A Writing Center to Envy

Editor’s note: After hearing from afar of the beautiful writing center space that Jackson State University in Mississippi enjoys, I wanted to know more! Tatiana Glushko and Kathi R. Griffin share their story below:

Entrance to the centerIn 2002 The Richard Wright Center for the Written Word (RWC) at Jackson State University began as part of a grant. As coordinator of the Millsaps College Writing Center, Kathi Griffin was invited to help train the first cohort of peer tutors, of which then undergraduate Summer Graves was a member. After the center got off the ground, funding sources changed more than once, which also changed the face and location of the center.

CAPTION GOES HERE
Tatiana Glushko and Kathi Griffin.

As we know, the location of the writing center speaks about its role on a campus. The evolution of the RWC reflects its changing affiliations, thereby its role and mission at JSU. When the center opened in 2003, it was located on the third floor at the back of the library. It didn’t have its own enclosed space and thus was furnished like the rest of the library, in unforgiving oak tables and chairs. It was a place where students, primarily undergraduates “who need assistance and encouragement in completing their writing assignments,” could receive support.

Reception AreaLater the RWC was moved to its own space on the 4th floor of the library, an area with large windows overlooking the fountain and the grove in front of the library, where Tatiana Glushko began as a graduate writing tutor. This location, she recalls, seemed to determine the way we positioned ourselves—in the center of campus, but away from the hustle and bustle—a quiet place where students could center their emotions and energies and write. There was something therapeutic in sitting by the window looking out at the trees in the grove and splashes of the water in the fountain and be able to think and write—albeit on the same unforgiving oak furniture.

Tutor TrainingIn 2013, the grant was scheduled to end September 30, along with the center. The new Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, however, understood the value of the center and claimed it, changing the name to “The Richard Wright Center for Writing, Rhetoric, and Research.” He hired Kathi Griffin as the new director, and in October, the now Dr. Summer Graves was hired as the center coordinator. Tatiana Glushko left to complete her dissertation (in urban higher education), only to return the following August as Coordinator, Summer having accepted a position elsewhere.

Tutoring Session in ProgressThe grant ended just as the university administration decided to make the library a more modern space to reflect the shift in goals for using digital technology in teaching and learning. We were offered to become a part of this new space called the Digital Intellectual Commons, and in January 2014 we moved to a larger, more visible location on the first floor of the library—with new fun, comfy furniture!

Positioned between Innovate, a place where faculty can design new course materials, and Create, a place for students to engage new technologies, our new location has allowed us to re-imagine ourselves as a center for intellectual engagement where students can articulate their ideas as they create, and where faculty can articulate ideas as they innovate. Thus, we informally dubbed ourselves Articulate!

View from the entrance

As we prepared to present in February 2014 at the Southeastern Writing Center Conference with our colleague from the University of Mississippi-Tupelo, we got together using the Mondo-pad screen in Innovate, a first time for each of us, but it really does make communication across distance easier. Then in March, we hosted the 14th Annual Mississippi Writing Center Association Conference. It was fun showing off, watching folks across the region envy our new space-age center.

White board with GRE Vocabulary[1]Now in the midst of the hustle and bustle, divided only by a glass wall from the area where students work on projects, the RWC can be seen from the entrance to the library. Students in Create can see tutors and students working together and get a sense of what’s going on in the center before they actually decide to step through our door. Students who do enter will find a variety of options: they can work on their own, with a tutor, or with a group of their peers. The space is bright and colorful, albeit with white walls, where we plan to display student artwork.

Our location now allows students and faculty to reconsider what the writing center is. No longer a place where students simply correct papers, it is a place where students experience being part of an academic community.

A view of Innovate from one of the center officesWhile we are still working on developing the speaking and presentation possibilities, we are finding uses for our white boards and conversational spaces. One peer tutor puts up GRE vocabulary words with definitions each week. We look forward to his list and find ourselves trying to use as many of the words as we can in serious and silly ways. We use the space outside Kathi’s office with the big screen and the circular seating with the white board behind for small groups to work, a sort of “collaboration station.” If the groups get too big, we open the door to Innovate to see if we might use some of the larger spaces, which we have done on a number of occasions for workshops and roundtables.

Outside the center in InnovateFlexibility seems key to what we do in the center on so many levels, including space.

Thanks, Tatiana and Kathi! Lots of interesting ideas to glean from here.

Have a question or comment for the writing center staff at JSU? Leave it below!

6 thoughts on “A Writing Center to Envy

  1. I would love to learn more about how you configured your space. In particular, are those book shelves ones that contain regular library holdings or are they exclusively Writing Center reference books? Also, how is the noise level in your enclosure? Do students find it comfortable to work one-on-one, in small groups, as well as individually? What steps did you take to sound proof?

    I really appreciate your feedback, am looking to propose a move into our library and would like to do it as smartly and ethically as possible!
    Genie

    1. Hi Genie,

      I am so sorry that it took so long to respond to you. Since this is not our blog, we did not think to check for responses!

      Actually, we did not have much to do with how we configured our space. The book shelves are original to the library, but the books are exclusively our Writing Center reference books. The noise level in our enclosure is manageable, and yes, students find it comfortable to work one-on-one, in small groups, as well as individually. The glass wall between the two sections helps a good bit. I have to admit that I like it when we’re busy and there is noise. Have you read Beth Boquet’s _Noise from the Writing Center_?

      Overall, I think using as much of the existing architectural structure as you can is generally a good thing. We just wish we had more windows to the outside!!!

      Please let us know where you are and how things are going. We wish you all the best for 2016!
      -Kathi and Tatiana

  2. I really love what you have managed to accomplish. That is what I envision for our WC; however, we share an space with the Listening Lab, which has rather a lot of rules about how the space is supposed to be used. It actually is used very little but is the pride of the school’s language institute. Oh the things we could do if this were made into more of a learning commons!

    At the moment, the movers and shakers envisage a quiet “academic” study as what learning environment should be. I would like to see it be a dynamic, meaningful space where students can interact to make meaning of their studies, ask and answer questions, and get involved with learning.

    Suggestions on how to change the prevailing view would be very very welcome!

    Kerry

    1. Hi Kerry,

      I am so sorry that it took so long to respond to you. Since this is not our blog, we did not think to check for responses! We’re pleased to hear that you love our space. Yes, we understand about being in a space of pride. We had lots of rules at first, but things have eased a bit. We just try to be mindful. We try to say “yes” and then figure out how to make it work.

      It is sad that “movers and shakers envisage a quiet” space for studying. Unfortunately, this is not unusual. Study groups are much more effective – and they are noisy! Writing is a social activity, one that can get noisy – yes, “a dynamic, meaningful space where students can interact to make meaning of their studies, ask and answer questions, and get involved with learning.” So well put!

      Changing the prevailing view takes time, as you know, and diplomacy, which I (Kathi) struggle with – LOL! Beginning our third year in our new space is feeling much more relaxed, open, and hopefully inviting to students. We offer workshops and roundtables, so we use our space in ways that can get “noisy.” Is that a possibility you might use to help you make a case for moving?

      Also, we’re working on getting more artwork in our space, preferably student art work, and we’ve put out scratch paper on our tables, one sheet with a JSU plastic cup with two RWC pencils students can take with them, along with notes that may have been written on the paper. Students seem to like this. We thought we’d use crayons, but we have so many old pencils to use that we’re using those for now.

      Please let us know where you are and how things are going! We wish you all the best for 2016!!
      -Kathi and Tatiana

  3. I love this and was wondering how most students prefer to study? Do more students do one-on-one tutoring or do they prefer doing a small group tutoring? Which one do you personally think is better of the two options? Which one has better results?

    1. Hi Dany,
      Thank you for your response!
      It seems that most students who come to our center prefer one-to-one conversations, but some do come in with a classmate or to participate in the workshops and graduate roundtables we offer. What students prefer seems to depend what they are working on and how comfortable they are with their project and/or process. Creating space for options allows the most flexibility. We also offer to take workshops on the road, so to speak. We do class information sessions and workshops throughout the semester. Flexibility seems to be the key for us. All the best, -Kathi

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