The Writing and Speaking Center: Providing Tools and Promoting Inclusion
Located on the second floor of Lathrop Hall, the Writing and Speaking Center is staffed by student consultants, and one professional consultant, who advise peers on written and oral projects. Whether clients are drafting a critical email, working on a Challenges of Modernity paper or preparing for a presentation, consultants provide suggestions in order to equip students with implementable writing and speaking skills.
Senior Olivia Wisbey started as a writing consultant during her sophomore year. After utilizing the center throughout her first year and enjoying her work with the consultants, Wisbey was inspired to join as a staff member.
“Our mission is not only to edit the paper but to instead have a conversation so students can have the tools to focus on their skills in future papers,” Wisbey said. “It’s not really a fix-it mentality … we want people to feel more confident about their writing and feel like they have the necessary tools to use in further papers afterward. I think some people assume that you have to come in with a full draft, but we tell people that you can come in at any stage of the writing process. Some people will come in with a prompt or a full draft, someone has come in with a cover letter and important emails, so it’s very versatile in terms of the content we look at.”
Junior Katia Jacovides started as a speaking consultant at the Writing and Speaking Center during her sophomore year.
“I first came to the writing center as a [first-year] … it was super helpful and I think that to this day I’ve come for every single paper I’ve ever had,” Jacovides said. “It made me a much better writer. Something we really try to do is not only make your paper better but make your writing in general better. For example, we explain why a thesis might need more detail so that later on in another paper hopefully clients can do that themselves. We really try to explain all of the suggestions that we make.”
As a writing and speaking consultant, Jacovides advises students on both oral and written projects. After senior peer consultants graduated in 2020, the speaking center has been run through faculty-student consultations. Jacovides is currently involved in the interview process for new student speaking consultants.
“I’m the only peer speaking consultant at the moment,” Jacovides said. “We have fewer speaking consultants than in previous years because we weren’t able to hire new consultants during COVID-19, but [the speaking center] is a really great resource that many people don’t know about. Students can come in with a speech, a presentation in class, a theater audition or any kind of oral project and speaking consultants will listen and give advice.”
According to Wisbey, the Writing and Speaking Center seeks to change the campus culture of writing and speaking in order to promote more pride in multilingualism.
“This year we’ve been doing a lot of training on anti-racism in standard English and focusing on how we can be actively anti-racist at the center and not promote a normative standard writing of English,” Wisbey said. “People can have different ways of writing English and all of those are very valid. We look at content before we look at syntax in standard English, and we want to change the rhetoric on campus in terms of what standard English should be. We do weekly trainings, so [the consultants] are all well-trained on how to read multilingual writing and how to look at content first and syntactical grammatical verb tense second.”
Junior Lucy Langan joined the Writing and Speaking Center staff this semester after utilizing the center as a client. According to Langan, weekly trainings have recently focused on working with ESL writers (English as a second, third or fourth language).
“We spoke about how clients are vulnerable while sharing their writing with us, and we must remember that throughout our appointments,” Langan said. “We spoke about strategies for prioritizing particular aspects of a paper, like making sure papers are first answering the prompt with a strong thesis and structure and later prioritizing grammar. We’ve also continued these conversations throughout our training and during a weekend retreat event. There, we spoke about how colonialism, racism and classism intersect with writing conventions. We spoke about how Colgate has a narrow understanding of what constitutes appropriate academic language and how we can balance challenging this traditional, racist [and] western form of writing and making sure we give clients the tools to do well on their papers.”
According to Wisbey, the Writing and Speaking Center has always fostered a safe space. Promoting anti-racism on campus is critical in maintaining the center’s inclusive and supportive environment, which encourages students to continue to utilize the resource.
“One of the things I love about the center is having repeat clients,” Wisbey said. “A lot of times they’ll let me know that they’re starting to do better in classes which is a really great thing to hear. … It’s really nice to see writers grow.”