The Danger of “Peerness”

By February 1, 2013Writing about Writing

It is no secret that here at the UCWbL, we pride ourselves on practicing the concept of “peerness”. From peer tutors to peer writing fellows, we always try to level the playing field, ensuring that the writers we help do not feel inferior in any way, but rather, equal. Here, we are all writers, which means we are all learning from one another. Those employed by the writing center just happen to have a passion to help others, and perhaps a tiny bit more confidence in their writing and proofreading skills.

For the most part, this is great. It makes the process of coming in for help less intimidating. Because we do not position ourselves as authority figures, writers do not feel as though they are being judged (or graded), and know nothing they say is “wrong”, but rather a starting point for brainstorming. From what I have heard, people feel much more at liberty to speak their minds here, than they do in a classroom.

However, after a recent series of events, I have realized that as with anything else, there is also a downside to it. Earlier this week, while helping a writer during a face-to-face appointment, my shoulder was grabbed. It was neither threatening nor creepy, as the writer simply did it as they were leaving, a “thank you for your help” type of gesture. But even so, I was immediately uncomfortable, and it became clear to me that someone would have never done that to a professor, teaching assistant, or any other “classic” authority figure. Another writer I encountered, this time during a conversation partner session, asked if I was on Facebook, phone-in-hand, ready to add me. I smiled and replied that I was but “barely ever use it”, and awkwardly ended the appointment, as we were out of time. I will admit that is not unheard of to befriend a professor on social media, but at least in my experience, this generally happens by suggestion on their part, or at the very least after the term has ended.

Do not get me wrong, I am all for “peerness”, and the many benefits that it brings. I doubt I would even be comfortable in a formal teaching role at this point in my life. But from time to time, I have certainly felt the desire to remind certain UCWbL patrons that this is still a job, so our interactions go just a stretch beyond two classmates chatting in their free time.