At his plenary wrap-up of the Joint NCPTW/IWCA Conference, writing center and peer tutoring legend Harvey Kail asked a simple question in response to the various ideas that came his way during the conference: "Are we asking too much of peer tutors?" Harvey was referring to specifically, I think, Nancy Grim's keynote challenge that writing centers take on new social realities and extend their project to important issues in social justice such as anti-racism work (among others.) (By the way, I only had the opportunity to record the tail end of Nancy's speach, and I will no doubt be podcasting it soon.)
After he finished his talk, Harvey had us write on 3 questions--all relating to the challenges that the conference threw at us as writing center folk. The table I went to sit at were very interested in Harvey's statement about peer tutors. One person thought it was a false dichotomy, as if there was one pure thing that we are asking of peer tutors and that was some how distinct, for example, from a tutor thinking of the effects of race, class, and gender in a tutorial and how that effects the writer. I tend to agree with that assessment, in that it seems that Harvey was defining tutoring only from the Brooklyn School perspective (something he readily admited to, by the way). To say that including other things other than response to the writing is "asking too much" begs the question of what peer tutoring is in the first place. Writing tutoring is about responding to student writers, to be sure, but that does not exclude other important work the tutor can be doing. Responding to the students writing alone seems to be just producing a better text, not a better writer and thinker.
It was an honest question on Harvey's part, I think. He also stated throughout that the conference had given him a great deal to consider and he was redefining his notions of writing center work.