Editor’s note: We would like to thank Maria Soriano Young, John Carroll University, University Heights (Ohio), for providing this piece. To contact the author, please email Maria Soriano Young. If you would like to share your writing center’s experience during COVID-19, please submit via WLN.
We already knew that writing center directors, their staff members, and even their undergraduate and graduate consultants were a close-knit, friendly, and welcoming community; regular posts on the WCenter listserv and in the Directors of Writing Centers Facebook group illustrate that easily. The crises and surprises presented by COVID-19 (which continue to unfold, and will do so even beyond the time this special issue is published) pushed all of us into various degrees of uncertainty and new territory. Writing centers that relied primarily on F2F sessions (like mine) suddenly needed to convert everything online in a matter of days or weeks. Directors were told that their student workers could no longer be paid. Contingency plans for illness were written. And as summer break began, many started to think about best practices for fall – while wondering if they would have budgets, staff, or even their own jobs.
As state guidelines and case numbers continue to fluctuate, even thinking about how to start thinking about plans for the fall is incredibly overwhelming for writing center directors. We have more questions than answers, and even the plans we make now could change multiple times over the next few months. This, however, leads me to what I believe has been a positive aspect of COVID-19: a tightened sense of connection among all members of the writing center community. Shortly after the national shift to online learning, I started to see trends in the posts on the Directors of Writing Centers Facebook group page: concerns, requests for advice and resources, recommendations, and even frantic feelings of helplessness and insecurity. In an effort to start uniting a like-minded community and pool ideas and resources, one morning at 6:30 a.m. when I could not sleep, I created a poll and asked who might be interested in setting up a session to “just talk.” Many responded, and the “WCD Coffee and Conversation” sessions began.
During the semester, a dozen or so regular attendees joined the sessions to vent, ask for advice, simply check in, or express concerns for the future; at the beginning of the summer, a “let’s start talking about worries and ideas for the fall” session gathered 43 attendees, some of whom immediately requested another session, seeming to crave advice and guidance. Throughout these meetings, every person who tuned in had something to offer and something to learn; those of use whose centers did little to no online tutoring before received handouts and materials from directors with well-established online centers. Others simply take comfort in knowing that an understanding community exists, and that those community members will celebrate successes, share sadness and outrage if and when cuts are made, and listen, even when they can’t help.
This virtual, naturally-socially-distant community has been one of the few high points of the isolation period. Conversations with other directors help me identify what I want to devote my energy to, and challenge me to consider other viewpoints (like “embrace asynchronous sessions,” which is written on my to-do list). As a result, I know that I — along with my own university’s Writing Center, as well as my consultants — will be able to enter fall semester feeling ready to accept and adapt to whatever model we believe is best. We’ll have better marketing strategies (thanks to video recording tips from Duane Theobald), more training (enhanced by the contributions of Candis Bond and Jennifer Marciniak), and a more positive outlook. COVID-19 may have required us to separate ourselves from our students and colleagues against our will, but I, for one, am thankful that it also prompted us as writing center directors, staff, and consultants to virtually unite across borders.