Cultivating Kindness in the Writing Center – Part II

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Writing Center tutors at Johnson County Community College for a regional workshop, August 25, 2018. Left to right: Brittani Ivan (MA ’19), Kaitlyn Vincent (MA ’19), Cailin Roles (MA ’19), Lauren Callihan (MA ’19), Lynsey Akin (BA ’20), and Ian Sinnett.

In this second of two posts, we — the 2018-2019 Executive Committee of the Writing Center at K-State — talk about the role kindness plays in writing center work, including welcoming visitors, tutoring, front desk work, and outreach to campus.

Through empathetic observation, writing center tutors and front desk staff have the unique opportunity to actively make a difference not only in the writing processes of our clients, but also their lives. We frame this work through the concept of “cultivating kindness.”

The Writing Center’s Executive Committee consists of four people, a mix of graduate and undergraduate students. Lauren Callihan (M.A. ’19) is a second-year graduate student in English specializing in Composition and Rhetoric. Jake Anderson (B.S. ’20) is a junior studying Secondary Education with a focus in English, with minors in English and in Leadership Studies. Anna Richardson (B.S. ’21) is a sophomore in Education. Lynsey Aiken (B.A. ’20) is a junior studying English Literature and Spanish.

In the previous post (Part I) and this one (Part II), we each offer our own interpretation of what it means to cultivate kindness in writing center practices. We hope that our posts invite you to consider how you can cultivate kindness in your daily life, both within and outside writing centers.


 

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Pictured above are two boxes covered with construction paper; one has a paper flower on the front, and the other reads “Well, that’s just peaches.” Behind a pen, a purple mason jar holds slips of paper. Four potted plants stand in the background.

“Using Grace to Cultivate Kindness”

I began my work in the Writing Center in the Spring of 2018, during my freshman year of college. I currently work as both a tutor and a Writing Center Assistant. Because I began working in the Center so early in my college career, its community has been key as I grow and develop professionally, socially, and personally. The Center has provided me with an environment to push me to succeed, but more importantly it has provided me with a support system when I fail. Because we all work to cultivate kindness daily, the Center is a community of grace, and motivation. Working in the Center has taught me how to cultivate kindness in order to show myself and others grace, encouragement, and acceptance.

In the Writing Center, we work with many early drafts that are far from their final glory. Lauren often reminds writers that they need to give themselves permission to have messy first drafts. Walking into a center for the first time is intimidating. Having strangers read your writing is intimidating. Writers come to us in a vulnerable state. They are asking for ways to improve and are open to criticism and feedback. Often times, writers come into the Center feeling a little bit lost, seeking support and guidance. As tutors who cultivate kindness and give grace away like it’s going out of style, we create a space writers can receive feedback and use it to grow in their confidence as writers.

To help people improve and to become their best selves is really one of our ultimate goals. I see this daily. I see tutors invest time and energy into writers. I see front desk staff invest in first impressions and general welfare of the Center. I see Senior Staff invest and work with student employees. And I see tutors and front desk staff invest in each other. If someone asks “How are you?” in the Center, they ask because they truly care about the person’s well-being. It is simple gestures such as these that, when practiced consistently and intentionally, we are practicing being kind.

We all fail. But with each other’s help, we all succeed. The Writing Center provides a space where staff and writers are able to invest, forgive, support, and celebrate one another. Practicing grace is one way that we work to cultivate kindness in the Center and on our campus. By doing so, we are able to create a community, the motivating reason we strive to cultivate kindness. It is in this way, and in these communities, that we can truly cultivate kindness towards writers, each other, and ourselves.

Anna Richardson (B.S. ’21)


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Pictured above is a rainbow mug, filled with purple Writing Center pens. A potted silver squill plant with long, light green leaves sits in the background.

“Cultivating Agentive Kindness”

I currently work primarily as a tutor, but since starting in Fall 2017, have worked both as a tutor and a Writing Center Assistant. One of my favorite parts of the job is how much communal learning happens in ECS 122D where the Center is located. Here, learning to view kindness as a conscious, cultivated skill-set has helped me disrupt four of my own misconceptions about kindness: kindness as inherent, kindness as obligatory, kindness as selfless, and kindness as unidirectional. By changing my relationship with kindness, I have also changed my relationship with myself and with others — both inside and outside of the workplace.

Kindness can often be mistaken as an “inherent” quality, but such a perspective is damaging. As Center employees, part of the emotional labor of our job entails being kind. We are attentive. We are welcoming. We are adaptive. We are flexible. As Lauren, Jake, and Anna have elaborated upon, we convey these qualities through our words, our actions, our physical environment, and more. If we view these attributes as “inherently kind,” it not only creates pressure on assistants and tutors to find these qualities “within ourselves” and increases shame if we blunder, but it also minimizes our thoughtful, purposeful actions by relegating them thoughtless and innate. Cultivated kindness is instead watered, tended, and pruned throughout our lives.

And if we view kindness as “obligatory,” we must also ask ourselves: “obligatory for whom?” Who is expected to be kind with regards to power — not just in the tutor/tutee dynamic, but also with regards to race, nationality, gender, ability, language learning and more? And how are these “obligatory” performances of kindness expected to be performed differently? When someone is given the label “kind” (or equally importantly, “unkind”), why and from whom is this so? All these questions deserve their own discussion, but I voice them here to complicate our own preconceptions about kindness. In doing so, I’d like to raise the counter-argument that cultivated kindness is agentive.

Some of this agency is removed when kindness is misconstrued as obligatorily “selfless.” Especially in helping jobs where our focuses lie on helping others, we must remember to allocate kindness for ourselves as well. Lauren often says that being kind to yourself takes courage, including knowing when to say no, when to ask for help, and when to celebrate our accomplishments. Practicing these acts of self-kindness require the strength to turn inwards the same level of reflection that we bring to the (literal) tables for others. Thus, cultivated kindness is necessarily — unapologetically — selfish.

Kindness also thrives in company, which does not align with viewing kindness as merely “unidirectional.” In the last six months during our sessions, the self-talk strategies that I and a recurring student have employed have co-evolved to be more positive and thus, more constructive. We work together to point out each other’s strengths and reframe areas for improvement as a positive opportunity for growth rather than indication of a personal fault. We forgive each other for making mistakes, and in doing so, we learn to forgive ourselves. Cultivated kindness is collaboratively constructed.

Working with reflective, encouraging people in the Writing Center has grown my appreciation for the acts of kindness which surround us in the English Counseling Services building and beyond. Their words and actions are reflected in the plants which stretch toward the windows, the hands that keep them watered even over break, the words of encouragement left on papers that students bring to the Center, and mentorship that elevate our community one person at a time.

Just as importantly, they’ve taught me that I’m allowed to turn this kindness to myself, just as much as we adapt and show kindness to the people who pass through our doors.

Lynsey Akin (B.A. ’20)

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