring to support students with disabilities (Fleming, 2020), and using mindfulness techniques to shift to antiracist practices (Girdharry, 2021). This scholarship represents a concerted effort on behalf of writing centers to enact social justice in their spaces. Even so, a tension persists between the writing center ideal of defiant support for justice and diversity on the one hand, and the demand for straightforward academic value-addition on the other. Far from functioning under conditions of autonomy, writing centers operate under institutional, cultural, and political constraints. However vigorously they reject the deficit model of the multilingual, racialized, disabled, or class-disadvantaged writer, and however much they seek to embody translingual and multimodal practices that honor each writer’s full expressive repertoire, they are embedded in institutions that often subscribe uncritically to racist, sexist, colonial, or ableist ideologies, such as standard language ideology. The writing center grand narrative tells us that writing centers are “iconoclastic,” even anti-institutional (Grutsch McKinney, 2013), but consultants continue to grapple with dominant, institutionalized pedagogies, including standardization and homogenization under the signs of academic literacy and “standard academic English.” Greenfield (2019) calls this the “privileging of writers over righteousness” (p. 11). Though Greenfield (2019) called upon writing center practitioners to radicalize writing centers, we still lack “clear vision, strategies, and, most importantly, people in charge” (Moroz, 2020, p. 84). As Brock (2020) wrote in a collaborative book review of Greenfield’s work, along with other members of a subgroup of RMWCA Summer Book Club, “now the question, of course, becomes How?” (p. 321).

The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Call for Proposals noted that “commonplaces become so deeply routinized as to be impervious to (or at least, unlikely subjects of) reflection” (Lindquist, 2020). Writing centers have been building new commonplaces that align with the emancipatory projects we have embraced. However, being vigilant about routinization means that we must continue to push against traditional frameworks, test the viability of our politics, and ask how transgressive pedagogies might be continuously redesigned and reimagined in the face of limits on our freedom. We must make sure that the utopianism of our intentions does not mask our inability to fully realize our ideals when we open for business every morning. It is always a good time, then, to not only re-investigate our cultural, procedural, and philosophical commonplaces, but also to ask how we are communicating these changes to stakeholders—bearing in mind that “change” can be anything from a tweak to a paradigm shift—to match our commitment to critical and liberatory pedagogy.

The Peer Review Special Issue invites proposals of 300- 500 words for a special issue on (Re)Investigating Writing Center Commonplaces. We ask prospective contributors to submit proposals for papers based on empirical research, conceptual inquiry, theory-to-practice approaches, narrative research, or any other methodology. Contributors could consider, but not feel limited by, the following questions about how, and to what extent, our commonplaces are changing–and how we are communicating those changes to stakeholders. As writing centers embrace liberatory political stances, and as their users become more diverse and more aware of identity,

    • How have commonplaces—everyday assumptions and regular, often embodied, practices—changed, and how does critical analysis of these commonplaces reveal the contradictions writing center practitioners navigate?
    • From the point of view of racialized, disabled, or LGBTQ2IA practitioners, what does the well-documented tension between standardizing, regulatory practices, and radical practices that value writers’ diverse identities look like? Do consultants, writers, and administrators with minoritized identities have opportunities to talk candidly back to the center?
    • How can we build further on commonplace practices that mirror the emancipatory thrust of writing center politics, in the way that Suhr-Sytsma and Brown (2011) did against what they called “the everyday language of oppression”?
    • How do writing centers affect change in academic units beyond their boundaries? What models do we have for communicating our emancipatory commonplaces to the outside?
    • How have practices related to tutoring (greetings, session schedules and time-blocks, use of space, caveats about text ownership, directive/non-directive dilemmas, editing or the fear of it, session logs, writer feedback to tutors, and so on) responded to liberatory goals?
    • How have practices related to hiring of staff, tutor education, professionalization, research, conferences, citation, and publication responded to calls for justice and diversity?[2]

We strongly encourage graduate students and emerging scholars (and women, people of color, translingual speakers, and those identifying with other groups underrepresented within the discipline),  to submit their proposals and manuscripts to our special issue. 

2022 Special Issue Timeline

April 18: Article proposals due (300-500 words)
April 30: Invitations to submit full articles
June 30: Full draft of manuscripts due (4000-6000 words including references)
August 31: Feedback to authors
October 31: Final drafts due
December: Publication of special issue  

Proposals should be sent to commonplacestpr@gmail.com with the subject line including the phrase “special issue.” If you have questions or would like to share ideas, please contact the editors at the above email address.

Guest Editors

Vidya Natarajan
Assistant Professor, and Assistant Coordinator, Writing
Department of English, French, and Writing
King’s University College
London ON  

Krista Speicher Sarraf
Teaching Assistant Professor of English
Interim Eberly Writing Studio Coordinator & SpeakWrite Specialist
West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia  

Wenqi Cui
Ph.D. Candidate, Composition and Applied Linguistics Program
English Department
Indiana University of Pennsylvania 

Notes

  1. For example, nearly half of the writing centers surveyed in the Writing Center Research Project in 2018-2019 reported that over 30% of their clients were multilingual/ESL.
  2. For instance: Kleinfeld, Lee, and Prebel (2021), surveying those who published in WLN from 2005 to 2017, found that 90% of the respondents were white. Valles, Babcock and Jackson (2017) found that 96% of the writing center administrators they surveyed were native English speakers, and 91% of them were white.

 

References

Bell, L., Brock, L., Gardner, C., Herzl-Betz, R., Mabilog, E., Ritcher, J. & Vertein, V. (2020). Review: “Radical Writing Center Praxis: A Paradigm for Ethical Political Engagement” by Laura Greenfield. Writing Center Journal, 38(1). 

Carter, S. (2009). The Writing Center Paradox: Talk about Legitimacy and the Problem of Institutional Change. College Composition and Communication, 61(1), W133-W152. http://search.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/writing-center-paradox-talk-about-legitimacy/docview/220694703/se-2?accountid=15115 

Del Russo, C., Krishnamurthy, S., & Mehalchick-Opal, D. (2020). Shifting the Center: Towards an Ethos and Practice of Social Justice. The Peer Review, 4(2).

Fleming, A.M. (2020). Where Disability Justice Resides: Building Ethical Asynchronous Tutor Feedback Practices within the Center. The Peer Review, 4(2).

Green, N-A.. (2018). Moving beyond Alright: And the Emotional Toll of This, My Life Matters Too, in the Writing Center Work. The Writing Center Journal, 37(1), 15–34.

Greenfield, L. (2019) Radical Writing Center Praxis: A Paradigm for Ethical Political Engagement. University Press of Colorado.

Grutsch McKinney, J. (2013). Peripheral visions for writing centers. Utah State University Press.

Kleinfeld, E., Lee, S., & Prebel, J. (2021). Whose Voices Are Heard? A Demographic Comparison of Authors Published in WLN 2005-2017 and Writers Interested in Publishing. Writing Lab Newsletter. 45 (7-8), 11-17. https://www.wlnjournal.org/archives/v45/45.7-8.pdf 

Lindquist, J. (2020). Considering Our Commonplaces. Conference on College Composition and Communication. Call for Proposals. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Moroz, O. (2020). Review of “Radical Writing Center Praxis: A Paradigm for Ethical Political Engagement” by Laura Greenfield. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 17(2). 

Suhr-Sytsma, M., & Brown, S.-E. (2011). Theory In/To Practice: Addressing the Everyday Language of Oppression in the Writing Center. The Writing Center Journal, 31(2), 13–49.

Valles, S.B., Babcock, R.D., & Jackson, K.K. (2017). Writing Center Administrators and diversity: A survey. The Peer Review, 1 (1).

Villanueva, V. (2006). “The Rhetorics of the New Racism or The Master’s Four Tropes.” FYHC: First-Year Honors Composition 1, 1-21.

Writing Center Research Project Survey (2018-2019). https://owl.purdue.edu/research/writing_centers_research_project_survey.html