Call for Proposals
Decolonizing Writing Center Practice
Proposals must be submitted by: Monday, December 16, 2019
Decision Notification: Mid- January, 2020
SUBMIT:Click Here to Submit MAWCA 2020 Conference Proposal
Sessions can be proposed in the following formats:
Panel: 3 or more individuals present original work on a common theme.
Individual Scholarly Presentation: Presenters share original work for 15 minutes each and will be grouped with 1-2 additional presenters.
Roundtable: Facilitators lead discussion of a specific issue related to writing center research; this format might include short remarks from between 2–4 presenters followed by active and substantive engagement/collaboration with attendees prompted by guiding questions.
Round Robin Discussion: Facilitators introduce a topic or theme and organize participants into smaller breakout groups to continue the conversation. In the spirit of “round robin” tournaments, participants will change groups after 10-15 minutes to extend and expand their conversations. After at least two rounds of conversation, facilitators will reconvene the full group for a concluding discussion.
Data Dash Presentations: Presenters share their work in a 20x10 format: twenty slides, ten minutes! This innovative alternative to the poster session provides a venue suited for brief, general-audience talks accompanied by visuals.
Lab Time: Presenters can take advantage of having so many writing center professionals and tutors in one place, and draw on these human resources to help with data collection or analysis. Presenters could use lab time to refine an instrument, by piloting and receiving feedback on survey or interview questions on the type of writing center population you intend to study. You could use lab time for data collection–to distribute a survey or run a short focus group. You could use lab time for data analysis, by asking writing center colleagues to test the appropriateness or reliability of your coding. In your proposal, please describe what you want to do, how many and what kind of participants you need (Undergraduate tutors? Writing Center Administrators? etc.), and estimate how much time you would need to complete your task. If seeking participants among MAWCA attendees for projects resulting in publication or public dissemination, you will need to have institutional IRB approval as well as Informed Consent documentation for them.
Decolonizing Writing Center Practice:
A New Vision for a New Decade
In Radical Writing Center Praxis: A Paradigm for Ethical Political Engagement, Laura Greenfield (2019) argues that “despite our many successes, the collective influence writing centers are having on the world is simultaneously violent” (9). Here, Greenfield refers to the many ways in which writing centers implicitly or explicitly engage in work that dehumanizes marginalized students and subjects them to continued cultural imperialism in the academy. This conference encourages participants to think deeply about how our current disciplinary paradigm upholds oppressive, colonialist ideologies, and asks us to unpack, in the words of Romeo Garcia (2017), the ways in which “whiteness shapes the imagining of both centers and practices as ‘safe’ and ‘inviting’” (34). These critical perspectives require us to ask questions about the values that shape our work and how those values demand personal, professional, and institutional change
Stephen North’s (1984) call for writing centers to make “better writers” still frames the praxis of many Writing Centers, despite North’s (1994) own critique of his original “idea” and decades of progressive writing center theory. North’s idea constitutes a grand narrative that is resistant to both criticism and change. At the 2019 IWCA conference in Atlanta, Mark Latta argued that North’s idea is fundamentally dehumanizing, since it implies a deficit inherent to writers that writing center work can “make better.” Garcia’s call for us to listen to students whose experiences are not reflected in or respected by institutions of higher education requires us to rethink the ultimate aim of writing center work and build a new paradigm for a new decade.
In order to change the writing center paradigm, we must change the stories we tell about writing centers, and raise new questions about what drives our work in the present. Greenfield suggests that writing centers need a complete overhaul to break familiar assumptions about our work: “For radical theories and methodologies to effectively take hold in writing centers, our task requires nothing less than to initiate an entire deconstruction and reinvention of the field” (8). Garcia and Greenfield both point to the notion that writing centers require new representation; in other words, we need a different language that resists the comfortable “ideas” about writing centers. With this in mind, we ask, what are the ends of writing center practice, who really benefits from them, and what might a revised notion of these ends look like? What are writing center practitioners, staff, and tutors, interested in re-envisioning about their centers? What have we learned about writing center practice, and how might we unpack some of the ways in which our practices depend on dehumanizing perceptions of writers, so that we can use our critical reflections to engender institutional change?
We invite proposals that clearly articulate the values that drive our current writing center practices and raise new questions about how everyday writing center work does or does not fall in line with those values. What are the current paradigms of writing center practice, and how are these stories informed by privileged perspectives? Which practices need to change to build a decolonizing practice in the writing center that truly reflects the values that drive our work? Although we are particularly interested in proposals that speak to one of our questions, we welcome proposals that speak to any aspect of writing center work.
Questions to explore:
Vision/Values: What are the values that drive your work in the writing center? How do you act on those values? How do you strive and where do you struggle to put student experiences at the center of your work? What might a “decolonizing” practice look like in the writing center?
Tutors: What elements of your identity or experience inform your writing center work? How does your identity intersect with your tutoring tool-kit? How have you tried to improve the writing center during your tenure, and what about your writing center experience do you hope to take with you when you move on? How does your work at the writing center overlap with your interests and/or future plans?
Writing Fellows: What are the goals of Writing Fellows programs? How do student tutors effectively collaborate with faculty partners? What do you struggle with in establishing a collaborative relationship with faculty and/or program administrators? How can Writing Fellows become agents of change at the level of the classroom, institution, and/or community at large?
Administrators: What is the role of your writing center within your institution? How do you (try to) use your writing center work to call attention to the ways in which institutions serve as dehumanizing agents? How do you prepare tutors to work with diverse students? How do you engage faculty in critical or radical approaches to teaching and grading? How do you advocate for underrepresented populations of students?
Historical approach: How have writing centers changed in the past decade? What does writing center work look like in 2020? What is the evolutionary history of your writing center? Where do you envision your writing center going in the next decade? Which approaches do you no longer value and why?
Social Justice: What is the role of writing center work in language diversity? What do “diversity” and “social justice” mean to writing center practitioners? How are these terms linked, and how are they different? What is the role of a writing center within a larger community of people? How do writing centers impact non-students? Who is served by writing center practices and why? Do Writing Centers have the social capital to enact powerful change?
Mindfulness: What does it mean to be “present” at your writing center? How do you “listen,” rhetorically or otherwise, at your writing center, and what effect does this have on individual sessions with writers? What effect does listening have on the ways in which you envision the purpose and function of writing center work?
Rhetoric/Language: In what ways do your language choices—in your mission statements, service pitches, and social media—reinscribe the rhetoric of the institution, and how do you use language to construct radical new visions for your work? How do you implicitly or explicitly support ideologies of oppression through your rhetorical choices? What reflective practices have you employed to review and revise these choices?
Composition/Teaching: What is the intersectional relationship between writing center studies and composition pedagogy? Should writing centers function as a support for composition courses? How do teaching practices and/or learning outcomes in the composition program impact our administrative philosophies in the writing center? How does writing center theory inform composition pedagogy and vice versa?
Alternative paradigms: What frameworks beyond decolonization have helped you to theorize a radical writing center? How will you transform your work in the next decade?
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