An Interview With the New University Writing Center Director–Dr. Morrow
This fall we have a brand new University Writing Center director– Dr. Christopher Morrow. As a consultant in the writing center, I was curious to know what his transition into the program was like. I also pondered about how his collaboration with the previous director (Dr. Neil Baird) went. Additionally, I wanted to know what his hopes and plans were for the writing center, and if anything new and exciting was to come in the future. Out of pure curiosity and inquisitiveness, I sought to have my questions answered; I met up with Dr. Morrow and conducted a formal interview with him, where I received all the answers to my questions. Below is the exact conversation we had last week at the Malpass Library:
How did you feel when you were given the news that you were the new Director of the Writing Center here on Campus?
“Well, it was in June, and I was pretty excited. That was followed immediately by a fair bit of nervousness as well. But, definitely overall, I was looking forward to the prospect of it.”
Was there anything you were specifically excited about doing or experiencing as director of the Writing Center?
“Well, I spent a couple years as the director of Graduate studies in English, and I knew I liked to work with graduate students in and outside of the classroom as well as on a professional development level. I’m always interested to hear what people are working on, too. I’ve been good friends with Professor Baird since he got here; he started here a year after I did, and so, you could say, we grew up as professors together. He had talked about the writing center for years and how much he loved it. So, I knew that I would also get to work with graduate and undergraduate students from across the curriculum. I enjoy mentoring students, so that was something that really appealed to me. I also love that everything we do is so generated towards helping student writers, and that’s something that many students struggle with; writing is tough! Writing is tough and it’s scary. And being part of an organization that provides a safe space for writers to come and really hone their craft is really empowering. That was something that I was really excited to be involved with.”
So, what was it like transitioning to be the Director of the UWC? Was it difficult?
“Well…. it wasn’t difficult, but it was definitely crazy. Despite my background in Shakespeare and early modern literature, I have taught composition and writing at all levels so it wasn’t that I was concerned about the writing. However, it has been a number of years since I have been in a writing center in working context. I had worked a little bit in the writing center as a graduate, but not very much. And, it’s been a long time, so I was little nervous about that– especially because Neil (Dr. Baird) was leaving and I would have to run training and orientation by myself. I spent some time working with Neil getting ready for that and I did a lot of reading. Like many academics who are faced with a problem, I read my way out of it. I read the Writing Director’s Guidebook, two different consulting manuals and a number of essays on writing center studies. I wanted to immerse myself in research so that I could inform my training and my policies.”
What was it like collaborating with Dr. Baird about the rules, regulations, and his hopes for the writing center?
“It was really fun, because, number one: me and Dr. Baird are also long-time cycling partners and have ridden our bikes maybe 7,000 miles together over the last 8 or 9 years and we’ve talked about the writing center a lot during those rides. If I’m not mistaken, it was on a ride where I joked and said, ‘Maybe I’ll take over the writing center.’ I really was just joking, but he said, ‘Really? You should totally do it!’ We came back to that topic on a later ride and spoke about what that meant, and I really hadn’t seen myself as someone in that position. He really got to talking to me about how he knows the ways I interact with students and he really showed me the aspects of what I already did that matched well with the writing center. Training with him in the summer was really bittersweet because my best friend here was leaving. I could see him getting excited about it though, and he would tell me about things to think about. I could tell it was really reinvigorating him. We met up numerous times and he gave me all his materials, which was super nice. We went really in-depth on his version of training so I leaned on that pretty heavily. Maybe I’ll change it somewhere down the road, but if it works, it works!”
“He also got me excited about the work we do in a more scholarly way. Neil and I have been collaborating on an essay together on the intersection of game studies and writing center studies, and we are thinking about how we can use the concepts of heuristics and games to impact the way consultants work with clients. If in June you asked me in October whether or not I would be doing research in writing center studies. I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Is the writing center all that you thought it was going to be? Or is it different than you thought?
“That’s a good question. I think for the most part it’s fulfilled my good expectations and has not fulfilled any of my bad ones. I was really worried that I’d be dealing with schedule issues more than I have; I was really intimidated by the schedule when I first tried to put it together, and I was convinced that all the consultants would hate me. However, everyone seemed to be pretty happy with their schedules which was good. In that way, it’s been what I expected, but the things that surprised me was how much I enjoy watching consultants work with writers. You know, I always say that the director’s office here feels like an aquarium. I always joke, ‘are you the fish or am I the fish?’ because I’m always looking out of it and sometimes the consultants get nervous because I start listening to them and they can tell. But I’m just so excited to see the work that they’re doing and it really makes me proud to be part of it– especially since this is such a great group of consultants. I think that you guys have done such an amazing job, and you’re such good people that really want to help others. I was maybe a little bit worried that consultants would be a little more cynical and treat it more as a paycheck or something that they didn’t want to do.”
What are your hopes for the writing center?
“Well, my hopes for the writing center are that we continue to serve a wide variety of the students, faculty, and community members here. I would like to see the percentage of individual users increase. We had over 800 individual people use the writing center last year and I’d like to see that increase. I definitely want the writing center to be the first place that people on this campus think about when they want help with writing or think about writing. In addition to class assignments, we’ve worked with clients on personal writing, on career writing, and on writing for student organizations. When people think about writing and Western, I want them to think about the writing center.”
Are there any changes you’re going to make to the writing center?
“As you know, I am definitely someone who loves to throw things against the wall and see what sticks. So I sometimes have more ideas than I have the time to work with. I’ve formed the task force board to draw on consultants to help me work on some of these things. A couple initiatives I’m exploring to the point where I’m comfortable saying that you might see them in the near future is some sort of ‘grammar hotline’ or ‘instant messenger grammar service’ where we’re able to answer the quick questions that students have. We already serve the larger issues where students have the half-hour to hour-long sessions, but students sometimes just need to know, for instance, the difference between a colon and a semi-colon. That’s something that I want us to be able to provide. Ideally, if we could find a way for clients to schedule over instant messenger, I think that would be good too, and I’m looking forward to more ways to increase the visibility of the writing center. We’re kind of tucked away on the 3rd floor of Malpass Library. It is a wonderful space, but it is hard to find. We are also talking about ‘tutoring on the go’ where we send tutors to different places to do micro sessions with a gathering of students. We’re also looking at some other things; students have always wanted to drop off a paper and get feedback. That’s something that not every writing center does, but that’s probably the most common question we get from students over email, and so that’s something we’re exploring. Does that mean we’re going to change it? Probably not in the near future, but it’s something that we want to see if it’s viable, and if it helps student writers then we’ll do it.”