Writing Centers are places where writers can share their work-in-progress and talk about their writing with careful readers and experienced writers. The University Writing Center operates on the belief that, to be successful, a writer must be able to anticipate the effect of their words on readers. Consultants are committed to helping writers at all stages of the writing process, form generating ideas for a paper to developing and polishing later drafts. We aim to assist writers with specific assignments while also teaching writing strategies that can be applied to future writing projects. Our services are no remedial; rather, they are additional resources for anyone who wishes to become a better writer. We believe that achieving this goal requires a commitment to an inclusive environment and a just orientation to language use.
With university values rooted in leadership, service, and respect, the East Carolina University Writing Center (UWC) will model, discuss, and promote social justice for the benefit of the entire campus community. We believe all writers are capable of the highest level of academic performance. However, our staff and student employees recognize that writing is inherently tied to culture and identity and that it is also a tool that can perpetuate systemic discrimination as swiftly as it can participate in the transformation of our world. The UWC believes it is our responsibility to acknowledge the following:
As an inclusive writing community, you can expect the following promises to be upheld by our student consultants, mentors, and faculty:
To partner with ECU student organizations in our effort educate ourselves and others on social justice issues
To explore the social implications of language
To discuss cultural competence and inclusive practices in writing and beyond
To empower everyone as writers with distinct voices and social identities
To create a space that encourages self-expression and critical thinking
To challenge writers to substantiate their beliefs with evidence
To adapt to the needs of writers during a session
To respect all beliefs and backgrounds
Click on each promise above to see specifically how the UWC is working to build an increasingly inclusive writing community. You can also explore further reading on writing-related social justice issues and contribute to our growing body of literature.
Promise #1: To educate ourselves on social justice issues and partner with student organizations.
The UWC hosts a professional development series for all UWC staff, writing consultants, and mentors during fall and spring semesters. The biweekly meeting format includes time for assigned readings, reflections, brainstorming, and discussion of ways we can improve our practices as a writing center.
We are progressively adding to our list of campus partners in our evolving discussion of social justice issues within the UWC and have invited the following campus partners to our staff meetings.
Learning From Others
The LGBT Resource Office Student Panel is trained to answer questions about the LGBT community. The student panel has been an excellent facilitator of dialogue related to gender and sexuality and how they intersect with other identities. The panel has thus far visited the UWC during the Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, and Fall 2017 semesters. During the panel, UWC consultants ask questions about how consultants can interact with writers in ways that invite them to be themselves and avoid reliance on heteronormative assumptions.
2. Green Zone
Green Zone training at ECUprepares participants to use various techniques for supporting veterans and military service members in the university population. The UWC staff participated in Green Zone training in Fall 2013.
WOM is ECU’s renowned spoken word poetry organization. Many WOM members are avid activists in the social justice movement; the group often performs poetry related to social inequity and intersectionality. In Fall 2017, we partnered with WOM to host a social justice-themed open mic night on campus. We hope that this creative event generated excitement around self-expression and directly addressed issues affecting ECU students and the world in which we live. View the ECU WOMYouTube channel to see the organization’s past performances.
Learning With Others
The UWC is also committed to sharing what we are learning with our broader Writing Center community. In 2014, we hosted the Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference (our regional writing center organization). The conference theme, “Our Language, Ourselves: Rethinking Our Writing Center Communities” took a social justice angle, and we included a critical question strand in our CFP that asked participants to consider: “What can we do as members of the Writing Center community to foster productive dialogue about oppression and language?”
During the conference, our consultants created a series of activities that were dedicated to “thinking about how we can fight oppression in our centers (and maybe beyond)”. Other writing centers consultants from across the south east left the conference with renewed focus and energy toward social justice and diversity in writing center work.
During the Fall 2017 semester and beyond, we will identify additional campus organizations interested in co-hosting social justice events, open forums, and educational opportunities.
These partnerships are also in line with university-wide initiatives to educate students on social justice issues and will include:
The ECU Pirate Read Committee selected for incoming students each year frequently addresses social justice issues. The 2017-2018 Pirate Read is “Evicted,” a nonfiction book whose central themes are the poverty crisis, social inequality, and homelessness, among others. Author Matthew Desmond will visit ECU on January 16, 2018. See full storyhere.
The UWC collaborated with theCenter for Leadership and Civic Engagement’s 9/11 remembrance event, Designing for Change. This event was Monday, September 11 from 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. in the Mendenhall Sculpture Garden (between Joyner Library & Mendenhall). There were 4 stations for this event, one of the stations being the Write for Change table.
Promise #2: To explore the social implications of language
If language is inherently tied to culture and the society in which we live, then the way we use our spoken and written words also invokes social norms and excludes apparent outliers. Taking a critical stance toward language norms helps us to evaluate our choices and make new, intentional ones when we find things that don’t honor our differences, account for our histories, or inspire better futures. Specifically, the UWC commits to being intentional about the ways that our language choices empower or negate; enable or constrain; embrace or reject the people, ideas, and experiences that enter our space.
Already, the UWC has paid close attention to the social implications of language as it relates to gender with the understanding that the existence and use of pronouns for non-binary people is empowering. Identity cannot be separated from language, making the acceptance of non-binary pronouns absolutely necessary to ensure all have a voice.
When writers schedule an appointment with the UWC, they have the option of specifying their pronouns. This optional, blank space invites writers to bring their social identity to the UWC and to their writing without requiring a response of those who prefer not to answer. Our writing consultants check this information prior to the start of each appointment so as to be both inclusive and professional. Some consultants have gone so far as to write their pronouns on their nameplates/tags inside the UWC. It is important to us that both consultants and writers feel empowered—rather than limited or oppressed—by the implications of language.
The UWC also recognizes the use of “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun. While “they” has often occurred as singular and gender-neutral in conversational English, it is now grammatically correct according to theAssociated Press Stylebook.
We plan to formalize our explorations of language through a series of workshops for ECU students and faculty. Our growing topics of interest include the contextual and rhetorical power of language, challenging the dominant discourse, and the validity of a set standard of English
Promise #3: To discuss cultural competence and inclusive practices in writing and beyond.
Our full-time staff, consultants, and mentors use our professional development series as a medium for thoughtful discussion of inclusivity in the UWC. In our biweekly meetings, employees are encouraged to use their experiences with writers and each other as case studies for handling cultural insensitivity and any other scenarios that may be challenging.
During the Spring 2017 semester, UWC student employees reflected on six social justice issues in the UWC: race, class, gender, disability, sexuality, and language. Thinking together in careful, and critical ways about the relationships between our work and these aspects of identity empowered consultants to give honest feedback, both praise-worthy and critical, about where we are and where we need to go. We share some quotes from these reflections to offer insight into our social justice work in progress. We are all at different places in our understandings of social justice work and learn from and with each other.
“Race is often a strong identifier for individuals and can be expressed in writing. Showing respect for culture, language, etc. associated with race is important. Don’t assume, and consider biracial individuals.”
“Cultural differences result in different perceptions. By being open-minded to these things, we not only learn, but establish better communication.”
“I feel clients become more comfortable when we talk about our cultural background prior to the session beginning.”
“I am unsure how to acknowledge race without being offensive. I know that it is a crucial element of identity (including my own identity and experience); however, I think it is hard to express myself regarding race online. I think body language helps a great deal with relating to others; if I can’t read a student’s body language as they discuss something racial in nature, I do not know if they are joking or not. I tend to avoid mention of race when possible in eTutoring appointments to prevent any misunderstandings.”
“I do not think race is as focused on as it should be. Again, with working in the actual writing center, there is a great amount of attention paid to gender and sexuality to the point it overshadows the issues of race. Let’s have the Latino panel come. Let’s have the African American/Black panel come. Let’s have the Native American panel come. We had an instance last semester where a student worker put up pilgrims and Native Americans etc failing to understand that this was not a good time for Native Americans. This country, education etc is extremely Eurocentric. While people of European descent made contributions to the country and world, they are not the only ones to do so. Not at all.”
“The writing center provides a computer cart for clients, and I think that is awesome and a great way to use tuition bucks.”
“Unfortunately, students from low-income and underperforming schools are at a great disadvantage when it comes to writing ability entering college. Professors assume that students can already write at a certain level and typically do not go back to teach the basics. Not knowing the first thing about writing an academic paper can be seriously detrimental to one’s academic performance and self-esteem; not to mention that these students probably need to maintain certain grades in order to keep their financial aid (loans, scholarships, etc.).”
“Binary and non-binary exist; be comfortable with they/them pronouns. Consider exploring other pronouns (xe/xem); gender identity topics are common in writing; be open-minded.”
“We have changed our appointment forms to allow students to select their preferred pronouns; however, there have been mixed reviews by both consultants/students about its inclusion on the form. As long as it’s optional, I see no reason why it shouldn’t exist so that everyone feels included.”
“There are not enough resources and information in the writing center for consultants to refer to when it comes to consulting clients with disabilities. There should be a book that gives tips on ways clients with different learning styles could be assisted in their writing. For example, people with Dyslexia.”
“Individuals with disabilities, NOT disabled individuals; everyone has a unique learning style that works for them, ask them; be nonjudgmental, empathize, be patient, and kind.”
“Sometimes we don’t know if a writer has a disability. How do I empower a writer if I don’t know?”
“The UWC is a safe, open, friendly environment when it comes to sexuality.”
“Often, things are assumed to be heteronormative’ this can be translated into writing and make assumptions with feedback uncomfortable.”
“The LGBT panel was extremely helpful. I learned some new ways of being sensitive to those with different sexual preferences/identities than my own. I tend to err on the side of avoidance, so knowing how to approach situations in a welcoming, inclusive (yet not invasive) manner in a professional setting was great. I now feel as confident approaching sexual identity in the workplace as I do privately.”
“ESL learners WANT to learn. Empathize; it’s hard to learn a new language. Covering 1-2 main points a session can prevent clients from feeling overwhelmed.”
“Had a girl visit whose native language wasn’t English and she was nervous. I helped assure her this was a judgment-free zone and we would work through it together.”
“[We should] hire some bilingual staff.”
“There should be more information on how to help [ELL students] in our writing sessions.”
We will work to fill in the gaps that we’ve identified in our cultural competencies. Opportunities to learn will be available to consultants through professional development and educational resources. In addition, University Writing Center administrators commit to supporting consultant learning, not only by making professional development and resources available, but also by encouraging consultants to use work time and resources for additional study or to lead new learning initiatives for their colleagues.
Promise #4: To empower everyone as writers with distinct voices and social identities
The UWC is not an editing service staffed with all-knowing staff; we are partners in the writing process, and student writers maintain the authority to draft and revise their own writing according to their individual writing styles. Through our professional development series, we prepare our student writing consultants not to pull out the red pen and start marking, but to ask good questions that allow the writer to develop problem-solving skills.
In a recent professional development activity, we asked our consultants what makes a “good” question and how they utilize open-ended questions in their appointments. Their answers commended a conversational, exploratory approach in which both writers and consultants acknowledge their perspectives and approach the appointment from a posture of learning.
“I've often thought writers actually taught me, the tutor, a great deal more than I reciprocated. A good question at the writing center might be one that creates room for the writer to obtain ownership of the answer. The tutor shouldn't come off as badgering the writer, but rather leading them to the truth of the matter at hand.”
“The more exploratory we can be as consultants, the more peer-like I think we become to the student. We genuinely become interested in their writing, but also in their interests (Why did you choose to write about this? Is this subject of particular interest to you?). The consultation becomes more like a conversation, rather than a lesson...As we seek to be engaging and exploratory as consultants, sometimes we see the way the paper is SUPPOSED to be. Therefore, we begin to ask close-ended questions to get the answers that are, in our own opinion, correct.”
“’Good’ questions are ones that move the consultation forward by encouraging the writer to play an active role in their writing. They also teach and guide clients. When it comes to nontraditional writing, questions are perhaps even more crucial. Specific inquiries get the consultant and the client on the same page and helps the consultant understand how they are needed and how they can help…In the future, I will take the opportunity to use the questions I ask as tools to get the client to trust themselves instead of relying too heavily on the judgement of consultants.”
“As I continue to build relationships with other students through the UWC, I will keep in mind that simply asking a question does not mean that I am inviting a dialogue. I have to put myself in the writer’s shoes and ask, ‘If I were asked this question, would I feel like giving an open response? Or would I simply shrug and wait for the ‘correct’ answer?’ I will carefully construct questions that ask the reader to think more deeply about their writing, including ones to which I do not necessarily have an answer.”
Promise #5: To create a space that encourages self-expression and critical thinking
The University Writing Center is designed to be a flexible, conversational space. Consultants and writers are even encouraged to change the physical space to encourage innovation, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. There is no set formula as to how we work with a visitor or engage in the writing process.
We also create spaces and opportunities that encourage writers to engage with the world around them. The UWC Writing for Change series, established in the spring of 2017, is meant to support students who want to become more engaged citizens through writing. Each 2-hour workshop is walk-in based and revolves around a specific theme. It is currently marketed through social media campaigns and print flyers around campus.
Below are our most recent Writing for Change events:
February 15, 2017: Dear Mr. President
This letter writing workshop empowered students to voice their opinions to national, state, and local elected officials.
March 20, 2017: Informed Dissent
This particular workshop was designed to help students identify an issue that is important to them and gather the information and resources they'll need to be informed writers. It allowed for floating participation in an open issues forum (with a resource fair-like format) to collect credible information about contemporary political topics.
April 12, 2017: Dear ECU
Twenty one students vocalized important issues to ECU officials, including Chancellor Staton, Provost Mitchelson, Waz Miller (Housing), Deb Garfi (Parking), Ryan Beeson (SGA President 2016-17), Mark Sanders (Joyner Library), and Joyce Sealey (Campus Dining).
Future Writing for Change Events will include
(Teaching) Writing for Change: Socially Just Writing Instruction
Something for students about Cultural Rhetorics and Activism (Memes)
Promise #6: To challenge writers to substantiate their beliefs with evidence
The UWC understands the importance of citing credible sources when formulating opinions, particularly in writing. Consultants are prepared to help students evaluate both academic and popular sources to help writers use them effectively. We understand that different disciplines and communities value different kinds of evidence. We encourage writers to evaluate sources carefully, read and interpret them critically, and make choices that will appeal persuasively and ethically to their audiences.
Below are links to our current resources on effectively integrating research into a piece of writing. While these resources are available to anyone, our writing consultants are also encouraged to use these and other sources in their appointments and workshops.
Additional documents, videos, and presentations can be foundhere.
Promise #7: To adapt to the needs of writers during a session
We recognize that each writer visits the UWC with a unique background, certain strengths, and particular areas of concern. No two consultations will be the same. To ensure that appointments are as tailored and helpful as possible, the UWC asks a number of questions related to the writer’s assignment and reason for seeking help, such as:
Course title and instructor
Type of assignment and due date
Describe your assignment.
What are your goals for this session?
What are you most concerned about with your writing?
If formatting is one of your concerns, please identify which style you are using.
Where are you in the writing process?
These appointments are available in-person on ECU’s main and health science campuses and via synchronous and asynchronous online time slots.
Our student writing consultants follow several best practices related to appointments, including but not limited to:
Reviewing the writing appointment form for assignment type, concerns, and pronouns prior to the appointment start time
Building rapport with the writer and generally creating a welcoming environment
Giving the writer the authority to lead the session: having them read their own paper aloud, taking their own notes on topics discussed, and answering exploratory questions posed by our consultants
Approaching the session in a way that is in line with prior professional development and appropriate to the writer in question
Referring writers to helpful online resources created by the UWC and other writing authorities
Collaborating with other consultants when uncertain of how to address a topic
Encouraging the writer to submit anonymous feedback about the appointment through our brief online survey
The UWC also hires several student writing mentors each semester. Mentors are assigned to a class with the goal of guiding students through the writing process as it relates to that particular course. The method of mentoring is flexible. For example, one of our mentors recently assigned to a music history course recognized that their students, as a whole, struggled in developing a thesis statement. To address this issue, the mentor held a series of workshops and met individually with the students to strategically strengthen their writing ability. By the end of the course, students had successfully completed proposals with strong thesis statements.
Finally,we have a growing body of resources available online to the ECU community on a variety of writing-related topics.
Promise #8: To respect different beliefs and backgrounds
The University Writing Center upholds the values stated in theECU Creed and enforces theECU Student Code of Conduct. As a center and a university, we are “dedicated to providing a safe and vibrant learning and working environment for all” (ECU Student Code of Conduct). We create a welcoming space in the UWC for writers to collaborate and seek assistance with the writing process, and in return, we ensure that all visitors to the UWC are respectful of student employees and full-time staff.
We acknowledge that consultants and writers won’t always agree about the ideas being expressed in the writing that they work on together. We expect to encounter differences in opinion, belief system, and experience during consultations and we commit to being prepared to use conflicting perspectives to make writing stronger. Conflicting perspectives offer opportunities to talk about audience, sources, credibility, and evidence in ways that are productive for the writer’s revision efforts.
Even as we commit to valuing a range of opinions and perspectives, we reserve the right to reject expressions of hatred, otherness, or inhumanity. Even when these expressions are framed as opinions, they reflect ideologies that create unsafe space or provoke violent uptake and they won’t be weighed equally with other “beliefs”.
To that end, we have a zero tolerance policy for harassment, threats, bullying, or intimidation (ECU Student Code of Conduct, section 2.4). Any such behavior will be reported to UWC administrators and addressed immediately for disciplinary action.
As stated in the ECU Creed, University students and officials will “carry out personal and academic integrity, respect and appreciate the diversity of our people, ideas, and opinions, be thoughtful and responsible in [our] actions and words, and engage in purposeful citizenship by serving as a positive role model.” The UWC stands in full support of this messaging and will continually explore ways to promote civil discourse and the shaping of a stronger campus community.