The Writing Center as a Place of Accessibility and Inclusion

By February 6, 2018Peer Writing Tutoring

In the city of Chicago, there are many ways students are able to interact with art in public settings. The Art Institute of Chicago is always free for DePaul students, but if they don’t want to make the commute downtown the DePaul Art Museum is only steps away from the Lincoln Park campus.

Non-profit institutions such as the AIC or DPAM offer different public programs that engage with and serve a particular community, whether that be a group of students in an art class here at DePaul or locals simply interested in art.

 

But what exactly does public education entail?

Scholar J. Ulbricht claims in his article, “What is Community Based Art Education,” that in our pluralistic society it is vital to recognize the individual needs of each member of a particular community and to cater public programming to fulfill those needs and maximize learning. Depending on who the target audience is and what level of experience they have in the art field, programs will differ to allow for a more inclusive environment.

Inclusivity and accessibility are key for successful, socially aware public programs.

In the article “New Genre Public Art Education,” Gaye Green discusses the ways in which education in a public sphere allows members of a community to create art that responds to their particular social concerns. He explains how such public programs are “culturally responsive approach[es]” that emphasize “community orientation [and] recognize diversity as a force in the lives of people.” Such an approach to public art education can create safe and accessible environments for anyone to feel comfortable sharing their ideas within the community.

 

What do these programs look like?

An example of a socially responsive program is detailed in “Women Creating Public Art and Community,” where a group of women in Lowell, Massachusetts use art to express their lived experiences as women. Authors Anne Mulvey and Irene M. Egan emphasize the importance of accessibility in the program as it allows women to avoid the common “but I’m not an artist” internalized stricture they might hold against themselves because they may never have received a formal art education.

This is similar to some of the common things we hear from students who come into The Writing Center. I’m sure we have all heard some variation of the phrase, “I’m not a writer.” In order to reassure writers that they are in fact writers (Core Belief #1!) and encourage them to continue writing and sharing their work, we must make them feel comfortable in their appointments.

For those of us who are peer tutors at the UCWbL, it is our job to make sure that every writer feels welcome sharing their writing with us, no matter what their educational background is. By adhering to our core practice of adopting and adapting specific strategies for each particular writer in their particular writing context, we can cater every appointment to each individual writer’s needs. We can create an inclusive space for writers by recognizing cultural differences and allowing for open channels of communication. Students will ideally feel more willing to share their ideas and to relate these ideas to their own embodied experiences. In this sense, the appointments we conduct at The Writing Center are not unlike public art education programs.

 

How can we as peer tutors cultivate accessibility and inclusion at The Writing Center?

I think expressing genuine interest in a writer’s work through active listening and engagement shows them they can in fact write and that their words do matter. This gives writers the encouragement they need to continue writing and building confidence in their work. There is no better feeling than when a writer requests to work with you again after a successful appointment. If they feel safe and welcome at the Writing Center, writers will be more inclined to come back and continue growing as part of our community.

 

Sources:

Green, G. (1999). New Genre Public Art Education. Art Journal,58(1), 80-83. doi:10.2307/777886

Mulvey, A. & Egan, I.M. Am J Community Psychol (2015) 55: 115. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-  014-9689-4

Ulbricht, J. (2005). What Is Community-Based Art Education? Art Education, 58(2), 6-12. Retrieved   from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27696059

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