Writing Centers at the Confluence of Diversity and Democracy

National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing

August 17, 2020

First off, thank you to everyone who submitted proposals for our online conference this year, which will start on our original conference date, October 29th. We will have posters, narrated presentations, PowerPoints, and short videos on our NCPTW site. We send more information out as the date approaches. On the plus side, you won’t have to worry about making travel or hotel arrangements, so that’s one less thing to check off on the to-do list this fall. Also, there will still be a host of thoughtful and insightful presentations that you can enjoy from your home or office.

Then, we do have the next two conferences all lined up:

NCPTW 2021: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the Sheraton at Station Square, November 11-13th.

NCPTW 2022: Omaha, Nebraska.

All of us on the NCPTW Executive Board thank you for your patience and for the important work you all have been doing in your writing centers and beyond during this challenging time.

Mike Mattison, president (mmattison@wittenberg.edu)

Randall Monty, past president (randall.monty@utrgv.edu)

Andrea Efthymiou, treasurer (andrea.r.efthymiou@hofstra.edu)

Julie Christoph, secretary (jchristoph@pugetsound.edu)


stereographic image fo the confluence of rivers
Stereographic Photo of the Confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers (Photo courtesy Boston Public Library)

Pittsburgh is well known for its location at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela, forming the Ohio River, which provides a sense of continued civic identity and whose names harken to the indigenous people that populated the region. Historically, Pittsburgh has been a meeting place for those original inhabitants, and a stop on Underground Railroad, a home for steel mills and those that work them, for anyone passing through Appalachia, the Ohio Valley, or Pennsylvania. Currently, Pittsburgh is establishing itself as a confluence for environmental, health care, and technological pursuits, including in the sustainable EcoInnovation District, the first certified neighborhood of its kind in the nation. However, not all residents have been empowered or included in this reinvention, as the city continues to grapple with issues of identity, class, access, race, and environmental justice.

Extending that metaphor, writing centers are places of confluence, too, where different people, disciplines, and programs meet to get work done. Collaborative work, according to Mukavetz (2014), “is crucial because it contends larger institutional expectations about the role of researcher or author,” whereas “the institution, as a paracolonial space, emphasizes distance, isolation, and anonymity.” Viewed this way, as a collaborative space where a confluence of disciplines, identities, and bodies interact, the writing center continuously works to advocate for access, collaboration, and shared governance.

People around a table writing on paper
NCPTW 2018 Attendees

The modern history of Pittsburgh and its surrounding regions are intertwined with industry and blue collar, “everyday” work, which Caswell, Grutsch McKinney, & Jackson (2016) identify in writing centers as institutionally regarded as separate from disciplinary and intellectual labor. More recently, Pittsburgh and its residents are reinventing that image, emphasizing the city’s advancements in the areas of health care, technology, and environmentalism. This dynamic of rethinking labor and identity resonates across writing center scholarship, where stakeholders have attempted to more directly confront the roles that race, class, gender, religion, and physical bodies play in our everyday operations.

Writing centers have long traded on the disciplinary history of access and accessibility for underserved populations, but continued work is needed to account for, reconcile, and challenge difference and power in writing center spaces. As García (2017) recognized, as “Writing centers function within a tapestry of social structures, reproducing and generating systems of privilege.” Likewise contrary to some of the narratives we have about ourselves, Salem (2017) argued that, “the choice to use the writing center is raced, classed, gendered and shaped by linguistic hierarchies.” Furthering how writing centers complicate identities of class and labor, Denny, Nordlof, and Salem (2018) observe that, for many working-class students, “the more “success” they achieve, the greater the symbolic and material separation between them and their families and home communities,” complicating common tropes of higher education and social mobility.

Man presenting
Matthew Candalaria Presenting at NCPTW 2019

Like much of the nation, we enter 2020 questioning our roles within larger systems. As tutors and administrators, specifically, we are reflecting on our roles as members of campus communities. As an organization, we’re acting on how to make our spaces more inclusive, accessible, diverse, and equitable. Importantly, these are not achievements that can be checked off a list, rather they are processes that require continuous reflection, revision, and effort. More broadly, though, writing centers must consider their roles in civic life, the ways in which writing centers are uniquely positioned to cultivate the intellectual and rhetorical skills that are essential for a vibrant, functioning democracy.

Over the past few politically tumultuous years, the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing invited participants to think as artists and artisans, about the movement of bodies internationally and within our centers, across physical and digital spaces, and to account for difference, power, and identity. For this year’s conference, we ask you to examine the ways your writing center, in the collaborative, interpersonal spaces of your campus and your community, functions at the confluence of diversity and democracy, promoting ways of writing, thinking, and speaking.

panel presenting
Panel at NCPTW 2016

Given the online nature of the 2020 presentations, we encourage everyone to consider how best to present your ideas in that format: a videotaped talk, a narrated PowerPoint or Prezi, a poster. Please reach out with questions; we will find the best way to present your ideas.

People looking at poster presentations
Poster presenters at NCPTW 2019

Questions: ncptwboard@gmail.com

Online celebration begins: October 29, 2020