Breaking Down & Building Up in the Writing Center

Tristin Hooker
University of Texas at Austin

This summer, Praxis brings you a collection of pieces that all, in some way, address the building, maintaining, and re-building of communities, the tensions that strain them, and the barriers and walls that writing center practitioners—and writers—must break down in order to do the work of building. For us here in the Praxis offices, located in the beautiful Writing Center space in the Perry-Casteñada Library on the University of Texas-Austin campus, this has also been a summer of literal building and breaking down, as the library moves through important summer renovations. I wrote about this for our Axis blog this summer, considering the way we are engaged in a constructive/deconstructive experience with writing during our consultations, and the way the noise of those constructions and deconstructions are part of the experience. We are pleased to bring together deeper considerations of the (de/re)construction process in individual writing center communities, and the larger writing center community as a whole. 

We begin with “Writing Center Tutors Take On Plagiarism,” Elyse Pelzer’s consideration of the complexities that writing center professionals face in dealing with plagiarism, collaboration, editing, and the idea of students receiving “help.” Pelzer points to the experience of one writing center, and strategies that helped to empower tutors to work through these questions.

We then move to “Possibilities for Interfaith Dialogue in Writing Centers and Programs,” Andrea Rosso Efthymiou, Liliana Naydan, and Anna Sicari’s reflections on the thorny and often-unexplored questions of faith—its expression and its potential to impact community—in the writing center. Exploring the author’s own positionality, as well as the institutional and linguistic structures that often reinforce or create “silence,” the authors argue for complexity that will do want Liliana Naydan calls “counterfundamentalist work” that “facilitate[s] meaningful dialogue” in the center for the benefit of the community and its writers (7).

In “Cultivating Graduate Writing Groups as Communities of Practice: A Call to Action for the Writing Center,” Tiffany Kinney, Julie Snyder-Yuly, and Sumiko Martinez continue to explore building stronger community in the writing center, this time through the creation and maintenance of graduate writing groups. The authors consider their own successful writing group, and highlight both why and how they found it to be an invaluable support system and community of practice during their graduate education. They close their exploration with insights into the ways writing centers can facilitate and support this kind of community, acknowledging that “graduate students require different support than the one-off tutoring that often happens in writing center and in faculty-student interactions,” that graduate writing groups “not only develop better writers but also socialize us into broader communities of practice within the academy” (23), and that these groups can help writing centers to achieve their mission at the graduate level.

Molly Tetrault, Patty Wilde, and Sarah B. Franco also examine the foundations of a solid community of practice in “Claiming an Education: Using Archival Research to Build a Community of Practice.” In the wake of moving to a permanent space, the authors focus on the way research in the archives of their own writing center history can help build a shared sense of community and continuity among their consultants and staff. Ultimately, they find that “archival research facilitates a culture of constant, continual, and recursive thinking, one that is central to the work the writing center staff engage in daily” (25). They conclude with recommendations for ways other writing center professionals can incorporate archival research into their own centers and practices.

Randall Monty then invites us to consider the way the communities and structures we build in writing centers exist as both “a part of and a response to” political and social structures that govern higher education in  “Undergirding Writing Centers’ Responses to the Neoliberal Academy.” Informed by Critical Discourse Analysis and aiming toward promoting social and restorative justice, Monty’s article argues that writing centers “have long been recognized as equipped to respond and push back against neoliberal impositions” (37), and that many emergent themes in Writing Center Studies “are particularly suited as responses to neoliberalism” (38). This article, then, asks us to consider what we are capable of breaking down even as we build, and vice-versa.

We close with Wenqi Cui’s review of Writing Program and Writing Center Collaboration, edited by Alice Johnson Myatt and Lynee Lewis Gaillet. This collection spotlights eleven interdisciplinary collaborative programs, and delves into the development, assessment, and maintenance of successful collaboration between writing centers, writing programs, and other departments on the programmatic level. Cui recommends this collection to writing program administrators and writing center directors interested in applying theory to praxis as they are “building, planning, or sustaining their collaborative projects” (50).

We here at Praxis are grateful for the dedicated work of our reviewers, authors, and copy-editors who have been part of building this issue. We look forward to continuing the process—construction noise, tensions, and all—and to continuing the conversations that our authors invite us to, in this issue.