Only a couple of miles separate two Palmetto state writing centers: the Writing Center at The Citadel and the Writing Lab at the College of Charleston (CofC). So, it was time for cross-pollination: that is, for the two centers’ tutors/consultants to meet, exchange ideas, discuss common problems, and celebrate the collaborative work that is the hallmark of all centers.
Saturday, November 14, 2015, saw five consultants from the CofC Writing Lab directed by Dr. Bonnie Devet, drive over to visit with their cohorts at The Citadel’s Center, led by Dr. Pat Hendrix. Dr. Hendrix’s Center, located inside the Academic Support Center, offered a spacious layout, encouraging the CofC consultants to meet with their colleagues, as well as to be greeted by Dr. Hendrix’s dog Remi, the center’s unofficial mascot.
Wanting to inform their colleagues about their work, five CofC Writing Lab consultants spoke to Dr. Hendrix and his tutors about the different types of clients that walk through the Lab’s doors: clients with nothing written (“Starting at Ground Zero” by Tori Rego); clients with writer’s block (Emma Bush); clients with special emotional problems (“The Seánce Client” by Lauren Findlay); clients trying to write a short story (“Fiction Writers” by Lori Pimental); and clients who balk at all assistance (“Stubborn Clients” by Abby Tummers). By sharing tips on how to handle these types of students, the CofC consultants demonstrated the variety of students who, daily, seek help.
After each presentation, Dr. Hendrix and his tutors—Ben Adams and Ed Zur—acknowledged how they, too, have dealt with similar clients, revealing that students bring the same problems to both the Center and the Writing Lab. The students are “mostly needing attention from a person who understands their anxieties and frustrations with the writing process,” Dr. Hendrix noted. Lauren Findlay, a CofC consultant, also observed, “We as tutors/consultants all run into the same problems with students, and we all use similar tactics to solve those problems we face.” Another CofC consultant noted the benefits of talking to the The Citadel tutors about clients: “[I]t felt personally relieving to talk about our worries as consultants—whether or not we are really helping the students. It is so good to hear that others worry about that as well” (Tori Rego).
While both centers shared their insights about their collaborative work with students, the Citadel Center and the CofC Writing Lab do differ. Differences in staffing are apparent. The Citadel primarily employs professional tutors, such as adjunct professors, a retired English professor, graduate students, and a screenwriter. The College, though, hires undergraduates. Such a difference did not seem to matter, with “both labs hav[ing] adapted their processes and personnel to the particular needs of their institutions,” as Dr. Hendrix commented. The CofC consultant Abby Tummers agreed: “I had a lot of fun talking about our differences and how we can better serve clients on both ends.”
Another difference is the types of assignments English students bring to The Citadel Center. The school requires all cadets take four English courses that use a uniform grading scale. In fact, most of the freshman English instructors even have strict guidelines about their papers’ structures, such as specifying what should appear in an essay’s first sentence. The Writing Lab consultants, though, have found that the CofC freshman English assignments are less directive, giving a more free-form feel to the work of the CofC Writing Lab. As Lori Pimental, a CofC consultant observed about The Citadel assignments, “[It] ultimately affects the way The Citadel helps clients.”
Other subtle features of the centers’ sessions also vary. Citadel tutors, instead of being side by side with students, sit across the table from their clients. And, as a session begins, The Citadel tutors usually lead the tutorial by letting students know what will be covered as they work together. CofC consultants, though, ask their clients what they want to focus on, taking charge only as needed to guide clients through the writing process.
Management of time and of paperwork also differs. The Citadel uses appointments, trying to keep sessions to one hour; the CofC lab offers only walk-in assistance. This difference means The Citadel tutors concentrate on one client for longer periods while CofC consultants must balance their time, switching from a client whom they are currently helping to new ones waiting for assistance. As a result, CofC consultants learn how to set boundaries with clients in order to circulate among the students, or as CofC consultant Emma Bush noted, “[to] accommodate more students in as short an amount of time as needed.” After a session, The Citadel tutors fill out a detailed form that includes a checklist (higher-ordered concerns, lower-ordered concerns) as well as a summary about the appointment—a helpful procedure, especially when the director has to gather data for administrators to show the types of help The Citadel Center provides its students. Although CofC consultants also fill out reports, these are shorter, lacking a checklist.
All during the pleasant Saturday morning visit, the dog Remi—an embodiment of the patience so notable, so necessary to consultants themselves—would pad from a Citadel tutor over to a CofC consultant, then to his master Dr. Hendrix, and back again among the group, as tutors and consultants discussed their centers. With each person’s petting and encouraging this unofficial mascot, Remi came to symbolize the passing of ideas between the Citadel tutors and CofC consultants. Mixing of ideas always fosters a stronger sense of self and place, showing the tutors of the Citadel and the consultants from the CofC Writing Lab that their concerns for clients are varied but similar, the true mark of a successful cross-pollination of centers.