From the Center

Reflections from W&M's Writing Resources Center

Category: inspiring consultations

Writing Centers Grow Up, Too

writingThe transition from high school into university is a large leap for many: students, parents, teachers, administrators, and, yes, even writing centers. Adjusting to the higher quality of writing and topics in numerous subjects that aren’t found in typical high school papers is a daunting task for both the consultant and the consultee, but it’s a necessary leap in higher education that fosters personal and intellectual growth.

High school is often the first time students encounter a a group of people dedicated solely to helping them improve their writing. But high school writing centers are often not valued to the same extent as writing centers at the university level. When I was a junior in high school, I helped found my county’s first in-school writing center, comprised of about thirty students and one very dedicated advisor.

To be honest, it was very slow-going. First, we had to get the word out that we now existed. Then we had to prove our value. The students had no prior experience with a writing center and were wary not just of our authority, but also of our ability to help. The center was only open during lunch hours, so sessions were crammed into 15- to 30-minute chunks and focused more on quick grammar and punctuation fixes than on content and analysis. More often than not, the only students who came to visit were those who were required to by their teachers.

For me, the biggest adjustment to working in a writing center at the university level has been the significant increase in working with students who come in on their own accord—students who truly want to improve their writing and value the consultant’s perspective. Not only that, but now we have an entire hour to sit down and work through the piece together, which is something that allows for a deeper conversation about the topic and arguments.

What I have found most rewarding, however, is the ability to work with more international students. These sessions pose different challenges for both the writer and the consultant. Working with students from a variety of countries has helped me see writing in an entirely different way—every culture, every language, every person has a unique voice and view of the world, and helping these students develop their ideas in their writing is a very rewarding experience that isn’t found often in a high school setting.

A higher education, especially at a liberal arts university like William & Mary, encourages students to gain a broad perspective on subjects in multiple disciplines. University writing centers have adapted to the different levels and expectations of writing, giving students a place to find support as they grow as writers.


Writing as Hospitality

consider-before-buying-home-hp-origOne of the most inspiring consultations I have ever had was with a senior science major who wanted to talk about a graduate school essay. I promised I would help her as best as I could, but as a sophomore majoring in two liberal arts fields, I was not that familiar with specific standards for post-graduate STEM applications. As she began to read, I feared that I would not know the right questions to ask her.

It turned out that I didn’t need to know any technical aspects of her field; what she wrote about was not the practice of her science, but the moment she fell in love with it. As she took me through that moment and wove it through her undergraduate experiences, I found myself grinning. I could feel the authenticity in her voice, both the one I was hearing and the one I was seeing on the page. I was overjoyed that she shared her passion for science with me during that hour, and it made our conversation mutually constructive and exciting. She had invited me into her thoughts, and I felt honored to have received the invitation.

One of the hardest, yet most rewarding parts of writing is our desire to portray ourselves truthfully on the page. To pick the perfect arguments, phrases, and words that will make us say, “Yes, that’s me. That’s what I need to say.” In that sense, when we have gone through that process to the best of our abilities and have someone else read our work, we are sharing a piece of ourselves with them. We are inviting them into the world of joys, sorrows, loves, conundrums, and other thoughts and emotions with which we contend everyday.

My science major consultee awed me not only with her words, but also with the trust she placed in me. Reading others’ work, and sharing our own, deepens the empathy and trust inherent in our interpersonal connections. This thought has crossed my mind many times throughout my time in the WRC; in the past semester alone, I’ve read about marine science and international social justice, Socrates and the French Revolution, accounting and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and many topics in between. The diverse conversations and worlds that my fellow students have shared with me are proof of the beauty and bravery of the writing process. Collaborating on a piece opens up new forms of truth and opens our minds to receive them.

When we share and receive writing, we may not know what worlds to expect. Yet we can always honor the invitations and appreciate their design.

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