When I first signed on to Peer Centered, I worried if my contributions here would be meaningful. I worried I would run out of things to write about, about topics of interest to WC people. Then I had the idea of posting on a theme. I figured I would connect my posts here to the research I enjoy - working with difference. So I've set a goal to post once a week with each post relating to one element of Beverly Tatum's 'Seven Categories of 'Otherness'" - 1) race or ethnicity, 2) gender, 3) religion, 4) sexual orientation, 5) socioeconomic status, 6) age, and 7) physical or mental ability. So far, we've covered religion, race, and economic class, and I've been very motivated and excited by the discussion taking place around each issue.
What I want to investigate is how both directors and tutors respond to these categories of Otherness. Does our training take them into account, and after such training, do we feel confident in our abilities? What about administrative practices (such as hours of operation)? And finally, what about WC pedagogy itself - is it designed to work with difference, and if so, are there gaps or limitations to it?
That sounds like a lot to absorb, but hopefully it is not overwhelming. My interest in the subject was sparked in part by an article by Margaret Weaver called "Transcending Conversing: A Deaf Student in the Writing Center." She describes her work with this student and how she kept hitting upon limitations to her WC practice, where so much is based upon oral dialogue. It's a fascinating article and I can't recommend it enough.
I found the article only after some searching initiated by my own session with a deaf student. At the start of the session, I thoughtlessly said something to the effect of "We typically have you read the paper out loud; a lot of students find this helpful . . . " She just looked at me, laughed a little, and jokingly said "That probably isn't going to work so well for me." While her humor helped diffuse the situation, I was completely embarrassed and I couldn't begin to imagine how she felt.
After that initial stumbling, the session went fairly smoothly and was overall pretty good. But that beginning showed me how thoughtless I could be. Me, who tries to be conscientious and considerate - I could still be so careless and inconsiderate with a tutee. But for me, that session really drove home the importance of recognizing how oppressions overlap; if I could overlook someone's ability and embarrass her like that, how easily might I do the same to someone based on race, or sexual orientation, or anything else?
So I'm wondering, does anyone else have stories similar to this? Have you encountered people who are differently abled in the WC? How did those sessions go? Any advice or tips or things to avoid? As a secondary question - what about accessibility? Is your WC wheelchair accessible?
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