Notwo writing centers create the same learning environment. The writing centerfunctions dually as a space for all students and as a facilitator of theacademic discourse set by the university.
Authors Bawarshi and Pelkowski define”academic discourse” as the “acceptable standard of the university” (Bawarshiand Pelkowski 80). A university’s academic discourse is the standard and styleof language expected for all university students. Having a one-size fits allexpectation of students ignores the fact that a university is a cultural meccawith an incredibly diverse student body. Using writing pedagogy and theory,tutors at the writing center can best be equipped with the tools necessary tohelp all student writers. This paper seeks to answer the overarching question-what is the role of the writing center and how should writing center tutors actas members of an institution that subscribes to an academic discourse? Thisresearch question will be answered in three more in-depth areas of inquiry.First, what, if any, are the major issues with the current state of academicdiscourses? One analysis, offered by Bawarshi and Pelkowski, is a critique ofacademic discourses and the structural flaws of the writing center insupplementing the academic standard or values of the university. Barron andGrimm qualify this separation between the dominant social group and themarginalized students as structural oppression.
Students are not a monolith,and the wealth and diversity of the student body is met with the sameexpectation- write a paper that meets the classroom’s academic discourse. Barronand Grimm argue that academic discourses need to discuss race as one examplewhere student experiences are not all the same. The creation and placement ofan academic discourse has the effect of disassociating personal identities andexperiences from language. Specifically, marginalized students face an erasureof their identities as a result of having to assimilate into the dominantgroup. When writing centers do not address race and identity they enable “colorblindness”(Barron and Grimm 302). Adhering to colorblindness assumes that racialdiversity does not play a significant role in the experiences of student writers.
Therefore, writing centers should address racial diversity because avoiding thesedifferences in identity and experiences is akin to erasure of a culturalhistory. Afterexamining current state of the relationship between writing centers andacademic discourses, the second area of inquiry is the theoretical framework ofnavigating through this academic discourse successfully. The notion of successtruly depends on the perspective of the student, the writing center, and theuniversity. Often being successful means that the student must acculturate tothe current academic discourse. North presents this idea of an ideal writing centeras a place to “examine a student’s text as an indicator of the process thatproduced it” (North 31).
The notion that a student’s text can change on thedirection of a writing center tutor implies that the writing center itself hasthe power to alter a student’s thought. Furthermore, this creates theimplication that there is one standard of English writing set by the academicdiscourse. The larger issue here is the pressure to acculturate that student’s race.Acculturation leads to the development of power structures within aninstitution, suggesting the subordination of some writers over others. Bawarshiand Pelkowski say that acculturation is “administrating one’s own power withinone’s own place” (Bawarshi and Pelkowski 82). Bawarshi and Pelkowski presentthis idea of colonization of student’s ideas and writing in the writing center.Thisconcept leads to the third area of inquiry which aims to identify the methodswriting centers can evolve to aid students in navigating a university’sacademic discourse. Cooper suggests developing a critical consciousness is thebest way for students navigate within the dominant culture.
Bawarshi andPelkowski define critical consciousness as being “critical and self-reflectiveform of acculturation” (Bawarshi and Pelkowski 81). Cooper presents a theorywhere writing centers need to evolve to become organic intellectuals, insteadof remaining stagnant as traditional intellectuals. North argues that the focusof the writing center sessions should be on the writing process, not the paper.His ideas about writing center pedagogy are reminiscent of colonialism. Bawarshiand Pelkowski argue students should not subvert academic discourse, insteadstudents should use critical consciousness to “use and be used by it academicdiscourse” (Bawarshi and Pelkowski 83). In contrast, Denny suggests thatsubversion is absolutely needed to change the traditional classroom. Thesecontrasting viewpoints lead to a nuanced notion of a writing center as acontact zone.
When met with the pressure to be successful, students arepresented with the option to assimilate, do poorly in school, or a thirdoption, presented by Bawarshi and Pelkowski, the idea of mestiza consciousness.Onlyonce a critical consciousness is created, and we have evolved from thetraditional intellectuals to organic intellectuals can writing centers trulyempower their students. Consistent across each of these authors is the notionthat writing centers do need to change in some way in order to best facilitatestudent agency. The goal of the writing center is to provide undergraduatewriters with agency. In his landmark essay, Brooks says that students should be”the primary agent of the writing center session” (Brooks 170). Cooper agreesthat agency is important, but Brooks’ methodology is impractical. Cooperbelieves that student agency stems from learning how to create an argument intexts.
Denny applies a queer theory of passing to subvert the academicdiscourse present in the writing center and enable marginalized students gainagency of their own papers. Agency is the one truly freeing form of studentexpression for students to be successful within an academic discourse that is riddledwith issues. Writing centers can and should evolve to become a learningenvironment run by organic intellectuals that foster student agency.
UnderstandingIssues for Undergraduate Students within Academic DiscoursesInthe writing center, one of the current structural flaws within the academicdiscourse is that race is not addressed properly. Not every student experienceand identity is the same, so to ask students to conform to an academicdiscourse that expects all students to write in the same language and style isa reductive understanding of the diversity and wealth of the student body. Toillustrate that the student body is not a monolith, authors Grimm and Barronwrite, “literacy educators allow us to sometimes use we to signify our unity in purpose, we also employ our individual’sI’s to mark our different racial,generational, and cultural perspectives” (Grimm and Barron 303).
There is astark difference in between the use of “we” and “I” in this case. “We”indicates a discourse made on behalf larger social group, while “I” is utilizedin academic discourses to mark individual differences. Additionally, use of theverbal phrase “allow us” indicates a lack of power and subordination of theirpersonal experiences, when deciding the language to write with.
Atuniversities, academic discourse sets a convention not easily available toevery student. Grimm and Barron illustrate this issue with an example ofstudent feedback, “The rest of her thinking became the invisible foundationburied under her ‘white prose,’ as we later called her writing.” (Grimm andBarron 305). This “invisible foundation” is a culmination of a student tryingto figure out how to write prose that her classroom expects.
That might beespecially difficult to facilitate if this student does not come from a whitebackground, yet the mainstream academic discourse expects this student to writein “white prose.” The implications of writing specifically in a “white prose”suggests a subordination of other diverse cultural identities. The fact thatthis is registered as writing “later” suggests that this is not the mostnatural form of writing for this particular student. Furthermore, this”invisible foundation” may be attributed to the structural oppressionexperienced by diverse identities at universities. Grimm and Barron explain thisstructural oppression as a result of the dominant social group projecting theirown experiences on the structurally oppressed. Dominant social groupsexperience an inherent privilege in having the academic discourses shifted tofavor their style of writing.
Disregarding race and identity in the writingcenter is “colorblindness” (Barron and Grimm 302). Adhering to colorblindnessassumes that racial diversity does not play a significant role in theexperiences of student writers, when in reality this is simply not true.Therefore, writing centers should address racial diversity because this willhelp students navigate academic discourses successfully. Understandingthe metric of success at a university depends on the perspective you examine.
From a university’s perspective success means students are meeting and excellingin classrooms that expect the university’s academic discourse in papers. From awriting center’s perspective, success means the writing center successfullyfacilitates student learning without being colorblind. From a student’sperspective, success means sacrificing personal experiences in order to bequalified as a better writer. One example of a student’s perspective comes fromBawarshi and Pelkowski. They cite an example of a student Derek who had tosacrifice aspects of his identity and culture to be considered “successful.”The article explains, “Derek becomes a ‘better’ writer when he learns toexplore his experiences ‘using conventional academic ways of thinking’ such assubordination'” (Bawarshi and Pelkowski 82). We have to consider the cost ofDerek subordinating his own culture to match the expectations of hisuniversity’s academic discourse. Due to the nature of the “conventional”academic discourses Bawarshi and Pelkowski discuss, a standard agenda iscreated and by having students emulate this standard, the originality, personalexperiences, the identities of student are lost.
Derek’s “subordination” of hisown ideas ranks him powerless in an institutional hierarchy. Barron and Grimmwould consider this subordination of Derek’s identity to be an erasure of hiscultural identity. For example, Barron and Grimm write, “Bilingual students aresupposed to write as though English were their only language” (Barron and Grimm306). Creating a discourse in only the English language emphasizes the falsehierarchy that English is valued more than other languages at a university. Theissue denying diversity in order for students to be considered successful putspressure on writing centers to play a more optimistic role in creating change. Writingcenter pedagogy has historically evolved through the process of authorsremaining in conversation with one another and agreeing with or critiquing eachother’s theoretical framework about the role of a writing center.
One sucharticle was North’s The Idea of a WritingCenter in which North states a writing center is a place where “tutorsshould be ‘student-centered rather than text oriented” (North 31). North’sinsinuations that a writing center should aim to focus on the student’s bodyrather than the student’s text at first glance seems innocent. However, furtheranalysis of this concept draws a strong comparison between North’s idea to usewriting centers to alter student thoughts and Bawarshi and Pelkowski’s idea ofa writing center as a post-colonialism product. Specifically, act of auniversity outlining principles and expectations in its academic discoursebecause it considers them superior and then imposing this standard on students,even if this involves subordinating their own identities is an extreme yet apt comparisonto the process of colonialization.
Both authors highlight the notion that thegoal of a writing center should not be to alter thought. The larger issue atstake is that together the writing center and pressure to succeed at auniversity may force students to acculturate. This leaves students with threeoptions when faced with the desire to succeed. First, they can acculturate andgive up aspects of their identity.
Second, they could defy their universitystandard and fail in their classroom setting. Third, writing centers couldevolve to help students navigate within an academic discourse. Howdo Writing Centers Navigate within an Academic Discourse If academic discourses favor thedominant social group how should writing centers operate to best help allstudents? North observes that writing centers need to transition from a”fix-it-shop” (North 31) into something new.
The transition North wants to seeinvolves the role of tutors themselves changing in order to better facilitatestudent learning. In fact, Cooper agrees and considers this necessarytransition as the difference between organic intellectuals and traditional tutors.Cooper describes “organic intellectuals” as “those intellectualswho understand that their function as intellectuals derives from theirinvolvement in the work and purposes of their social group” (Cooper 61).In this context, the “social group” of our concern is the relationship betweentutors and tutees at the writing center. Organic intellectuals differ from otherkinds of tutors and even Brooks’ trap of an “editor” (Brooks 170) because theirrole is not centered on fixing the writer or the writer’s paper. Cooper’sfixation on organic intellectuals marks a decided difference between the themeof old and new teaching pedagogy.
Cooper introduces the idea of organic intellectualswho are “emergent” (Cooper 61), but not completely part of the dominantacademic discourse. This subtle rise of power illustrates that with organicintellectuals in the writing center, tutors have some increased power as aliaison between academic institutions and students. Cooper’s organicintellectuals theory looks to radically change writing centers.
Meanwhile, North’sobservation also provides the framework for Bawarshi and Pelkowski’s argumentof creating a critical consciousness in order to better operate from within anacademic discourse. A critical consciousness provides a way for students toredefine themselves and to operate within a universities academic discoursewithout losing aspects of their identity. Bawarshi and Pelkowski write, that acritical consciousness “uses colonizer’s discourse- a discourse used to imposeon him a subject position- in order to redefine himself” (Bawarshi andPelkowski 90).
The perspective of using the colonizers language to redefineyourself would enable students to succeed. But even if students redefinethemselves they still do not possess the power to choose a discourse thatreflects their personal identities. Using the “colonizer’s discourse” stillplaces the colonizer’s English at the top of a university’s power structure. Bawarshiand Pelkowski are careful not to subvert academic discourse in a university,but Denny believes that the subversion of academic discourse is the only way togive student’s agency. Using the queer theory of passing inthe writing center, Denny seeks to subvert a university’s academic discourse,thus giving students agency in their own writing. The theory of passing is “toinvoke the literacy codes and identify practices of the dominant, presupposesthat doing so is desirable” (Denny 2750).
These “literacy codes” defined by thedominant social group which in this case is the university’s academicdiscourse. The driving force behind why people alter or hide aspects of theiridentity in order to pass is that conforming to these standardized codes isseen as desirable. This sense of belonging and being successful within a socialgroup drives individuals to pass.
Passing in the writing center occurs whenstudents are encouraged to acculturate and cover parts of their identity. Usingthe knowledge that writers are trying to pass, writing center tutors shouldencourage individual differences. Subverting the academic discourse restoresidentity to writers in a way that academic discourses destroys it. Dennydescribes writing centers “liminal zones” which are “transitory arenas alwaysboth privileged and illegitimate. Writing centers are known as cutting-edge andinstitutional backwaters” (Denny 265). Denny’s understanding of a writingcenter is contradictory. This notion of a liminal zone harkens back to Bawarshiand Pelkowski’s idea of writing centers as a borderlands. Bawarshi andPelkowski describe the mestiza consciousness as a result of “occupyingcontradictory and ambivalent subject positions simultaneously, a ‘third elementwhich is greater than the sum of its severed parts'” (Bawarshi and Pelkowski88).
Bawarshi’sword choice to describe this level of consciousness is certainly unique becausea “mestiza” refers specifically refers to a woman of Latin American descentwho’s racial ancestry is mixed between Native American, Latin American, andEuropean descent. This racial ancestry ties into Bawarshi and Pelkowski’sexample of redefining yourself by using the language of the discourse. In thiscase, mestiza consciousness has elements of cultural identity andself-expression all while in the language of a set discourse. “Mestiza” has thehistorical connotations and themes of colonization that Bawarshi highlights inher writing. This word is indicative of Bawarshi’s colonist theory, where thewriting center essential colonizes marginal student’s and systematically forcesthem to reevaluate their writing style, and personal identities until they arein accord with the academic discourse. The idea of a “mestiza consciousness”certainly holds power to navigate within and challenge using the language ofthe discourses against itself. Utilizing a gained mestiza consciousness,according to Bawarshi and Pelkowski, will enable student agency in theirpapers.
Based on evidence from writingcenter pedagogy and theory essay, the ultimate goal of the writing center ishelping students gain agency in their writing. Even though Brooks, Cooper,Denny, and Bawarshi and Pelkowski have slightly different paths of achievingthis, they are united in this purpose. The concept of minimalist tutoring isone where the students are “the primary agent of the writing center session”(Brooks 170). Even though Cooper critiques Brooks’ methodology, both authorsagree that agency is essential in the writing center.
Brooks argues that tutorsat the writing center should not spend the session revising and editing studentpapers, but focus on the student instead. However since students came to thewriting center because they have questions about their papers, the focus of awriting center session still remains centered around the papers. Brooks’ sentimentis a nice one, indeed students should be agents of their own writing. However,Brooks’ sentiment seems almost idealistic. This is why Cooper agrees with thesentiment but argues that just promoting agency is not enough. How do youactually achieve this in a writing center? Cooper would say that agency is notjust dependent “on owning or taking responsibility for a text but onunderstanding how to construct subject positions in texts” (Cooper 58). Thecrucial aspect here is that student’s come to the writing center and understandthe positions of the texts discussed in the paper.
In terms of “owning” and”taking responsibility” for their papers, the initial step is walking into thewriting center and asking for advice is taking ownership of their work. As asolution to the problems in Brooks’ methodology, Cooper puts forth the idea oforganic intellectuals as being “agents of change” (Cooper 61). This notion ofan “agent” entertains the idea of this job being a very active role. Thisactive role contrasts heavily with the traditional teaching style, and how weteach at the writing centers.
Utilizing these principles of agency from variousauthors, we can empower students to become better writers, which is theultimate goal of the writing center.