Comparing spring semester of 2014 to this spring, the Writing Resource Center (WRC) has seen a 140 percent increase in student-made appointments. This increase is impressive and seen as a necessary improvement at a school that places such an emphasis on writing. This rise cannot be attributed to a single cause, but rather a combination of efforts to make the WRC more welcoming, convenient and visible to students – specifically first-years and thesis students.
Over the summer, Jennifer Wells was hired as the new director of writing. She has since successfully implemented new, and continued, changes with the intent of increasing the number of students assisted by the WRC. Efforts to increase awareness of the Center – particularly as a resource for the incoming first-year class – began during Orientation Week. The outreach was clearly successful with the number of first-year appointments improving by more than 284 percent compared to the previous spring. Even though these numbers are already impressive, the center expects the figures to only increase as the semester continues and finals approach.
Aside from outreach programs, efforts to make the space more welcoming and comfortable have made a huge impact on students using the Center. Last year the WRC received a lot of feedback asking if there was any way to create a greater sense of privacy. This year the center used some of its budget to purchase new furniture and organized the space intentionally to section off areas.
“We recognize that when people come in, they feel vulnerable,” Alexandra “Allie” Mass, the assistant director of writing, said. Organizing the room differently wasn’t the only attempt at creating a more comfortable space.
“I think everybody’s favorite change is the free coffee,” Mass said. “It has been amazing that as students adjust to having that available to them I’ve noticed there has been a major increase in how much we buy. I used to buy a big tub maybe once a month, we’re almost up to needing one about every week.”
The WRC is happy to supply many of New College’s students’ caffeine cravings. “Honestly if people happen to wander in here to get coffee and they say hi to us, then we get a chance to say hi to them, and let them know that we exist and we can increase that level of comfort in coming in here,” Mass said. There is a similar logic in hosting more events without an overt emphasis on writing, such as the SWAffle house program held earlier this semester.
The WRC staff wants students to know that it is not a scary place where they are going to mark up your papers in red ink. “I don’t even think we have red pens. We have flower pens,” Mass laughed.
The center employs 13 students from various fields as Student Writing Assistants (SWAs), who have one-on-one conferences with students to help with papers. While each SWA may have their own style for conferences, they all tend to focus more on the content of a paper rather than grammar – though they will point out those mistakes as well.
“For me the best WRC conferences represent an integral element of New College’s pedagogical philosophy at its best,” third-year, and SWA, Melissa Rettig said. “It’s about the exchange of ideas. It’s about realizing that thinking and arriving at new conclusions is a collaborative process.”
“I went to the WRC for all the papers I had to write throughout the two semesters,” transfer student Loureen Dabeet said. “As an international student, with English as a second language, I am grateful that we have such facilities on campus to help students better their writing. I can feel that my writing has improved since my first appointment with Joy Feagan.”
A big mission of the WRC is convincing students that writing is not something that needs to be done in solitary all of the time. One way of doing this is through offering writing courses and thesis tutorial for students. Each semester there is an introductory course offered called Writing about Writing, and this semester Mass is also offering the course A Linguistic Approach to Writing.
“There tends to be a misunderstanding that writing courses are “how-to” whereas our courses focus on how to talk about writing as a subject,” Mass said. “It creates this nice reflective element. Struggle can be a good thing, but we want to try and eliminate the unnecessary and exhausting anxiety-producing struggle.”
Thesis students are able to organize a tutorial through the WRC where they meet regularly with a SWA and either talk about their writing or take that time to write.
Though all of these things have made the WRC more popular than ever, the WRC still believes there is a lot of work to do.
“Something that we would like to see change is that habit of thinking ‘when I am most stressed out and busy I avoid the Writing Resource Center because I am too busy to ask for help,'” Mass said. “We would like to see that flip. When you find that you have a lot of work to do, you can share that burden.”