James Garner and Alejandro Omidsalar
University of Texas at Austin

We here at Praxis are delighted to bring you our Spring 2017 issue, “Rethinking the Writing Center.” For this issue we have assembled articles that offer new and exciting ways for writing centers to revise and reconsider their current practices. In some ways this might be a mundane way to think about writing center scholarship. Are we not always trying to find new ways forward—new ways of understanding the work that we do as writing center administrators, consultants, and scholars? Yet this perpetual drive is what makes writing center studies such a vibrant field in which to work. Given the relationships we cultivate with the students who visit our centers to grow as writers and our surrounding institutions, it’s vital that we constantly consider the best possible ways to serve our consultants, consultees, and the broader institutional networks of which our centers are a part. Instead of being stuck in old methodologies, writing center scholars are ever paring away what doesn’t work and replacing it with new, more effective approaches to improving the writing (and writing practices) of our tutees.

To this end, the articles in this collection offer a multitude of ways and possibilities for rethinking not only what the writing center does but also what the writing center is. This has, of course, been a perennial concern of writing center studies since the publication of Stephen North’s “The Idea of a Writing Center.” We hope that the work in this issue follows in this tradition of continually reimagining the writing center, offering additional glimpses of what the future possibilities of writing centers hold. The articles in this issue renegotiate the theory, practice, and identity of the writing center both in and out of the familiar academic institutions and boundaries within which writing centers usually operate. 

This issue’s column, by Violeta Molina-Natera, is an interview with Neal Lerner that considers both the history of writing centers in the United States and compares that history with the recent emergence of writing centers in Latin American countries. As Latin American writing centers forge their own unique identities, they are influenced by the work of their North American precursors while incorporating their own cultural contexts. Molina-Natera and Lerner’s conversation is exciting and illuminating, and we hope our readers enjoy it.                  

In “Mindfulness in the Writing Center,” Elizabeth Mack and Katie Hupp report their experience conducting a program that asked their writing consultants to incorporate a number of mindfulness and contemplation-based techniques into their writing center practice. Mack and Hupp conclude that “the benefits of incorporating a mindfulness-based practice are two-fold: the students receive focused attention and assistance, and consultants experience reduced stress and anxiety” (14). 

Elizabeth Busekrus calls for writing center administrators and consultants to rethink Kenneth Burke’s parlor metaphor for academic conversation by examining its relationship to the spatial dimensions of the ancient rhetorical concept of kairos, or the opportune moment. Busekrus suggests that paying attention to “kairos transforms the space-place boundaries of the writing center, and ultimately, the writing, the tutor, and the student, disrupting the norm and leading to the invention of something new” (19).

Another crucial aspect of rethinking the writing center involves reimagining the methodologies that we use to assess our work. Kathryn Raign investigates whether or not the recent push toward RAD research in writing center studies is as desirable as it initially seems. Raign uses a quasi-experimental approach to demonstrate how writing center directors can use statistics and varied research tactics to their advantage in a climate of increasing institutional corporatization.

On the same wavelength, Liliana M. Naydan argues that writing center studies would benefit from adopting labor movement-oriented activist rhetoric in discussions of the contingent status of writing center professionals. Drawing crucial parallels between academics and organizers—such as a shared attention to language and appreciation for collaboration—Naydan models methods for writing center professionals to resist institutional corporatization.

Brooke Ricker Schreiber and Snežana Đurić’s work interrogates the boundaries of what constitutes a writing center as they tell the story of their experiences establishing a writing center outside of the familiar institutional setting of the university. The “alternative venue” of their title was a writing center in Niš, Serbia located in an American Embassy-funded resource center. Learning from both the familiar and new trials they encountered, they offer recommendations for those wanting to run writing centers outside of the traditional institutional infrastructures.

 In “A Systematic Approach to Graduate Writing Groups,” Claire McMurray shares the struggles she encountered in developing graduate writing groups in her writing center. After assessing the data from her first few rounds of writing groups, she developed a systematic method for ensuring increased success for those groups. She shares this tripartite method in this issue of Praxis in the hopes that it will be useful and productive for other future graduate collaborations.

In their article, Jennifer Grouling and Elisabeth Buck think about writing center work and how it helps consultants negotiate their identities as professionals and consultants. Specifically, Grouling and Buck navigate the gaps and occasional tensions between graduate and undergraduate tutor populations and how those relationships can and should be improved to better augment the center’s role as a space for productive academic exchanges.  

Finally, I (James) am passing the torch of senior managing editor to Alejandro Omidsalar and welcoming our newest managing editor, Sarah Riddick. Alejandro has been an invaluable co-editor and exceptionally fast learner in the few months he’s been on our staff, and I am incredibly grateful to him for stepping into the role of managing editor. Sarah, a fellow doctoral student here at UT’s Department of Rhetoric and Writing, is a seasoned editor, and I look forward to her tenure at Praxis. I am excited to leave my post knowing that the journal is in their more than capable hands. My time at Praxis has been invaluable to my development as a teacher and scholar, helping me to reconceive not only how I coach my students in the writing center session and in the classroom but also how I approach my own research. Most importantly, I’m grateful to you, our contributors and readers, for your participation in and support of Praxis. Thank you for the work you do in our rapidly expanding and progressing field.