Participatory Hospitality and Writing Centers

Michele Eodice

What Is Not Hospitable?

Sometimes it helps to share examples of what participatory hospitality is NOT in order to get a feel for what it is or could be; read below, with the understanding that not all of us are in hospitable enough contexts to be able to to not participate with institutional norms. In other words, you might view as NOT hospitable, but your department might require all students to use it, unfortunately.

Not Participatory Hospitality — At All
A Brief List

  1. "Failing our students by locking our curricula—not to mention our subjectivities—into subject matters closer to our interests than our students'" (Hurlbert 103)
  2. Textbooks
  3. Discouraging peer review, coauthoring, collaboration, and group projects because these activities are "hard to grade"
  4. Hating on Wikipedia
  5. Teaching mainly to transmit the markers of elite culture rather than inviting writers to "explore their identities and cultural affiliations" (Hurlbert 41)
  7. Leaving adjuncts and other contingent instructors out of the conversation

For another example of what participatory is NOT, I found Brandy Grabow’s dissertation study on hospitality in classrooms. Her self-reflection below describes her own failure to be the hospitable instructor of writing she thought she was.

Let me provide an example of an instance where, in retrospect, I failed to act hospitably. In an effort to make the most of the limited time together, when preparing for conferences with students I would collect drafts then read through them marking them up so that my end notes could become a guide for the conference. Although I opened every conference with a series of questions I hoped demonstrated my openness to follow where the student would like to guide the session, my pre-written comments meant I had a previously set agenda for the conference.

Of course, then the conference would typically end up as a discussion of those comments. First, I have to wonder how usefully our time was spent by me just re-hashing comments the student could read on his or her own later. Additionally, I now see my pre-conference agenda as an inhospitable move on my part. I realize having my own agenda prevented me from being open and available to the student. (23)

Critel also found something foundationally nonhospitable in her study: “Instructors define participation in terms of the actions students engage in with each other and with the instructor. It is the student’s responsibility to participate; it is the instructor’s responsibility to observe and assess that participation” (102).

We think participation builds community but it fails to do that in the current scheme—in the ways classrooms define community: student “participation” in a set of regulatory practices, such as attendance, preparation, raising hands to contribute to a discussion. What really gets in the way of building community—despite how many points we give students to participate? Aaron Barlow claims that over time in the United States of America—and by extension, in U.S. schools—“the myth of the individual became stronger, perhaps, than the competing ideal of community” (33). What has developed is a dominant discourse on teaching and learning characterized by two main features: “an emphasis on the individual and an emphasis on learning as acquiring a set of discrete, autonomous skills” (Lillis 23).

But more than the fact of individualism, it is, as John B. Bennett puts it, an “insistent individualism” that remains the primary barrier to making the necessary connections that not only nurture relationships within academic communities but optimize learning environments. This way of being is reinforced in many of the practices of the academy, through evaluation, competition, and notions of integrity—because teaching, learning, research, and writing are seen as “individual rather than shared activities" (Bennett 38). It is no wonder then that when students view participation as points, they see these points only pointing to them; their individual performance as participation matches the weak expectation for participation described by instructors and reified within classrooms: dozens of individual hands jabbed into the air to grab points. Insistent individualism continues to be rewarded through instructional doxa (attendance is more valued than collaboration, writing must be done alone and only outside class, etc.)

Bennett elaborates: “For the insistent individualist, community is really a pseudo community, a conglomerate or aggregation of solitary egos linked to each other through instrumental relationships . . .” (43; my emphasis). The relational individual, on the other hand, has been exposed to, or has actively sought out, places that do not amplify the individual in ways that counter the possibilities for shared contributions to the community.

Genuine attempts to build community in classrooms and writing centers hinges on the creation of hospitable spaces that include interaction with others.

Designing engaging classroom environments where students and instructors compose while in class or in a writing center, read in class or in a writing center, respond to others’ writing in class or in a writing center—while collaborating, talking, and exercising their electracy—can foster interdependence. Because electracy—along with the other practices just mentioned—is a “social machine,” it requires others in learning spaces, and, as Ulmer predicted, "Electracy is happening" (qtd. in Arroyo 709). When we “encourage students (and ourselves) to participate in inventing new values and purposes for writing in an electrate apparatus” (694), we acknowledge too how all of these practices participate with each other. Multimodal-doing-with-others in class or in a writing center activates the possibilities for community and moves us closer to the development and valuing of interdependence. The audio essay, the live composed performance, the digital remix, all require the multimodal pedagogies outlined by teachers like Jason Palmeri. Years ago I fell in love with this line: “The interdependent ingredients of genuine hospitality: trust, mutual experience, and functionality” (Haswell et al. 718). Today I see how well these ingredients are reflected in and reflective of the hospitable teaching practices that invite students to compose in multimodal and communal ways.

A poem I wrote on how we participate with and as writers. The poem reads, We participate with writers writing... by writing words of unmet authors and writing new sentences to yet unmet audiences by sitting around writing with strangers by writing to the public for the public by sharing writing with peers and by sending writing back and forth across the rooms and continents with technologies
Fig. 2. A poem I wrote on how we participate with and as writers. Click to enlarge.

It is my hope that writing centers are always becoming hospitable places.

The sense of equality in a community of practice reflects [both] the existing value writing centers place on the idea that. . .the consultant and writer can teach each other, and a principle of hospitality. Viewing the writing center as a community of practice is then a step towards creating a hospitable writing center. (Grabow 95)

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