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Writing Center Celebrates 30 Years

by Web on October 12, 2017

The Writing Center plans to celebrate this month its history of 30 years of peer-to-peer writing conversations at Millsaps. 

A gala is scheduled Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Leggett Living Room on campus. Everyone is welcome to attend. Programming will include reflections from current and past writing consultants and acknowledgement of past directors, as well as a few surprises.

The center was established in 1987 after an immense, exhaustive effort on the part of the College to actively put writing at the forefront of its academic agenda. That effort also included developing the Writing Portfolio in 1984-85, which is still a graduation requirement for Millsaps students. The Writing Portfolio is overseen by the Writing Program, and the Writing Program and Writing Center work closely together to support student writers at Millsaps. 

The College’s hard work won acclaim: U.S. News & World Reporter’s 2006 America’s Best Colleges ranked Millsaps alongside Amherst, Harvard, and Duke in a group of 17 colleges “that make writing a priority.”

“Developing as a writer is something that occurs across a lifetime, not in a single semester,” said Liz Egan, assistant professor and director of the Writing Center. “The culture of writing across the curriculum that we have here at Millsaps means writing is taught repeatedly throughout a student’s academic career, including within the context of the student’s chosen discipline. That’s why we promote the Writing Center as a place that serves all writers, in all disciplines, of all ability levels, and at all stages in the writing process.” 

Collaborations are campus wide. In addition to the familiar physical locations in John Stone Hall and the library’s study rooms 204 and 205, the Writing Center partners with several classes through the Mellon Writing Fellows Program. The Writing Center also collaborates with Opportunity Club, the evening study hall program conducted by the athletics department, and the Millsaps Pathways to Success program, a student-led organization that supports minority, first-generation college students. 

Millsaps students, who are trained as writing consultants, provide support. Students complete three consecutive semesters of coursework in support of their employment.

AK Singleton of New Orleans, who is majoring in political science and American studies with plans to enter the political sphere’s policy and advocacy side, is in her first semester as a writing consultant.

“The Writing Center is a great resource for students because of our structure,” she said. “We are a drop-in center where a first-year student writing their first (Our Human) Heritage paper can stop by for 30 minutes because they are worried about a thesis statement. From what I’ve seen, most first-years struggle specifically with confidence in their writing, and I think even a 30-minute session talking through a thesis statement can be a big confidence boost.” 

The Writing Center is not an editing service, it’s a mentoring service, said Zaria Bonds of Byram, a junior who is a writing consultant.

“We are here to make better writers,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure that once a student leaves the center, they have the necessary skills to write, and feel confident about their writing. Offering one-to-one conversations with students about their writing is truly helpful, and makes a big difference.” 

Bonds, social media coordinator for the center, spreads the word about the center to Millsaps students and writing centers at other colleges and universities.

“Students are always on social media,” she said. “The Writing Center has to have a strong presence online.” 

Bonds, also a Millsaps Pathways to Success consultant, also ensures that African-American students know about the center and the assistance it offers. 

Mohamed Hegazy, a writing consultant from Madison who is majoring in biochemistry with plans to attend medical school, said he has benefitted from being a consultant.

“It allowed me to improve my social skills and expand my horizons beyond the scientific field,” he said. “The Writing Center work intersects with my primarily scientific education by acting as a different field that both interests me and provides a broader perspective with regard to my education. While I plan on becoming a physician, I want to enrich myself with writing experience that will be beneficial for me in various stages of my life. It is something I will carry on with me.”

Bonds, who is majoring in communication studies, is conducting research to determine how Millsaps students view the center.

“In the spring of 2017 in my WRIT 4001 (Independent Study in Theory and Practice) class, I co-wrote a proposal to begin research on students' perceptions of the Millsaps Writing Center.” she said. “I am continuing the process of the research with the new 4001 fall class. My classmates and I have been working hard to create our campus wide survey for students and professors. 

“When we have received data from the survey, we will ask students to participate in focus groups to learn more about their perceptions. After the data is collected, my classmates and I will present our findings at this year's International Writing Centers Association conference in Chicago.” 

The Writing Center is for everyone, Egan emphasizes, and a conversation with a peer about writing is an important step in any writer’s process. “Research by the Purdue Writing Lab, of Purdue OWL fame, finds that students who visit the writing center, whether just once or frequently, have higher GPAs across all major demographics than students who never visit the writing center at all.”

The director of the Purdue Writing Lab, noted writing center scholar Harry Denny, discussed that research at Millsaps last spring in his keynote address for the Mississippi Writing Center Association conference.