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Facing the Center

Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Facing the Center
    Book Description:

    In the diversity of their clients as well as their professional and student staff, writing centers present a complicated set of relationships that inevitably affect the instruction they offer. In Facing the Center, Harry Denny unpacks the identity matrices that enrich teachable moments, and he explores the pedagogical dynamics and implications of identity within the writing center. The face of the writing center, be it mainstream or marginal, majority or miority, orthodox or subversive, always has implications for teaching and learning. Facing the Center will extend current research in writing center theory to bring it in touch with theories now common in cultural studies curricula. Denny takes up issues of power, agency, language, and meaning, and pushes his readers to ask how they themselves, or the centers in which they work, might be perpetuating cultures that undermine inclusive, progressive education.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-768-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

  1. 1 INTRODUCTION: Identity Politics, Face, and the Pedagogy of One-to-one Mentoring of Writing
    (pp. 1-28)

    I could tell a tale of swagger and pride, about a group of writing centers great in innumerable ways. The ones at St. John’s University provide a glimpse into the pulse of college life in New York City. It’s a world different from the sleepy casualness of typical college towns, and it’s an environment unlike the crush of humanity at our public sister schools. On our Staten Island campus, the writing center is nestled on an oddly pastoral campus overlooking the city’s harbor. The pace and energy are more subdued than its partner site across town, yet the tutors are...

    (pp. 29-31)

    Over the years, I’ve been inspired by texts in composition and writing center studies that attempt to transcend the boundaries of conventional chapters or essays in collections. My most direct influences have been Donna LeCourt’s (2004) self-reflections on her experiences growing up working class in Boston and her conscious work to encode her language and wider performance as signifying something other than the economic roots from which she came. Joe Harris (1997) writes in a similar vein in his review of composition studies scholarship since the late 1960s. He channels his own working-class experiences as fodder to push and extend...

    (pp. 32-56)

    Over the years, when I’ve shared this first scenario with writing center audiences, the typical reaction has been disbelief. Surely, people say, this tutor misunderstood the student. Surely, they respond, everything isn’t as it seems, or as bad as it appears; more details would get to the heart of the problem, beyond the hasty conclusion that race was at issue. Racism couldn’t be the problem, they protest. Instead, the issue, they earnestly intone, has to be related to interpersonal tension, cultural misunderstanding, hypersensitive individuals. Curiously, the doubters, over and over again, were white like me, yet in their initial reaction...

    (pp. 57-61)

    The one thing that my tutoring experience has taught me is that the lack of confidence surrounding the act of writing often centers on matters of agency. Short of ESL and other debilitating issues, the struggle to write centers around our (in)ability to process and evaluate (critical thinking), our (in)ability to express opinion with clarity, and/or our (in)ability to own our viewpoints/opinions. Of course, those requirements call for some measure of self-reflectivity. My tutees and later my students all seemed to shy away from locating themselves on an issue. It was as if the elephant in the room, the silent...

    (pp. 62-83)

    In the last chapter, I wrote about the face of race in writing center identity politics. As these scenarios suggest, the discussion here turns to economic class, but it’s hard to imagine class cleaved from other aspects of who we are since they are so intertwined with one another. In both cases, these young men work to negotiate a complicated set of social relations that predicate social mobility on education or specialized training, as Julie Lindquist (2002) would argue. My reaction to Dane indicates that not all routes to social mobility and economic security are viewed by people in positions...

    (pp. 84-86)

    My first semester as a writing center tutor, I recall trying to hide my way of talking because I didn’t tawk the tawk. What I came to realize is that many of those coming into the writing center tawked different and I loved it. One day, I had a Russian tutee (we were assigned tutees that would come for weekly appointments) come in and say she wanted to fix her grammar and I talked to her about process and that language acquisition takes a while. After all, I’d been in the country for over twenty years and I still had...

    (pp. 87-112)

    Just like race and class, our sex, our gender, and the politics attendant to them are ubiquitous in writing centers and to the people that circulate through them. These components of our identity are among the most legible on our bodies and the faces we present. They are also fraught with complication and the potential for misunderstanding. Wrongly reading one person’s sex or presupposing values around gender and sexual expression presents minefields as well as opportunities for learning. Our postmodern society and culture make possible fluid codes that are paradoxical: invariably visible and hence public, but intensely private and difficult...

    (pp. 113-116)

    As a woman, I’ve always found writing centers to be among the most positive and safest places to work, perhaps because primarily women have worked as my colleagues. However, because writing centers tend to be predominantly female spaces, and because women come to feel so comfortable in them, it’s all the more unnerving when the safety of the writing center is violated in some way.

    When I worked in an administrative position at one writing center, I encountered a situation in which a group of women tutors called on me to help them with a particularly pushy male writing center...

    (pp. 117-138)

    Each of the earlier chapters in this book examined forms of identity that are central to who we are, considered their histories and politics and connected them to the context of work in writing centers. A continuum that runs across these identity formations is their mutability, the degree to which identities can be reducible or made invisible to the majority. By and large, race and sex are legible faces, and most people don’t seek to convert or hide them. Instead, those identity markers come to signify as collective identities around which powerful symbolic and cultural capital has risen. Class and...

    (pp. 139-143)

    If only I had a dollar for every single time someone has said to me, “You’ve only been here for three years? But you have no accent!” or “Your English is flawless for an international student!”

    Initially, I remember being mildly amused by these comments made by people I met on campus, or even around New York City, and I would dismiss them with a smile or a casual shrug of my shoulders. As time went on, I began to realize that most people I met assumed that I was either a local, or an out-of-state student from the New...

    (pp. 144-167)

    This dilemma—contending with institutional pressures to measure the efficacy of writing center work and to insert accountability into expenditures of energy, time and money—represents a common experience in colleges and universities these days. It speaks into the influence of corporate-style management discourses and philosophy on college education as well as a historical distrust of and ambivalence toward education. Colleges and universities in the U.S. are celebrated for their innovation and excellence, but they’re also assailed as a safe harbors for political correctness (from the left and right) and disengaged teaching. These cliches and myths have warranted wide-ranging assaults...