Written by: Grace R.
We’ve been fortunate enough to have a former consultant, Grace, write a post for us about how her experience working in the IUPUI University Writing Center has influenced not only the relationships she has formed, but also the way she thinks about relationships themselves.
Three years ago, I sat in a midday class in the basement of SL and wrote down a quote my professor offhandedly mentioned: “Relationships do not merely shape reality, they are reality” (Wilson 7, emphasis original). At that point, I didn’t know this quote or what it meant, but it caught my attention enough to jot it down. The class, Writing Center Theory & Practice, would begin my three-year stint in IUPUI’s University Writing Center, an experience that continues to have a profound effect on my educational, professional, and personal life. In the last three years, I’ve learned experientially what Dr. Shawn Wilson, and by extension, what my professor & future director Dr. Marilee Brooks-Gillies, meant: relationality is reality. Our relationships with ideas, the world, other humans, and indeed ourselves construct our reality.
It makes a lot of sense to me that I was first introduced to this idea of relationality in a writing center theory class. The writing center is such a natural place to develop relationality. Within it, the connections between relationships and reality became clear in myriad ways: sessions with writers, conversations with coworkers, experiences at conferences, and engaging in research.
If you’ve ever visited the IUPUI University Writing Center, you know that writing isn’t a solitary activity. In our sessions, consultants and writers sit and collaborate together. We read through together, we talk together, we construct meaning together. We do this not only because it’s a useful practice, but also because this practice tells a truth about the reality of writing: writing is always a social activity. And the social aspect of writing, the way that writing takes relationships into account, is what makes knowledge accessible. Cultural Rhetorician Andrea Riley Mukavetz puts it this way: “By cultivating relationships, one is able to make knowledge visible and viable” (Riley Mukavetz 119). Relationships develop knowledge and make that knowledge real to us.
Perhaps the one place that relationality becomes more clear to me than in the writing center is at writing center conferences. Over my years in the writing center, I’ve participated in several regional and international conferences. I recently attended and presented at the International Writing Center Association & National College Peer Tutors of Writing joint conference. While there, I was reminded that attending them is yet another way of cultivating relationships and knowledge. Conferences, much like writing center sessions, remind me that this wasn’t meant to be done alone.
At conferences, the simple daily practices of relationality are highlighted and even put to the test. People that you generally only see during work hours are suddenly your roommates, your meal mates, the people you find yourself uncontrollably laughing with. The authors of articles and books you’ve read are suddenly there, in person, presenting in the same time slot as you. You form relationships with other conference goers and presenters, exchange and push back on ideas together. Conferences ask participants to form relationships, with the research and with each other; much like writing centers, conferences are built on the concept of relational collaboration.
I’ve spent nearly the last year of my life outside of writing centers, still invested in writing center research, but no longer on staff as a consultant. It’s been a year of recognizing and researching the ways that working in a writing center—deliberately practicing relationality every day—impacts former consultants. At IWCA-NCPTW, Dr. Brooks-Gillies and I presented on this very research. Our research proves to me the same findings that I see in my own life: that working in a writing center is a rich and complex experience, and its impact is widespread. The relationships I’ve developed with writers, pedagogies, research practices, concepts, and the writing process itself hasn’t just shaped my reality, it is my reality. Through cultivating these relationships and practicing relationality, I’ve been able to access and develop my knowledge. And to think, it all started three years ago, jotting down a quote in the basement of SL.
Riley Mukavetz, Andrea M. “Towards a Cultural Rhetorics Methodology: Making Research Matter With Multi-Generational Women From the Little Traverse Bay Band.” Rhetorics, Professional Communication and Globalization, vol. 5, no. 1, 2014, pp. 108-125, http://www.rpcg.org/index.php?journal=rpcg&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=98&path%5B%5D=pdf.
Wilson, Shawn. Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Fernwood Publishing, 2008