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:
In 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.
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.
Later 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.
In 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.
The 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!
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.
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.
While 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.
Flexibility 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!