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Calling all writers

Photo courtesy of Samuel Weinmann

In 2015, a small program called Writer to Writer was created by Mary Isbell. Its goal was to improve the culture of writing on the University of New Haven campus. By 2017, Isbell’s program had grown to great success and was officially turned into the Writing Center as it is known today, entirely staffed by students.

To understand what truly happens behind the scenes of the program, I spoke to the Writing Center’s current director, Lauren Boasso, and current student peer-mentor, Kiana White.

Boasso became the director of the Writing Center in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, shaping the way it has operated since then.

The Writing Center began offering online appointments as a way to help students with their writing even during times of social distancing. Despite this, the pandemic challenged her students. “The pandemic created a lot of extra burdens and strife on students and I saw some of them have to pick up extra jobs to support themselves and their families which limited their time to be able to work for us.” 

The online appointments were a positive change to come out of the pandemic for the Writing Center, as it made it easier for students to gain access to the resources without having to come to campus.

Kiana White, a junior business management major, is currently finishing her first year working for the Writing Center. She saids she got involved with the program because she just loves writing. She said, “writing is a language and it’s your ability to transcribe your thoughts into writing which is one of the hardest things anyone can do, so if I’m able to help make that transcription easier then that’s what I love to do as a peer-tutor.” 

White said that a typical day working at the Writing Center can vary. Every peer-tutor is required to complete one shift working at the reception desk, logging appointments and answering quick questions, but most of her time is spent being a tutor. As a peer-tutor, White makes recommendations on students’ writing and she tries to help build writers’ confidence. She also says that she is always listening to other tutors’ advice to improve her own tutoring and writing.

 Boasso’s position as the director includes handling the budget, hiring and training the writing peer-mentors and teaching their weekly practicum. 

The practicum is a free class that Writing Center students are required to take, and it serves as a place to improve their own writing and leadership and mentoring skills. Each week they talk about the papers and people they have had appointments with. They review what they thought was challenging and how they could improve their own writing to be able to better help the students they are working with. The class serves as professional development and team building for the tutors with the goal of bringing them all together.

What should students know about the writing center?

Dr. Boasso’s overarching message is that the Writing Center is for everyone.

She saids that everyone can benefit from having an extra set of eyes, even herself. She also clarifies some myths about the organization. Some people believe that the Writing Center is an editing service, and that students can just drop off their papers and have them “fixed.”  Boasso says that is a misconception, and that the Writing Center facilitates relationships between peer-tutors and students to improve writing and confidence. The Writing Center offers both graduate and undergraduate tutors, although she has seen many graduate students work with undergrad tutors and vice versa.

Boasso explained that the students are the experts in their own writing, creating a conversation between the writer and tutor is what allows each writer to approach and implement new ideas into their writing. White said that the tutors have a hands-off policy and will never touch any writer’s paper. They are merely there to offer suggestions and create the conversation to get the writer going. The writer is always in control, and the Writing Center is a judgment-free zone. The writer dictates the way they want the appointment to go and what they want to work on. 

White said she knows that many writers aren’t always confident in their writing and think they are “bad” writers when they come to the Writing Center. She says that many students fear their writing will receive judgement; because of this, White and her colleagues try to create a friendly, welcoming environment for writers to feel comfortable in.

As a writer myself, I  have even utilized the Writing Center for some of my own classes and I was always curious about how the tutors would help me, as I came from what I thought was purely an English background. I was pleasantly surprised with how wrong my perception was. I was able to bring my national security briefs and get substantive feedback from the tutors. Boasso says that is by design. The Writing Center employs students from all different majors and that creates a variety of writing styles, so there is a tutor for everyone who comes in. She says that tutors are trained to remember that they aren’t going to be subject matter experts, but that they can help by introducing clarity and looking at grammar among other aspects of writing.

Seeing writers gain confidence in their writing and working alongside the tutors as they grow and adapt in the job Boasso said has been her most rewarding experience working at the Writing Center. Initially, the tutors don’t know the writers’ majors, or the assignments given to them, and watching the tutors adapt to the challenges of their appointments is one of the best parts of the job, she said. Boasso loves their passion for the job and their dedication to helping students improve their writing. 

Whitesaid that her most rewarding experience was when one of her regular students approached her to tell her she was a great tutor and thanking her for always being friendly and helping them with their paper.

Boasso acknowledged that there is always room for growth and improvement. She says they utilize surveys to hear from students as well as always working on their online tutoring system. They also implemented a reception desk at the front of the library basement to make appointments and to help students who need small changes and do not require a 45 minute appointment. The biggest improvement needs to come in their outreach initiative according to Boasso and White. The pandemic really hindered their ability spread the word about the organization and the resources it offers. They are  currently working on more outreach opportunities to help people to learn about the Writing Center as well as garner interest in becoming writing tutors. White said that marketing could be invaluable for the Writing Center and that she is hopeful that she will be able to do some tabling in Bartels to help get the word out. 

For those students looking to get involved in the Writing Center, applications begin at the end of the Fall semester. The deadline for the application is usually March 1 and all the directions and the application can be found under the Writing Center link on MyCharger as well as on ChargerLink. The application includes references, a cover letter, resume and writing samples. Tutors are paid to work at the Writing Center like other student employment opportunities on campus. White also emphasizes that the shifts are very flexible, which is great for students who are busy.

Students can find updates about the Writing Center on Facebook and Instagram at  @unewhavenwc as well as book their appointment on MyCharger. For questions about the Writing Center or becoming a peer-tutor, students can email [email protected].

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