I attended my first International Writing Center Association (IWCA) conference last weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. As someone new to the field of writing center scholarship and praxis, I was there neither to present a paper nor facilitate a panel. Instead, I registered as an attendee and went to Atlanta with the exciting but simple goals of meeting new people, learning the language of WC work, and gathering information about different methods for consultant training and assessment. I was also particularly interested in hearing discussions about the role of graduate consultants and ways to expand graduate writing services.
The conference was very enjoyable, and I learned a lot in three days. Other conference goers—who included writing center directors, writing center program coordinators and administrators, graduate students, and undergraduate students—were all welcoming and friendly, and conversations initiated during panels often and organically extended beyond the presentation rooms into the lobby, around the refreshment table, and over dinner. I was particularly struck by the intellectual generosity of the conference. Everyone was open and visibly committed to sharing resources, talking about both successes and failures, and collaborating on new strategies for development. The fact that writing centers exist in service of our students was always kept at the forefront of discussions, and there was none of the intellectual grandstanding that often comes to characterize other academic conferences.
The theme of this year’s IWCA meeting was “The Citizen Center,” and participants were invited to present on that theme, including new initiatives for diversity and inclusion, how writing centers can advocate for social justice, and the forms that “active centership” can take within writing center work. I attended interesting sessions on such topics as how to hire and support translingual consultants and on the importance of assuming neurodiversity as the norm in a WC workplace (a panel organized by the UWC’s very own Alice Batt, Sarah Riddick, and Tristin Hooker). The keynote address, delivered by Dr. Kendra L. Mitchell and Dr. Robert Randolph, Jr., reminded us that language and writing practices are always already embedded within discourses of power and privilege and that it’s our job as citizen scholars to confront the institutional and cultural conditions that shape the work that we do, and are capable of doing, within university writing centers.
I left the conference feeling excited about this work, and I look forward to adding to these conversations in the near future. This experience showed me that as much as writing center work can often feel like the sum of day-to-day operations, it’s also the result of the hard and dedicated effort of a wide range of people deeply committed to helping student writers find their voices in their academic and civic communities.
Dr. Kristin Gilger is the UWC Graduate Services Coordinator. She's currently enjoying her return to UT Austin, where she competed her undergraduate degree, after having earned a PhD in English Language and Literature at the University of Virginia and teaching at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.