“The Art of it All:” Thoughts from IWCA 2019 Conference Presenters from Brazil

Members of our Writing Center community in Brazil, Thais Cons, Camila Rezende, Janice Nodari, Daniel Persia and others are running the first Writing Center in Brazil, which opened its doors three years ago at Universidade Federal do Paraná (Federal University of Paraná). They will be presenting at this year’s IWCA conference. In this post, they share their thoughts regarding this year’s conference theme as it relates to writing center work internationally.

Tell us a little bit about your center
CAPA (Academic Publishing Advisory Center) is a Writing Center which operates within the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), a fully publicly funded university in Curitiba, Paraná, in the south of Brazil. UFPR has around 3,000 professors and 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It has 19 campuses in 6 different cities of Paraná. Publicly funded universities in Brazil depend entirely on federal government resources, and students do not have to pay fees or tuition. In order to enter a publicly funded university in Brazil, candidates must take a public open examination called the Vestibular. Our Writing Center was founded in 2016 by Director Ron Martinez. We have a staff of about 20 undergraduate and graduate tutors, mostly Humanities and Social Sciences students who are studying literature, linguistics, sociology, art and pedagogy. We offer tutoring sessions and workshops to the wider community, and editing and translation (Portuguese-English) of academic articles for UFPR students and professors.

Is this your first time attending the IWCA-NCPTW conference?
Yes, this is our first time attending, and the first time that Brazilians will be representing our writing center at the IWCA-NCPTW conference. We are extremely grateful to IWCA and NCPTW for their support, as well as to the US-Brazil Fulbright Commission and the US Embassy for helping to make this project a reality!

What do you hope to share with other writing center folks at the conference? While the U.S. has nearly 100 years of writing center history, Brazil is just getting started; our center—the first in Brazil—opened its doors just three years ago. Brazilian students have not, historically, had very many opportunities to talk about their writing. The concept of a university-wide writing program is virtually non-existent. Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing in the Disciplines are entirely foreign concepts. Brazilian students also face additional pressures that come with studying and researching in the Global South (the pressure to publish in a nonnative language, English, for instance). These diverse needs and challenges, which ultimately stem from a different historical reality, compel us to think about the writing center (as a concept that transcends its physical space) in new ways. We believe that the Brazilian context can make a significant contribution to the field of writing (center) studies, and we hope that this potential becomes clearer through our participation at the IWCA-NCPTW conference.

What do you hope to take with you to your writing center?

Because writing centers are so new to Brazil, we don’t have an immediate community of scholars or practitioners to turn to in our local context, especially for research. Building relationships with other leaders in the field and other writing center communities is certainly one of our hopes for attending the IWCA-NCPTW conference! There is so much potential for collaboration across borders, especially with new forms of technology coming out every day. Though we often feel isolated in our local context, others are likely facing the same challenges around the globe. We’re curious to see what practices of resistance are already taking place in the U.S. and elsewhere, and how these practices may relate to our work in Brazil. Several other Brazilian universities have expressed interest in replicating/re-creating our model, and the more strategies we can present, the better!

Upon reflecting on the conference theme, “The Art of It All,” we are wondering: as you are working to build or administer a writing center at their institution outside of the U.S., there are many implications to assuming either the “artisan” or the “artist” role (ie. the risk of homogenizing and reducing diverse perspectives and approaches to a Western-centric model or the challenges of charting new territory without a foundation or a map). In your opinion, what is gained and what is lost in each of these roles for international writing center professionals?

Academic writing holds significant symbolic power within (Brazilian) universities. It is often the primary factor that leads to further research, investment, and large-scale collaboration. But it also produces inequities and unequal access to knowledge, often based on social differences—class, gender, race and ethnicity. Academic writing can be seen as a practice fundamentally rooted in processes of colonization.  In the Latin American context, for instance, it is clear that writers/researchers rely on canons that are predominantly European and North American. Academic writing tends to reproduce models pre-established by epistemic powers, privileging Western traditions.

As we reflect on the challenges faced by writing tutors within the Brazilian context, we confront a complex duality: (1) as an artisan, the writing tutor helps students/researchers to master the rules of the game and learn to write according to pre-established norms, gaining access to symbolic capital, and (2) as an artist, the writing tutor helps students/researchers to develop an awareness of other epistemologies (in particular, decolonial epistemologies) that value risk-taking and questioning approaches. From our perspective, the artisan and artist roles do not work in opposition, but rather in unison.

Removing one of these roles would dismantle the overall composition: without the artisan, it would be difficult to demonstrate an understanding of what it is we’re resisting, or pushing back against, and without the artist, we would be reproducing the same systems of oppression that have dominated for centuries. This is isn’t unique to Brazil; it holds for academic writing in the U.S. and Europe, and writing centers in positions of power should also strive for equilibrium. But perhaps countries that are only beginning to develop writing centers, such as Brazil, have an opportunity (and responsibility) to challenge hierarchical and hegemonic discourses right from the start.

Camila Rezende is a  Visual Artist and PhD Candidate in Sociology. Daniel Persia is the Fulbright Brazil Regional Leader. Thais Cons is a Masters Student in Applied Linguistics and Janice Nodari is Associate Director of CAPA, English Language and Literature Professor. 

If you’re interested in learning more about this group’s work, they will be presenting three different sessions at IWCA: an art exhibition, a workshop, and a panel. More information about these session can be found in the conference program, posted here.

 

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