Writing Center Administrative Philosophy
The First Welcome: A Philosophy of Writing Center Administration
All of writing center work: the recruiting, the training, the scheduling, the promotion culminates in one moment – when a consultant walks up to a writer and says, “Hello, welcome to [insert center name here].” The subtext of the consultant’s speech, whether he or she is conscious of it or not, is welcome to my community, welcome to my home. Home is a contested metaphor for the writing center community, but when we accept Jackie Grutch-McKinney’s challenge to re-consider it, the metaphor proves to be valuable. For me, a writing center is a home from which consultants can welcome writers.
The Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas teaches that the welcome extended by an individual to another is only possible when it is an extension of a welcome the individual has already felt. In Levinas’s metaphor of hospitality the host must first be welcomed into his or her own home before he or she is able to extend that welcome to a guest. The first welcome given to the host is provided by an invisible third presence in Levinas’ hospitable metaphor, a presence which has come to be called the hostess. The hostess first welcomes the host and makes it possible for the host to in turn welcome the guest. This is the home-ly metaphor I apply to writing center work, and which best describes my administrative philosophy.
As the administrator, using this Levinasian construction of hospitality, I must act as the hostess, a position for which I prefer the less gendered term, the preparer. As the preparer my job is to make sure I have created a space in which the consultant feels welcomed, feels at home. It is only then that the consultant can act as a host and offer a genuine welcome to the writer visiting his or her center. Using this metaphor to describe my work as an administrator provides me an internal rubric for each decision I make: will this decision make the consultant feel more or less at home in the center?
Following in the footsteps of The Everyday Writing Center, I feel the best way I can make consultants feel at home and ready to welcome writers into the center is by making sure they feel a part of a community of practice. Communities of practice develop around groups of individuals who build a “shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools [and] ways of addressing recurring problems”. To create this community I develop ways for consultants to interact; to learn from each others experiences through consultant-led training activities; and to contribute to center functions through consultant driven center assessment activities. Building this sense of community encourages the consultants to see themselves as a vital part of the center, which lends authenticity to their welcome of the writer into the center.
Levinas’ hostess is always configured as an invisible presence in the hospitable metaphor; someone who has made the host feel so welcome that he or she no longer recognizes that he or she has assumed ownership of the space. This erasure of the hostess has drawn much feminist criticism, but I believe that when it is applied to the idea of writing center work, this erasure is essential to preparing the space of the center. Thus, my approach to consultant training, and the day to day function of the center is to work to make myself invisible. During training the dominant metaphor I share with consultants is that of a toolbox. My message is this: I share tools with them and then trust them to choose the right ones. Training is designed to fill their toolbox to give them the confidence that they are able to adapt to the needs of the writer across the table from them. While I often stop by to check-in with consultants and will trouble-shoot problems whenever necessary, the consultants all know that I trust their judgment and abilities; in this way, I try to prepare the space, but remain an invisible support in the center.
 R. Mark Hall. “Using Dialogic Reflection to Develop a Writing Center Community of
Practice.” The Writing Center Journal 31. 1 (2011): 82-105.