My first consultation at the writing center was also one of my most difficult. A first-year student came in with an ID1 paper about a specific manga she had read in her class about Chinese and Japanese culture. She had a fairly complete first draft, in which she explored how the manga’s female protagonist defied a variety of female manga stereotypes. She was a superhero, one which traditionally “unfeminine” qualities. And yet she also cared deeply about her clothes, her friends, and her personal life. She proposed that such a combination was radical. I remember being very impressed with the complexity of her ideas. She clearly felt strongly about her topic, and the essay had a very clear line of ideas.
Yet after I praised the work she had done thus far, she showed me a proposal she had written out for her professor the week before. In the text, were a dizzy of red pen marks, scribbles, harsh words, and a final statement at the bottom: “You need to go to the writing center.”
I should mention that this student was a Japanese international student for which English was her second language. After she showed me this paper she explained that writing in English prose, especially the prose expected and demanded of ID1 professors was extremely difficult for her, and in her body language and the manner in which she talked about her essay, I could tell she was very distressed. It was hard for her to even articulate ideas that she had about her paper when all that she could think about was that one professor and how her grammar was not up to his standards.
Throughout this entire consultation, I was not sure what to do. I very much had what North discusses running through my head, that I was not working within a “‘proofreading-shop-in-the-basement’” style institution. (444) My job was to help this student make her essay as full, fruitful, and personal to her as possible. I was not here to be her personal grammarian, to make sure that every verb was conjugated and every adverb placed according to the strict rules of scholarly english grammar. Yet since this student was so distressed about her prose to the point that she could not fully engage with the ideas of her essay, I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I ended up looking through the first few paragraphs of her paper and gave her a series of models, essentially grammar rules that she could then apply on her own when reading back through her paper. This way, I felt like I was appealing to the desires of both the student and the professor, while also working to improve her ability to fully dive in to her ideas without having to worry about grammar. Coming out of that consultation, I was unusually angry. On one level I was upset for the student, this smart, insightful student who had crafted a well-formed, well thought out idea for an essay with ample quotes and analysis only to have it deterred by a strict, unthinking grammarian. On another level, I was furious at the professor, for many of the reasons that North enumerates in his essay. I felt that to tell his student to just “go to the writing center” completely undermined my job description. I hated that i had been forced to become a copy editor.
After reading through North’s piece, and even Sommer’s piece from last week, I feel less infuriated at that professor and more at the system under which he was operating. Due to the sheer quantity of writing he must have to plough through every week, and the complexity of the demands of every student, it makes complete sense that he could be so careless and insensitive. North’s piece just made me want to throw up my hands and praise the lord.
Yet I still felt as if I could have done something differently in that consultation, like I could have offered her more than just a simple formula list for her to use in her writing. This is where I think Bawarshi and Pelkowski come into the picture. In many ways, this student could have perhaps benefited from their ideal writing center, one which is “transformed into another kind of space, one in which students such as Derek can engage in the process of assessing what happens to their experiences—what happens to them when they begin to master academic discourses. The writing center thus becomes not just a place in which students are introduced to academic
discourses and taught how to function within them, but also how to ‘describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them’ (Pratt 36)”. (53)
Reading these two piece very much functioned as therapy for me, in the sense that one validated my thoughts and experiences while the other offered me a possible solution. I am just so happy that I got both.