Challenging the Writing Centre at the IWCA Conference

Friday, November 10, 2023
by Gemma Turner

In October, I attended the International Writing Centers Association conference in Baltimore, as a peer tutor working for the University of Waterloo’s Writing and Communication Centre. It was the culmination of many months of work, ending with my fellow tutors and I presenting a roundtable discussion on “Embodied Multiversalism in WC Staff: Fear vs Fundamental Duty to Social Justice.”

In short, we discussed our own experiences both as tutors and writers, and the possibilities of challenging and restructuring university writing centres to serve the diverse experiences and voices of the students who come for help.

How many times in your university career have you changed something about your writing to better suit the requirements of an assignment, or the expectations of a professor? I definitely have, and before I started working for the WCC, I didn’t really consider that there was anything wrong with that. It was just what I had to do if I wanted to get good grades.

But after listening to the experiences of my coworkers, engaging with decolonialist ideas, and reading outside of the western academic model, my perspective opened up.

I never felt like I had to change much about my writing, or who I was as a writer, to fit into narrow academic expectations. But for countless other students, many of whom may not speak English as a first language, or may have little experience with those academic standards, or just have a unique voice that won’t fit into a box, they find themselves in the difficult position of choosing between their identity and their grades.

At the WCC, we want to change that, and create new opportunities for students to place their own voices as writers at the centre of their work. There should not be only one way to be an academic writer, nor should there be only one way to be a writing centre. As a tutor, I’m encouraged to bring in new perspectives and new ideas, exploring different pedagogies so I can give every student the help they need.

That’s why presenting at the IWCA conference was such a great opportunity. I had never been to an academic conference, so I didn’t really know what it was going to be like, but it was an amazing experience.

We had the chance to share our own ideas and connect with writing centre professionals across the world who have been doing the same work. We could put our theory into practice, and come away with new perspectives and approaches to disrupting strict expectations of academic writing.

Finally, I gained a much deeper understanding of what it really means to be a writing centre tutor, and the duty I have to students to give them the tools to develop their own creative voices outside of the academic box. I can use what I’ve learned in every session from here on out, and I’m already looking forward to the next conference.