Undergrad Student Spotlight: Riley Dandurand

Program cover for the 2023 Midwest Writing Center Association Conference

This year’s Midwest Writing Center Association conference theme was “Gateways Reimagined: Transforming Perspectives in the Writing Center.” With such a broad topic it was interesting to see the different ways that people “reimagined” the writing center as a gateway. For instance, some presenters imagined the writing center as a gateway for individuals who are incarcerated to be reintegrated into academics. Others saw it as a gateway to observing communication patterns between tutors and tutee or reimagined the value that we place on writing center tutors. 

Many of the sessions I attended were about how writing centers could expand their scope of ability by reaching out to other institutions that offer educational services.

Specifically, writing centers and writing programs can reach out to surrounding correctional facilities and offer tutoring services. This would work in a pen-pal format where inmates send their work to tutors at a university for written feedback. Several DOCs (Departments of Corrections) in the United States have higher education programs whose goal is to help inmates reintegrate into society once they have served their time. These programs could use the help of local university writing centers to develop content and mutually benefit students in and outside of the DOC. Working with inmate tutees provides the opportunity to encounter unique perspectives and develop writing center tutors’ skills for working with a diverse student population. 

Another session was a discussion about reimagining the way that we see our tutors and the work they do.

The assistant director at the Illinois State University Writing Center gave a presentation about the value of the work that writing center tutors do, and how their pay should reflect the value of their work. Specifically, she talked about how writing center tutors are often paid minimum wage or slightly above minimum wage. She compiled information regarding writing center tutor wages around the country and found that the few that were willing to respond, rarely paid their tutors over $9-$10 an hour.

This information surprised many of us in attendance, especially when she showed us that tutors were getting paid the same wage as student custodial workers at many universities. What’s concerning about this information is writing center tutors are completing high-level work and assisting the student population with their compositions, which requires arguably more skill than custodial work (not to say custodial work isn’t challenging). The support writing center tutors provide is essential for closing the gap for students that struggle with their writing, so the hourly wage should match the value of the important work they are doing. 

My presentation was about how writing centers may de-stigmatize working with dyslexic students by training tutors to recognize some of the common writing patterns and characteristics that dyslexic students often demonstrate in their writing. One thing to note is that dyslexic learners sometimes hear something differently than what is said. So, if I say my name is Riley they might hear a different name and not be able to identify where the disconnect is happening. Knowing this tutors can better understand how spelling and phonetic challenges may make a student stop frequently in their writing to ensure there are no errors. When their “flow” is interrupted by having to constantly check for errors, it makes sense where the struggle with organization in a paper may stem from. Additionally, tutors should understand how lower-order concerns like spelling can affect higher-order concerns like organization. Knowing the relationship of how lower-order concerns may affect higher-order concerns is important for pinpointing where to begin a session with a dyslexic student. 

Overall, it’s clear that the writing center serves more than just one purpose. It is a facility that balances academics, socialization, and community. What’s even more encouraging is seeing the people who run writing centers across the country come together to improve their practice, and continue to expand the scope of what they do.

— Riley Dandurand (BA ’23, English Education / English minor)

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