By Bonnie Devet, College of Charleston
We all have them in a closet or in a little used bedroom: stacked cardboard boxes of materials collected over the years, boxes brimming with writing center memorabilia. Like a bargain hunter at a flea-market sale, I have rummaged around in my musty boxes to discover some of the history of the South Carolina Writing Center Association (SCWCA)—now renamed the Palmetto State Writing Center Association. Because there are bound to be gaps in my files, here is what may be termed only a “recovered” history of the SCWCA.
In Fall 1989, Tom Waldrep (Medical University of South Carolina) and Sylvia Gamboa (College of Charleston) thought it would be useful if writing center folks from South Carolina met for a short afternoon session in historic Charleston. The goal was merely to see who else was running a center in the state and to make connections, so directors just informally introduced their centers, discussed their center’s relationship to the rest of the campus, and explained their staffing. But, as often happens, from this humble beginning in a short afternoon session, there arose the idea of the South Carolina Writing Center Association (SCWCA), an organization lasting eleven years.
Continuing the Conversation
The group continued its contacts with each other through newsletters, the first one appropriately named The South Carolina Writing Center Association Newsletter, which summarized conferences, featured articles by peer tutors, and offered minutes of business meetings. It was superceded by two other newsletters: Logodaedaly (“word play”), issued by Bonnie Auslander (Converse College) which presented “favorite peer consultant training materials” and a third newsletter The Writing Paper, that was edited by Christine Helms (Johnson and Wales). For all these documents, the goal, of course, was to keep connections alive among the numerous South Carolina centers.
The business minutes, as published in the newsletters, reveal the organization faced several concerns. SCWCA was trying to be inclusive: it wanted to create a list of the state centers (high school and college/university), possibly by contacting the SC NCTE branch and the SC National Writing Project; it wanted to invite college administrators to the annual meetings; and the minutes reveal that SWCA especially wanted to include peer tutors at all annual conferences. In addition to establishing inclusion, the business meetings focused on housekeeping issues that every organization must decide: determining SWCA’s organizational levels (such as whether or not having a life-time membership would adversely affect the economics of the organization) and settling on the levels of membership (tutor, director, institution, lifetime).
A hallmark of the SCWCA was its annual conferences. Scanning programs from these conferences reveals that peer tutors were encouraged to attend and to present, making SCWCA an early exponent of tutors training other tutors, not unlike the well-known National Peer Tutoring Association. For instance, the 1993 annual meeting hosted by Converse College (Spartanburg) scheduled a separate session for peer consultants: “Conflicts and Resolutions for Peer Consulting,” with peer tutors from two SC schools hosting the panel. At the 1994 meeting (held at Columbia’s Midlands Technical College), peer tutors discussed “The Thinking-Writing Connection: Helping Writing Lab Clients Develop Thinking Strategies to Improve their Writing” and “The Effect of the Right-left Brain Split on Clients.” At its conferences, SCWCA showcased its peer consultants.
The annual meetings were novel in other ways, promoting exchanges between directors. One such panel was Bonnie Devet’s “What Works for Me,” where directors briefly stated a problem they had encountered and how they solved it, such as developing the professionalism of tutors through national certification, publicizing the center through newsletters, or luring students into the center by using computers (back in the days when most students did not have laptops). These sessions—nicknamed as “State the Problem/Provide the Solution”—became so popular that they were included at every annual meeting. As one director commented after the panel, “I have come away with a page filled with new ideas.”
Equally notable were the guest speakers gracing the conferences. One was the national writing center scholar Christina Murphy, co-author with Steve Sherwood of well-known St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors, a bulwark for training. At the 1994 conference (Columbia), Murphy delivered the keynote on “the most pressing issues confronting writing centers….the evaluation of centers.” Stating that assessment means more than collecting numbers on how many clients are assisted, she argued centers must relate what they accomplish to the stated missions of their colleges or universities so labs can demonstrate how they “transform” their schools. As a result, centers can show that “they are windows to the whole academic community.”
Another well-known speaker was Clemson University’s Dixie Goswami, a noted scholar on discourse communities. In her keynote for the 1993 meeting at Converse College (Spartanburg), this nationally known rhetorician stressed that centers have evolved into places for research, becoming “natural laboratories for studying language and learning,” with labs being in a position to change the dynamics of their campuses. In their day, the annual conferences were cutting edge because of the keynote speakers’ topics and because of the timely, topical themes of the meetings themselves: “Writing Center Troubleshooting: Turning Problems into Possibilities” and “Weaving the Writing Center into the Fabric of Our Schools.”
The reputation of the keynote speakers and the quality of the conference sessions meant the annual SWCA meetings often received national publicity. The Writing Lab Newsletter featured summaries of the 1994, 1997, and the 1998 SCWCA meetings, revealing to the rest of the writing center world the good work of the organization.
These conferences were well attended. Usually, eighteen to twenty schools would be represented, with fifty to eighty directors and consultants picking up name badges. Although the small size of the state probably contributed to the impressive attendance for the one-day meetings, the topics of the conferences and the fundamental need for camaraderie among centers also drew folks from every part of the state.
Joining Up with Other Organizations
Foregoing its independence, the SCWCA did hold a joint-conference with the Southeastern Writing Center Association at Myrtle Beach in February 1996, with the keynote speaker Wendy Bishop (University of Florida). This conference—notable for its huge turnout—posed unexpected problems. Even though SWCA enjoyed a fine relationship with the Southeastern group, SWCA felt swallowed up. Adding to the difficulties was a fire in the hotel forcing an evacuation the first night; then, an unexpected ice storm (always able to wreck havoc in usually ice-free SC) forced the conference to end early with attendees worried they might not be able to drive or fly home safely. As a result, the SCWCA attendees never had a chance to meet in order to conduct their own business. This 1996 meeting, which began in fire and ended in ice, showed that it might be more beneficial for SCWCA to continue to meet separately, at least for the foreseeable future.
Holding the Last Conference
From my musty boxes, I have discovered that the organization founded so proudly in 1989 appears to have held its last meeting in April, 2000, in Columbia. Still true to its character, this meeting did foster new concepts, such as Nancy Thompson’s discussing “Expanding the Writing Studio Model: New Steps in Research and Technology (with Chris Fosen and Michael Barnes), stressing the, then, novel idea of the Writing Studio. However, there seems to have been no more meetings of SCWCA. One reason often broached for the dissolution of the organization is that its meetings, which were always held in the spring, occurred too close on the conference calendar to those of the Conference on College Composition and Communication or the Southeastern Writing Center Association. Meeting in the fall, though, was too difficult because directors were so focused on getting their centers up and running, especially with training and supervising newly hired tutors just finding their fledgling ways in a center.
So, since 2000, the SCWCA has lain dormant, its “recovered” history just sitting in musty boxes.