Writers Welcome: Peer Writing Consultants embrace academic diversity


Mar 27, 2014 Bookmark and Share

When a writer walks into Sweetland, she brings with her a list of expectations about the tutor sitting in front of her. For example, I have frequently come into contact with the assumption that consultants are strictly humanities majors preparing for careers in related fields. Consequently, some writers are surprised when I tell them that in addition to being an English major I am a Biology minor and taking additional science classes to prepare me for veterinary school. With this revealed, a further assumption is made that being a writing consultant is irrelevant to my future plans. This is the misconception I really hope to address. Being a writing consultant is relevant to a wide array of fields and, frankly, to the development of myself as a person.

Though clearly focusing on animals, being a veterinarian still involves a lot of communication and working with people. That may sound stupid and obvious, but, as animals have no language to communicate what is wrong with them, visits to a veterinary office actually consist very heavily of conversations between vets and owners. Like consulting detectives, they have to discuss strange behaviors and symptoms to determine what is happening. Just as consultants learn not to edit individuals’ papers for them, I would not as a veterinarian take somebody’s dog away from them and do whatever I see fit without consulting them. It takes times to negotiate and figure out exactly what the best plan is for each family that comes into the veterinary office. I use this example of veterinarians because this is what I know best, but I believe this rings true for careers with any type of service component. The skills we learn as writing consultants are necessary to approaching clients with respect and consideration. I am somewhat reserved naturally and being a writing consultant has given me confidence in new situations. Each tutorial I enter is different from the next; I meet students I would never typically encounter and gain new perspectives along the way.

As there is no typical writer that comes into Sweetland, I believe each tutor brings a unique perspective and skill set to the Burkean parlor. We are not all the same – not even us English majors. Having taken many science classes, including basically all those on the pre-medical track, I have the opportunity to emphasize with many students that might feel slightly out of place in what is often regarded as a “humanities” environment. I try to demonstrate that every writer is welcome. A strictly humanities student is not more fit for the writing center than a science student. We may all have different components that make up our academic pursuits, but we all come together in the writing center in order to better communicate and understand. Because I am constantly flip flopping between English and the sciences in my own life, I think I can help writers manage different sets of expectations in their writing.

Like many tutors, I definitely had altruistic intentions when entering the program but would be lying if I were to say being a writing consultant is a completely selfless endeavor. Helping to manage frustrations and misunderstandings has made me a more patient and flexible person. Writing can be an emotionally charged, vulnerable medium. Approaching a stranger with concerns is a difficult thing, and, consequently, I have had to learn to address issues with compassion. When I become a veterinarian, I am confident that this should and will be my presiding goal. Some people may scoff at my current job as irrelevant to my science-related future, but this is incredibly misinformed. I am now more prepared for this career because we learn things in the writing center that are not taught in the classroom. After many hours conversing and negotiating with my peers about writing, I now feel more equipped to be a veterinarian and practice compassion-based medicine.

Kathleen Grace
Sweetland Center for Writing Peer Writing Consultant
English Major/Biology Minor, University of Michigan Class of 2014