The Publications Committee is pleased to present its very first blog post, which is also the first in a monthly series on SLAC writing programs. The goal of this series, and of the blog in general, is to make more visible the practices and experiences of those working in WPA roles at SLACs so that we might understand the SLAC WPA community more fully as we learn from one another. We thank Genie Giaimo of Middlebury College for her contribution and invite you to look forward to next month’s feature from Van Hillard of Davidson College.
The Quick Facts on the Midd. Writing Center
Describe your program in 100 words or less.
Genie Giaimo (GG): The Middlebury Writing Center provides individual and group writing support to student writers. We are a community of peer and professional/faculty tutors. We also provide faculty writing support (akin to a WAC Program) through embedding peer writing tutors in First Year Seminars and writing in the disciplines courses, as well as through faculty development in coordination with the Writing and Rhetoric Program (WRPR) and Center for Teaching, Learning and Research (CTLR).
Describe your role.
GG: In SLACs, many of us wear several hats as Writing Program Administrators. I am no different. I direct the writing center, provide WAC consultation to faculty, and conduct writing placement for first year students through our new Directed Self Placement (DSP) model. I also regularly teach a wrap-around first-year writing course on the hidden curriculum and writing empowerment.
What is new and/or distinctive about your program?
GG: Middlebury’s Writing Center has been around for more than 30 years. Because of the close connection between the Writing Center and the Writing and Rhetoric Program, as well as its home in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Research, my program is involved in most of the College’s writing support and assessment that goes. This includes supporting student writers, conducting faculty professional development, coordinating an embedded tutoring program, and developing writing-initiatives. We also conduct assessment that is invaluable in tutor and faculty training around the teaching of writing.
Several things are new to the program including its focus on social justice and inclusion for tutors and clients. Additionally, there are new training and professional development opportunities for tutors. Two years ago, I created the first writing center course at Midd. (WRPR0212: Issues and Methods in Tutoring Writing). This course focuses on writing studies as an area of academic inquiry; however, it also prepares students to take on research and assessment projects in the center. From this course, students have been trained (and encouraged!) to take on leadership opportunities, develop programming, and carry out research projects. They are also more confident and reflective peer writing tutors because of their training in the course.
What are you especially proud of?
GG: The Middlebury Writing Center has gone through a lot of changes in the past two years (haven’t we all?!) I am most proud of the peer writing tutors. We are a diverse center with more first-gen tutors, BIPOC tutors, and queer tutors than ever before. And—in creating an anti-racist vision and working plan—we have moved our center’s philosophy towards one of empowerment, inclusion, and linguistic justice. Finally, in the past two years, peer tutors have stepped into leadership and research roles in the Center, which are critical to tutor empowerment and agency, as well as developing research-informed practices.
What sorts of challenges does working within a SLAC present for your program? What sorts of opportunities does it offer?
GG: Because they are often residential undergraduate-focused institutions with relatively few students (~2,800 at Middlebury), SLACs present unique opportunities for developing writing assessments and curricula interventions. At Midd., we can literally work with every student writer (currently, we support over 75% of students!) through our programming. We can also support and engage with the majority of faculty. Small schools allow for intensive and widespread writing support and assessment. However, as SLACs grow their student and instructor populations, our resources are stretched thin. So, while demand may be high, and there are many opportunities for us impact the culture of writing at a SLAC, we are often under-resourced.
As you’ve developed your program, what has been your most productive collaboration with another group or office on your campus—and how have you built that relationship?
GG: The Writing Center has an unofficial home in the Writing and Rhetoric Program (WRPR) and an official one in the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research (CTLR). Both programs have been incredible collaborators. WRPR has additional expert teacher-scholars in composition and rhetoric to act as collaborators, and to share the load of WAC work with faculty and to administer our upper-level (CW) writing courses. CTLR has several programs related to executive functioning, language tutoring, STEM support, undergraduate research and fellowships and more. They have been enthusiastic collaborators on programming, initiatives, and assessment. These relationships were in place before I arrived, but we have worked to strengthen, clarify, and innovate them. Additionally, the folks on the student affairs side of things (Student Activities, Orientation, Admissions) have been allies in rolling out initiatives such as the Directed Self Placement for first year students.
Other great partners include libraries, the wellness center, and first year seminar. To build such relationships, it is essential to put in the work to get to know other programs and their priorities and find common ground and mutual goals. Some partners provide cross-training to tutors, while others collaborate on center-specific events, and still others engage in shared assessment and faculty development. It takes time but we are definitely stronger working together!
What specific readings, activities, or practices would you recommend to directors who may be working with programs similar to yours?
GG: It’s hard to choose just one! I know SLACs are quite unique among writing centers and writing programs (which are often one and the same at our institutions!). Jill M. Gladstein and Dora Rossman Regaignon’s Writing Program Administration at Small Liberal Arts Colleges is a seminal text, of course. I also recommend Noreen Lape’s work and the article “Activity Theory as Tool for WAC Program Development: Organizing First-Year Writing and Writing-Enriched Curriculum Systems” by Crystal N. Fodrey, Meg Mikovits, Chris Hassay, and Erica Yozell. Finally, WLN has a series of Digital Edited Collections that many folks have found useful. Of course, I am biased here because I edited the third digital book in the series on wellness and care in writing center work and think the contributors’ work is all fantastic!
Questions curated by the SLAC-WPA Executive Board and the Publications Committee.