Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Alumni Update!

This is the first of what will hopefully be many "dispatches" from WC alumni. One of the great things about the Coe Writing Center is the incredible community that we have created, and the sense of continuity and connection between multiple WC generations. Those 60-some students who currently populate the WC make up just a small fraction of the larger CWC, and this blog should be a reflection of that.

So...onto the real news. In the summer of 2007, our very own, much-loved Beth Hayden got hitched!

L-R: Emily Johnson, Luke Johnson (class of 2007), Beth (2006), her husband Nick Kirby, Kate Taber (2006), and Lillian Vince (2007).

She says:

This was taken on July 14, 2007, in Newport News, VA at our reception. The ceremony was at my home church in Hampton, VA.

Nick and I are in the same PhD program in the Mathematics department at
the University of Kentucky in Lexington. I completed all the work for my Master's degree this past summer. I'm almost done with coursework and about to enter the wild and wacky world of mathematics research. I'll be working in the area of topology, which is really cool math. I plan (hope) to graduate in 2011. I'm also teaching freshmen 100-level math, which is both challenging and time-consuming, but has some lovely unexpected moments that keep me sane.

* If any of our alumni are reading this and want to have their own announcements (engagement, wedding, baby, new job, new school, graduation, new pet, etc. etc.) posted here, shoot an email my way: jashaw (at) coe (dot) edu.

Updates from the WC

A list, lists are good:
-After a week of rain and snow, the campus is covered, alternatingly, in lovely white wintry goodness and scary slippy ice. Monday evening saw the sidewalks as frozen canals. Just now, Danielle fell on the ice while riding her bike. Ouchie.
-The back wall (where the framed quotations used to be) now has a hole knocked in it, and a door stuck in that hole. A door to the newly-moved Speaking Center, which is slowly being filled with things like carpeting and plastic 3-drawer bins.
-Bob will be in Ireland over break.
-The new spring schedule is taped to the front desk - feel free to make adjustments
-Tues, Jan 13 (the day before classes resume) will be Chili Night in the WC. 7-9pm, or until the the chillay runs out. Bob says: "No formal meeting, no required attendance. It's fine to come, eat, and leave."
-First staff meeting of the year will be Monday, Jan. 19, about 5:30. More details, presumably, to come.
-Mike Huff is a now a model for sciency clothes:

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Here's my Las Vegas reflection - sorry that it's so late in posting. Also, sorry for my extreme lack of posting for the past couple ... wow, for the past couple months. What happened? Anyway, here it is.

Las Vegas is not a city I would visit under normal circumstances. It’s not because it’s what my parents would probably call “a den of sin” – I just don’t find it all that appealing. Gambling isn’t that exciting, scantily clad ladies aren’t my thing, and neon lights give me headaches. But a trip paid for by the college and including a lot of my friends – sure. Why not.

The conference itself …. Bob mentioned a while back how it always surprises him how bad a lot of the presentations are. I am, too. I mean, I’ve been to great sessions – but I’ve been to some pretty awful ones, too.

Being constantly told how great the CWC is was simultaneously frustrating and elating. It’s nice to have that ego boost, and it’s nice to see all the areas we’re doing well, but it also makes it that much harder to see where we need to improve. I mean, our presentations tend to be fairly well done, but it’s not like we spend a whole lot of time polishing them. I think the reason our presentations go so well is that each consultant is saturated on CWC philosophy, each of us has a pretty sophisticated intuition for how the writing center is supposed to run. That knowledge lets us connect the topic of our presentations to CWC practices as a whole – we’re able to pull in that larger picture. And that’s a good thing – that, I think, is what puts us out there on the leading edge.

But it’s easy to forget that we’re a long way from perfect.

The first session I went to was about writing centers in secondary education. There were two presenters: the first was a woman who started a WC in her inner city, charter school. It’s staffed by high school students, who get elective credit for working. It’s after school, and they train at the woman’s alma mater (St. John’s) with the college’s writing center consultants. The high school WC tells the teachers to encourage, but not require, that students come to the WC. The point is to make it a resource, not a punishment.

The second presenter was a “peer tutor” (that title has always bothered me) who decided to establish a WC in the local high school as a project. The WC is still in its fledgling stages; this presentation was probably given too early. It was staffed by college students volunteering their time, and was used by ten students total in the one semester it had been open. This was one of those presentations that would have been much better had the project been given more time to mature. As it was, it turned into more of a What Not to Do speech rather than a discussion of the benefits and difficulties of opening a writing center in a high school.

I went to a panel discussion composed of directors of WCs from around the world. This was probably the most disappointing of the sessions I attended. It had so much potential to be an engaging, interesting, lively session! But it turned out to be fairly dry. It was structured so each director had a few minutes to talk about their writing center. Instead of an open forum and discussion, it was a series of brief, stilted speeches. There was some interesting points brought up, though. Each WC tailored itself to fit in with the home university. Writing Centers are peculiar and almost completely unique to America – I learned that 99% of all European writing centers are founded by an American. It was also strange to learn that, in most countries, writing is undervalued – it’s considered a solitary activity; reading is important, but writing is not. There’s a lot of apathy toward writing. This was really weird to me – if you can value reading, then it would follow necessarily to value writing, wouldn’t it? The art of creating worthwhile things to read? But I guess that’s a connection that only seems natural to Americans.

The most interesting session I attended was on Thursday. It was focused on racism in the Writing Center. The upshot of the session was that racism occurs everywhere, and the writing center should actively and vocally set itself as anti-racist. “I hear people say, ‘We don’t have problems with racism in our writing center,’” someone said (and I am paraphrasing a little, here), “but that is so wrong. Even if it’s not talked about, it’s there, and it needs to be pointed out and actively fought.”

I was thinking about the CWC. And I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen race become an issue; not in terms of conferencing anyway. Apparently at the school that was leading the discussion, there had been cases of students refusing to conference with a consultant due to the consultant’s race. I don’t think that’s ever happened here. It is uncomfortable to note the lack of diversity in the CWC. But it’s difficult to be a beacon of diversity in a school that also has a very low minority-student percentage. I think the CWC probably accurately reflects Coe’s student population.

I don’t know. I have issues with making a writing center a political entity. I’m not okay with making it partisan for any cause, no matter how correct or noble. There was another phrase thrown around during the session – “if you’re not against racism you’re for it”– but I think it’s weird to attribute some grand cause to a writing center other than writing and reading. It’s a writing center, not a social justice center. I think it’s the duty of all intellectual people to dedicate themselves, personally, to causes of social justice, but I don’t think that writing centers should be major advocates for (or opponents of) them as an organization.

Then there was a session on conferencing creative writing. It was half presentation and half workshop – we looked at examples of actual creative writing drafts and talked about how we as consultants can help with creative pursuits. The solution the presenting group came up with was to have a working knowledge of the basics of good creative writing. It was difficult for me to think about this, because I’m experienced in workshopping creative writing. I know what to look for. But what I found interesting about this presentation is that there was never once a mention about the consultant acting as a sounding board for ideas. No one mentioned brainstorming. The whole discussion was very logical, very systematic. Writers were classified into three categories – students who write on their own but don’t have experience sharing their work (are often defensive and get lost with technical terms), students in intro creative writing courses with minimal experience (are insecure, interpret criticism as personal attack, but understand and use literary jargon), and students with a lot of experience workshopping their pieces (are often intimidating to tutors who have less experience). Some ideas for handling creative writing conferences were to ask a lot of questions – to just ask about the story itself. We’re all readers in writing centers. It’s good to just be curious. Sometimes you don’t have to be an expert – you just have to be someone who’s interested.

One of the things I dislike about these conferences is the theoretical, detached discussion about “students” and “tutors” and “we” and “they”; it all becomes so divorced from actual practice, from the messiness and nuances of reality. The sessions I attended had less of that than I’ve experienced at past conferences. But it was still frustrating to see how far into theory people get. Theory only works when you can connect it back to people and put it into practice. It’s no good if you work out a perfect system that nonetheless fails to take real life into account.

So, I don’t know. It wasn’t a bad conference, besides the conflict between the hotel’s definition of “breakfast” and mine. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I didn’t run across any gems of wisdom or innovation that I wanted to rush home to implement. The problems a lot of sessions were dealing with were things that the CWC doesn’t see as problems, or doesn’t even have. For example, we don’t have to worry about lying to a student about being a teacher or TA and not just a peer tutor (this is the topic of one of the posters I studied), because we only have undergrad consultants. I don’t know. I was just distracted by all the Vegas glitter. We’ll go with that.

- Leta

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Study Abroad List has been updated

Year's Last Meeting

As is traditional for the last meeting of the year, graduating WCers shared their favorite moments and memories of their time in the Writing Center.

-Leigh advises us all to “get married.” Her most memorable experience was getting cited for indecent exposure in Las Vegas. We should all be so lucky.
-Dave is absent. Dave? Dave? Well, happy graduation and all that.

Sort-of graduates going abroad next semester:
Heather tells us that crazy things happen in the WC after hours. Something about rolling around in tubes?
Patricia has no memorable moments. Shame on you, Patricia! But, you know, bon voyage.

Scheduling forms for next semester were handed out. You’re advised to hand yours in to Bob by Friday afternoon. Try to be flexible when indicating preferred hours.

For the rest of the term: you’re responsible for your hours until Wednesday’s closing – if you’re leaving early, be sure to get someone to fill your shift. Thursday will be staffed via signup sheet on the front desk.

And now, the long-awaited Topics Film Festival. Oh, yes.

-Julia Child is apparently not in the house, which is too bad, since I have a special affection for Mrs. Child. Has anyone read her quasi-autobiography, My Life in France? It’s okay.

-Things get off to a magnificent start with the “greatest film ever made about coffee roasting in the writing center.” Emily, Hilary and Andrew Boone take us painstakingly through the coffee roasting process. Amazingly, it is very entertaining, indeed, and well served by the addition of beanbags. Some embarrassing moments for Andrew. I learned that roasting coffee beans involves many, many steps, and basically takes forever. Roasters have gained much respect from me.

-Next film involves Jordan and Ezra in some sort of travel show thing. I don’t know what’s going on. WC as South American biosphere, I guess? Ezra is a sciency guy, and he does a field study of the WC speaking in a scary, raspy whisper.

-These films are much more creative than I would have had the energy to produce, were I in topics. Just a thought.

-Film 3: WC, Celebrity edition, starring Lindsay Lohan, Albert Einstein and Luke Skywalker engaged in conferences. Ellen Burns has a sweet light saber.

-Film 4 (the chronology of these might be off, as the notes were recorded on both sides of a pretty small envelope): An untitled piece detailing the many, boring roles of the Frog: dishwashing, coffee maintenance, hiding in the library. Starring Holly and a very unenthusiastic Marie.

-Film 5: Jack and DC: The Grammar Question. After explication by Joe, we understand that this is a parody of a computer commercial. The moral: we do grammar conferences. You can watch it over and over again on YouTube. Maybe afterwards you’d like to see a few recordings of church services in Amsterdam?

-Film 6: WC as house of ill repute. Leta does a little shimmy as the Beeeeaver. No sloppy seconds for her. Grant as sloth gets some action. Later, in real life (not the video), he references his heritage in the “Club Dub,” by flashing uncomfortable (for me) hand gestures.

-Film 7: The puppet show! Finally! There is a lion, a very cutely accented frog with a beret (get it? cause ‘frog’ is a funny name for frenchies?), and some other adorable puppet creatures going about daily WC tasks.

-Film 8: Just as the last of us stragglers are about the walk out of this, the longest WC meeting ever, the last video plays. Theme is “cooking in the writing center,” but what you really need to know is that Andrew Klingler is featured as Julia Child, hump, monoboob, clown makeup, gobbly accent and all. Well worth the wait.

That's it,

-Be sure to bid "bon voyage" to the following consultants going off-campus next semester:
Heather, Patricia, Emily, Holly B., Kacie, Andy J., Chris (Asia Term), Vaclav (Greece), Joe (NY Term), Kelly (Washington, D.C.)
-If I forgot you, don't feel bad - I'm forgetful. Leave a comment and your name will be added.