Kalamazoo (Does Not Equal Kazoo)

The research team is back in Chicago after an exciting weekend in Kalamazoo, Michigan for the East Central Writing Center Association’s (ECWCA) annual conference!  This was my first writing center conference, and I have to say, I was a bit stunned by the subculture I encountered in Michigan.  To hear people discussing Stephen North and his salad in the lunch buffet was jolting to say the least.  Comfortable in our own fishbowl at DePaul, it’s easy to forget that there are thousands of peer writing tutors across the United States who encounter the same challenges and triumphs as we do.  Whether or not we see it on a regular basis, there is an entire community of writing center staff who can add so much to our understanding of writing center theory and practice!

Although I heard many familiar conversation topics and theoretical viewpoints, I was challenged by other topics and viewpoints as well.  The first presentation I attended discussed the concept of outing oneself during a tutorial.  Many of the writers we work with present us with papers that assert viewpoints that may either confirm or directly contradict our own.  How do we handle situations in which we strongly disagree with a writer’s argument?  What do we do when presented with a paper that attacks our own identities or viewpoints?  The presenters, and many of the audience members as well, argued that we should out ourselves to the writer, telling the writer why we disagree with their argument.  While I’m not convinced that my identity should play such a big role in my tutorials, the diverse arguments voiced during this presentation have made me think about my tutoring philosophy in general.  What role do I play, and what role should I play in a tutorial?  How does my identity affect the way I interact with writers and the feedback I give them?  Should my identity influence the feedback I give writers?

With countless questions and thoughts bouncing around in my head, I moved on to the next presentation about tutoring creative writing in the writing center.  This presentation focused specifically on poetry.  The presenters, peer writing tutors and first year writing instructors from Western Michigan University, encouraged us to approach poetry not with the standard workshop model used in creative writing classes, but with the Northian model that lies at the core of writing center theory.  They first discussed the challenges of tutoring poetry, and then divided the audience into small groups so that we could practice applying this model with the presenters.  This session helped me to reflect on my practices as a writing center tutor and gave me some new tools to use in my creative writing sessions.  It also made me want to go home and start writing poetry again, but that’s a different blog post.

In addition to challenging my understanding of my role in the writing center, the conference was a great opportunity for me and the other members of the research team to share our work with the writing center community and, in doing so, to form connections with other peer writing tutors.  On Friday afternoon, we led a round table discussion about the role of a research team in the writing center, the utility and challenges of writing center self-assessment, and the personal investment that such an assessment endeavor fosters.  We’ve been working hard over the past few weeks to prepare for this conference, testing the waters first at a local Chicago conference and then refining our presentation for a larger audience at Kalamazoo.  This presentation was, in a sense, our big hurrah.  We have been working diligently throughout the school year to create and implement new research ideas, and in many ways this conference validated our hard work, contextualizing it within a larger community of scholars and tutors.  With some great feedback from peer writing tutors and directors from other universities, we left the conference invigorated and full of new research ideas and questions.  Not even Stephen North could guess where our research will take us next!