Writing centers are a relatively new phenomenon in Brazil, appearing only in the last decade. They started with a trickle – a handful of motivated faculty at a couple different universities that had familiarity with writing centers in North America and wanted to try something similar locally. However, unlike their more well-established northern counterparts, these scattered initiatives were not institutionalized, that is, not really embraced by the administration as an integral component of the university. As a result, their ability to reach students was limited, and “the idea of a writing center” (North, 1984) remained an obscure one throughout the country.
That changed in 2016, when for the first time in Brazil a graduate-focused writing center was created, at Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR) in Curitiba. (Called “CAPA” – see Global Spotlight here.) The main difference was that its founder, Ron Martinez, recognized that the greatest pressures for academic writing existed among master’s and doctoral candidates who, as is frequently the case in Brazil, must publish in order to satisfy degree requirements. Prior to CAPA’s existence, students at UFPR had no institutional support for writing for publication beyond (occasionally) subsidizing outsourced translation/editing services. Moreover, since Brazilian academics tend to prefer submitting to English-medium journals, issues of literacy in the genre (i.e. research article) were often conflated with linguistic challenges. CAPA’s key innovation was to help in both regards, engaging students in conversation around their high-stakes writing, simultaneously addressing genre and language-related concerns. The usefulness of this endeavor (i.e. contributing to academic publication) was readily evident to broad swaths of the university, not least of which included the upper echelons of UFPR.
The model worked, received robust institutional support and word spread.
ExCITEment in Rio
In 2021, Livia Reis, Director of International Relations at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) in Rio de Janeiro, contacted Dr. Martinez, inviting him to help UFF replicate the model there. As the former coordinator of Science without Borders at UFF, Dr. Reis was intimately familiar with the pressures scientists experience to disseminate their research internationally; as IR director at UFF, she also knew that an in-house support mechanism was needed. Simply paying outside agents and agencies for translation and editing (a common practice in Brazil) was not consistent with the university’s mission, and not sustainable.
After Reis selected two coordinators from the English Department (Dr. Andressa Molinari and Dr. Eliza Araújo), Ron Martinez set up a special intensive training program for them, with themes spanning from writing center theory to social media engagement. Molinari and Araújo then sent out UFF’s very first call for writing center tutors, ultimately selecting a total of six students, who were then also trained by Martinez.
Reis, Molinari and Araújo also chose a name for the new center: CITE, which stands for Centro Integrado de Tradução e Escrita (Integrated Translation and Writing Center). Following CAPA’s model, CITE integrates translation into the coaching process, working with student and faculty scholars on their versions in Portuguese (most typically), focusing on higher-order concerns before moving onto translation and editing. Researchers at UFF no longer “outsource,” but instead feel involved throughout the process, taking ownership of their work and “enhancing their individual competence” (Luo & Hyland, 2019, p. 37). Therefore, one thing that makes the tutors at CAPA and CITE particularly unique is that each of them was trained by a special program designed by Ron Martinez to prepare them for that entire process, from initial writing consultation to translated/edited end-product.
CITE will hold its official launch on September 5, 2022, joining a growing group of centers in Brazil that follow the original model started by Martinez at UFPR in 2016. (Others include Universidade de Caxias do Sul, Universidade Estadual do Paraná, Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa, and Universidade Estadual do Centro-Oeste.)
Relevance Beyond Brazil?
The relative success of the model – as measured by university administrators seeking it out and enthusiastically embracing it – may bear relevance to writing centers further afield, even to the north. It is now well established that so-called “passive pen” policies at writing centers can be problematized when it comes to catering to the needs of multilingual speakers, who can leave sessions feeling their needs are unmet and may therefore be less likely to return (e.g. Powers, 1993). It has further been suggested that specialized training is warranted for such a population, particularly at the graduate level. Centers like CAPA and CITE train their consultants to not only pay attention to the linguistic (i.e. English-language) needs of researchers, but to leverage that need to engage them in dialogue around academic literacies. This means that what originally motivated a student to visit the center may ultimately become secondary to what she actually walks away with, but regardless, it is an experience that is satisfying for all stakeholders involved – not to mention a “guilt-free” one (Blau, Hall & Sparks, 2002).
Naturally, one key stakeholder in this scenario is the university administration, responsible for the center’s funding. Unlike many writing centers in the United States, which can sometimes struggle to justify their importance, since centers like CAPA/CITE focus primarily on what is perceived as a high-stakes genre – the scholarly journal research article – students and administrators alike see them as essential. Yes, the takeaway for each party may be different (e.g. writing center clients: a journal-ready article; university administrators: boost in research rankings; writing center staff: satisfying and rewarding consulting experience), but it is all nonetheless wholly gratifying.
There is an important limitation to the model, however, which is that its success relies upon the perceived pressures to publish graduate-level research. Hence, universities that feel those pressures most are also most likely to find success adopting the model. Teaching-first institutions, or ones that do not have (many) graduate programs, are less likely to find such successful adoption of the variety of writing center presented here. On the other hand, this is not to say that CAPA/CITE-like centers cannot cater to undergraduate students as well; it is anticipated that the success of those centers among graduate students can and will facilitate their natural extension to all students, regardless of status. A question, however, could be posed: Could such an anticipation exist if those centers had tried to strictly imitate North American models of undergraduate writing centers?
The writing center scene emerging in Brazil may break with a lot of the canon in the field, but in responding to specific local needs, may also be creating its own epistemology, methodology and unique contribution to writing center knowledge and practice.
You can follow CITE’s development at their website, as well as news about emerging writing centers in Brazil at the Writing Centers of Brazil Facebook group.
About the authors
Livia Reis is Professor of Letters at Universidade Federal Fluminense in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she is also Director of International Relations. Professor Reis has been a member of the research CAPES (Brazilian Ministry of Education) quality evaluation committee for her discipline, and is a fellow of Brazil’s National Council for Scientific and National Development (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico).
Eliza Araújo holds a PhD in Letters, with a focus on Literature, Culture and Translation. Her current research focuses on black women writers from two socio-political movements that re-defined arts and aesthetics in transnational settings: the Black Arts Movement and the Quilombhoje movement in Brazil. She is an Assistant Professor at the Modern Languages Department at Universidade Federal Fluminense and one of the pedagogical coordinators of CITE. She is also a writer and a columnist at the website Nossa Fala.
Andressa Molinari is a postdoctoral student in bilingual education, holds a PhD in Education and a MSc in Applied linguistics from Universidade Estadual de Londrina. Her current research interests include Language Teacher Development and the Internationalization of HIgher Education. The aim is to shed light on how public policies can significantly influence teacher training and the enhancement of learning and teaching in higher education. She is an Assistant Professor at Universidade Federal Fluminense and the pedagogical coordinator from CITE.
Ron Martinez received his PhD in English from the University of Nottingham, and MSc in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition from Oxford University. His research and professional interests center on English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in general, and English for Research Publication Purposes (ERPP) and English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) in global higher education in particular. He is currently an English Language Specialist for the US Department of State, and founder of Academic English Specialists, helping universities worldwide with their internationalization efforts.
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Luo, N., & Hyland, K. (2019). “I won’t publish in Chinese now”: Publishing, translation and the non-English speaking academic. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 39, 37-47.
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