Tag: writing

The Inclusive Tutor: Addressing and Redressing Diversity in the Writing Center

Shiva Mainaly, Writing Consultant

What are the attributes and traits of an inclusive tutor? Why do we need an inclusive tutor?
How does an inclusive tutor differ from a non-inclusive tutor? Why is the question of inclusion so important to writing centers?

These are the questions that have compelled me to ponder.

We have sufficient records that our writing center has been visited by a large number of students year by year. Among those students who have visited our writing center, a considerable number of them are non-American, non-native speakers of English, resident students, visa students, students belonging to 1.5 generation, students on F1 and J 1 status. Some of these students are enrolled in undergraduate classes whereas others are enrolled in graduate level courses. These students embody different socio-cultural, linguistic, historical, and continent specific experiences.

The number of those students having unique cultural differences is on the rise. To provide care, support and guidelines, the writing center has been widening its scope. Since the writing center has already taken constructive steps to include students regardless of caste, creed, convention, color, disability and gender, it has been hailed as the hub where diversity, the differential, and disability are carefully accepted and constructive counseling is given keeping in mind the unique nuance, agency and concern of student writers.

To address constructively all those voices, expectations, dignity, agency and sensibilities of students, writing center needs inclusive tutors. Only inclusive tutors can handle with dignity the longings, concerns and curiosities of student writers. In the present time in which writing centers have been witnessing the flow of students both native and nonnative speakers of English, what writing centers need is inclusive tutors.

By an inclusive tutor, I mean the sort of tutor who demonstrates tremendous patience and a sense of acceptance when it comes to looking into the student drafts. Only those tutors who have the capacity to say ‘yes’ to their own weaknesses, frailties, flaws, feet of clay, shortcoming and limitations can accept the others as they really are. Here I am reminded of what Francis Fukuyama in his book Identity says “the longing to get recognition from others is the universal longing everyone is endowed with. It is this longing for recognition from others that drives us to forge and foment the question of identity”.

Below I have presented some attributes and traits of an inclusive tutor:

• The inclusive tutor does not get stuck on any identity category rooted in caste, creed, convention, color and gender when he or she starts tutoring in writing center.

 
• An inclusive tutor possesses tremendous power of acceptance. In no way, he or she deviates from the centrality of his or her power of accepting difference in any form.

 
• Language has the power to influence thought and vice versa. So, the inclusive tutor does not believe in the dichotomy of lower order concern and higher order concern.

 
• The inclusive tutor is always ready to address any concern of students be it grammar and punctuation or structural chronology of ideas without compromising with the foundational belief that writing center is not a grammar fixing center.

 
• The inclusive tutor acts in an innovative way. Labels, categories, stereotypes and banal modes of expressions are simply rejected by an inclusive tutor.

 
• The inclusive tutor knows when and how to switch deftly and smartly from non-directive modes of tutoring to directive modes of tutoring.

 
• The inclusive tutor believes and acts on the assumption that every student writer is a world in himself or herself. And the tutor navigates this world with consciousness.

 
• The inclusive tutor is driven by the belief that all forms of literacy are interrelated, supplementary, complementary, correlative, and symbiotically linked. Alphabetic literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy, community literacy, twitteracy etc. are all important in knowledge making process. The inclusive tutor makes use of anything that serves the best goal of tutor and boosts the institutional prestige and standing of writing center.

 
• An inclusive tutor forcibly believes that after each interaction with student writer, a new self is born in the life of inclusive tutor.

 
• The inclusive tutor is a mirror on which student writer finds the reflection of his or her own image, face.

 
• Writing is not a product of solitary endeavor. It is a product of collective efforts. This is the quintessence of inclusive tutoring.

Spelling in the Digital Age

Lauren Cline-Plumlee, Writing Consultant

I don’t know about you, but whenever the topic of spelling comes up, I’m immediately taken back to the days of taking weekly spelling and vocabulary tests in elementary school.  My mind always goes to one particular day of fifth grade when my teacher had a mock spelling bee in our class to see which students would actually go on to the real school-wide competition.

I was one of three left standing—one competitor and one alternate would advance—and my word was “ocean.” To this day, I vividly remember the embarrassment I felt when, even though I knew good and well how that word was spelled, the letters “o-s-h-u-n” came out of my mouth. While the two remaining students continued spelling to determine who would be in the spelling bee and who would be the alternate, I sat back down at my desk, stared at my clasped hands, and tried to keep the blood from rushing to my cheeks by sheer force of will.

As I sat there halfway listening to the goings-on around me, I rationalized my mistake by saying to myself, “the way I spelled that word makes logical sense, even more than the correct spelling.” However, traumatized young Lauren became determined to never feel ashamed of incorrect spelling again. Even now, whenever I realize that there is a typo in a tweet or Facebook post, I feel compelled go back and fix it, or I even sometimes delete the comment altogether.

I find myself saying “i before e except after c” to myself multiple times a day, and I’m always THAT person who will correct social media acquaintances on the uses of your/you’re, two/to/too, or their/their/they’re even though I probably shouldn’t. I’ve taken enough grammar and language classes to know that standardized spelling is a relatively recent development in recorded history, but I still can’t seem to get past my so-called spelling anxiety.

I promise I don’t think about this topic obsessively, but I may or may not have been scrolling through Twitter one day in the not-so-distant past to avoid doing my schoolwork when I got lost in a maze of consecutive pages and found Scottish Twitter. Seeing the use of technically incorrect spelling to reflect regional dialects in this forum was extremely thought-provoking, and it ultimately prompted me to reflect on the evolving conventions of the English language.

It is, perhaps, common knowledge that the spelling reform of Noah Webster’s dictionary effectively differentiated American English from its British counterpart in the years following the Revolutionary War. In his attempt to simplify English spelling by removing double or silent letters, words like colour, honour, flavour, and mould became color, honor, flavor and mold; publick and musick became public and music; travelled and cancelled became traveled and canceled; programme became program; defence, offence, and pretence became defense, offense, and pretense; organise became organize; theatre and centre became theater and center; and cheque became check, to name a few.

However, not all of the suggested new spellings ended up sticking. Webster also proposed “masheen” for “machine” and “ake” for “ache.” Benjamin Franklin wanted to change “alphabet” to “alfabet.” Theodore Roosevelt suggested that “kissed” should be spelled “kist.” George Bernard Shaw even advocated for removing apostrophes from contractions—for example, “don’t” would be “dont.”

Although there is technically nothing wrong with any of these spellings, as most people would still be able to understand their meanings, standardized spelling has been argued to make reading comprehension easier. It has even been said that the spelling reform of Noah Webster has made American English easier to read for dyslexic individuals and to learn for those of whom are not native English-speakers. So, if spelling reform makes English easier, then why did it seemingly stop decades ago?

Although the reformation of standardized spelling has apparently been put on the back burner, shortened forms of common words are increasingly being used in a variety of settings. Think about it, have you ever seen a “drive through” sign? No, because “drive thru” is just as effective and even more efficient. Similarly, it’s “Dunkin’ Donuts” not “Dunking Doughnuts.” Even more notably than in advertising, the misspelling of words for brevity’s sake can be seen just about every time you open up your phone. Although I’m a stickler for correct spelling and grammar in media-based communications, I can’t deny ever using “u” for “you,” “ur” for “your” or “you’re,” “k” or “ok” for “okay,” and “2” for “to,” “too,” or “two.”

Maybe this is simply one of those “everyone else is doing it” things, or it could possibly just be to save time, but this new-age strain of spelling reform seems to have been brought on by the necessity of fitting within a character limit. When texting was first introduced, there was a 160-word character limit and phones only had numerical keypads with T9. Once cell phones began to be made with full keyboards, abbreviated phrases like lol, ily, brb, btw, fyi, and tbh were already in popular use.
The character-limit mentality is continually reinforced by popular social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, as well as online-dating applications, which give users just enough space on their profiles to include short blurbs about themselves. Additionally, Twitter still sets a character limit on users’ tweets, although it was raised from 140 to 280 a few years ago.

A quick Google search revealed that the average tweet only takes up 33 of those 280 characters. Since our use of language is progressively becoming shorter and more straightforward, there aren’t as many complex sentences that need to be littered with commas and such so that they aren’t misunderstood. So, when trying to comply with a set character limit, punctuation is almost always the first to go. Because the question being asked is always inherent in the grammatical structure of an interrogative sentence, question marks are not necessary in limited-character communication.

The use of apostrophes in contractions is also becoming increasingly obsolete in social media settings—it seems as if the aforementioned Mr. Shaw was onto something after all? Furthermore, it’s become so uncommon for a period to appear in a text or tweet that they’ve actually developed a negative connotation. I’ve talked to many people about this development, and it would seem that when we get angry or upset, we tend to revert back to the traditional conventions of spelling and grammar we were taught in school.

Therefore, complex sentences with proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling are almost solely reserved for academic essays and emotional situations.
Growing up in America during this boom of technological advancement, I’m obviously very familiar with the customs that have come to define media platforms. However, we are so transfixed with our own little cultural bubbles that it’s unfortunately all too easy to hit “sensory overload” before we even think to look beyond our own perceptions of normalcy. As I mentioned earlier, I was actively trying to be unproductive when I happened to stumble upon a network of Twitter-users from a culture not entirely like my own.

Although Scotland is still a Western civilization and I definitely could have looked further into the Twitter-sphere, I was very much intrigued by the idea of spelling according one’s own dialect. Being from the Southeast United States, seeing “em” and “ol” rather than “them” and “old” is totally commonplace, and sometimes people will leave the “g” off of a word ending in “ing” to add character, but that’s about the extent of the average Southern American’s use of eye dialect—as far as I know, that is. Also, in my studies of English literature, I’ve seen eye dialects be appropriated to patronize certain cultures, ethnicities, or races all too often.

However, the use of eye dialect by Scottish Twitter-users seemed to be a celebration of their linguistic heritage. This could very well be the next frontier in regard to spelling reform, as people are seemingly becoming more comfortable with spelling variation. Furthermore, the use of eye dialect is possible in this digital age precisely because of the enhanced possibility of communication between different cultures. I knew that “oot” meant “out,” “a” could mean “I” or “of,” “av” meant “I’ve,” “ma” meant “my,” “dinny” could mean “do not” or “don’t,” “tae” meant “to,” and “wi” meant “with” because I know what a Scottish accent generally sounds like.

It could be problematic if everyone just began spelling words how they pronounced them, as the phonetic representation of a word in one dialect may not be phonetic for another, but what I’m proposing here is simply that we try to be more inclusive of speech patterns different than our own.

The Rhetoric of Your Dating Profile

Cat Sar, Writing Consultant

Bumble. Tinder. Hinge. Clover. Match. Coffee Meets Bagel

Dating profiles might not come to mind when you think of writing, but even a short blurb about yourself is a type of text. In fact, all parts of a profile on a dating app—basic information about your name, age and location, photos, optional questions, and even the decision to link other social media profiles to your account—are all part of a “text” that can be read and analyzed.

Think of your profile as an argumentative piece. The goal of the argument is to convince someone to engage with you. The type of engagement may depend on the specific platform that you are using. In this case, the evidence that supports your argument consists of all the components of a profile that were previously mentioned. In order to craft a successful dating profile, you’ll need to take into consideration the rhetorical elements involved in writing an argument. Hmm…sounds a lot like your first-year English course?

Let’s break down your “argument” by each part of the profile, starting with basic information: name, age and location. Don’t think that these pull as much weight as your photos? Think of it this way: if you are tempted to fictionalize this portion of your profile—if you are lying about the very base facts about yourself, why should anyone believe that any of your profile is real? The basic information of your profile is the start to building credibility (cough cough ethos). Although online dating and app usage has become extremely popular, we live in the age of catfishing and stranger danger.

Trust is a major factor in dating apps, and in relationships. You should be honest about these facts (and to be honest myself, I shouldn’t have to tell you that). When a house is being built, the foundation is laid first. Everything else is built upon this base. When it comes to dating apps, trust (that the person looks like their pictures, that they are the age that they claim, etc.) is the foundation that you are asking someone to build any interaction upon.

Next, there are the photos. Again, these should be photos of you, and they should be recent photos. Seems obvious. The majority of your photos should be solo shots, or pictures in which it is obvious which person you are. When people are swiping through profiles, they don’t want to have to stop to search for you in every picture. Similar to the importance of clarity in writing, a straightforward visual directs your audience to the point quickly and concisely.

The content of the photos is where the major decisions lie. The photos section of your profile is where emotions arise most readily. For example, when you use a travel picture, you are making the claim that you are adventurous, or at the very least have been on a vacation. A photo of you playing a sport suggests that you are active. A picture of you and a dog? Cue the heart-melt! In this case, a picture is worth a thousand immediate affective responses that will sway your audience to see you in a certain light, depending on what kind of photos you include. Choose wisely.

You’ll be tempted to post your highlight reel—the most interesting photos where you look the best. And you should prioritize the pictures in which you are ~ feeling yourself. But your pictures should also be an accurate representation of who you are. Pathos—emotional appeals (think the involuntary aww that puppies elicit)—are weak without a person’s truth to back it up.

Remember, everything that you include in your app is telling those who view your profile what you think is important in a partner. The (sometimes optional) short answer section is the most direct place in which this occurs. By choosing certain things to include above others, like: are you physically active? what’s your horoscope? ideal first date?, you are showcasing what you consider to be characteristics that will attract a partner, and telling that potential partner what they should find desirable about you.

On one hand, you are saying: these are my most important qualities—the qualities that I believe will draw other’s interests. On the other, you are saying: this is what I find important to advertise on this platform—I am likely to be interested in others who prioritize the same characteristics. The type of language in these responses should reflect your personality and your intention.

Lots of slang, emojis, or typical “text talk” will invoke a different assumption about you than one-word responses, which in turn will have different implications than longer, more poetic answers. (What these assumptions are, as well as their accuracy, will reflect certain biases of your audience. This blog post does not aim to address the consequences of such assumptions, but it would be remiss not to mention that dating apps and profiles are as susceptible to bias and assumption as any in-person interaction.) Basically, your choice of words matters.

Has this blog post ruined the casual ease of swiping through strangers in hopes of finding true love? Maybe. Hopefully it has also helped you to think more deeply about how we go about connecting with others, and offered some clarity about the kinds of arguments we make for ourselves. When we claim that we are able to help with any kind of writing at the University Writing Center, we really mean it.

Writing and Riding: More Parallels Than You Might Think

Kelby Gibson, Writing Consultant

Writing can be related to more things in your daily life than you might expect. Writing looks different for everyone.  My writing process is very similar to my training process. I ride horses, barrel horses to be exact. I compete at local shows and occasionally a few rodeos. For those reading this that don’t know what barrel racing is, it’s a timed equine event in which a rider takes their horse through a clover leaf pattern around three 55-gallon barrels as fast as they can. I know what you’re thinking, there is no way this can relate to writing, but it really can.

I have learned many lessons and grown so much as a person from being in the barrel racing world. A few of the key things I’ve learned that have in turn helped me in writing are both humility and confidence.

Humility is something that can be hard for a lot of people. Admitting you are wrong is never fun, but the important thing to remember is when you can accept that you need to ask for help you are always going to come out the better person. A friend of mine has a saying, “if you’re scared say you’re scared” and I think this applies here. If you need help, ask for help! Yes, it sucks saying I’ve tried my way, now I need to hear from someone else. Opening yourself up for critique is hard, but once you learn to take the constructive criticism it will only make you better at what you are trying to accomplish, whether that is win a belt buckle or write an ‘A’ paper.

I’ve consulted many different people just in the last year on how to better myself as a rider just as I have continually asked for feedback from friends and colleagues with my writing throughout the semester. I did not become a better barrel racer by only ever riding my way, I got better by asking my friends and competitors questions. You cannot become a better writer holed up in a dark room holding onto that draft just waiting for the answers to come for you. You have to go find the answers. Writing can be social. Writing is social. So have the humility to venture away from the desk, seek feedback, and ask questions.

Kelby horse
Kelby Gibson barrel racing!

Confidence is needed when you’re on the back of a 1200-pound animal that’s running at roughly 40 miles per hour and turning on your command by a few light hand and foot movements. There are certain pressures behind writing that are similar to trying to beat a clock with money on the line. Maybe you’re applying to your dream graduate program, working on your senior thesis, or writing the final paper that determines your grade in class. Stress and pressure do funny things to us and can cause us to under-perform. When I’m at a race I like to try my best to focus on the positives.

While I don’t recall exactly who said it, there is a line from my favorite barrel racing podcast I like to keep in mind with all things in life, “You either win or you learn.” So maybe you try your hardest and your horse gives its all, but you don’t come in the pen and set the pace for the day. Similarly, you might spend hours upon hours on a paper that falls short in the eyes of its main audience. In either situation your initial reaction is to ask, what went wrong? If you pursue that question you will surely get an answer whether it be from yourself or someone else and once you have that answer you can learn how to do better next time.

Not every run is going to be your fastest and not every piece you write will be well received, but as long as you are trying your hardest and putting forth a good faith effort you will succeed or you will learn how to increase your chances of succeeding the next time. Have confidence in yourself. When you’re writing that paper don’t allow the thoughts of what might happen bog you down, clear your head and give it your best shot. As long as you’re trying, what is the worst that could happen?

These two things are just a few of the many ways barrel racing has enriched my life and my willingness to learn. My training process and writing process mirror each other in many aspects and because of that I continue to improve as both a jockey and a writer. What I admire most about this sport is that even the best of the best will tell you that you can never stop learning and finding ways to improve yourself and the same can be said for writing.

What I Learned About Writing from My Favorite Protagonist

Tristan DeWitt, Writing Consultant

I can’t say that writing is always enjoyable for me. Sometimes I even hate it.  I’ve spent countless hours sitting in front of a blank word document having no clue what to say – regretting the choices I have made that led me to writing another paper. I know it sounds dramatic (and I don’t by any means actually hate writing) but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed thinking about my audience and if they will find it good enough, that I don’t even want to complete the assignment at all.

In this situation, it helps me when I think about one of my favorite protagonist in literature, Mary Beton, from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Throughout the book, Mary finds herself denied the opportunity to partake in much of the academic culture of the university. In a search for answers to her experiences, Mary finds that little literature is written with attention to the actual experiences of women, both by male and female writers. Woolf herself concludes the novel by telling women that they need is a room of their own in which to write.

I believe that Mary’s experience highlights something about writing that many of us within the university community take for granted. When given an assignment that we don’t really want to do, we see it as something that is being forced upon us. I am guilty of this as well, but thinking of Mary makes me realize how remarkable each opportunity to write actually is. Not everywhere are we given the chance to write what we think and have an audience that will listen.

Even in our least favorite assignment we have the privilege to evaluate our thoughts and make something our own. We no longer need a room of our own to write. Within the university, we have a unique opportunity where we are expected to share our experiences and insights, be it with a text or with research.

Working in the Writing Center, people sometimes think that words or ideas just come to me naturally, since writing is what I like to do. However, the truth is that rarely do words just come to me. There is always revising, editing, and what seems to be an unending amount of time spent on rewriting just one sentence. Even when I get frustrated with an assignment, I have to remind myself that this is my work and that only I can say what I am thinking – which makes the laborious process of writing worth it to me.

Mary’s experience applies to us all. We all have had the moment when we question our thoughts or experiences. Next time you find yourself in this situation, where you feel frustrated with an assignment, I challenge you to see writing as the unique opportunity that it is. Not everywhere in life will you be asked what you think, so take this opportunity in college to own your writing.

Beholden and Held By The Power of Words

Rose Dyar, Writing Consultant

“Carry our stories carefully
Wrap them in soft red cloth
and place them against your
heart.” -Yolanda Chávez Leyva

Here at the Writing Center, we deal in the study of words and stories. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how to explain why I think that’s so special, how to explain the link I see between words and justice, and how I honored I am to work with writers as they make meaning.

So here goes a humble attempt to begin such an explanation.
I believe that the study of words (e.g. literature, poetry, rhetoric) is critical to the ongoing formation of the whole human person. A bold claim, I know, but let me elaborate. This endeavor has the potential to infuse beauty and feeling and empathy into a world that actively attempts to numb us to our own humanity. And because of that, it has the radical potential to change hearts and minds. I mean radical change in two ways.

First, the etymological term. To change something radically means to change it at its root. The study of words grants us the gift of insight, or the ability to see inside of thing, to see the systems and structures that manifest themselves into parts of our daily lives, which then make their way into the stories that we read. When we know what we’re looking at, we know how to ask questions about it. Studying words and studying writing, then, gives context to social and political conditions that engender joy and suffering in our lives.

Second, I speak of words and radical change in terms of impact. We often use the word radical in order to describe major change, of the shifting of norms. And radical change necessitates action on its behalf. Which brings me to my next point. The study of words allows us to disrupt the laws of physics, to become alchemists, to remove ourselves from the center of our own axes and ask what it might take to imagine life otherwise. Empathy and understanding are byproducts of encountering stories. Empathy and understanding create conditions for change to happen.

But here is what the study of words cannot do: move on its own or by itself. Words alone do not have the arms or legs or beating hearts to use in order to advocate for change. If it is to be involved with any sort of moving, those who study the impact of words and writing must embody its movement. If we are moved by a text, we must move to make a difference. The study of words for me, then, must be paired with the willingness to act, or write, for change.

Writing and reading allow us to cross borders. We transcend from the moved to the mover and enter into a space of our own making when we do it. We are, all of us, in the wilderness. We are, all of us, voices crying out wanting to be heard from the thickets of that wilderness. We are, all of us, beholden and held by the power of words. For me, the study of words necessarily asks of me the courage to speak and write ideas and identities into existence, into being. We carry stories with us. We carry them tenderly, we carry them fiercely, and we tell them purposefully.

I believe that we tell stories, to ourselves and to each other, in order to understand what it means to be human, and it how it is that we can come to be fully human together. I believe that each story that is told is, in some part, an act of revelation. I believe that at every turn, stories are verbalized negotiations of power. I believe that we are all of us telling stories all the time, every day. Each story uncovers, even if just a sliver more, how the human experience is lived and breathed and understood in one moment, in one context, by one storyteller.

What a gift it is to encounter these stories, to study these words, to work with writers as they make sense of the stories inside of them.

Writing to Listen

Michelle Buntain, Writing Consultant

You’ve been staring at a blank page for a while now, willing the words to come. You’ve read over the prompt twice, three times, four times. The coffee is helping you stay energized, but all the coffee in the world won’t get this paper written. Neither will procrastinating

You know this; and yet, despite all your concentration and force of will, the words will not come. Before long, that familiar feeling begins to set in: panic.
Many people associate writing with a certain level of anxiety. We usually write for an audience who is going to judge us in one way or another – the paper you’re writing for class; the job application you’re working on; the text to a potential love interest. Writing forces us to put our inner lives out on display, and that can be incredibly intimidating.

As students and as scholars, we use our internal resources on a daily basis. Writing requires us to generate not just thoughts, not just sentences, but full, comprehensive, cohesive ideas. On top of that, we don’t even get to choose what we write about; in the academic world, we are almost always writing according to someone else’s stipulations. Nearly every day, somebody expects something from you, and you must deliver.

But focusing too much on what others are thinking is the most counterproductive thing for someone in an academic setting to do.

If we are obsessing over what is expected of us, it becomes nearly impossible to stay in touch with our own insights. Trying to balance what we really think with what we are “supposed” to think is a losing man’s game.

So, here is my challenge to all the frustrated writers out there: ask yourself, when was the last time you sat down to write without worrying about who was going to read your work? If you can’t remember, do yourself a favor: take a breath, take a seat, and just start writing. Don’t think too much. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t edit; don’t erase. No one else has to see it. There doesn’t have to be a purpose – no assignment, no thesis, no one to impress. Just write until you can’t write any more.

Maybe you wrote about something important; maybe you didn’t. Maybe you just ended up making a to-do list — it doesn’t matter. The point is to acknowledge yourself, to listen to what you have to say. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in listening to others that we forget to listen to ourselves. But if we don’t listen to ourselves, why should anybody else?

Every now and then, allow yourself the courtesy that you show others: don’t think, don’t judge. Just listen.