South Texas may be surprisingly flat, but its academics are as robust and multi-faceted as the mesquite trees lining the streets and peppering the fields of Edinburg, Texas. This past weekend, at the Edinburg campus of the newly minted University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, I attended the 2017 South Central Writing Centers Association conference. This year’s theme was “Institutional Identifications” and the sessions and social gatherings rang with discussions of writing center theory, identity politics, and their productive intersections.
Rebecca Hallman Martini’s opening address, “Counselors, Tsunamis, and Well-Oiled Machines: Stories from Outside the Center,” included informative interviews with various department heads and instructors at her home institution of Salem State University. Her presentation analyzed the similarities and differences between each department’s perceptions of the writing center’s purpose and effects. The collected interviews and her subsequent consideration of their varied contents illustrated just how wide-ranging and beneficial writing center consultations can be for students of varied disciplines, ranging from business to architecture to the STEM fields; at the same time, she did not shy away from more negative perceptions of the writing center, instead advocating for these results as opportunities for writing center professionals to learn from our colleagues in the hard sciences, especially in the day and age of our field’s increased desire for RAD research.
Though the conference was only a day and a half long, the roundtables, workshops, and sessions were plentiful, and I regretted not having the time to attend them all. That said, I was edified by the papers I heard given during my time there. I was especially pleased to witness scholarly collaborations between tenured faculty, graduate students, and even undergraduates! One that especially stood out to me was Dr. Beatriz Mendez Newman’s (UTRGV) presentation with her students, Alondra Ceballos and Rachel Gonzales, on negotiating non-directive and directive tutoring strategies during consultations with translingual students, specifically those from predominantly Spanish-speaking backgrounds. In a political climate characterized by increasingly vitriolic attacks on our neighbors to the south, it was inspiring to see writing center scholarship dedicated to fostering cross-cultural understanding and translingual education.
Noor Pervez’s (UT Dallas) work on the shared traits of debate training and non-directive writing center consultations was intriguing and generative of a great discussion about how to fold debate-style practices into writing center tutor training. In keeping with the conference’s theme of institutional identifications, a panel of professionals from the University of Houston at Clear Lake featured a variety of fantastic papers dealing with how to best serve often-overlooked or misunderstood populations, including veterans, the neurodiverse, and LGBTQ students and professionals. This last panel was especially stimulating, and got me thinking about diversity-related topics that might well result in a special issue of Praxis down the line. We at Praxis and UT Austin’s Writing Center would like to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to everyone at UTRGV involved in planning and running the conference; here’s looking forward to SCWCA 2018.