The View from the Front Desk

Gilles Gonthier, 'Marmotte- Groundhog' 2012

Gilles Gonthier, 'Marmotte- Groundhog' 2012

 

I’ve always liked to observe people. Every single person on this planet has a different background which lays the foundation for their current knowledge. Because I work the front desk, I have the unique opportunity to see every student before they have their consultation. It's not hard to notice differences between each student. I have checked in countless people, yet each of them had one goal when they came here. They wanted to have a better paper, a better argument, better writing. The students I notice the most are the ones who come in the writing center for the first time. I know I’m not the only one here who’s noticed this. They remind me of a groundhog coming out of its hole for the first time in spring. They’re slow to walk up to the front desk and they almost always say the same thing “I’m looking for someone to help me with my paper.” During this time I’m just ready to give them an appointment and about 95% of the time, I’m able to.

Every consultant has a speech they have ready when they first meet their consultee and it mainly involves them saying that we are a non-evaluative service and that the consultant cannot tell the consultee whether their paper is good or not. Most of these first timers have never had to reveal their writing to someone right in front of them before. I also believe that they have no idea what they’re getting into. They probably think of the UWC as an editing service which we aren’t. The surprise on their faces sometimes is quite a sight. You can hear them thinking “Well then what do you do?” While humorous, this question is in indicator of what the majority of incoming students think about writing. Students come in to get an answer from someone else but they don’t realize is that they can find the answer themselves. I know I came in with that mindset and to be completely honest I still just want the answers sometimes. This is not exclusive to writing but other subjects like math and science too. However, writing is different because a consultant is not reading formulas or something fixed but someone’s own ideas, hopefully. 

Putting myself in their shoes, it must be extremely scary to open their thoughts to someone who isn’t going to grade their paper. I think the difference is someone is reading your paper in front of you with you hearing your words through their mouth. It must somehow make the entire process more real because they can’t hide the result of the paper through a grade anymore but on the virtue of whether they think their paper is good or not. The UWC takes the result out of the equation and tries to establish the idea of writing as a process.  Because our consultants are non-evaluative it means that whatever they say isn’t an attack on the student’s ideas. I’ve seen that student’s feel safer because of this. If the student feels safe then they’re comfortable. If their comfortable they can bounce their own ideas off of the consultant. The end result is a better paper that the student created. I get to see each student leave after their appointment. While not everyone is satisfied with what they accomplished I believe the majority are. Especially the first timers. They came in not knowing what to expect and they leave with a greater sense of their own power to fix their own writing. The change in their confidence is quite astounding sometimes. It’s particularly nice when they come up to me to schedule their next appointment because they know that the service we provide is useful. It just goes to show that once you get a taste of this place, you’ll really like it.