The Writing Center as a Contact Zone

Last semester, I took a Postcolonial literature class so many of the terms and concepts in Anis Bawarshi and Stephanie Pelkowski’s article “Postcolonialism and the Idea of a Writing Center” were familiar to me.  Through their siting of Edward Said, Mary Louise Pratt, and Michel Foucault, Bawarshi and Pelkowski present thought provoking points about how a writing center is a place where marginalized students come to be taught to abandon their “Otherness” and learn how to be a part of the dominant culture.

While there are some points that Bawarshi and Pelkowski bring about that I agree with, I disagree with most.  For one, in my experience, I do not consider students who come to the writing center to be tutored as “marginalized”.  They are not “academically under-prepared” as Bawarshi and Pelkowski put it.  (81)  I have had students who are so intelligent that our tutoring sessions also become a learning experience for me because the discussions we have become so challenging.  But for one reason or another, these students just have problems getting their thoughts on paper the way that Expos professors want to see.  What about these students would cause them to be labeled as “academically under-prepared”?

I also don’t feel that the writing center is a place “to acculturate students who speak, read, and write Other dialects, Other languages, Other discourses and initiate them into academic discourses.”  (81)  One may argue that this may be the case with ESL students, yet to refer to them as “Other” implies that our culture and our way of doing things when it comes to academics asserts some dominance over their own culture which is not the case.  To me, acculturating is not what goes on in the writing center.  Rather, as a tutor, I assist students in understanding what their professors expect of them, I help them to decode the rubric and become a better thinker and writer, not “acculturate” them.

On the other hand, I regard the writing center a place where tutors work to “transform the student and his or her texts into the acceptable standard of the university”  rather than a “contact zone”.  Bawarshi and Pelkowski discus Stephen North’s essay “The Idea of a Writing Center” and conclude that North’s point is that “Tutors must measure their success not in terms of the constantly changing model they create, but in terms of changes in the writer.” (84)  This speaks to me more than comparing a tutoree to the Other.  When a student that I tutor comes in to our session with a new and more successful approach to writing, I know that I have done a good job with him or her.  When he or she is able to think critically and answer my questions before I am able to ask them, that is what is most important to me and what will make the student successful in his or her college career.


About Christina

I am a twenty-two year old comparative literature major with a minor in economics and I will be a graduate of Rutgers University as of January 2012. Currently, along with my part-time job in retail, I am interning at the Plangere Writing Center as a tutor. Through this blog, I will keep track of my experience at the Plangere Writing Center. I hope to become a better writer, a better tutor, overcome hurdles through writing, and inspire others in my community. Feel free to contact me at any time.
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