Level 2: Membership

Fig. 1: Visualization of roles and relationships. On the left side of the pyramid, relationships of students to writing programs are depicted; at the top of the left side of the pyramid pyramid is partnership, in the middle is membership, and at the bottom is involvement. On the right side of the pyramid are the roles played by students in writing programs, corresponding to the relationships depicted on the other side. At the top of this side of the pyramid are associates and ambassadors; in the middle, consultants and representatives; at the bottom, reviewers and critics.

Moving beyond basic involvement in writing program courses or services, students may come to see themselves as members of the writing program. Whereas critics and reviewers may choose to maintain a detached stance, membership involves recognition of one's place within a group or community, along with increased investment in its success. WPAs seek to establish this relationship with students within all categories of their work, from programmatic self-reflection to public-oriented representation.

Students as Representatives

representative: a person who stands for, speaks, or acts on behalf of another person or group of people, typically in an official capacity (Oxford English Dictionary)

In some circumstances, students become official or de facto representatives of their peers. This invitation may be implicit, as when WPAs consider certain students' feedback as a reflection of others' likely responses. By making this role explicit—establishing official roles or just highlighting that dynamic—WPAs challenge students to carefully consider if/how their own experiences are similar to or different from their peers'.

These questions raise the stakes of participation, in that students cannot see themselves as solitary figures but as part of a student-centered (if not student-led) community dependent on them for accurate and ethical representation.

Those stakes become even higher when students serve as representatives within the larger community, as in campus conferences and/or public events. There is certainly significant risk in these contexts: that students will be or feel exposed to judgment or ridicule, that students will feel misrepresented by their peers, or even that audiences will generalize based on limited exposure to student learners. These risks extend to WPAs as well as students; programs and their leaders may be exposed to censure based on students' representative performances.

The pressure placed on students playing the role of representatives should not be underestimated. For every moment of pride or incisive bit of wisdom, there may also be fear or misdirection. Asking students to perform on behalf of their diverse fellow learners requires mutual acknowledgment of the ethical and political stakes of such performances. Such considerations must factor into WPAs' decisions about how, where, and with what expectations students are invited to represent themselves and each other for wider audiences.

Students as Consultants

consultant: a person qualified to give professional advice or services, e.g. in problems of management or design; an adviser (Oxford English Dictionary)

Like representatives, consultants are asked to speak to and for other members of the program community, with the added responsibility of developing focused, constructive solutions to general or specific concerns. This may take the form of interviews and focus groups or visits to program-level events like pedagogy workshops. In these settings, students may be prompted to reflect on their own role within a course or service and its parent program. That process of critical reflection, as well as the resulting conversations, offers educational value for students, instructors, and WPAs alike.

WPAs may also more explicitly ask students for advice and recommendations, drawing attention to their expertise as students. Such a shift in perspective can encourage students to give themselves credit for what they do know, to own their earned wisdom. But it also asks them to consider the goals and concerns of administrators and faculty in a new way, which can lead to increased empathy for educators and perhaps improved attitudes and performance in other academic communities.

For their part, WPAs stand to gain fresh insights into the minds of student stakeholders, in addition to practical, often surprising, suggestions for improvement. As when students serve as reviewers, it would be valuable to extend these exchanges beyond singular occasions. By presenting the results back to students, particularly if that includes implementation of their ideas, writing programs may be able to foster a shared sense of service to a visible, tangible community of learners at different levels.