Writing Centers: Haverford College and Villanova University

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This week I paid visits to the writing centers of two local colleges. Here’s a quick overview of what I learned:

At Haverford, I first met with Terry Snyder, Head Librarian.

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It turns out that Haverford is overhauling their own library at the moment. In its current incarnation, the library is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, with different sections grafted on ad hoc over the past couple of centuries. I asked many questions about the direction they were headed with the renovation. Some tidbits I gleaned:

Some of what we at Punahou might consider part of our learning commons (Maker Space, for instance) will feature more prominently in the VCAM (Visual Culture, Arts and Media facility) also under construction across the quad. They’ll have a proper screening room in there too. (Qu: Does Punahou need one of those in the learning commons?)

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Early plans for the new library included a cafe courtyard, symbolically representing the inner light that’s so central to Quakerdom. They’ve put the kibosh on that for some reason, but food and drink will be (and already are) welcome in the library. “Do you ever worry about damage to the books?” I asked. “Books are cheap,” she replied.

They’ve hired Boston architects Perry Dean Rogers to design the building. In advance of that decision, Terry visited something like fifty libraries. She was most impressed that she couldn’t always pick out the PDR’s, i.e. they really listen to clients’ needs, as well as to those of the environments in question, and make sui generis spaces. She cited Dickinson Library, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy (this one interesting because a risk, just this side of kitschy), and Southern New Hampshire University as cases in point. I looked through their website and was duly impressed.

We both wondered at the place of virtual and augmented reality in libraries of the future.

After a great chat, Terry gave me a walking tour of the beast. It has its charms, but yes, a renovation does seem due.

After meeting with Terry, I visited the bookstore, bought John McWhorter’s The Language Hoax (his takedown of Whorfianism) and an Italian grammar, and ate an unexceptional lunch in the “Coop.” I did dig the installation about graffiti, however.

 

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Next I met up with Kristin Lindgren, director of the Writing Center.

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The room itself (one of three around campus) was what I’ve come to think of as the generic Writing Center–smallish and perfunctory, sort of an OR for papers.

We had a great chat, though. Some of what I noted:

-They’re focusing more and more on speaking skills–presentations, seminars, etc.–as well as visual modes, so much so that they’re wondering if a name change is in order–from Writing Center to Rhetoric Center or some such.

-They regularly sponsor workshop speakers.

-They have 25 writing tutors who are hired by way of faculty nominations>written application (writing sample, short essay on why they want to be tutors, and a written response to a student piece)>interview. Tutors are paid $9.25/hr.

-They have a writing partner program that pairs a tutor with a student (usually ESL) for weekly meetings all year long. Great success with this.

-Tutors are trained in facilitative, non-directive feedback. They use They Say/I Say by Gerald Groff

-About 50% of students come into the Writing Center for help in the early stages of writing (I was heartened by this–at Punahou I mostly find kids coming in with “finished” drafts).

-I jotted down this title–Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, Joseph M. Williams–though I don’t recall why.

As we talked, I noticed Kristin’s shelves fairly filled with books on disability, and since I have an interest in that too, we proceeded to talk about that for the rest of our time. All in all, a wonderful conversation, and as I left it began snowing, big fat flakes such as I haven’t seen in ten years. I stuck my tongue out as I walked to the car.

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That was Monday.

On Tuesday I did a reading at Saint Joseph’s University in the evening. Since King of the Worlds has been out for a while now, I decided to take some risks and read a topical, didactic bit in which the protagonist goes on about the demise of the American Dream, as well as a killed darling as published in American Short Fiction. The turnout was decent, and the audience–students mainly–asked some great questions after. Then I went to dinner with two old profs of mine from my days at SJU, Cecilia Ready and Joseph J. Feeney, S.J., as well as a new friend, Melissa Goldthwaite. We chatted about Gerard Manley Hopkins and consonance, among other things, as the kitchen summarily ran out of three types of salmon. Instead I had the bronzino, which was good, and a couple of Rogue Dead Guys, which reminded me of my old teacher, Ian MacMillan (R.I.P.), who taught me a lot of what I know about what makes for good writing and what makes for a good life.

On Friday I visited Villanova University with my former-teacher-cum-friend Cecilia. I attended her Beat Literature class–they were reading “Howl”–and her Augustine Cultural Seminar–they were reading Machiavelli. I learned that “virtu” means “balls.”

Then we visited Mary Beth Simmons, director of the Writing Center. Villanova’s got the nicest Writing Center I’ve seen (I want to abbreviate, but can I write WC without eliciting laughter?). It’s big, with good lighting and furniture, and it’s situated in a wing of their “learning commons” alongside the Math Resource Center and the Learning Support Center.

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Mary Beth’s biggest piece of advice when redesigning a space: get all stakeholder involved all the way through.

Some WC (there it is) nuts and bolts:

-They winnow 125 nominated students down to 20 tutors, who are paid $7.50/hr. However, in addition to these undergrad tutors, they also have graduate-student tutors who put in 13 hrs/week as part of their assistantships, as well as some profs who work shifts. For training purposes, they use The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. She gave me a copy. She also gave me a copy of The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors and stuck Post-Its on the essays “The Idea of the Writing Center” and “Revisiting the Idea of the Writing Center” by Stephen M. North, which she thought might appeal to my utopian side. I haven’t read them yet, but will.

-Workshops are scheduled in thirty-minute blocks. I reckon that’s standard.

-The book club meets in the WC, and they used to host open mic nights. (Staffing became a problem–I hear that sort of thing a lot–a shame really.)

-They drink and eat in there. In the library too. This seems to be the rule these days. I’m glad, especially since the megabookstore has all but died out.

Mary Beth pointed me also to the “Noel Studio” at Western Kentucky University as a model for what’s possible with WCs. It does look very cool, though I must admit, if I were a student writer, I think I’d want a less sterile, less “modern” space to work in. I mean, I want all that stuff, but I also want some low-tech, fusty old rooms with weather-beaten furniture and lots of dead-tree technology.

AWP in DC this week. I’m on a timely panel discussing Narratives of Immigration and Displacement with dear friends David Odhiambo and Ranjan Adiga (and Snezana Zabic, whom I haven’t met yet).

Over and out.

 

 

 

 

 

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