The undergraduate Writing Fellows and the staff of the Writing Center came together last Friday to build community and share scholarship at our annual Joint Staff Meeting. The meeting was conference-style, featuring panels of Writing Fellows’ original research on various topics related to tutoring and teaching writing. It was an inspiring experience, and renewed our (already strong) love for our writing community that has been cultivated around these programs and sustained by our shared passion for writing and tutoring.
The particular dynamic of this meeting reminded us, yet again, how unique and – okay, we’ll say it – awesome the Writing Fellows program is. Here were undergraduate students, usually considered the lowest rung on the academic ladder, presenting advanced and relevant research to graduate students, academic faculty, the works! The Fellows program offers a challenge to the normative academic hierarchy, and it’s refreshing to find those spaces on campus that are open to engaging with undergraduates on an intellectual level. We felt that the Fellows presenting rose admirably to that opportunity; we were so impressed with their poise and professionalism!
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.
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.
Artists Molly Rentscher (left) and Meghan Johnson (right).
Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I l – o – v – e coffee shops! The misty aroma of coffee hanging in the air (so much better than the actual taste), newspapers flung about, a chance to eavesdrop on some really fascinating conversations (oh come on, you do it too). Ah, but what I love most about coffee shops is the art. Stroll into any coffee shop worth its artificial sweetener and you’ll find an eclectic, continually rotating collection of locally-produced pieces — pieces that, to my untrained but appreciative eye, are every bit as good as the stuff hanging in fancy museums. More affordable too, if they happen to be for sale.
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.
By Debjit Roy. What does the UW-Madison Writing Center have to offer a doctoral student in engineering? Actually, quite a bit!