Co-Authored by Danielle Owen ’17 and Zoe Ehrenberg ’17
Who are the peer tutors who staff the Barnard College Writing Center? To many students, the Writing Fellows are an elite group of white English majors; they wear wide-rimmed Warby Parkers, snobbishly correct their friends if they dare to confuse “there’s” and “theirs”, and provoke uselessly pedantic debates regarding the Oxford comma.
This misperception of the Writing Center is caused by an unawareness of what Writing Fellows really do, and subsequently, why English majors are certainly not the only ones qualified for the job. Following their acceptance into the program, Writing Fellows take a three-credit training course called “The Writer’s Process”. In this class, we do not spend hours memorizing over-scrupulous grammar rules, nor do we simply dissect essays in search of smooth transitions and captivating topic sentences. Grammar rules are a topic of discussion, but we also consider how they may enable elitism and privilege by discrediting the validity of someone’s thoughts. We think about the relationship between identity and all forms of communication. We begin to understand why it is that writers struggle to say what it is they want to say, and what kinds of questions we should ask in order to help them say it. We learn that we can help students with their First-Year English papers, even if we’ve never personally done a close reading of Paradise Lost—knowing nothing about the subject matter of a student’s paper is an advantage. It allows us to ensure that the writer is clearly articulating her ideas to the reader. There is nothing about what we learn or do that necessitates being an English major.
The Writing Center pedagogy is centered around inclusive, collaborative learning. Accordingly, the Fellows themselves should represent the inclusivity central to our mission. All Barnard students write, regardless of major. The process of selecting new WFITs (Writing Fellows in Training) is currently underway. Any Barnard first-year or sophomore who is passionate about writing—about communicating and creating knowledge—has the potential to be a Fellow, regardless of her stance on the Oxford comma.
Who are the Writing Fellows? We are students who often struggle with writing, just as you do. We are empathic and non-directive and we want to enrich your work—not by pointing out grammatical errors (unless you want us to), but by investing in your ideas and thoughts. Our main priority is helping you figure out what it is you want to say, and how to communicate it clearly. The Writing Center is a resource for the Barnard community, and it is essential that Writing Fellows are reflective of the diversity that exists within our student body.