From the Center

Reflections from W&M's Writing Resources Center

How My Time at the WRC Affects My Life as a Teacher

The WRC end-of-year party at Prof. Sharon Zuber's house in 2019. Luc Nguyen is in the center (fourth from the left).

The 2019 WRC end-of-year party at Prof. Sharon Zuber’s house. Pictured, from left to right: Zaira Mughal, Jessue Urgo, Sara Franklin-Gillette,  Luc Nguyen, Rachel Wilmans, Genny Thomas, Jackie Keshner, Davis Gold, Bianca Bowman.

When I interviewed for a position as a consultant at William & Mary’s Writing Resources Center during my freshman year, I spoke about my dreams of becoming an English teacher. I said that by helping my peers with their writing, I would be able to build skills that I would need in my future career. I drew upon my experience at my high school’s writing center and marveled at how much my own writing had improved once I was asked to explain good writing to others. The director of the WRC, the great Dr. Sharon Zuber, agreed and hired me.

Now, as a full-fledged English teacher in Fairfax County, I am reminded of my time at the WRC every day. When I meet with students about their writing, I conduct the conference just as I would for a consultation at the WRC. I ask the student to read their paper out loud, paragraph by paragraph. I jot down notes on a piece of scrap paper. I show students how to correct their mistakes and ask them to apply their new knowledge later on. I search for those priceless “lightbulb moments” in which students’ eyes widen and a puzzle piece snaps into place. I even reward students who come see me after school for extra help with a mint or piece of candy, just as I would at the WRC.

But when I think back to my time at the WRC, the memories that are most prominent don’t involve writing conferences at all. I remember afternoons spent behind the welcome desk, shooting the breeze with my coworkers as we waited for our consultees to show up. I remember late night “study sessions” after the WRC had closed, which usually turned into a contest of who could procrastinate on their work in the most creative way. I remember gathering with my coworkers at Dr. Zuber’s gorgeous home on the York River during finals week, soaking in sun rays while singing the praises of our graduating seniors. Don’t get me wrong; the actual “work” of writing conferences prepared me for my future in the classroom. But simply basking in the brilliance of my coworkers was invaluable in that it showed me the importance of supporting one another in the world of education.

Looking back, I realize now how much I leaned on my coworkers. They covered shifts when I had scheduling conflicts and reminded me to submit my payroll forms. They shared treats with me on nights I had missed dinner and comforted me when a consultation went awry. Sometimes, even when I wasn’t scheduled to tutor, I would just sit in the WRC and watch my coworkers work their magic. Everyone was just so brilliant in their own way, and I wanted to soak up every ounce of their expertise.

Teaching is no different. My job would be borderline impossible without the constant support that I receive from my coworkers. I borrow lesson plans and handouts, workshop ideas, and ask for advice about difficult classroom situations. At the end of the year, I realized that nearly every member of the English department had supported me in some way. The success that I have experienced so far is largely rooted in the generosity of my peers, from helping me to rearrange bulky furniture to offering kind words of encouragement at the copier. I hope that I can reciprocate their kindness as my career continues.

For a bevy of reasons, I have always felt a need to prove myself as someone who is capable of succeeding on my own. I suspect others feel the same, especially those at William & Mary. However, the WRC family reminded me about the importance of collaboration and community. As the world becomes increasingly polarized, I hope that others will glean some knowledge from my time at the WRC. To me, the WRC was so much more than a tutoring service. It was a microcosm of the ideal working world, one that collaboratively supported its individual members to reach incredible heights.


Formerly a consultant at the W&M Writing Resources Center, Luc Nguyen currently teaches English in Fairfax County. You can read more of his writing at https://medium.com/@lucnguyen14.

Statement of Solidarity

The William & Mary Writing Resources Center condemns racial-based violence and prejudice and stands in solidarity with the Black community, the Black Lives Matter movement, and protesters fighting against racial injustice all over the world. We mourn the loss of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and countless others who have lost their lives due to senseless acts of violence and police brutality.

As writing center consultants, we work with Black students and value their voices and perspectives. As individuals, we want to share with you some of what we have read by Black authors and how these writings have been influential in our understanding of race and power dynamics and/or how they give voice to Black experiences. Listed below are several literary recommendations by Black authors from some of our consultants. May these literary recommendations serve as a conversation starter and form of education in your own life.

Black Literature Recommendations:

Sabrien recommends:
masters-tools_lordeThe Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde’s book is a collection of critical essays which bring women of color into discussions of feminism and the LGBTQ+ community and highlights how their stories are often ignored or not given voice. Lorde points out that visibility and rooting out self-hatred caused by racism, homophobia, and sexism is a key contribution to moving forward. Lorde brings intersectional identity to the center of the discussion, and argues that true change comes from understanding and accepting our differences rather than ignoring them. Lorde puts the responsibility for change on individuals—it is not the job of women of color to educate others, because the energy it takes to do so is distracting from the task of real change. It is our job to educate ourselves about the experiences of others. What we choose to do with that knowledge is critical to moving forward in change.

 Grace T. recommends:
beloved_morrisonBeloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved captures the life of a woman, Sethe, who escapes slavery with her children to Ohio. It follows Sethe and her daughter Denver as they grapple with the traumas of the past. When a mysterious girl, Beloved, appears at their house, Sethe and Denver must both confront their strongest fears to move forward into the future. The novel combines history with fantasy to give readers insights into the emotional and physical tolls slavery had on people. Beloved was incredibly powerful and opened my eyes to not only the trauma caused by slavery, but also to the horrors that enslaved women faced both before and after escaping.

Isabel recommends:
the-odyssey_walcottThe Odyssey by Derek Walcott

This play is a retelling of the classic Homeric epic by Saint-Lucian poet and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. Walcott has created a compelling and beautiful reimagination of this Western classic using Caribbean culture and themes to tell a story similar to the titular poem but imbued with a different significance. This play discusses colonialism and survival. Walcott’s genius makes this play a joy to read and also encourages readers to confront how they perceive race in storytelling, Caribbean culture, and literary theories of intertextuality (discussed in Irene Martyniuk’s piece on the play “Playing with Europe: Derek Walcott’s Retelling of Homer’s “Odyssey”). This play taught me more about Caribbean culture and reminded me how much Western culture influences the fiction I, and most others educated in Western institutions, consume.

Mary recommends:
just-mercy_stevensonJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

In 2017, my English teacher assigned Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. The book outlines the stories of many wrongfully accused prisoners on death row but mainly focuses on the story of Walter McMillian, an innocent man accused of murder. Through McMillian’s story, Just Mercy reveals the human impact of the inequities of the criminal justice system. The horrifying injustices committed against Black Americans no longer remain abstractions to readers who are beneficiaries of systemic racism.

Before reading this book, I sheepishly believed I was pretty knowledgeable. I thought knowing these problems existed and being against them was enough. Black Americans, though, do not get to leave this conversation in the classroom. Ultimately, I had an incomplete understanding of my own relationship to these systems. Just Mercy challenged me to face my white privilege. I found myself angry that I wasn’t already outraged. I had unknowingly participated in systems which promote everything I vehemently condemn. I was angry that individuals have to fight so long and so hard against systems meant to defeat them. I also felt guilty: I had the privilege to forget, when it is my responsibility to remember and fight against it.

This fight is not about me and other White Americans but about what can be done to stand in solidarity with the Black community. I learned the true power of knowledge and compassion. I will never understand what it feels like to be a Black American, but I can listen and learn. I can ask questions, educate myself, actively challenge my own biases, and have difficult conversations. Ultimately, at the root of injustice is a sickening absence of empathy. One quote from Just Mercy has always stuck with me, as a reminder: “embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and…when you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”

Aria recommends:
black-fem-thoughtBlack Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment by Patricia Hill Collins

One of the most eye-opening books I have read as a Black woman in America is Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment by Patricia Hill Collins. Black Feminist Thought serves as an intersectional, synthetic approach to giving voice to Black women, which in turn aims to empower them as agents of knowledge. Black women in America face a unique form of oppression due to the racism, sexism, and classism they have faced for centuries. By placing Black women’s experiences at the center of analysis, Black women are empowered to take control of their own own epistemology which for centuries was placed in a eurocentric, masculinist worldview. I believe this is a book people should read to broaden their thinking and to gain a better understanding of the epistemology that surrounds Black feminist thought to help propel social change in America.

Sydney recommends:
dawn_butlerDawn by Octavia E. Butler

Hundreds of years after a nuclear war on Earth, Lilith Iyapo wakes up in isolation on an Oankali spacecraft. She is held there while her captors, the Oankali, learn everything they can about the human race. Lilith learns she will lead other humans as they prepare to return to Earth, but what she doesn’t know is that, against her will, she will also bear children for the Oankali. The Oankali survive by reproducing with other species, so these children will not be human… not entirely.

Dawn features a complex black female protagonist, which is a rarity in science fiction. I think I could stop the recommendation there by acknowledging the importance of diversifying all genres of literature and by recognizing this novel as an excellent work of science fiction, not as one aimed at teaching readers about race. This nove, however, undeniably demonstrates the oppression that black women face at the intersection of race and gender. Lilith is discriminated against both for being black and for being a woman, and she complicates stereotypes on both ends. I highly recommend this novel — both for those who already read science fiction, and for those who don’t.

Additional Recommended Readings:

Books

Sally Hemmings by Barbara Chase-Riboud
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison
Conjure Tales and Stories of the Color Line by Charles Chesnutt
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Plays

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Fences by August Wilson
Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks
Topdog/Underdog by Suzan Lori-Parks
Dutchman & the Slave by Amiri Baraka
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange

Poetry

Celebrating Black History Month, a collection from The Poetry Foundation

Essays

“In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” by Alice Walker
“The Idea of America” by Nikole Hannah-Jones from The New York Times’ The 1619 Project
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Just Walk on By” by Brent Staples
“I Was Pregnant and in Crisis. All the Doctors and Nurses Saw Was an Incompetent Black Woman” by Tressie McMillan Cottom

You’re Saying I Have to Write Discussion Posts Now?

As colleges make the rapid shift to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, many professors are using discussion boards to replace in-class participation. At William & Mary, these online conversations take place through the Blackboard learning management system. Despite their relative simplicity, discussion boards remain unfamiliar to many students. They also generate a host of questions, as does any new form of writing:

  • How long should my post be?
  • How many replies are appropriate?
  • How formal should I be?
  • How do I cite a discussion post in a paper?
  • How do I effectively reply to others?
  • Am I doing any of this right? Help!

This post will provide a few answers to these questions.

What do you write about in a discussion post?

If your professor provided discussion post guidelines, start there.

But what if your professor simply said “go wild?” In that case, take some time to consider your usual participation in this class. Do you ask a lot of questions? If so, write posts that request clarification or opinions from other participants. Do you mostly respond to others? You may want to wait until a few classmates have posted initial thoughts, and then use your post to engage with their ideas. What if you don’t usually talk in class? If that’s you, you may find online discussion to be a welcome improvement!

Text-based online participation allows for more voices to be heard, and encourages a wider breadth of conversation. Don’t be afraid to get really detailed or really broad in your discussions; the content of your post can be a lot more extensive, varied, and tangential than a typical in-class comment would be since everyone can read it at their leisure.

What are the rules of behavior in discussion forums?

There will probably be a learning curve as you and your classmates figure out what discussion forum etiquette looks like for your class. Here are a few rules of thumb that apply to most online discussions:

  • Be respectful. Just because you’re not face-to-face doesn’t mean words don’t still have power. When you criticize or disagree, be tactful and respond to the comment, not the commenter.
  • Avoid repeating something that has already been said. Read the rest of the thread before starting so that you’re aware of the whole conversation.
  • Reread your posts before you submit them. It’s always awkward to realize you’ve included a typo after you’ve already sent a post. (That said, don’t be afraid to edit your post after sending, if you need to fix things!)
  • Keep your style relatively formal. Discussion boards may feel somewhat like social media, but they aren’t. Use complete sentences, minimize jokes or sarcasm, and keep emoji use to a simple 🙂 when needed.
  • Make your posts meaningful. While you may want to express agreement, a post that just says “Yes!” isn’t helpful and clutters the thread. Be constructive, and try to think of a response or question that moves the discussion forward.

Do I Have to Cite Discussion Posts in Papers?

If you read a post that inspires further thinking, you may want to reference it in a later assignment. If you do, make sure to cite it, just as you would if you quoted someone from an in-class discussion. Both the MLA Style Center and the Purdue OWL’s APA Style Guide offer guidelines for citing discussion board posts. Here are two examples:

MLA:

Johnson, Alex. “Writing Discussion Posts” Writing Center Online Course, 28 March 2020. Blackboard Learn, https://blackboard.wm.edu/ultra/courses/123456/cl/outline.

APA:

Johnson, A. (2020). Re: Discussion Posts. Retrieved from
https://blackboard.wm.edu/ultra/courses/123456/cl/outline

If you’re feeling anxious about discussion posts, remember that others in your class may be as uncertain as you are. Reach out to a classmate or your professor if you have questions, or want feedback on how you’re doing. Try to embrace the medium; this is a chance to share your niche knowledge or chase a thought into interesting new corners. And, remember, the Writing Resources Center consults on any form of communication. If you’re feeling stuck or confused, book an online appointment!

See you over the web soon. Stay well.

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