Level 3: Partnership

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.

Finally, there exists the potential for students to become partners in writing program administration. Partnership suggests shared stakes and a collective stance, if not necessarily equal power, as one community among many.

I include this relationship not because it is readily apparent in this survey of WPA scholarship but because its potential can be glimpsed and therefore must be considered within the larger conversations this chapter attempts to generate. As with membership, partnership can occur within any category of writing program administration work. If/when WPAs invite students into partnerships—which is probably already happening, though not documented within the literature reviewed here—these seem to be the most readily available roles that merit attention.

Students as Ambassadors

ambassador: an official messenger sent (singly, or as one of a party) by or to a sovereign or public body; an envoy, commissioner, or representative (Oxford English Dictionary)

The previous section suggests students can serve as representatives of other students, within the writing program or its surrounding community. The term ambassador is meant to indicate a particular kind of representative, one who speaks on behalf of and in service to a higher authority—in this case, the writing program itself. Such work would require some alignment with that community's self-conception and rhetorical goals.

As discussed within the category of "public relations," the rising incidence of campus and public showcases of student writers positions students in a performative role. In such contexts, students represent themselves and their own learning, but they also represent student writers as well as the program that trains them. Such events have potential for student agency and community education but also perhaps for exploitation or counterproductive confrontation.

These public performances have pedagogical value because they provide students with rhetorical exigency and real audiences; they have rhetorical value because they provide audiences a chance to engage with student texts and students-as-texts. As ambassadors, students have the opportunity to take pride in and be recognized for their accomplishments. In some ways, students are sent out as messengers (or messages) promoting the agenda of the WPA.

Few would suggest this agenda is anything but positive, designed to enhance student learning, improve public understanding, and enrich educational discourses. Inviting students to share in this mission may be a rhetorically effective way to demonstrate that we respect and respond to students' own expertise—and encourage students as well as these larger communities to do the same. Nevertheless, ethics demand that when WPAs invite (or require) students to play the part of program ambassadors, the discussion of these complex dynamics be transparent and inclusive.

Students as Associates

associate: one who is united to another by community of interest, and shares with him in enterprise, business, or action (Oxford English Dictionary)

The role of associate appears only hypothetically in this survey of scholarship, in calls for greater student involvement in writing program administration. As a result, this discussion is purely speculative: What would it look like for students to become associates within a writing program?

The most readily apparent option would be including students on program or university committees. As elected or nominated members, students might serve as delegates on behalf of their peers; what would distinguish the role of associate would be a degree of power. That is, an associate would hold more sway in program governance than a consultant, representative, or ambassador. They would have a vote, not just a voice, in decision-making. Such an experience would offer students opportunities to experience deliberative dialogue and strategic planning in a (relatively) safe environment. Of course, the number of participants in this role would be quite limited, though their service to other students would extend the reach of those benefits.

An associate role might be considered too risky for WPAs to invite or students to assume. The possibility of embarrassment, conflict, or even some form of backlash may not seem worth the potential benefits of personal/professional development or collective agency. And yet, given the tenor and content of conversations in WPA and among WPAs, it seems quite possible that such experiments are already taking place or soon will be. In that case, the critical conversation about student participation this chapter aims to advance will become even more interesting, if not more important, than it already is.