If so, can a student bring a draft to the writing center?
During this week’s staff meeting for writing associates, Eric, a senior English major, related an interesting experience he had during drop-in hours. A student had come in asking for help preparing for a med school interview. Eric wondered whether this was, in fact, something WAs should be doing. “Is it something we’re actually qualified to do,” he wondered? It was clear that some of his fellow WAs wondered that too. Jackie, a senior chemistry major, opined, “we’re qualified, but I think maybe there are others who would be better qualified. Haley, a senior neuroscience major, thought perhaps a few specially trained WAs–maybe those with a pre-med background–should work with such students. “Should we be setting a precedent that any WA is qualified to do this?” she asked.
I asked Eric how he handled the conference. He responded that he began by working with the student to “analyze the prompt,” just as he would with a First Year Seminar student. “We tried to unpack each question and think about what the interviewers were really asking.” Sadie, a junior English major, suggested that Eric was really helping the student think in more depth about her audience. An interview is, after all, a kind of text (a performative text?). In preparing for the interview, one might argue that the student was composing a draft–a draft which she was sharing with a writing associate and would then revise, probably multiple times, prior to finalizing the text.
Eric’s drop-in experience raises several interrelated questions for me as a WPA. First, is a med school interview genuinely a text, even in the broadest sense of the word? The second question is the one that Jackie and Sadie seem to ask: Should WAs be the ones to conference with students on such a text? Are they “qualified, in other words? (Is it merely coincidence that the two students whose backgrounds are most closely “pre-med” are the ones to raise this question?) A third, related question, arises from these first two. If preparation for a med school interview is indeed a kind of text that can be brought to a writing center, and if WAs are to be considered qualified to hold conferences about such a text, how shall we prepare them?
This question is part of a project on which I’m currently working. I’ll be discussing the project in a presentation at the upcoming International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Conference in Pittsburgh this October. My project seeks to explore how we can integrate visual rhetoric, multimodal composition, design thinking, and other competencies into existing tutor training programs, and asks whether such “texts” should be part of writing program and/or writing center work in the first place.
Over the next few days, I’ll be posting more about this particular exchange and how it relates to my project. I welcome any feedback from friends, colleagues, and other interested parties.