Spotlight: The Write Stuff

Author: Julie Hail Flory

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| John Duffy and Connie Mick chat with a student visiting the Writing Center ||
p. If you were to happen by the bustling second floor space in the Coleman-Morse building at any given time, you might mistake the activity inside for a social gathering, a meeting of the debate club, or even at times a scientific laboratory.p. But the discoveries students make here are different from those made in chemistry or biology ? these “aha” moments are based on the ordinary, but often trying, act of putting pen to paper. This is the University Writing Center, home of the “Writing Irish.”p. “I think this is one of the most exciting places in the university,” said John Duffy, assistant professor of English and the center’s director. “It’s really fun to come in and wander around from table to table and hear people arguing and talking about a wide variety of subjects.For many students, it’s kind of a discovery, something they haven’t done before.”p. Established in 1999, the center is dedicated to assisting students of all ability levels become better writers. While some do come seeking help with the basics, Duffy is quick to point out this is not a place to go to ?get your grammar fixed." The vast majority of the center’s visitors are competent writers looking to take their work to the next level by engaging in constructive dialogue with peer tutors, who are equipped to guide them through all stages of the process ? from the first letter on the page through the final draft.p. Senior English major Aidan Brett has been a frequent visitor to the center, often benefiting from having a ?fresh pair of eyes? look at his work.p. “Sometimes, when you work on a piece of writing for some time you become immersed in it and it becomes difficult to bring a critical eye to reading it,” he said. “The writing tutors provide the fresh perspective of someone who has not been previously submerged in the material.”p. Brett also finds the Writing Center’s environment more student-friendly than seeking out a faculty member for help.p. “The peer-tutoring aspect of the Writing Center neutralizes the intimidation factor often associated with sharing one’s writing by eliminating the power differential that can exist between students and teachers, allowing students to enter into dialogue with a fellow student,” he said.p. At one time something of a well-kept secret, word now has gotten out and the Writing Center has experienced growth spurts in the neighborhood of 300 percent some semesters, with about 6,000 students visiting in the last three years. While most visitors are undergraduates, the center also serves a healthy number of graduate students from across the university. It also provides tutoring and business writing workshops for Notre Dame staff and assists faculty by visiting classes and encouraging professors to incorporate trips to the Writing Center in course syllabi where appropriate.p. Each semester, approximately 30 students from all academic disciplines serve as tutors. "While many of our tutors are English majors, we have talented tutors from all disciplines ? from biology to business,? said Connie Mick, assistant director at the center. "Because we get writers from all different disciplines, it makes sense that the tutors would also come from a variety of academic areas. We’re not genre specialists, we’re writing specialists.‘p. Tutors are initially selected based on faculty recommendations, followed by review of writing samples and an interview process. Once they get the job, training includes small group and one-on-one mock tutoring sessions, and mentoring by veteran tutors assigned to each trainee. The tutors are enlisted from all years and majors, including sophomores, juniors, seniors, and a few graduate students.p. In the lively discussions that emerge, the give-and-take is apparent in more ways than one. Mick says as tutors offer their assistance, they also reap their own rewards.p. “Tutors discover that they end up helping themselves as much as they help the student who comes in,” she said. "While it can be challenging to devote as much attention to someone else’s writing as they would to their own, tutors say that they become better writers by analyzing students’ texts and offering strategies for improvement. When they sit down to do their own writing, tutors find themselves taking their own advice."p. What they, and their clients, learn goes beyond the written word, according to Duffy.p. “I would also argue, borrowing from ideals of classical rhetoric, that learning to write well is an important dimension of becoming a citizen,” he said. “Constructing a good argument is an ethical act, in which writers need to make clear claims, weigh evidence honestly, and present it in ways that make sense to their audience ? the members of their community. So while being a good writer is valuable to the individual, it is also important to the health of discourse in a democratic society.”p. Doing its part for lively debate at Notre Dame and beyond, the University Writing Center is making a difference for students and society, one writer at a time.

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