By Ryan Holley
Ryan Holley is a graduate student in the Department of English at UW-Madison, and has taught in the Writing Center since 2016. His research focuses on the confluence of heroic frontier imaginaries and modernity, although he has outside interests in philosophy and classical literature.
“How pleasant it is to know these clever new inventions and to be able to defy the established laws! When I thought only about horses, I was not able to string three words together without a mistake, but now that the master has altered and improved me and I live in this world of subtle thought, of reasoning and of meditation, I count on being able to prove satisfactorily that I have done well to thrash my father.” —Phidippides 
Any tutor who works in a writing center long enough will eventually encounter papers that he or she finds morally disagreeable. The term “disagreeable” here stands for a range of rational and affective responses on the part of the tutor: on one end of the spectrum we might experience a mild dissatisfaction with the conclusions that a writer expresses on a subject, while on the other we might harbor the kind of ethical reservations about an essay that result in a churning stomach and gnashing teeth. While the former kind of response is more typical (at least in my own experience) and can often be put to rest with a deep breath and a thoughtful comment or two, the second can be one of the most challenging positions in which a tutor might be caught. Often it seems that there are no good responses, as we are caught between the Scylla of our obligations to work with the student’s writing and the Charybdis of helping to strengthen an argument that we find repugnant. So what are we to do when faced with writing that we find opprobrious or potentially harmful to the ethical principles we support?