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Revisiting the Role of Vulnerability in the Writing Lab

As I have taken time before I graduate to reflect back on the past year in my role as a writing lab consultant, it becomes clear that one thing has remained a constant: vulnerability is unavoidable.  I first became interested in this topic during the training course for working in the writing lab.  My knee-jerk reaction to the mere mention of the word made me want to run screaming in the opposite direction.  Showing off my vulnerability to someone else in my life was a terrifying concept.  But, as I did more research on the topic, I became engrossed in finding a way to live my life in this way—being comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

I finished up my first semester as a writing lab consultant and I was ready to fully embrace being vulnerable. I bought the books, did the research, and preached the concepts to any friends that would listen.  I had given an informative speech on it in my writing lab training course, opening myself up and relating it to small parts of my life. It felt like I could be the spokesperson for vulnerability.  Boy, was I na├»ve.  On the very last day of class that semester my grandfather passed away unexpectedly.  Everything that I had just spent that past two months researching and becoming was thrown out the window.  I took the “appropriate” time to grieve on the outside, but became a hardened shell of the person I once was, struggling to fully express all of my mixed emotions.

During the following semester, I ran in a full sprint away from anything that could possibly trigger vulnerability.  I distinctly remember a student bringing a very personal piece into the writing lab. I was trying to avoid any negative “real” conversation about it, frantically focusing only on the positive to keep both of us from falling apart during the session.  Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back on this session I realize how much we both missed out; the student could have explored ways to express her thoughts in a cathartic way, and I could have empathized with another person going through some similar emotions that I was.  It wasn’t until my friend called me out for my behavior that semester that I realized something had to change.

Almost a full year later I am still working on embracing vulnerability, not only in myself, but in others that I interact with.  As I have been slowly writing this piece over the past few weeks, I can see how vulnerability rears its head in the learners I meet with.  With each comment of “wow, this is bad” and “wow, I’m dumb”, I can see how they are still putting themselves in an uncomfortable place by having another person give feedback on their writing.  Just last week one of my learners brought in a piece that was outside his usual style of writing, and he continually made comments about how it wasn’t good.  I kept reassuring him that it was a great piece, but it was clear that trying something new put him in a vulnerable position.

It’s important that we as consultants and tutors recognize that the writing process is a vulnerable one for many people. Each time a learner steps into a session with you, they are bearing a part of them that sometimes they would rather keep hidden.  On the flipside, we can be exposed to some pieces or learners that bring out the vulnerability in ourselves.  These feeling should not be shoved in a box and pushed aside, but rather acknowledged and considered as to grow into a more well-rounded consultant capable of connecting to others on the "vulnerability plane". 


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