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SMC Writing Center encourages students to collaborate, share writings

| Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Saint Mary’s Writing Center offers students the opportunity to discuss their writing within the comfort of a student-led, tutoring-based environment.  

Aaron Bremyer, director of the Writing Center, said the objective of the Writing Center is to have the student become a better writer by sharing their work.

“Good writers share their work,” he said. “It is truly what animates us. It’s not just, only good writers share their work; it’s, people who aspire to be good writers share their work.”

Bremyer said the Writing Center values the collaboration between writing tutors and students.

“The Writing Center is a great space for anyone who’s working on writing to come talk about ideas,” he said. “A better name for it could the ‘collaboration center.’ It’s a place where we engage in ethical collaboration with people who are at work on writing. We work with writers at every stage of the process, from prewriting and brainstorming to working with people who’ve had their professors evaluate their work.”

Senior Kathleen Melei, a tutor at the center, said the goal of the tutors is to facilitate a conversation.

“Normally students will slide the prompt across the table and we’ll just slide it right back,” she said. “We basically just encourage the student to talk about their paper and read it out loud. There’s not many quiet moments. A lot of people are nervous when they come in because students are so used to listening to a professor tell them what they need to change. But it’s really beautiful, the ideas we can come up with by talking.”

The Writing Center features tutors from all disciplines and majors. Junior Anna Byrnes has an English literature major and secondary education minor. As a Writing Center tutor, she said she feels her background in teaching helps her better communicate with students.

“Part of being a teacher is the ability to sit down with a students and go through their thoughts with them and help them build on their strengths,” she said.

Byrnes noted that the tutor’s role in the writing process is to listen to what students have to say.

“We’re active listeners,” she said. “We help students organize their thoughts.”

Bremyer said the tutors represent the audience that most academic writing is geared towards.

“Most writing is geared towards not necessarily a general audience but an informed, college-educated audience,” he said. “So the women who work in the Writing Center are women who constitute a perfect audience for almost all of the writing assignments we have. We are the audience that most of the writing we do in college is geared towards.”

Bremyer recalled his experience with writing centers and how they changed his perception of the writing process.

“When I started going to writing centers as a student, it was a revelation,” he said. “I understood that the process isn’t really about having someone read my paper and fix it — the process is to get me going, to get me to start the project itself and not wait until very late in the process. If I start earlier, that project will be more successful than if I waited until the night before. The best tutorials take place earlier in the writing process, and the least successful, from our point of view, take place the night before or the day of.”

Melei said her most common tips for students writing a paper are planning, discussion and passion.  

“Always make an outline, or at least jot down ideas for starting your paper,” she said. “Talk about your writing, and be passionate about it. A lot of times when we do academic writing, we’re doing it just for the grade. But the best papers I see are the ones where the student is integrating their ideas. Write what you want to write.”

Bremyer said students often react negatively to their own writing.

“A lot of students come in and say, ‘I’m not a good writer and I never will be,’” he said. “I think what they’re saying is, ‘I’m not a good writer or I’ve been told I’m not a good writer.’ It’s fear-based, and we’re trying to truly undermine those concerns. We try to let people know that you should come in with a mess, yet smile. … Everyone’s writing starts out really messy.”

Bremyer equates the writing process to running a mile.

“If I were to go out and run a mile today, my time would not be very good,” he said. “But if I went out every single day for the whole semester and ran a mile, that time might not go down quickly, but no matter the shape I’m in, by the end of the semester my time will have dramatically improved because I practiced it everyday.”

Good writers practice writing in order to internalize good habits, Bremyer added.

“We internalize the rules and structures of grammar, and we internalize the habits of mind that are more analytical, more curious and investigative,” he said. “That’s not done in 30 minutes — that’s done over a lifetime.”

Bremyer said the high quality of the Writing Center tutors has greatly increased demand.

“We’re moving to a larger space,” he said. “We’ve had consistent demand over the last four years. The number of students has been consistently going up, and it’s because the women do incredible jobs as tutors. The caliber of women who work there are the best and the brightest.”

Byrnes said her job is to help a student write a better paper, but also become a better writer herself.

“It’s about the person who comes in,” she said. “They come to us with their paper, but really it’s about the person behind that paper and who they are as a writer. Our job is to help them become a stronger writer.”

Bremyer said the Writing Center helps students become more successful as students.

“Our philosophy is we are not concerned about the paper that brings to the student to the Writing Center,” he said. “We are concerned about helping the person who came to the Writing Center become a more successful person.”

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