Last weekend, people of the mythical yet real writing center spent Halloween at the Coronado Springs hotel in Orlando, Florida. Costumes? Everyone dressed up as writing center supporters, or, themselves, (a few Mickey Mouse ears here and there) and gathered for the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing with the International Writing Center Association. This year’s theme was “The Wonderful World of Writing Centers” and participants gave talks on various themes of writing center work.
Discussion topics at the conference included multilingualism, safe spaces, gender roles, feminism, and the writing center’s online presence among many, many others. One panel, “Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Writing Centers Seen through the Eyes of the Institution” including Harry Denny from St. John’s University, talked about institutional and faculty perceptions and misconceptions of the writing center. Another panel aware of what the kids are looking at these days brought Buzzfeed into the mix and talked about “Cultivating Your Writing Center Morale Through Multimedia Promotional Projects.” Jackie Grutsch McKinney won the IWCA’s Outstanding Book Award for Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers. Elizabeth Bouquet, the conference’s keynote speaker, spoke about how we can perhaps teach and encourage the skill of human kindness through collaborative projects. The hotel for all three days was filled with people looking to improve the current conditions of their writing centers and, really, the world itself.
Sweetland was well represented and part of this flow of ideas. Christine Modey accompanied eight students from Sweetland who gave a total of three presentations. Andy Peters, Jamie Monville, and Yona Isaacs created a panel that discussed style-shifting: how writing center consultants navigate various tutoring styles depending on the context. Ana Guay, Stacy Lecznar, Penny Savryn, and Dr. Lila Naydan, who presented on Skype, created another panel on how we perform our selves in the writing center and looked at mirroring during sessions, the writing center as a gendered space, and generation 1.5 speakers. Penny Savryn, Jamie Nadel, and Drake Misek constructed a roundtable that looked at the writing center as a subculture, similar to that of the Beats, Hippies, and Punks, and asked attendees to consider how the writing centers they inhabit may or may not fit that framework. All presentations sparked discussion and were well received. Ben Rafoth of Indiana University of Pennsylvania attended the roundtable and notably referred to Sweetland as a “world-class writing center.”
In the van ride home, our UM cohort was a bit sad to leave the wonderful world of Disney and writing centers behind, and not just because we returned to the bitter cold of Ann Arbor. It’s hard to leave the place where everyone loves the same things you do, like a Comic-Con or a music festival. But we returned empowered, recognizing how privileged Sweetland is to have the resources, opportunities, and people that it does. We can use all of that to improve upon our work everyday, not just to make better writers, but to make better people.