In the last days of 2020, as the United States and every other country around the world battles yet another peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and we are told by national leaders and health experts to prepare for an especially dark winter, it seems almost prescient that the authors in this book detail several interventions on wellness and care in writing center work. However, the idea for this edited collection was born long before the pandemic became a worldwide crisis. The outpouring of interest in this topic—which was the theme of the spring 2018 ECWCA conference that I hosted at Ohio State, and which led to the publication of a WLN special issue on the topic in early 2020—indicated that there remained more to learn about how the field of writing center studies confronts—or fails to confront—wellness issues in our work. As many of the chapters in this edited collection indicate, practitioners and scholars in writing center studies are devising intentional, social justice-oriented, and anti-capitalist approaches to wellness and care, even as our field confronts rising challenges caused by austerity and the neoliberal turn in American higher education.
For writing center and writing program scholars, administrators, and practitioners hungry for changing how we labor and how we teach writing, this book details several interventions, pedagogies, and programmatic approaches that place wellness, vulnerability, and anti-racist community care at the forefront of our work. For practitioners outside of the United States, I hope that this book generates meaningful conversations about wellness challenges and care opportunities and leads to interventions that are culturally-specific and site-specific. Of course, as I have detailed in my other work on wellness and labor, the pandemic has given new urgency to these conversations and has upped their stakes. This book, then, is an artifact of a pre-pandemic world. While subsequent revisions have woven in pandemic-specific reflections and information, we are still sorting through the wreckage of a harrowing year. In years to come, I hope that we will look back on this period of uncertainty and fear, and process how the pandemic reshaped us: our work, our tutoring and teaching practices, our attitudes about our institutions, our profession, our programmatic goals. I also hope we examine what the pandemic failed to reshape and the many aspects of the academy that the pandemic adversely shaped.
Organization of the Book
This book is organized topically. Chapter 1, “A Matter of Method: Wellness and Care Research in Writing Center Studies,” by Genie Nicole Giaimo, provides an overview of recent wellness scholarship alongside best practices for developing and carrying out research programs on this topic. Detailing different kinds of approaches to wellness and care research through reviewing and categorizing published scholarship in the field, this chapter is a useful guide for anyone interested in conducting their own site-specific or cross-institutional research and assessment.
From methods, we turn to reflective pieces from current writing center administrators and practitioners. In Chapter 2, “Naming and Negotiating the Emotional Labors of Writing Center Tutoring,” Kristi Murray Costello defines and explores emotional labor and details how she used this concept to create writing center training that developed a community of care in her writing center.
Benjamin J. Villarreal engages in autoethnography in Chapter 3, “Imposter Syndrome in the Writing Center: An Autoethnography of Tutoring as Mindfulness,” to explore how practicing mindfulness in a writing center space helped him. He deeply reflects on his identities as a Chicano, first-generation college graduate, writing center tutor, and an administrator to examine his sense of belonging and to cope with his feeling of imposter syndrome.
In Chapter 4, “The Hidden and Invisible: Vulnerability in Writing Center Work,” Lauren Brentnell, Elise Dixon, and Rachel Robinson explore how writing centers—and their workers—can work to acknowledge, address, and allow vulnerability. Their chapter identifies how vulnerability and emotions push their way into writing centers unexpectedly and often with little forewarning or training for center staff.
Chapters 2–4 are deeply personal insofar as they confront the kinds of feelings and experiences that are bound up with everyday writing center practices and that arise out of the quotidian actions of writing center work, such as going to the office, working with vulnerable writers, or, as Costello, Villarreal, and Brentnell et al. acknowledge, personally experiencing the kinds of emotions that others in the center also feel (uncertainty, vulnerability, grief, hopelessness, etc.) while also going about daily writing center work. Life, in other words, does not simply stop while we work with writers, as these authors all rightly point out and explore. In response to such experiences, these chapters provide different ways for us to integrate wellness into writing center training and work, as well as into our lives.
From here we move to chapters that are focused heavily on tutor training interventions. In Chapter 5, “Cultivating an Emotionally Intelligent Writing Center Culture Online,” Miranda Mattingly, Claire Helakoski, Christina Lundberg, and Kacy Walz explore how organizational culture can be improved by providing training on emotional intelligence to tutors. Especially in online environments—on which the authors focus their chapter—emotional intelligence training helps tutors to acknowledge, process, work through emotional labor, and foster a “culture of connectedness, empathy, and trust.”
In Chapter 6, “Tutors as Counselors: Fact, Fiction, or Writing Center Necessity,” Sarah Brown identifies the challenges that tutors confront in working with writers who are struggling with emotional issues that spill over into their writing work. Brown draws parallels between the therapeutic practice of Motivational Interviewing (MI) and writing tutoring and then provides a training model that incorporates MI into tutoring practice. This model, she posits, will better prepare tutors to support and help writers struggling with negative emotions surrounding writing and/or their academic experiences.
Chapter 7, “‘A Triumph Over Structures That Disempower’: Principles for Community Wellness in the Writing Center,” by Yanar Hashlamon, rounds out this collection with a unique chapter that is part manifesto and part call-to-action and that advocates for an anti-racist approach to wellness and care work. Hashlamon centers his arguments in Black feminist texts and argues that our field should focus on communal—rather than individualistic—models of care. Drawing from the Black Power Movement, he maps out several action items that a writing center and its staff can take to be more intentionally anti-racist and care-oriented while navigating the pitfalls of the neoliberal academy, such as its often-ableist institutional wellness programs.
Together, these chapters provide a lot of insight, resources, and ideas about how we can incorporate various aspects of wellness and care into our writing center administration, tutor work, scholarship, and activism. And, notably, the insights and resources that they provide are incredibly interdisciplinary. To develop their wellness models, contributors draw from fields outside of writing center studies such as sociology, rhetorical studies, organizational theory, psychology, Black Feminist studies, trauma studies, queer studies, and self-help. These chapters are also deeply personal. Many of the authors incorporate personal experience and autobiography to situate their chapters even as they also acknowledge the daily indignities, struggles, and challenges associated with writing center work. The personal, in this sense, is also professional and political; it informs much of the work we do. As readers peruse these chapters, they should look to the interactive footnotes, hyperlinks, figures, charts, and appendices; these are artifacts of our professional development and growth and they are also resources that I hope will be useful for practitioners who want to incorporate wellness and care into their centers.
This book is part of a relatively new series of digitally edited and open-access books that are supported by WLN and produced by scholars in the field of writing center studies. This book was created using Press Books and includes several learning resources, such as discussion questions for each chapter, chapter-specific activities, additional resources, and advice. Names of authors and publications are hyperlinked (identified by red text with a solid underline). In lieu of footnotes or endnotes, there are in-text hyperlinked notes (identified by red text with a dotted underline), in chapters throughout the book. Because of its digital structure, this book is best read online rather than as a PDF, though it can be downloaded and saved in PDF format. When saved in PDF form, some of the interactive elements, such as hyperlinks, might not transfer correctly and formatting may shift; therefore, some elements of the text might get lost in digital translation.
Genie Nicole Giaimo, December 2020