Access & Equity: Writing Centers in Times of Disruption
The year 2020 has undoubtedly been one of great disruption and turmoil for Writing Centers around the globe. It is perhaps not an overstatement to say that each of our Centers has faced issues of equitable access in this time, and for many of us, this was our first confrontation of these issues on such a widespread scale. How would we continue to serve our mission while also adhering to safety standards? How would we continue to serve students, all with different resources and needs, no longer partially equalized by access to a physical campus? Bound by the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, how would we reach students, especially those most at risk?
COVID disabled our typical, very comfortable, systems. What was easy became difficult, and we were forced to navigate barriers and learn how to adapt-- something that many of our students have long had to do on a daily basis. While they may have felt new to us, such barriers have been persistent for the students we serve (Hitt; Keidaisch and Dinitz): whether that means finding technology/internet access, trying to view a recording with no closed captions, or wrestling with the choice of foregrounding wealth inequity by leaving their camera on. Such decisions are reminiscent of how the field of disability studies queries the concept of disclosure (Kerschbaum). The choice to disclose — socioeconomic status, disability status, COVID status — is a concept that has taken a central stage in the lives of students, administrators, and tutors.
The MAWCA 2021 Conference explores how the disruption of COVID-19 has shaped our ideas of access and equity in the Writing Center. The context of our current world raises important questions of how we address accessibility in a time of great disruption— and beyond.
The theme also invites us to ask who bears the responsibility and labor of creating and maintaining equitable access, especially when there are multiple stakeholders (executive administration, students, faculty, tutors), all with different priorities. We have had to wrestle the desire to protect ourselves and our staff against pressure (from our selves, our upper administration, our students), all while under intense stress from the disruption of the pandemic itself. The concept of bodymind frequently drawn upon in disability seems especially relevant at this moment, where each decision we make is a carefully calculated, risk-dependent balance of mental and physical health— the desire for physical embodiment and presence, weighed against anxiety and safety (Bukowski and Brueggemann). These issues of access and equity extend beyond disability, especially as we ask ourselves how we can create an equitable space for writers and staff of marginalized populations.
We would like to use this moment, one marked by division and distance, to create a conference that adheres to this spirit of equitable access. The free, virtual format capitalizes on this opportunity to forge an accessible space for scholarship, especially for administrators, tutors, and scholars in our region who typically might not be able to participate in conferences due to financial, travel, and time constraints.
We invite proposals that interrogate the role access and equity play in our Writing Centers, especially in such a time of great disruption. We welcome presentations that center on issues of disability, as well as the wider context of tutoring writing during a pandemic and equitable access for all students. Further, we are interested in how what we’ve taken away from our efforts to foreground access, safety, health, and myriad student needs in this chaotic moment can be extended to the post-COVID world.
Questions to explore:
Individual Scholarly Presentation: Individual presenters share their original work as a 15 minute pre-recorded PPT or Prezi presentation (with either voiceover or video).
Panel: Three or more presenters will present together to share their original work as a 45-50 minute pre-recorded PPT or Prezi presentation (with either voiceover or video).
Podcast: Presenters will share their work via a prerecorded audio podcast (with accompanying transcripts). Podcasts may range from 15-50 minutes in length.
E-Poster Presentations: Presenters share their work via a PDF poster.
Data Dash: Presenters share their work in a brief, 5-7 minute presentation format. Pre-recorded presentations may accompany a short PPT, Prezi, or PDF poster.
Roundtable / Workshop: A limited number of synchronous sessions will follow the keynote. Facilitators will lead discussion of a specific issue related to the conference theme.
Works Cited and Recommended Reading List
Bukowski, Noah, and Brenda Jo Brueggemann. "Writing Center Research and Disability Theory." Theories and Methods of Writing Center Studies: A Practical Guide (2019).
Daniels, Sharifa, Rebecca Day Babcock, and Doria Daniels. "Writing centers and disability: Enabling writers through an inclusive philosophy." Praxis: A Writing Center Journal (2016).
Hitt, Allison. "Access for all: The role of dis/ability in multiliteracy centers." Praxis: A Writing Center Journal (2012).
Keidaisch, Jean, and Sue Dinitz. "Changing Notions of Difference in the Writing Center: The Possibilities of Universal Design." Writing Center Journal 27.2 (2007): 39-59.
Kerschbaum, Stephanie L. "On Rhetorical Agency and Disclosing Disability in Academic Writing." Rhetoric Review 33.1 (2014): 55-71.