Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Weekly Wisdom

“Do you think that you have difficulties with mathematics? I assure you that mine are far greater.” - Albert Einstein

I like this quote not because I find it very amusing and true, but because I think we can apply it to so much more. We all have difficulties with something in life. For me one of those issues does in fact lie with my mathematic skills, but also currently include my piano skills.
           When I first heard this quote it gave me reassurance that my struggles with piano are not the worst. In comparison to someone trying to learn a piece by Rachmaninov, I am simply struggling with chords. This gave me the motivation to work harder because I know that I can overcome my difficulties if I simply give it some time. This is why I wanted to share this quote with all of you.
             With finals coming up, you may be worried about a particular test. You may think that you are just not ready for it, but I can assure you that you are. Once the dreaded day arrives you can do nothing more. You know as much as will know, you studied as much as you could; now you have to give that test everything you’ve got. And just remember, someone out there is struggling with something far more difficult so don’t worry about it so much. You can do what you do and nothing more. Relax. 

-Margaret Gruhler

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

San Diego Conference Reflections

Session 1G: Challenges of Incorporating Student-Athletes into the Writing Center

This session was mostly applicable to Division I large universities, but it raised some interesting questions. The speakers reflected on the divide in the student-athlete identity between athlete and student and also on how to bridge that gap. They discussed the sense of “otherness” that other students in the university considered the athletes with; that because athletes received scholarships and sometimes were admitted on the basis of strong athletics rather than strong academic work, other college students and professors sometimes dismissed their academic. The University of Nebraska at Lincoln has two separate writing centers. One is for student athletes. I found this concept interesting in light of the divide they discussed. I asked if they didn’t think having separate facilities for students and athletes was perpetuating the divide in identities and the perception of athletes as “other”. They said that because the athlete has so much pressure to perform athletically—whole livelihoods of coaches and athletic directors rest on the labor of these athletes—it was necessary to provide these students with special alleviation of academic pressure. At Coe, maybe because so much of the student population is student athletes, we don’t have this divide. I wonder too if that’s because we don’t make extra provisions for the athletes. It’s not that I disagree with what was said in the session. But I am glad that our writing center is an all-encompassing, all-accessible, all-similar provider of services to the student body.

Session 2H: Ethical Dilemmas: Generosity, Reciprocity, and Gifting in the Writing Center

In this session they discussed the concept of the Writing Center as a gift economy. Essentially, that both consultant and writer provide gifts for one another with the expectation of a gift in return. Frankie said several things in this session that I thought of as especially valuable—the idea that failed consultant sessions result in part from the consultant attempting to raise their own status in the eyes of the writer, rather than saying things to benefit the writer. That failed conference sessions are a result of the conferencer misusing the gift economy and attempting to give gifts to themselves. There was also a discussion of feminist ethics in the Writing Center, a look at how the Writing Center operates with concern for the whole community in mind rather than just the individual. The professor giving this particular talk discussed how feminism impacts the Writing Center with a concern for interpersonal relationships rather than just a mere checklist of goals. The third component to this talk included a discussion of trauma’s role in the Writing Center. This professor suggested that a Writing Consultant’s role is to relieve the trauma of writing by allowing the writer to reconstruct a meta-narrative of the process of writing for them—that the consultant is in fact not responsible for the writing, but instead for the process of writing and improving upon that process.

Session 3E: Erasing Lines of White Privilege in Writing Center Work

In this poorly moderated session, the presenters talked about the difficulty of working through white privilege. The presenters asked us to think about whether teaching someone to speak academically was in fact supporting white cultural imperialism, as the divides between “white” language and academic language were much thinner than those between academic language and other dialects. This was a thought-provoking session. We discussed whether it was an act of imposition to do this, as ESL students often come to the Center specifically asking to speak like native English speakers. It seemed to me that teaching ESL students the tools with which to break the rules of academic language with intention was the solution—that dialect itself could be a harnessed tool, as long as ESL students are informed enough to make the choice to use it. It is also seems to me that to directly correlate “white language” with that of academia’s is a false equivalency. Though academic culture is permeated with white cultural values and language, it is quite possible to be white and not be academic, just as it is possible to be white and an ESL student. I think that to enter into a conference is somewhat like entering into a social contract. It seems to me that to ignore an ESL student’s request purely on the basis of the different culture that they come from is another form of cultural imperialism; to assume that their separate culture should be prized over their individual needs and desires seems arrogant and similarly enforcing my particular principles over their own.

Session 4J: Responding to a Changing Population of Multilingual Writers

This was by far the dullest session I attended. Kim Ballard began by explaining very simple tenets of conferences with ESL students and defining the ESL student, how big the populations of ESL students were and what the concerns of an ESL student generally are. It was all information that felt very unnecessary to anyone who has given an ESL conference already. As any kind of practiced consultant, I’m unsure how you could be unaware to the fact that ESL students often need help with surface-level issues in their paper, and this was the fact the session brought to our attention. Linda Bergman was a less animated version of Kim Ballard. The session provoked very little thought or discussion. Both presentations depended on very boring PowerPoints. 2/10. Would not recommend.

Session 5J: Antiracist Hope and Tutor Education

This was an inspiring session just on a personal level. We were asked by the panel at the front of the room to write down a memory we had with race that made us uncomfortable. The panelists first talked about how the uncomfortableness surrounding race issues allowed us to deflect conversation about it, how often the narratives we tell about race are meant to provide closure and answers. They began with telling their own personal stories about race and detailing their emotional responses, ending with further questions provoked by their own narratives. They then asked us to reflect on and tell a narrative about a time we felt uncomfortable with race that opened up questions rather than answering them. We were then meant to gather in groups and discuss the narratives—our initial responses and then our reactions to that initial response. Our group found that our initial responses to an uncomfortable racial situation were to reframe the narrative in terms of our own feelings, for example: “I hope he knows I’m not that kind of white person” or “How can I seem not racist”? It was interesting to me, to reflect on the fact that often, I deflect conversations or experiences that could be learning experiences in order to seem “not racist” or “so I don’t offend anybody”. But I realized that “not wanting to offend anybody” and holding belief systems that are in and of themselves inoffensive are not the same thing. It is the equivalent of remaining racist without allowing anyone else to bring this issue to my attention. This session was a powerful tool to awaken participants’ eyes to their own deflection behaviors. Coe is a predominantly white population. I wonder whether we utilize the structure of this workshop to create some sort of Writing Center event focused on a discussion of race? We serve as a forum of conversation, after all. I wonder if we couldn’t utilize that role in order to become conduits of social reform and reflection.

Session 6E: Ancient Innovations: Greek and Roman Rhetoric in the Writing Center

Maureen Clark talked about harnessing the unconscious mind while writing, allowing oneself to increase creative output by writing in stream-of-consciousness and allowing personality to come through. I asked her if she didn’t feel as though attaching large portions of the self to creative writing might actually destroy the writing process, for fear of reflecting poorly on the actual self. The famous quote by Oscar Wilde, “Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth” seemed especially pertinent, so I shared it. Her colleague agreed with me. Maureen, though, had to disagree. She felt that the sharing of the self, the specific personal tweaks that we give to archetypes, was the main advantage of the creative process. After the presentation, we talked some about the writing process for poetry and how we could teach other people (and ourselves) to access our creativity and fight writer’s block.

Christopher LeCluyse talked instead about successful writing center conferences as a Socratic discussion. He talked about the Roman view of translation and how that mirrored writing conferences in some ways; that the Romans often translated Greek works not with original authorial intent in mind, but instead with the purpose of making them “better” and more “Roman”. He said that unsuccessful writing conferences often take on this Roman imperialism, the conferencer trying not to translate the paper into more precise terms that express the ideas of the writer, but instead trying to impose their own values and ideas on the paper. I thought this was a valuable analogy. Sometimes, my unsuccessful writing conferences are colored by my own interpretation of how an idea could be more profound, rather than allowing the idea to remain its author’s. I will work on how to be a better bouncing-off point, a better translator, and less of an idea-imperialist.

Session 7F: Space, Race, and Saving Face: What Writing Centers Can Do to Minimize Division

We ended up missing the first part of this session because we were attempting to attend a session not actually about race for once. But I was glad that we did attend, because the session, instead of being a similar rehash to what I had heard about white privilege in the sessions previous, was about how to arrange space in a way that doesn’t intimidate possible conferencees. The presenter discussed the effect of food smells in the Writing Center, and how those food smells and food exclusive to members of the Writing Center served to immediately alienate non-members of the Writing Center when they came in for conferences. This got me thinking about the role meals play in our Writing Center. Our feeling of hominess at times contributes to a feeling of intimidation on the part of our clientele, precisely because the home belongs to consultants and not to the clientele. We could expand and advertise Tuesday Tea so that it included more regularly parts of the campus that do not participate in the Writing Center. Meals are often an important part of fostering community. This is evident in our own Sunday dinners at the Writing Center. But the problem of these meals is that, if not marketed enough to the outside campus, establish a feeling almost of cultic rituals. Meals are very important in many religious practices, precisely because of the community-feeling they create. So how could we make these meals a more effective route to integration into the rest of campus culture? This is something I have been thinking on and will continue to think on.

Session 8E: The Shifting Sands of Creative and Academic Vision: Helping Writers to Think (and Compose) like Artists

In this session, the presenters discussed the possible applications of techniques to create creative writing pieces in more formal creations, like essays. They discussed the concept of “beading”, one in which an idea appears again and again to create some sort of thematic string to tie the structure together. Having a conferencee identify the beads of a piece and having him insert them in the places where they are missing can create a thematic structure similar to that of a creative piece where themes organically appear again and again. We also talked about the value of a first sentence in establishing the beads that will appear throughout the piece. We then were expected to create a first sentence of a creative piece that contained a bead, and then shared them. This was a fun session which helped me to think about how I could allow my backgrounds in creative writing and religious philosophy to influence one another.

Session 9D: The Plagiarism Paradigm

In this session we discussed the ethical dilemmas surrounding the job of Writing Center Consultant. The boundary line between our work and plagiarism is nebulous at best, as evidenced by the story one consultant presented in the session. She told a story about how a woman once came to her with an application to a teacher’s college and asked her to proofread it. The consultant felt uncomfortable proofreading the application as a majority of acceptance into teachers’ college is founded upon the proper usage of grammar and syntax, and so she refused to do so in the explicit way for which the writer had asked. As a result, both conferencer and conferencee went away dissatisfied with the conference. We discussed whether this was the right decision and what we would do in that person’s place. I have to admit I still don’t know the answer. We also discussed the ease with which a consultant can fall into plagiarism territory when attempting to help an ESL student. It’s easy to simply give an ESL student a rephrase of a sentence they have worded imprecisely. But is it ethical? We discussed how to deconstruct the default authority ESL students give to the conferencer and how to create a more even field for collaboration, one in which the ESL student contributes equally to the conference session.

In the poster session I presented at, the one concerning E-Portfolios, plenty of people were interested in the possible application of E-Portfolios to their own Writing Centers. As we were talking, it seemed as though the focus on Google Sites vs. Mahara was slightly irrelevant—a lot of people instead wanted to know the purpose of E-Portfolios as a whole. I ad-libbed a fair amount about the E-Portfolio as an encyclopedia of Writing Center activity, one in which each consultant’s page was an individualized entry. Several people wanted to know if there was a tutorial available for how to create an E-Portfolio. This is a project I am confident the Coe Writing Center could undertake in the future.

-Chloe Reichelt

Monday, November 26, 2012

Staff Spotlight

               This is a new segment we are starting that will spotlight a different staff member each week. This will be very similar to the Writing Center’s COW (consultant of the week) which is presented at the staff meeting each Monday night, except instead of being selected by popular votes for something awesome you do this segment will focus on just how awesome you are all the time.
                Now for the moment you are probably waiting for me to get to…this week’s staff spotlight goes to Courtney Worthington! Courtney is a junior here at Coe College. But here is something you may not know about her: she has been here for only two years, last year not being one of them. She transferred closer to home last year before realizing that there really is “no place like Coe”. She is majoring in biology and in her mind has always been destined to study the sciences. “[She] always knew that [she] loved science and learning about the human body” and when she had the awesome opportunity to shadow in a Pathology lab in high school she just “knew [she] was going to be a lab kid”.

     Now for some fun facts about Courtney:
  1. She seems to not get very much sleep which is not so uncommon for the average college student, but I still feel sorry for when she tells me she just got six hours of sleep in the past three days. 
  2.  Her fondest memories in the Writing Center are the late nights spent studying in the Writing Center. Courtney, unlike me, can pull all-niters in the Writing Center and loves them so because she is never there alone. For all of you night owls out there…try getting some sleep over the holidays!
  3. She is extremely proud of her brand new yellow pants. I have seen them myself and they are pretty awesome! So if you are on campus sometime soon and see some in the writing center wearing yellow pants, there is a good possibility you have just seen Courtney Worthington. If you do see her, make sure and congratulate her on her staff spotlight this week!
-Margaret Gruhler

Monday, November 19, 2012

Weekly Wisdom

                   “Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” W.T. Purkiser

                  This time of year always gets me thinking about the people in my life. This year I have been particularly thankful and blessed that I have the mom that I do. Maybe this sounds very cliché, but my mom has gone through so much in her lifetime and until recent months I never understood the full scope of who she is. My mom is incredibly strong, incredibly selfless, incredibly loving, and incredibly funny. I love my mom more than anything on this earth and that is why I am blessed to have her in my life.
                  I have had these words running through my head, so this is why I love this quote so much. It really is not “what we say” but it is “how we use” our blessings. I can have these kind words of thanks running through my head, but I need to use these words. I need to tell my mom exactly what I have been thinking. This task may be easy for some, but I find it difficult coming from a family where communication is subpar. That is why, after reading this quote, I am going to make it my goal to tell my mom why I am thankful for her this week.
                  I have made my thanksgiving goal, what is yours? I urge every one of you to not just be thankful, but also give thanks. We all have someone in our lives who deserves to hear our thanks and if we only mention our thanks in our prayers or around the Thanksgiving dinner table it isn’t always enough. Giving thanks is often personal and needs to be shared in a personal way. I believe this “is the true measure of our thanksgiving”.

-Margaret Gruhler

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

San Diego IWCA Conference

A few weeks ago, three to be exact, thirty-nine Writing Center consultants began their journey across the country to San Diego California. “Why?” might you ask? Well, for the annual IWCA (International Writing Centers Association) conference of course. Despite what we all would have liked this trip to be—a time to relax on the beach, explore San Diego and get to know our fellow centaurs a little better, we also had an obligation to attend sessions held by other Writing Centers form across America. And yes, I said also because many of us did get to relax on the beach and explore San Diego.  From the outside, attending the conference may seem like a boring way to spend your day, but let me give you the inside scoop; four reasons it was the best decision to go to San Diego.

1. Being a consultant we found out rather quickly that the sessions were actually interesting, relevant, and great conversation starters. Hailley Fargo’s favorite part of the trip to San Diego was being able to “[have] deep, intellectual discussions about writing” and that even when the sessions were over “that didn’t mean our discussions had to end”.

2. I think everyone who attended the conference would agree with what Greg Ponder said; “that Coe’s [Writing Center] is fricken amazing”. Many of the sessions focused on issues that many Writing Centers were facing and ideas for possible solutions, and while I won’t go as far to say that our Writing Center is perfect, I will say that we definitely do not face the same or nearly as many problems as some. Thank you Dr. Bob for making our Writing Center so awesome!

3. I already mentioned how awesome we are, but I also have to mention how awesome everybody else thinks we are as well. Apparently, when you have 39 undergraduates representing a small college it is pretty impressive. Most Writing Centers, even large universities, have only faculty or graduate student consultants and maybe only twenty consultants. In case you haven’t heard, Coe currently has seventy-two consultants, all of which are undergraduates. We are all the envy among Writing Centers.

4. And of course I cannot leave out the most obvious reasons for traveling to San Diego of all places; we got to leave cold and cloudy Cedar Rapids, IA for cloudless, warm San Diego, CA. Despite how much I love the cold weather winter summons, I got used to being able to walk out of the hotel room in the morning only wearing shorts and a tank top.

That being said, now we are back to reality in bone-chilling Cedar Rapids with only the memories to share. If you are a current staff member who didn’t get to go to San Diego you should really try to go on the next trip wherever it may be because it will be worth it. If you are prospective Coe students interested in possibly working in the Writing Center some day you should know that you will struggle to find a Writing Center better than us. And if you are Coe Alums you should know that we still have fun like I am sure we did when you were here.

-Margaret Gruhler

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekly Wisdom

“If you hear a voice within you saying, 'I am not a painter,' then, by all means, paint...and that voice will be silenced.” - Vincent van Gogh

                  This quote gave me a boost of confidence this week, so I thought I should share it with all of you. There are so many things that I want to do in life, but too many times I sell myself short by telling myself that it isn’t worth it or that I wouldn’t be good at it anyway—I would just be setting myself up for failure. While in fact after hearing this quote I realized that I am setting myself up for failure by talking myself out of things  I wish I could do. Just because I am not a good dancer doesn’t mean that I cannot go to Rug Cutters. I would not make as big a fool of myself as I lead myself to believe.
This is obviously a small decision that I only face issue with on Tuesday’s, but there will be larger, life-altering decisions that I do not want to fail at because of a simple mind game. If any of you play the same mind game, I don’t want you to fall short for the same reasons. We are all incredible human beings. I bet that each one of you has something you are holding back for some selfish reason or another. I only hope that van Gogh’s words will give you the boost you need to pursue your “something”. For me, I am going to start by finding a friend to go to Rug Cutters with, and then maybe I will work up the courage of confidence to get out of my mind for what really matters.
                                                                                                                                                        -Margaret Gruhler

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Weekly Wisdom

“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.” - William Arthur Ward

I really like the honesty of William Ward’s words, but for this post I will focus on the latter words of encouragement. I would say that encouragement is needed most when lack of motivation is what you have most. This explains why it has been a while since the last Weekly Wisdom post—I simply have been at a loss for motivation as well as a lack of encouragement. However, this past week I attended the IWCA conference in San Diego, CA and got the little bit of encouragement I needed to write this post. It wasn’t anything that I heard in the sessions, it was what I saw. There were so many people from writing centers across the country and we were all there because we have a passion for writing. Everyone has their own stake in writing, and mine is all about the joy of sharing knowledge—appropriate since I am an education major—and helping others find their stake. This is why I found this quote so appropriate; encouragement is not always verbal which means that encouragement is not passive. You cannot simply wait for someone to offer of prophetic words, but you have to seek for what gives you the motivation. So, I charge you this week to find something in your life that encourages you: encourages you to get up in the morning; encourages you to do your homework; encourages you to speak to less familiar people; it can be almost anything. You just have to be actively seeking for the encouragement to aid your motivation. 

-Margaret Gruhler