Reflections on the National Conference of Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW), 2018

two pencils, an eraser and a light bulb on top of a blank piece of paper.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

At the beginning of this month, I attended the National Conference of Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) held at South Padre Island, Texas. This year’s conference brought together peer tutors and writing center scholars and administrators to engage the theme “Migration,” a timely topic within our current socio-political moment. In addition to presenting alongside UWC’s director Professor Trish Roberts-Miller and my colleague Joshua Mallet on conflict and consensus in contact zones of the writing center, I participated in other workshops and panels as well.

Dr. Aja J. Martinez’s keynote on “The Responsibility of Privilege: A Critical Race Conversation for Allies and Accomplices” emphasized the utility of counterstory as a strategy aimed at expanding our narrative base, including previously silenced voices in our scholarly and professional work, and exposing the multiple layers of oppression that shape institutional practices. In a really engaging delivery, Dr. Martinez pointed out that it is crucial—and indeed a more effective strategy—to embrace the discomfort and sacrifice of being an accomplice to oppressed folks, rather than adopting the position of an ally. An accomplice of an oppressed group is ready to risk their privilege to fight for justice; an ally protects their own privilege, while appearing to be risking it (Martinez).

The workshops and panels I attended were compelling and generative, but I’ll focus on an especially crucial one that was very much in line with the conference theme of migration. In Liza Soria et al.’s workshop on “Engaging Multilingual Writers in the Writing Center and Beyond,” participants brainstormed effective ways of working with multilingual writers in order to foster a stronger, more positive sense of academic community. The discussions concluded with practical do’s and don’ts that peer tutors may adopt to more effectively engage multilingual writers. Five effective approaches tutors may use include the following: (a) counting on multilingual students as resources and assets; (b) providing a space where students can, at their own discretion, brainstorm ideas even if not work on an actual writing task; (c) discussing Academic English norms and expectations as resources that shape scholarly communities; (d) drawing on collaborative tutoring strategies; and (e) providing useful resources for multilingual writers (Soria et al.).

Participants also discussed approaches that are generally less useful and encouraged tutors to avoid these: (a) avoid generally conducting tutoring sessions in students’ first language; (b) avoid assuming that multilingual writers all share a monolithic culture; (c) avoid assuming that all problems are because of multilingual writers’ L2; and (d) avoid assuming students’ writing priorities (many tutors generally think all multilingual writers need is a focus on grammar!). I found these practical do’s and don’ts useful, as they tied in very neatly not just with tutoring sessions with multilingual writers, but with other different demographics as well.

I learned much from this conference. For one thing, the diversity in resources and institutional frameworks within which writing centers across the nation operate became clear to me. Student demographics, resource availability, and university missions all shape writing center practices and pedagogies. As one presenter in a session mentioned, because of these differences, our ideal frameworks ought to match our lived pedagogies if we are to make a positive impact in our own writing centers. By considering how our imagined theories are shaped by institutional and demographic factors, we can more meaningfully fulfill the mission of our own centers.

In all, I thoroughly enjoyed this conference. The multiple perspectives from scholars, administrators, and peer tutors were amazing, and offered a holistic account of writing center work and practice. The location of the conference itself as a barrier island further lent meaning to the theme, and it evinced in a really practical way the borders, cultures, and ideas that meet and clash in migration. And, of course, the Island’s Birding and Nature Center’s watchtower provided a fascinating view of migrating birds. It was all beautiful!

Stephen K. Dadugblor is a third-year doctoral student at The University of Texas at Austin. His research interests are in writing center studies and rhetorical deliberation around divisive public policy issues.

Works Cited

Martinez, Aja J. “The Responsibility of Privilege: A Critical Race Conversation for Allies and Accomplices.” National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) Conference, 2 Nov. 2018, South Padre Island Convention Center, South Padre Island, TX. Keynote address. 

Soria, Liza, Brita Arrington, and Billy Cryer. “Engaging Multilingual Writers in the Writing Center and Beyond.” National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) Conference, 2 Nov. 2018, South Padre Island Convention Center, South Padre Island, TX. Workshop.