Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Role of a Writing Centre

In South Africa we have a unique academic landscape, primarily shaped by our recent history of apartheid. Our student body is multicultural, multiracial, multilingual and spans the socioeconomic spectrum. We have students from affluent backgrounds and the best schools in class with students who come from the townships and schools that had no textbooks.  Yes, apartheid may be over, but it's effects linger still and it's legacy will be with us for many years to come. I recently read a thought-provoking article 'Six things white people have that black people don't' which, if you've never considered how the historical legacy of something you have no control over, such as your skin colour, affects your life is a valuable read. 

Our generation tends to be divided on the subject. For those of us born at the tail end or even after apartheid was officially abolished, the responsibility is not always clear. We didn't start the fire....true, but now we live among the ashes. Is it ok to sit back, survey the damage and rely on the childish refrain "But it wasn't me!" Or, is this the time for us to take responsibility and rise? We need to decide how to shape our landscape moving forward, what type of world we want to live in and where and how to raise our children. 

This responsibility weighs heavily on those in academic institutions. As educated people, as skilled professionals, as the future leaders of this country, as teachers this responsibility is ours. I think the first time that I became truly aware of my responsibility was while working as a writing centre consultant. Why? Because writing centres have a pivotal role to play. Now, running a writing centre, I am constantly pondering the meaning, implications and practicalities of justice, academic access and social redress within a university. These may seem like lofty ideals and pursuits for those of us that play with abc's, but writing centres are places of support, places that are safe, places that can empower students, places where you can watch change as it is actually happening

I see the role of the writing centre as someone to hold hands with the student along their journey, to open doors for them, to steady them when they wobble, to help them navigate around, and sometimes out of, potholes, someone to give them a leg up. There are few things as satisfying and rewarding as watching a student have one of those "Ah ha!" moments, and you just know that they get it. That barrier, that door that was blocking their path, their understanding, will never shut them out again. You have given them the key and taught them how to use it, you have facilitated access, you have taken responsibility, you have made a change. Thats why I work at a writing centre. 

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