It’s been loud in Madison these past two weeks. Tens of thousands of people have gathered each day in our city, collectively and individually giving voice to their concerns about a piece of legislation which impacts every member of our state and beyond. Demonstrators on both sides of the debate have shouted, sung and discussed themselves hoarse. The Capitol building, day and night, has been filled with bodies, but also writing—signs, notes, posters, fliers. Whatever positions the throngs of visitors to our Capitol hold, they’ve come to exercise their voices, and the impact of these weeks has been to demonstrate that a voice of the people exists.
“Voice” is one of those concepts in writing that can mean any number of things, so many that it often dissolves into something so vague it may cease to seem useful. But like the concept of “rights” which has been occupying Madison in particular these past two weeks, the weakness of the concept—and by “weakness” I mean the difficulty in fixing its definition—is one of its strengths. It can be variably invested with meaning, mapped onto or found to underlie so many other aspects of writing: it plays a part in every point of the rhetorical triangle and acts as a sort of cognate for tone, style, point of view, personality, purpose. In creative and critical writing a long-term goal is to “find your voice.” In red-pen in the margins of one of your essays you may see its various incarnations—at one moment in that more figurative sense, “you have developed a compelling voice here,” and at another its more practical, grammatical cousin, “avoid the passive voice!”
I have absolutely no idea how satellites work. The most technical guess I can give is that they are some kind of spacebird that knows how to speak fluent Google. But that doesn’t seem right. “Scientists” allege that they are a complex network of machines that beam invisible information around the world all while balancing between the force of their own implicit energy and the gravity of a planet. Frankly, that also seems improbable because, well, I can’t stand on one foot and tie my shoe. However, satellites do work, and every day they maintain their improbable balance to make my life easier. Some put the world in bigger contexts (The Hubble Telescope). Others give a new perspective on how the world around me is arranged (GoogleMaps). Some help me to get where I need to go (GPS). And one satellite does all of these things…the Writing Center Satellite Location (insert sighs).
As I head into my second semester tutoring at Memorial Library here at the University of Wisconsin, I am no less dumbfounded by what a miraculous concept the satellite location is. To give a little background, in addition to our main location, the UW-Madison writing center has seven other satellite locations around campus (in libraries, multicultural student centers, and in residence halls), as well as one in a branch of the Madison public library. My typical shift begins at 7:00 PM in one of the main corridors of UW-Madison’s largest library. I am greeted there by anywhere from a handful to a small army of well—caffeinated students waiting to sign up for one of the six 30 minute slots. Availability is on a first come first served basis, though the excess students often manage to find a place to get help at one of the other 7 satellite locations on campus. Sessions vary greatly. In a night I might have a sophomore looking for help on a business school application essay due in several hours followed by a doctoral candidate in paleo-entomology wanting to outline the earliest stages of a research proposal.
Professor Alberta Gloria, flanked by the Writing Center's John Anderson and Rachel Carrales
On Friday, February 11 we had our monthly staff meeting, which, as we usually do in the spring semester, addressed social justice in Writing Center work. UW-Madison Professor Alberta Gloria, an award-winning researcher, teacher and mentor from the department of Counseling Psychology, spoke with us at length. Her presentation was entitled “Research and Practice Implications of a Psychosociocultural Perspective: Latin@s in Higher Education.” The title may seem somewhat daunting; Prof. Gloria’s impassioned lecture was anything but. She spoke eloquently about a holistic process of mentoring, and while her talk was directly about our goals as teachers, her ideas resonate strongly with larger questions of writing and writing center practice.
By Sarah Iovan
One of the things we at the UW Madison Writing Center constantly strive for is to be welcoming and accessible to everyone. Our primary service is to University of Wisconsin-Madison students, but we also try to reach out beyond the campus through the Community Writing Assistance Program, our Writing Center Colloquia, and our online presence. Our writer’s handbook, which offers advice about academic writing, forms the core of our online offerings, and I am delighted to say that this morning an extensive remodel of our handbook went live.**
We decided to update the handbook for many reasons: to match the updated look of our workshop listings, to make navigation more transparent, and to increase our visibility on search engines such as Google and Bing. While changes to the overall look of the material are dramatic and helping people find more of our content is important, the changes that I personally take the most satisfaction in are the improvements to standards-compliance and accessibility.
As we launched a new semester in our writing center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this past week, I loved listening to the lively buzz in our center emanating from conversations about writing projects. And as I eavesdropped, I was reminded of how much I value slow, detailed, substantial conversations about writing in progress.
Our writing center burst back into conversation last week, despite the arctic conditions of January in Wisconsin—through the first four days of the semester, 170 students already came in for consultations or scheduled ones. These student-writers were, as writing center students always are, wonderfully varied: sophomores writing personal statements to meet a February 1st deadline for applying to our school of nursing, seniors sprinting to finish applications to some graduate schools that have later deadlines, grad students and senior-thesis students resuming regular weekly sessions as they work through long writing projects, students with incompletes from last semester anxiously trying to finish a project they wish they had finished already.
I find my work as the T.A. Assistant Director immensely satisfying in no small part due to how much I love listening to myself talk. With great power comes the need to constantly explain things to other people, to run or participate in meetings, and to offer my wisdom to all those who seek it (and to those who don’t, as well).
Therefore, as someone in love with the sound of his own voice, I am well aware of the irony involved in a training meeting I led last week, entitled “Less of Me, More of You: Productive Silence as Student Development.”
By Rebecca Lorimer. A course coordinator in Biology was explaining to me that her students were having trouble in their discussion sections. I nodded as I mentally sifted through my grab bag of discussion-leading strategies. When she asked, “do you have any ideas for our TAs?” I was ready.
This past Friday, the Writing Fellows program held its first Ongoing Education (OGE) session of the semester, on the topic of “professional writing and writing professions.”
WAC workshop for TAs teaching writing-intensive courses
From all of us in the UW-Madison Writing Center programs, welcome to a new academic year! We’re off and running on an exciting new year.
We’re delighted to share three new podcasts from our research and professional series, featuring Neal Lerner, who is the director of training in communication instruction for the program in writing and humanistic studies at MIT. Neal is a long-time writing center director and tutor, a former co-editor of The Writing Center Journal, an award-winning scholar and researcher, and the author of The Idea of a Writing Laboratory (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009). These interviews were recorded during the March 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Louisville, KY.
If you’re interested in writing center history, in the history of science education, in the history of educational reform, or in archival research, you’ll really enjoy hearing Neal Lerner talk about his research.