An image of a room with a table in the foreground and a bookshelf in the backgroundUPAEP (Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla)’s writing center in Puebla, Mexico, was founded in 2010 to provide support for student writers throughout their college trajectories. Following the visionary lead of the then writing program director, Maria Todorova, I was tasked with the challenge of recruiting and training our first peer tutors, as the initial step towards creating a writing center (my official designation as writing center director came years later). Surely, some of my initial questions and concerns were very similar to those faced by any new writing center director: budget, training material, recruitment method, managing tutoring hours, and so on.  Nevertheless, I quickly realized that the real challenge involved educating writing tutors so as to infuse a collaborative and horizontal approach to our practice. This ultimately implies a shift in the learning culture with respect to writing in Mexican higher education; here, writing has not traditionally been associated with critical thinking, reflection, and self-positioning. Moreover, writing instruction in Mexico has historically focused more on the product with an emphasis on correction, which makes peer tutoring such a different approach.

As many other colleagues around the world, I have also found writing center pedagogical principles to be of relevance in my context, particularly the one-to-one approach with peer tutors and its contribution to promote student-centered instruction. At the same time, it has been important to cultivate a critical perspective to acknowledge the asymmetrical roles at play and our peripheral position as a Mexican writing center regarding dominant Western scholarship and practice. My experience with tutor education, in particular, has taught me, on the one hand, the uniqueness of the learning culture in the Mexican higher education context and, on the other, how writing center pedagogy offers specific affordances that can be tailored for and by each particular group of writing tutors. So, while it is important to recognize the dangers of a globalized “sameness” and the affiliative practices that reinforce dominant cultures (Bawarshi & Pelkowski, 1999) I have found it is also crucial to appraise the impact of writing center pedagogy on diverse learning cultures and how writing centers in the Global South create situated practices that could have transnational applications.

Following some of the classic tutor training manuals, I initially focused on cultivating collaborative learning between tutors and writers and was not yet aware of the value of “peerness” between writing tutors themselves, which later became crucial. By observing the way tutors learn from each other and collaborate to solve problems and build a shared understanding of their practice, I realized that I was witnessing the everyday machinations of a Community of Practice (CoP) (Lave & Wenger, 1991 ). A CoP can be defined as a group of individuals who “share a concern, a set of problems or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (Wenger et al., 2002, p. 4). This approach was first applied to writing centers in The Everyday Writing Center: A Community of Practice (Geller, Eodice, Condon, Carroll, & Boquet, 2007). In considering these authors I began to understand the type of learning that was shared by tutors in our writing center. These considerations pointed to the possibility of creating an approach to tutor education that is built upon a situated practice and an endemic learning culture, to potentially construct contextualized knowledge about tutoring, and writing center work in general. What this meant for our emerging writing center in Mexico was the possibility to harness our own uniqueness whilst adapting writing center pedagogy to our contextual needs.

The internationalization of the field has brought forward a much needed discussion about the adaptive nature of writing center pedagogy. For example, whether the non-directive approach applies as it has been traditionally addressed (Meijer & de Jong, 2021) particularly with second language writers in contexts outside the US, or how writing centers can function without departmental structures like writing programs (Bromley & Scott, 2020). Furthermore, writing centers in the Global South, cope with tensions created from being part of the gatekeeping mechanisms in internationalizing higher education whilst providing access and allowing a critical stance towards these practices (Archer & Richards, 2011). In the Latin American context, writing centers play an important role in the democratization of higher education and, by supporting quality learning processes, they could also have a positive impact in aspects such as students’ self-esteem and self-awareness (Waigandt, Castagno, Lizarriturri, Luján Giammarini, Moyano, & Novo, 2021).

There are many aspects in the Mexican writing center I direct that could be considered different from writing centers in the US; some are shared with other Latin American writing centers, others are shared exclusively with our Mexican colleagues, and some are unique to our own center. However, in my experience directing a writing center, I have seen more practical value in focusing on a situated approach rather than prescribing a practice based on our differences. The tutors’ Community of Practice has had a leading role in fostering this approach from their own learning culture.

Beyond the initial tutor training course, tutors in our writing center have always engaged in a continuous and formative dialogue about their practice. They use their learning cultures not just to collaborate with each other and build a sense of belonging, but also to expand their knowledge base with others. I see this when they invite other students to become tutors, when they engage in constructive online dialogues with tutors from other writing centers (in Mexico, Colombia, or Brazil), and when they apply their learning outside the writing center or bring in knowledge from other fields and practices.

When I studied the tutors’ CoP as my doctoral dissertation (Villagrán Mora, 2022), I focused on how they created their shared learning culture and how they co-constructed knowledge. This gave me valuable insights into the constant negotiations that are involved when trying to adapt formal training into an ever changing context with continuous uncertainty about their roles, responsibilities, and expectations. I observed an interesting connection between ambiguity and identity building. I noticed that many tutors became more engaged with their CoP and their tutor identity as they experienced more ambiguity: difficulties, changes, and all sorts of challenges. Some of our initial setbacks are related to the writing center being new in our institution; we started without an allocated space or budget, and it was up to the tutors to find adequate spaces for tutoring sessions and to engage tutees even in very distracting environments. Even as we become more integral to the college culture, tutors continue to face different challenges but my findings indicate they rely on each other to engage external parties and reach their objectives. For them, being part of a larger community (the writing center) works as a compelling argument for others to be willing to collaborate with them.

I am still surprised by this finding, particularly because some of the aspects that I considered contingent,  like not having an allocated space, or at least not intentional on my part, turned out to be crucial for the tutors’ CoP. In general, when things did not happen as planned, tutors collaborated the most and sometimes even more effectively. They often refer to these collaborations when asked about how they created their practice and their sense of community.

As any emerging writing center, ours strives to build a solid base for our pedagogical approach by considering the field’s scholarship and the many opportunities to collaborate with international colleagues.  But we also face a constant struggle with instability and the fundamental threat of not even being considered when changes are made. Educational policies at the national level are still designed without considering informal learning environments like writing centers. Fiscal policies do not allow for institutions like ours to hire peer tutors. With each political change, we have learned to prepare for modifications that will affect our practice. This is to be expected as higher education institutions in Mexico are only just starting to understand the value of writing centers, and although there is reason for hope, the vast diversity of college education contexts will continue to require more changes before writing centers can be considered integral to the college landscape. In the meantime, likely as many others, our writing center is constantly having to start over because conditions change rapidly and without much notice.

Perhaps it is because of the constant doing, undoing, and redoing, that writing tutors in our center become aware of the fact that the tutoring practice is their own and unique creation. Maybe this is also the reason why they welcome any opportunity to collaborate towards that aim, even if it involves reacting to unforeseen situations. What has become clear throughout the years is that each time the community of tutors engages with (re)constructing their practice, what they create endures longer and applies better to the needs of student writers. Even if it sometimes feels like tutors build sand castles on the beach—and this is Mexico so we get many hurricanes—each newly destroyed structure (idea, strategy, or project) leaves an imprint in the tutors’ learning culture which prompts them to collaborate and start over again.

I am fully aware that what I have just described is less than ideal and has certainly created frustration and stress among tutors. But I also believe that, because of this, our writing center has focused almost entirely on the learning experience involved in being a tutor and on the learning implications of the writing center within our institutional context. Additionally, tutors see the value in creating a CoP perhaps because it is best to face constant ambiguity as a common front. Instead of seeking stability on external conditions—which keep changing—I have seen tutors use their CoP almost as a safe landing ground in the midst of various types of turmoil. I see this when they choose to spend their free time in the writing center with other tutors, or when former tutors drop by and have long spontaneous talks with current tutors, or even when tutors bring friends to the writing center and use it for a personal conversation: for tutors, the writing center is personal.

When building a tutoring practice in an emerging writing center, particularly in the Global South, one could be tempted to look for contextual differences and use these as a basis to educate tutors. Of course, difference should be valued and considered but, in my experience, it should not be used in a prescriptive way, or as a tool to anticipate the learning needs of both, tutors and student writers. By cultivating and stewarding a tutors’ Community of Practice, writing center practitioners can rely upon the endemic learning culture to create its own situated practice. This way, even if our writing center practice does not turn out to be very different from others, we can always be certain that it is truly our own .

An image in which four students standing by a buildingAs I teach the initial training for a new generation of writing tutors in one of the few Mexican writing centers, I am not alone in the task of creating our practice and negotiating the tensions with the principles of North American writing centers. More experienced tutors volunteer to train the newcomers alongside with me. I enjoy watching them lead discussions and point out strategies for specific learning needs. It is humbling to see how new tutors approach more experienced ones with their questions and how these “old-timers” constantly keep track of the quality of tutoring sessions by reminding newcomers to fill in forms, to contact writers who did not show, or by suggesting session openers that have worked for them. A crucial aspect of my work as a writing center director is fostering tutors’ leadership and prompting constant reflections on their practice. In the everyday machinations of a tutors’ CoP the tensions of our global position is faced one tutoring session at a time. Whichever innovation comes out of an emerging writing center in Mexico like ours, will definitely be led by writing tutors. It is in this that I see a potential contribution beyond my writing center context; perhaps by opening more space for tutors to lead, contingency will cease to be an issue and can become an asset.


Archer, A., & Richards, R. (Eds.). (2011). Changing spaces: Writing centres and access to higher education. doi:10.18820/9781920338596

Bromley, P., & Scott, A. (2020). The state of writing center research across the Atlantic: A bibliometric analysis of a German flagship journal, 2010-2016. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 17(2), 68-80.

Bawarshi, A., & Pelkowski, S. (1999). Postcolonialism and the idea of a writing center. The Writing Center Journal, 19(2), 41-58.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511815355

Geller, A. E., Eodice, M., Condon, F., Carroll, M., & Boquet, E. H. (2007). The everyday writing center: A community of practice. doi:10.2307/j.ctt4cgmkj

Meijer, A., & de Jong, J. (2021). Writing Centres in the Netherlands Nondirective Pedagogies in a Changing Higher Education Landscape. Writing Center Journal, 38(3), 43-54.

Villagrán Mora, A. (2022). Harnessing the periphery: A Community of Practice in México. In E. Kleinfeld, S. Lee, and J. Prebel (Eds.), From/On the Edge: Voices from the Writing Center Margins, Book Manuscript Under Review at Utah State University Press.

Waigandt, D. M., Castagno, F., Lizarriturri, S. G., Giammarini, G. L., Moyano, E. I., & Novo, M. D. C. (2021). Writing Centers and Programs: Their Role in Democratization Policies in Higher Education in Argentina. Writing Center Journal, 38(3), 89-115.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

About the Author

A headshot of the author Abigail Villagran MoraAbigail Villagrán Mora, Ph.D., is the founding director of UPAEP’s Writing Center in Puebla, México, one of the first centers in the country. She is also a founding member of the Mexican Writing Center Network and a reading mediator for the National Program to Promote Reading (Programa Nacional de Fomento a la Lectura).  She has a PhD in Composition and Applied Linguistics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include writing center pedagogy as it applies to higher education in the Global South, writing center assessment, writing in English as Means of Instruction (EMI) and in English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) learning contexts.