A Peek Into Writing Center Culture

What do you think of when you hear the word culture? Most might think of world cultures. Yet, culture can revolve around fandoms, sports, clubs, workplaces, and much more. The culture of Writing Centers, or DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) is something I hold dear.

I could sap up space to explain The UCWbL and its mission, I think you can see their website for yourself. After over two years on the job, I have a strong sense of the culture.  Lauri Dietz, the Director of The UCWbL, believes this to be true from her experience: “The collaborative environment and mentoring culture are a unique quality of Writing Centers. This is what makes them so special,” she said.

As I have come to see it, there are three key characteristics that define the culture of DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning.

  1. The UCWbL has a mentoring culture.

Joining The UCWbL meant taking an orientation class to learn the core beliefs, values, and practices. On our first shifts, we get a tour of the space, interview our mentor, and we’re encouraged to talk with our colleagues. We spend about 3 weeks shadowing tutors, sharing strategies and tips. Then we move on to leading appointments while a mentor oversees us.

Besides initiation, all tutors (new and returning) have to create and maintain an ePortfolio where they journal their goals, professional/personal development, and develop a tutoring philosophy. Each tutor has to set goals for the academic year and document how they achieve these goals. As an example, you can refer to my portfolio.

How does this connect to mentoring? There are periodic check-in meetings with the Directors to track goal progress, answer questions, and try to help us develop as individuals. On top of that, we encourage everyone to ask questions and use colleagues as resources. This builds a strong willingness for people to help and promotes open-mindedness.

  1. Everyone is friendly and enthusiastic.

While this is a standard in most workplace cultures, something that sets The UCWbL apart is everyone’s eagerness to work. They want to be there and help each person who walks through the door. UCWbL tutors are genuine.

I believe the hiring process plays a factor in specifically seeking out nice, passionate writers. Management is definitely in part responsible in shaping the culture, but employees must reciprocate and perpetuate those efforts.

  1. Anyone who writes anything is a writer.

This is the number one core belief of The UCWbL and I think it encompasses the belief system of this culture. It resonates with inclusivism. One of our taglines is “We’re for everyone,” which places everyone on a peer-to-peer level. A professor treats an undergraduate sophomore as their equal. 

We refer to visitors as ‘writers’ because we don’t place any distinction between what a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ writer is. I used to be overly-critical of my writing and judge my work as okay or bad. So, my confidence died off and I struggled to move forward. This sentiment is prominent among so many people. Even the most accomplished writer still needs outside feedback to improve their work. At the UCWbL, we created an encouraging environment to help people (like me) gain confidence in their writing.

The next time you visit the UCWbL or another Writing Center, take a close look at the interactions taking place. You’ll see these key characteristics are always at play. Dietz also adds, “tutors use the services outside of their job too,” showing the value placed on the Writing Center’s services. Confession: I had an appointment to get feedback on this blog post.

This is cross-posted on CultureMad.