“NOT ALONE IN THE PROCESS”: DESIGNING EQUITABLE SUPPORT FOR FIRST-YEAR WRITERS IN THE WRITING CENTER

Julie Wilson
Warren Wilson College
jwilson@warren-wilson.edu

Abstract  
Collaboration across college and university programs is key to expanding educational access and equity. One such collaboration can occur between first-year writing programs and writing centers. Specifically, a pilot program in a small liberal arts college shows how writing centers can adapt directed self-placement, increasingly used in first-year writing program administration, to identify students who could most benefit from our distinctive pedagogy and enroll them in weekly writing center sessions during the first year. Interviews and written reflections reveal common points of learning across these weekly sessions, including increased understanding of college writing standards, a matured writing process, and greater control over one’s academic success. This study corroborates Nancy Grimm’s recent argument that writing centers ought to aim for interdependence rather than independence if we are truly to promote equity. By adapting directed self-placement and expanding curricular offerings, writing centers can more deliberately support students to pass their writing-intensive classes and to progress toward graduation.

Introduction  

Over the next several decades, colleges and universities will educate a student body with increasing racial diversity and a growing gap between students from high-wealth and low-wealth backgrounds (AACU 2). Yet, comparative graduation rates suggest that institutions are not currently ensuring equitable access to success across race and class lines. Of students who began college in 2003, the five- or six-year graduation rate for students from the lowest income quartile was 26%, compared to 59% from the highest quartile (Pell 65). Of students who began college in 2008, the five-year graduation rate was 60% for white students, 36% for black students, and 47% for Hispanic/Latino students (Digest of Education Statistics sec. 13).

Increasing access and equity in higher education requires participation across administration, admissions, student life, career development, civic-engagement initiatives, and faculty; the work must include outreach to communities to influence who applies and how well they are prepared, as well as collaboration across programs to support students upon admittance (AAC&U 24-26). Among these programs are writing centers, which use an intimate and student-centered approach to shape how students come to know the role of writing in school and society, and how they come to know their own self-efficacy as writers. Writing centers have a better chance of increasing access and equity if we collaborate with other campus programs to identify and orient the students who will most benefit from our distinctive pedagogy, such as writing program administrators and other first-year transition staff. We will be more equitable if we expand, explain, and offer our services to students who question their readiness for college writing, given that many of these students will have lacked prior access to strong writing instruction. Writing centers can provide explicit guidance in the expectations of college writing, expanded options of writing processes, and a support-seeking and collaborative mindset. These options are keys to success at writing, which is the most commonly agreed-upon learning outcome in higher education and is therefore essential to retention and graduation (Hart 4).

Publicity of writing center services does not equal access, nor does remediation equal equity. We know that despite our best efforts, many do view writing centers as remedial (Salem 153). If we had a method of simply identifying students from under-resourced educational backgrounds to use the center—SAT scores, for example (Salem 159)—we could be as likely to reinforce self-doubt as to give a leg up at a moment when students need signs they belong. We need to infuse our identification practices with the intellectual rigor and sheer pleasure that many find in our spaces so that what we offer as support might be accepted as natural to college: an orientation to process, a collaborative mindset. Our colleagues in first-year writing program administration have long dealt with questions of access and equity in the first year, mainly through their conversations about directed self-placement into writing classes, a process where students learn about college writing expectations while choosing best-fit classes. Directed self-placement can increase access without pigeon-holing students as needing remediation, and it can achieve equity through demystifying, not lowering, college writing standards. Writing centers can adapt this approach with incoming students and match them to a first-year writing center curriculum that increases the likelihood that they will develop as writers and pass writing-intensive classes, thus accumulating credits toward their degrees. In this way, we can move beyond a problematic reliance on student “choice” as the primary means of using the center and into a more honest, lengthier, and messier dialogue with students about what it means to belong in college (Salem 152). 

Self-Assessment and Directed Self-Placement

Writing program administrators have long wrestled with the problem of placing students into first-year writing classes, especially when an institution offers two or three leveled options. Students come to college having had varying access to high-quality writing instruction, access shaped in part by the relative wealth of their schools, school districts, and communities. However, the addition of writing classes to a student’s courseload may put them behind pursuing a major or pre-professional track and may increase the time and expense toward graduation. Moreover, writing classes need to immerse all students in the challenges and rewards of college-level writing; otherwise, expanding access comes at the expense of real equity in intellectual experience.

The most efficient placement method into first-year writing classes is institution-directed, with administrators placing students based on criteria such as standardized test scores or essay exams scored by trained readers. However, such methods may perpetuate students’ beliefs about whether they are or aren’t good writers at critical transition points without enlightening them on college writing expectations; in other words, such methods may perpetuate the belief that writing is an innate ability rather than a developmental practice. Furthermore, standardized tests have a long history of racial and class-based bias (Inoue and Poe 8; White et al. 40), and locally developed essay exams may reproduce the same result without intentional work to reduce bias (Inoue and Poe 139-140).

Directed self-placement has emerged as a potentially more equitable first-year writing placement tool because it allows faculty to design their own locally relevant instrument that, ideally, both informs and evaluates students within the context of college writing standards (Inoue et al. 1-3; Royer and Gilles 2; Toth and Aull 3). In directed self-placement, entering students have a voice in deciding which writing classes and writing support will serve them best in the first year. Typically, they write an evidence-based essay in response to a prompt, answer a series of questions, and read about first-year writing options on the way to choosing the option that seems the best fit for their prior writing background. Typically, faculty check in with writers before the final decision is made, offering additional input to confirm or adjust the writer’s choice. This method of placement seeks to give students greater agency (Inoue), and it matches their placement more specifically to the demands of local writing classrooms than placement based on standardized testing might allow (Toth and Aull 4). While the main goal is placement, a secondary outcome can be instructional, in that students may learn what to expect from college writing. Such an approach can be especially helpful for first-generation college students or students without prior access to college preparatory instruction.

A body of educational research on self-assessment practices suggests potential benefits and drawbacks of the directed self-placement model. Well-designed and facilitated self-assessment practices seem to have positive results on student learning across subject areas, educational settings, and ages (Andrade and Valtcheva 15; Falchikov and Boud 425; Ross 9). An undercurrent in the literature of self-assessment—similar to scholarship inspired by Vygotsky (Vadeboncoeur and Collie 220-221)—is that, here, students’ emotional lives matter and that attention to students’ emotional lives enhances learning. Students may feel a stronger sense of belonging when teachers invite them into high-stakes conversations (Inoue), and when they recognize their own success, they develop confidence for future challenges in that area (Bandura as cited in Ross 6). However, self-assessment can also be damaging, for example when students over-rate their own abilities and miss important learning, or when students under-rate their abilities and deepen a negative self-concept (Ross 7). Research shows such negative results are less likely if teachers involve students in discussions of assessment criteria, teach students to self-assess, allow practice, and give honest feedback on students’ self-assessments, including disagreement (Falchikov and Boud 426; Ross 8-9). To be effective, directed self-placement may require a larger culture of self-assessment (Inoue), as well as a concerted effort from many parties. This collective effort may entail matching the placement instrument to the outcomes of first-year writing courses, reading students’ submitted work and advising their course selection, and tracking students’ subsequent success (Gere et al. 161-162, 168-169).  Such activities require time and in-depth conversations between teachers and incoming students—things that may be in short supply during the transition into a school year.

Placement in Writing Centers     

Writing centers have their own placement struggles, although not usually named as such. Center staff try different methods of connecting centers with students who would most benefit from coming in to the writing center, including classroom visits, videos, and social-media outreach. Publicity needs to counter assumptions, such as the assumption that services are designed for weak writers, that it’s best to come with a finished draft or that sessions merely serve classroom instruction and do not offer a well-developed pedagogy that stands apart from that instruction. At the same time, that pedagogy needs to come to life, with its orientation toward writing process, collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and long-term writing development.

In recent years, scholarship has turned to the required writing center visit as a means of orienting students to the writing center. While common lore has it that students won’t engage if they are required to come, recent research actually shows that students are more likely to have a good experience and want to return than not (Rendleman 2). Three visits may be the magic number where students actually show improvement in their writing (Irvin 1-2). The required visit gives students experiential knowledge of what a writing center does that surpasses what they can gain from a classroom workshop or video, neither of which engages them in the messiness of a one-on-one session. The point of required visits in the writing center is to educate students about what happens in the center to the point that they can make the best choice if they want to sign up for sessions.

In conversations about how to publicize the writing center and whether to require visits, the larger question is how to motivate students to use an optional service that may be quite different than they imagine it will be. This is where directed self-placement can help. Adapted for writing center usage, directed self-placement could provide a more deliberate method than typically exists for students to participate in writing center sessions. In the first year, directed self-placement could initiate regular visits alongside a student’s first writing course. These visits could offer student-directed and peer-facilitated learning; explicit instruction in the expectations of college writing; and transferable brainstorming, drafting, and revision strategies. Such a practice could enhance access to instruction and increase equity in outcomes (i.e., college success for students from under-resourced schools and communities).

Design of Pilot Program

Our small, liberal-arts college writing center features a one-credit, pass-fail course called Weekly Writing Sessions. In this course I, the center’s director, match student writers and peer tutors for weekly meetings to support writers in managing their work during writing-intensive semesters. Typically, the course fills with self-selected senior students who are working on their senior capstone projects, or sophomores and juniors who have been struggling with time management and/or are dissatisfied with their achievement in prior writing-based classes. In a pilot program, I expanded Weekly Writing to include a cohort of first-year students in order to increase access to writing center support during the transition to college. Specifically, I wanted to support students to succeed in College Composition, a writing course required of most students in their first or second semester at the college. I worked with other college officials to introduce the writing center to incoming students via a summer academic survey. I used a simplified version of directed self-placement to extend informed choice to all students: I gave basic information about the first-year writing curriculum and Weekly Writing, and I asked students to rate the opportunity as “very interesting,” “interesting,” or “not interesting,” and to explain any interest.

Although 50% of the students said they were not interested, 26% said they were interested, and 24% said they were very interested. Those with interest tended to respond in a sentence or two. Many students stated in generic terms they wanted to become better writers. Another sizable group named a social reason, such as they liked bouncing ideas off of someone else, getting critiques on their writing, or working in groups. And the third most sizable group named time management concerns—they worked slowly, needed help getting started, or had trouble meeting deadlines, and they thought the writing center would help in this way.

For the fall semester, I selected eleven students who were “very interested” and whose rationale best matched what we do, such as people who said they hadn’t had much instruction in writing, had had good experiences with peer feedback, or people who were really nervous about college-level writing. Prior to spring-semester registration, I emailed all writers from the two “interested” categories along with their advisors to remind them of the Weekly Writing option; eleven writers subsequently enrolled themselves. Altogether, then, twenty-two first-year students—about ten percent of the incoming first-year class—co-enrolled in Weekly Writing Sessions and Composition.

During the year of the pilot, with IRB approval, I collected first-year academic surveys and grades from all first-year students, I collected portfolio reflections of students in Weekly Writing Sessions, and I conducted interviews with seven peer tutors and four writers. The seven peer tutor interviews are a strong sample of my tutoring staff, and they together worked with thirteen of the first-year students who were co-enrolled in Weekly Writing Sessions and College Composition during the year of the study. My analysis of these materials captures, essentially, a writing center curriculum for the first year, which can then inform future placement practices.

Benefits of Weekly Writing Sessions in the First Year

The benefits of Weekly Writing for first-year students are consistent with the hoped-for outcomes of Lisa Delpit and Nancy Grimm. From perspectives outside and inside of the writing center, respectively, both Delpit and Grimm argue that educational equity depends in part on students who were not raised in the dominant culture of a university being given explicit instruction in the culture and standards of the university (Delpit 25; Grimm 77). Otherwise, Delpit writes, “students ultimately find themselves held accountable for knowing a set of rules about which no one has ever directly informed them” (31). Students whose backgrounds are closer to the dominant culture—such as many white, upper-class students without disabilities and whose parents went to college—have had greater access to the university’s rules and standards. Such explicit instruction needs to come, Delpit and Grimm argue, with a critical consciousness about the dominant culture and also intentional inclusion and appreciation of the home cultures and identities of students from other backgrounds (Delpit 40; Grimm, 91-92). In other words, standards of the dominant college culture should be taught within context: they are one of many sets of standards, each of which has value, and as the standards adopted by the college they need to be made available equitably.

In order to be equitable, Grimm argues, a writing center needs to question some of the taken-for-granted principles across our history. For example, Grimm argues against the recommended practice of “HOCS over LOCS,” or higher-order concerns such as argument and structure over latter-order concerns such as grammar and syntax (83). This practice privileges students with a mastery of standard English grammar and can be disempowering for students whose ideas may not be taken seriously because of grammatical errors. Grimm also opposes the notion that a writing center’s goal for writers should be independence and that after a writer has met with a writing center tutor a few times, they should be able to apply learned strategies to editing on their own (85). It seems logical that a writing center would boldly embrace collaboration and peer support, yet Grimm is right that much writing center scholarship does paradoxically embrace the collaboration of the tutorial and the aimed-for independence of individual writers.

Grimm’s solution for equity includes honoring regular writing center users as strong writers who appreciate the essential role of peer readers and “interdependence” in a healthy writing life (85). Indeed, writing center directors can look to their regular users as potential future tutors, privileging support-seeking behavior as a qualification to become a tutor. Grimm writes:

Positive representations of [. . .]  writers who are working their way into a dominant discourse would create a more welcoming context[.] [. . .] Depicting regular writing center users as hard workers rather than people who ‘need help’ would also create a more hospitable environment for students of color who may avoid writing centers because of what Claude Steele (1997) calls ‘stereotype threat,’ the concern that they will reinforce negative stereotypes of their race by making use of resources designed for people who ‘need help.’ (87)

Grimm offers a paradigm shift for writing centers: from a posture of “helping” to one of “extending membership into a community,” from aiming for independence to appreciating interdependence (94).

Interviews and portfolios revealed, first, that Weekly Writing Sessions helped students gain explicit information about college writing expectations. It is no surprise that students perceived improvements to their writing confidence and ability by coming regularly to the writing center. What is notable is the intervention of the directed self-placement process in the students’ transition to college. This intervention, aimed directly at students’ perceptions of their own writing abilities, showed them that it’s normal to have doubts and offered them a way to address these doubts head-on. Without such an intervention, students might have experienced themselves as unprepared for college writing standards and might have chosen or been directed to use the writing center after failure. With the intervention, students proactively chose the writing center and obtained access to preparation simultaneously with new academic demands. One writer shared in a portfolio reflection:

When I came to [college], an initial concern of mine was having the ability to write. I didn’t go to the greatest high school, so I knew writing skills would be a struggle. I didn’t know what a bibliography was, I had no idea how to create a footnote, and I couldn’t even fathom the thought of a quote sandwich. But as I have been going to the writing center, learning new skills, and getting bad grades on papers, I grew. I’ve grown as a writer and as a student, and I’m extremely proud of that. I still hate writing papers, and I probably always will, but the transition has gotten much smoother. I can safely say I don’t and/or won’t freak out every time I get a writing assignment.

The writer was not alone in speaking of the writing center as a kind of safety net during the transition to college. Similar to the language of not “freaking out,” another writer shared, “This weekly writing session really helped me calm down during stressful weeks.” And another writer, who took the class because of “unhappy associations with writing,” wrote, “In the past I have received only negative feedback on my writing which is really disheartening. It made me actually feel like I could actually write when [my tutor] or the other tutors complimented my writing.”

For these students, Weekly Writing was a beneficial support during an uncertain or stressful transition to college writing. Some students connected the benefits to the environment being different from the classroom; one peer tutor called the course a “safer and less loaded academic space.” One writer spoke of appreciating getting a peer review outside of the pressured peer reviews of the classroom. These students were reassured by a more experienced peer’s regular presence, affirming that their ideas were interesting, that their writing had strengths, and that where they were lacking necessary information or background, instruction could fill in the gap. One tutor also spoke of teaching students how to navigate other kinds of campus support systems (e.g., professors’ office hours, support for learning differences) as part of what she could offer writers. These portfolio and interview excerpts support the use of directed self-placement to identify students who doubt themselves or who recognize gaps in their education and who would benefit from explicit instruction in the culture of college academics. In other words, directed self-placement is a tool, in Grimm’s words, to extend membership.

Interviews and portfolios also reveal that Weekly Writing Sessions cultivated in students a sense of control over whether they were successful in their writing classes. Directed self-placement, an initial moment in which students exercised control, led into a semester in which students expanded their writing processes and their decision-making capabilities. Initially, some writers self-placed into the class because of concerns with “time management,” an umbrella term for what they labeled as poor work habits, blaming themselves for procrastination and a lack of motivation. End-of-year interviews and portfolio reflections reveal that students developed a more mature writing process through their sessions. Some wrote of organizing their drafts, others of learning to proofread—practices that were an improvement over writing their papers at the last minute. These writers may have originally thought their problem was one of motivation, but as they were exposed to new writing strategies, they became more productive. Perhaps what they had lacked was a repertoire of strategies for getting started and revising.

One peer tutor’s description of a first-year writer’s development exemplifies this maturation in the writing process. The writer went from passivity to active decision-making over the course of the semester, leading him to pride in his work.

In the beginning [. . .] a lot of time I would ask, ‘What do you want to work on? Do you want to work in a study room or in the writing center? Or do you want to read out loud or silently?’ and none of it mattered to him[.] [. . .] The way I handled that was choosing a direction for us, and then later on, I would start saying, ‘Well, some people start to do this for this reason. Reading out loud helps a lot of people.’ And I started to realize that when I did that, he was more likely to make his own decision, thinking about how he wasn’t alone in the process, and seeing what benefits different methods might have for other writers[.] [. . .] The last assignment we worked on, he spent a lot more time on it[.] [. . .] He said that he had been reading it over and over again… which was really different than the beginning, when he said he didn’t even read his academic work more than once.

This peer tutor noted that the accountability of Weekly Writing being a credited course played a large part in the writer’s development. The writer was initially driven to attend regularly so he wouldn’t fail, and that attendance led to unanticipated growth.

A different writer shared her perspective on a similar process of devoting more time and developing more control over her writing process. In the fall semester, she made Bs and Cs, and yet felt bored. In the spring semester she took Weekly Writing and also went to the Academic Support Center to work on study habits. She found that putting more time into her work increased her interest level. At the time of our interview, she had been working on a paper for three weeks and had turned in a draft every week to her professor. She had gotten stalled with the paper and had put it away. During the period when she put the paper away, she came across a connection that made her excited to restart her paper. She attributed her new excitement to having given herself plenty of time: “I guess a lot of people write [the paper] the night before and turn it in. I actually took it seriously[.] [. . .] If I didn’t have time to put it away, I wouldn’t have time to have that like your paper thing.” This writer recognized she could control whether an assignment was enjoyable to her—a powerful recognition for developing an identity as a student.

This program for first-year writers included an aim of positively impacting the passing rate of students enrolled in Composition. At our college, passing means earning a C- or better to fulfill the first of the college’s writing requirements. Passing allows students to move forward in fulfilling their general-education requirements, including enabling them to register for their second writing requirement, a writing-intensive course in the major. Clearly, passing Composition furthers a student’s progress toward earning a degree in the most affordable number of semesters, and therefore is a piece of the larger retention and graduation picture. Our results in this area were promising. It was not feasible to compare the group in Weekly Writing, which was comprised of students who presented as insecure about their writing abilities and as open to peer support, with a control group of similarly-minded writers who did not enroll in the course. The best comparison, then, was between the twenty-two students who took Weekly Writing concurrently with Composition and the 162 who took Composition without Weekly Writing. Of the attempts where students enrolled in Composition with Weekly Writing, 91% finished Composition with a C- or better. Of the attempts where writers took Composition without Weekly Writing, 85% passed with a C- or better. The percentage of students passing Composition was higher for the group that took Weekly Writing. There was no statistical significance to the higher passing rate, however, in part due to the small sample size. The intervention could be adjusted and repeated, here and at other colleges, to ascertain whether directed self-placement into the writing center in the first year contributes to a student’s ability to successfully pass required writing courses, improving a key set of skills while accumulating credits and prerequisites toward a timely graduation.

Shortcomings of Weekly Writing Sessions in the First Year

Although I did not design the pilot study to measure impact on retention, early readers of this article prompted me to look at retention data. Indeed, retention is the kind of “major outcome” or “value-added quantitative appeal” that Lerner and Lape, respectively, call upon writing centers to measure; it is more important and more valid, Lerner argues, than outcomes of grade improvement (Lerner “Choosing” 3-4; Lape 1-2). Unfortunately, enrollment in Weekly Writing did not result in high rates of retention into the sophomore year. In fact, 55% of the students who took Weekly Writing with Composition enrolled for a third semester at our institution, compared with 64% of the entire first-year cohort with which these students entered. Many factors beyond the scope of this study are at play. Perhaps some students transferred to other institutions and continued on a self-directed and successful path to college graduation; in other words, a lower rate of retention at our institution does not equate to a higher college-failure rate. It is also worth noting that the first-year cohort compared here includes students who earned Composition credit outside of the required class; they had taken a college-level course in high school or had submitted Advanced Placement scores and a writing portfolio. In other words, some first-year students had prior access to college-level curriculum. Directed self-placement alone cannot make up for variations in access across our educational systems.

Several writers expressed mixed feelings about the course and about the writing center generally. During the first year, these writers discovered the sessions weren’t as useful for them as they had anticipated. One writer decided feedback was more frustrating than helpful:

I’m a little edgy when it comes to critiques. . . . So just getting steady feedback on, ‘You should do this and you should do that,’ I’m like, okay, I don’t think I need this anymore. Because it just made me mad instead of being helpful.

Two writers enrolled in introductory science courses felt the services were not relevant to writing lab reports, which were “more like answering questions than full essays.” They did not see a connection between their composition courses and lab courses even though our college emphasizes writing across the curriculum, and center staff and science faculty ostensibly agree on common writing goals. These first-year writers, regular visitors to the center, did not yet perceive how work in the center applied to their science courses. This limitation in our program reflects our priorities in the year of the pilot program: supporting students to develop identities as college writers generally over teaching for transfer across disciplinary contexts, and supporting first-year writers over more advanced writers. 

Implications

If writing centers are to use directed self-placement, we must shape a method that has validity, in which placement criteria are well-correlated to subsequent instruction. We can work closely with others involved in first-year transition issues: first-year writing administrators; admissions offices; student-life organizations; offices of diversity, inclusion, and equity; other academic support staff. We can move beyond articulating a pedagogy (i.e., how we teach) to articulating a curriculum (i.e., what we teach).

In our center, we now know that in the first year we define college writing with writers, and we teach them to assess their own writing against those standards. We teach that they can seek out additional instruction or practice in order to bridge any gap they find and that receiving academic support is something successful college writers do. We teach that motivation is not necessarily innate but can result from a diligent writing process. Motivation does not need to precede writing but rather can arise from interdependent discussions about writing. In our center, we now know that we do not teach transfer between Composition and other writing contexts. Perhaps knowledge of this limitation will lead us to adjust our curriculum or our placement practices—or to identify another transitional period, such as the junior year when writing in the major intensifies—and to design placement and programming to suit.

Administrators across different types of writing programs (first-year writing, writing across the curriculum, writing centers) would benefit from collaborating (Schendel and Macauley 86; White et al. 26). Writing centers have traditionally held separate research and assessment traditions (Lerner “Unpromising Present” 68; Schendel and Macauley 4, 13), partly as a result of lesser status in the academy and partly as a result of our unique pedagogy, the one-on-one tutorial. It is possible we have reacted to the former by asserting the specialness of the latter—that is, our ability to do what other campus entities cannot do (Schendel and Macauley 86). It may be that writing centers can strengthen our unique pedagogical foundations while simultaneously breathing needed new life into our scholarship and practice by engaging with other writing program administrators (Geller et al 21; Lerner “Unpromising Present” 96). In other words, collaboration across programs could both enrich and further each field’s distinct scholarship, as difference could support each type of writing program to articulate its specialness.

In adapting directed self-placement practices from first-year writing programs, writing centers stand to gain and to give. After all, the heart of traditional writing center pedagogy is self-direction, with each session typically book-ended by the questions, “What would you like to work on?” and “What is your plan from here?” A gap exists between writing program knowledge about self-assessment and writing center practice. Intentional collaboration across our programs can bridge that gap. For example, self-assessment works best when students understand assessment criteria and practice applying them repeatedly—just as they do in writing center sessions. Effective self-assessment is resource-intensive; enlisting peer tutors could enhance the process.

Collaborations between writing centers and first-year writing programs are one example of initiatives that colleges need if we are to increase access and equity. We are at a historical moment that calls us both to uphold high standards for college writing instruction and also to strike down barriers that many students face in meeting those standards. Writing centers already contribute to students’ academic achievement in important ways. If we are more deliberate, we can do more. We need to step outside the writing center spaces we have lovingly created and into other spaces that students inhabit. Here, I have described the space of a first-year academic questionnaire as a space into which writing centers can insert themselves. In that space, we can push a little harder to articulate our work—and listen a little more keenly to students in order to understand their previous academic lives and their hopes for college. Without that kind of dialogue, we won’t know how variations in access and equity have influenced students’ relationships with writing, nor how we might work interdependently to widen access to writing instruction and deepen equity in educational outcomes going forward.

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