WORD POWER

by Zinta Aistars

Amy Newday, director of the Writing Center (Room 110 in Upjohn Library Commons), curls into the corner of the red couch and lifts a hand as if to punctuate her words, and says: “You WILL be judged.”

Yet it’s not Newday that will do the judging. She will tell it to you straight: it’s the world out there that will judge you, outside of Kalamazoo College (and sometimes in), with every résumé you send out, every cover letter, every corporate missive, every office memo, every report, and every proposal. Never mind what you hear about sticks and stones. It’s the words that carry power.

“We don’t edit students’ papers at the Writing Center,” she says. “We help students determine how to succeed in the writing task at hand and work with them to develop the skills they need to succeed.”

Newday helps students at Kalamazoo College find power and meaning in their writing.  The philosophy of the center is that anyone can learn to write well, and that everyone can write better with help.

Having taught writing at Western Michigan University for three years, where she recently earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry, Newday came to Kalamazoo College in 2011. She oversees 14 student consultants who, she says, essentially run the center. “I hire the consultants in the spring for the academic year ahead. A consultant should be able to work with all kinds of writers, not just in his or her own area of study, although I try to hire students for a diversity of expertise.”

Allison LaRose ’12, an English and German double major and a recent graduate and former consultant at the Writing Center, talks about the importance of her work there: “At K, classes are incredibly rigorous. At some point during their four years all K students will have to write at least a few essays requiring them to synthesize information, and it is absolutely crucial that students have the tools to express themselves succinctly. Given K's strong emphasis on study abroad and global competencies, students will experience an easier transition writing in their second or third languages (or adapt to different writing styles and requirements) if they excel at writing in their first.”

Teaching and learning go hand in hand, and travel both ways. Umang Varma ’14, a mathematics major, has praise for his experience at the Writing Center: “I find that speaking to a peer about my writing helps me see my own writing with a new pair of eyes. Asking a peer consultant specific questions about the tone, content, clarity, logic, and structure of my piece can be especially useful in revising the piece as well as learning to think about my writing.”

The Writing Center assisted 50 international students for whom English was a second language (called ESL students) during the last academic year and 259 students total, tallying 639 consultations for the year. Teaching students how to switch from one language to another is just part of what they do.

“The consultant talks to the ESL student about his or her native language,” Newday explains. “It helps us to help these students when we have an understanding about how his or her native language works, what challenges the student is facing. For instance, the sentence structure of the Korean language is very different from English. Knowing that helped us understand why the same issue kept reoccurring in the work of a student from Korea.”

Says LaRose: “The Center is making an effort to partner with other centers on campus, including the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, the Center for Career and Professional Development, and the Center for International Programs. This year, the Writing Center will be better prepared to address the needs of the school's growing international and ESL population.”

The Writing Center is introduced to incoming students during first-year seminars, and subsequently the center is busiest in the fall quarter. As the academic year wanes, and as the student progresses to upper level classes, consultations drop off. At mere mention of this trend, Newday’s face clouds with
"You WILL be judged!"
frustration.

“Students think they don’t need help writing after their first quarter—but that’s not what we hear from faculty!”

Then again, Newday says, faculty, too, could use a reminder of this invaluable resource. “Professors can ask us to help students with a particular assignment. We can help more when we know the expectations of the professor. A frequent problem we see at the Writing Center is that students don’t understand the terms of the assignment.”

Students are invited to bring in whatever piece of writing they are working on—a research paper, a lab report, an application for study abroad, a Senior Individualized Project, or even a creative writing project. Bringing one’s non-academic writing is fine, too.

“We won’t try to get you to write what we think is a great poem. We will help you write what you feel is a great poem,” Newday says. “When else in your life will you have the ability to get a free consultation to improve your writing?” She adds, “It’s fine to come here just to hang out, too. We have word games like Scrabble on our shelves, and I’m thinking about doing a word game tournament this year. Language is for fun, too.”

A hurdle Newday feels students need to overcome that may keep them from entering the Writing Center is “the culture that it is somehow not okay to ask for help. Any good writer knows that you never outgrow the need to revise. The better the writer, the more that writer will seek out ways to keep improving.”

The Writing Center is open Sunday through Thursday, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Students unable to visit the Writing Center during regular hours, can e-mail amy.newday@kzoo.edu to request an appointment or call Amy Newday at 337.7381.

Photo 1 - A group of Writing Center peer consultants.
Photo 2 - Amy Newday and Peer Consultant Hannah Shaughnessy-Mogill ’15.
Photo 3 - The Writing Center is on the first floor of Upjohn Library, and Amy Newday and peer consultants like Jessica Farmer ’13 make sure everyone feels welcome.


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