By Bonnie Devet, College of Charleston
Hub City. It’s a famous nickname for Spartanburg, S.C. The city, at one time, sat at the center of a wheel of railroads spreading out in five directions. This hub was apparent when writing center directors from five parts of S.C. met at Spartanburg’s Converse College for the Palmetto State Writing Center (PSWCA) Directors’ 6th Annual meeting, hosted by Converse’s Writing Center Director/Assistant Professor Dr. Emily Harbin.
Meeting on the Converse campus in Kuhn Hall, Writing Center directors from each part of the state discussed important issues facing their centers: from the Upstate (Emily Harbin, Converse College; Deno Trakas, Wofford; Brittany Cuernin, Lander University; Drew Stowe, Anderson University), from the Midlands (Graham Stowe, University of South Carolina; Candace Kelly, Clafin University), from the Piedmont (Meredith Reynolds, Francis Marion University), from the Coast (Scott Pleasant, Coastal Carolina University) and from the LowCountry (Britt Terry, Charleston Southern University and Bonnie Devet, College of Charleston).
Updates on future conferences were presented by Graham Stowe, who announced that the Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) would hold its next conference at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA) on February 22-24, 2018, with the call for proposals being posted soon. Looking ahead, Stowe also reported that for 2019, SWCA would probably meet in Myrtle Beach. Scott Pleasant, the S.C. representative to SWCA, asked all directors to watch for a survey that he and Stowe will distribute, a survey focusing on the work of writing center directors. Finally, it was announced that South Carolina’s own Graham Stowe (USC) will be the next president of SWCA, starting after the February 2018 SWCA conference.
Next, the keynote address “Establishing the Writing Center’s Educational Role in the Academy” was presented by Bonnie Devet. The talk argued that in spite of faculty’s and staff’s misconceptions of centers as mere footnotes to the academy, centers are central to the educational mission of universities and colleges. To show centers align with the educational objectives of colleges/universities, Devet advocated directors change the terminology they use to refer to their work with consultants, that directors craft student learning outcomes (SLO’s) to show to faculty and staff, that directors relate their centers goals to the college’s/university’s mission statements/strategic plans, and that directors demonstrate the results of peer development.
After lunch, the directors heard about “Publishing Writing Center Research” from Stowe, who described ten journals (on-line and print) that would be interested in writing center research. Some journals, of course, focus exclusively on wc studies (WLN, WCJ, Praxis, and SDC). Others occasionally publish pieces on centers (College English, CCC, WPA, Pedagogy, JAC, Basic Writing E-Journal, Composition Forum, Computers & Composition: An International Journal). Finally, Stowe reported that SDC (Southern Discourse at the Center—the Southeastern Writing Center Journal—now has an issn and will be looking for a new editor as of February 2018.
Also helping all of us directors was Emily Harbin’s presentation on “Healthy Boundaries in Writing Center Work,” where Harbin characterized the lives of directors as examples of “generosity burnout”: directors are known for being helpful to other stakeholders, from students to administrators to faculty, but sometimes being these “givers,” so vital to organizations, means directors can burn out. Harbin provided six profiles of givers, asking directors to pick two that describe them: experts share knowledge; coaches teach skills; mentors give advice and guidance; connectors make introductions; extra-milers show up early, stay late, volunteer for extra work; and helpers provide hands-on task/emotional support. Then, she helped directors to learn to say “no” in specific, diplomatic ways so that we can set work boundaries.
Next, Brittany Cuenin, Lander University, shifted the discussion to “Forming Partnerships with Other Groups and Entities on Campus,” asking the directors to explain why we need faculty support, what are the benefits of this support to both tutors and students, and how directors can foster this outreach to faculty. Directors shared their own experiences, offering advice on the most effective ways to engage with faculty.
The meeting ended with Pleasant’s speaking on “Assessment and Tutor Training.” Although most directors now handle assessment by reporting how many students have been served and by providing satisfaction surveys, Pleasant suggested directors need to go further to assess what effect going to the writing center has on the students’ writing itself. Pleasant suggested directors pick core elements to observe or measure, be prepared for “surprising and sometimes disappointing data,” and “do not assume all on your campus will even share your views abut the value, methods, or goals of assessment.” In fact, Pleasant plans to work on assessing student paragraphs, asking the study question: “Does the paragraph get better after visiting the writing center?”
After a full day of directors’ sharing challenges and ideas, the 6th annual Directors’ Meeting of the PSWCA concluded with everyone applauding Emily Harbin for her fine hosting of the meeting. Directors look forward to Fall 2017 when the next PSCWA sessions will focus on tutors.