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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Upper-division English snobs, just kidding, stigmatization

Hello Writing Center world,
Once again Phillip Bode coming at you live from the Boise State Writing Center.

My post concerns a common stigma I encounter and have dealt with since entering upper-division classes. The stigma and derision of upper-division students (primarily English majors) who are reluctant in coming to our humble abode. The stigma appears to stem from the notion "by going to the Writing Center you are conceding you're not a quality writer and the center is only for struggling writers." (Of course, if someone is mulling over an argument or thesis, as everyone is prone to do eventually, can't we all be considered struggling writers?)

Any consultant can tell you this notion is false in every sense. Yes, we mostly work with lower-division writers but how much of this is affected by upper-division English majors letting their pride get in the way? It is absurd to think since we primarily work with younger writers they are the only ones who struggle.

Every paper I have come in to the Center for help has received an excellent grade (one paper received a B and it was on a very vague assignment both Ian and I were unfamiliar with). I don't consider myself a great or fantastic writer but wouldn't consider my writing as poor either (except my poetry and fiction. ugh). There is always room to improve my writing and I have never resisted assistance from fellow writers. Their help is always beneficiary, so it bemuses me that talented and smart writers would resist the Writing Center or pass judgment on those who go.

I've campaigned to classmates to seek the Center for help but I acknowledge I am not an alluring model for inspiration.
So what can we do? What ways do others think Writing Centers can alleviate or change this stigma? Is this a problem at other campuses?

7 comments:

  1. Howdy, your post just made me realize my own reluctance. It's funny, but I will let other people in a workshop class shred my work, and I generally dismiss most of their comments as unqualified, but I don't ever take advantage of the 'expertise' of the writing center consultants. Hmmm, maybe I do play into the stigma. I guess I should do some introspection about what kind of a writing snob I am.

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  2. Hey Phil.
    Another good post. I'm a bit far removed from undergrad days, but I don't think I ever went to the WC at my undergrad campus. I wasn't an English major, so once I met my freshman writing req, I think I just "moved on" to other studies. If I tried to look back at my final undergrad transcript, I'd have to blow an inch of dust and cobwebs off that thing.

    I think students today are more career focused, because job markets for undergrads have been miserable these past 6 years compared to where they were in the late 90s. My belief is that upper division students desire to work on their writing with their professors in order to build a "networking" relationship for post-graduation purposes.

    Maybe our Boise State Writing Center can make brief presentations at upper-division English classes to remind Juniors/Seniors we can help with grad school apps, law school essays etc.?

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  3. I think there's a lot of truth in your observation, Phil. You're bringing in good questions to ask about ourselves and the communities in which we roll.

    I have to make a confession here, that I think may apply to a lot of upper-level/graduate English folk: we don't spend us much time drafting and revising. Am I wrong? Usually we have one big due date for a paper, without the multiple drafting deadlines FYC classes have. When I know I have a paper due soon, I make Writing Center appointments. When I see that I'm not going to have anything written until 11 pm the night before the paper is due (this is not complete procrastination, I have ideas & research), I cancel the appointments.

    So maybe I (and I suspect others) don't fit into the snob category so much as the slight procrastinator/slight hypocrite category. :)

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  4. I can relate to Rick's comment above. I've never even considered making a writing center appointment, and I've met a handful of freshmen this semester who seem to share my attitude. I imagine that many of these students were Writing All-Stars in high school, but one of the first things I learned in college is that I could no longer use high school standards to evaluate my writing. (Instead of going to the writing center, I just put in more effort.)

    Of course, many of these students are visiting the center because an instructor is either requiring it or offering extra credit. Some days I wish more slots in our schedule were available for people who actually want to be there, but other days I'm glad that people who wouldn't otherwise come to us are getting a chance to see what a session is like. Some of them have told me that they would visit us again, while others might need some sort of reality check (e.g., a low grade) before they realize how much the writing center might help them. And a few of them really are Writing All-Stars--even by college standards--and I understand the frustration they likely felt when told to make an appointment at the writing center.

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  5. I'm with you, Phil. When I suggested people bring in papers from my upper division classes, I felt like they were just humoring me when they said "Good idea" and immediately went back to their garrets. I found a lot better response from classmates in other departments, like geology or archaeology. The people with the worst attitudes seemed to be the ones who could benefit the most, like the fiction or poetry students with gross spelling and grammatical errors. I couldn't help thinking to myself "by now you are aware that your spelling and grammar are inferior, why would you pass this in without having someone look it over, are you that arrogant to believe your work will transcend these mistakes?" I suppose people are reluctant to make time for something they don't respect - reality check, indeed.

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  6. Phil-
    I totally see where you are coming from with this.
    I think it's because a lot of people think that The Writing Center is a place to get your paper edited... not to get a different perspective and ask questions.
    I know that people think their work is perfect and they don't need help.
    I also think that people don't realize that we can help with brainstorming as well as actual drafts of papers.
    I truly believe that if students knew what we really offer instead of go with their own preconceived notions of what a "writing center" might be.... all students would be more apt to coming in.
    -peace

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  7. "A" for effort on that vague paper, man.

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