Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring

Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring

Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring

Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring

Synopsis

In the diversity of their clients as well as their professional and student staff, writing centers present a complicated set of relationships that inevitably affect the instruction they offer. In Facing the Center, Harry Denny unpacks the identity matrices that enrich teachable moments, and he explores the pedagogical dynamics and implications of identity within the writing center.

The face of the writing center, be it mainstream or marginal, majority or miority, orthodox or subversive, always has implications for teaching and learning. Facing the Center will extend current research in writing center theory to bring it in touch with theories now common in cultural studies curricula. Denny takes up issues of power, agency, language, and meaning, and pushes his readers to ask how they themselves, or the centers in which they work, might be perpetuating cultures that undermine inclusive, progressive education.

Excerpt

I could tell a tale of swagger and pride, about a group of writing centers great in innumerable ways. the ones at St. John’s University provide a glimpse into the pulse of college life in New York City. It’s a world different from the sleepy casualness of typical college towns, and it’s an environment unlike the crush of humanity at our public sister schools. On our Staten Island campus, the writing center is nestled on an oddly pastoral campus overlooking the city’s harbor. the pace and energy are more subdued than its partner site across town, yet the tutors are just as bustling, from online conferences with students across the world to face-to-face sessions with classmates commuting from classes and jobs. in Queens, activity is as frenetic as Midtown on a business day: at one table, a first-year student debates a foreword she’s creating for a classmate’s book, while on a couch a tutor listens to a graduate student talk through the skeleton of a thesis’s argument. in another part of the center, a small group of students workshops article reviews for an environmental studies course. These sorts of everyday exchanges are unremarkable and electric; they bear witness to the powerful, yet quotidian learning experiences in writing centers. Looking out across them, what strikes so many who happen upon the spaces is their look and buzz. They have a hum of academic life that’s exhilarating on campuses torn between their commuter pasts and residential futures. Just as exciting as the what’s happening in St. John’s writing centers is the who’s there. Where writing centers elsewhere struggle for staffs that mirror their academic communities, the clients and tutors at St. John’s represent campus diversity, not just in terms of race, ethnicity and gender, but also with respect to discipline.

Just as easily, I could reflect on those very same writing centers and tell another tale of ongoing struggle to train the staff. It might be a cautionary story of what happens when the well-intentioned plans go wrong, or it might be a triumph about when some hopelessly lost or . . .

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