Story and photos by HAILEY DANIELSON
The world is filled with words. Every second of every day is filled with reading, writing, and speaking. But writing is one of the most complicated and demanding assignments at a college or university. Writing, especially college writing, requires a certain skill set. Each class, each professor, each assignment has different formats, rules, and guidelines. It can be tricky for students to meet all the criteria for all sorts of writing, not only adequately but skillfully.
Many students need help with their writing, no matter their major or area of study. Students often work through these problems alone, because many have no idea the resources that schools like the University of Utah have to offer.
Tucked on the second floor of the Marriot Library, across from the Protospace office, and just above the Gould Auditorium, is the Writing Center. In the 2018-19 school year, 7,200 appointments were made at the Writing Center, and 95% of the students who visited were satisfied or highly satisfied with their experience at the Writing Center. But if it’s so helpful, why did only 7,200 people visit out of the 24,743 undergraduates enrolled in the University? That’s only 29% of the student body.
Audrey Guo, a sophomore at the university, believes that the Writing Center’s unpopularity is due to the fact that “most people don’t know it even exists.” She said that the Writing Center on campus just slips the students’ minds.
But is that the only reason why the Writing Center is visited by just a fraction of students? Mary Muench, a second-year math major at the U, explained that she had heard of the Writing Center on one of her very first tours of the campus, but admits, “I don’t know enough about it. And I don’t even know how to make an appointment.”
Muench was intimidated by the Writing Center as a freshman, sharing how scared she was as a first-year student talking to new people, so she never went.
If current students believe that there isn’t enough information out there, what can the Writing Center do about it? Abbey Christensen, a tutor and student coordinator at the Writing Center, said there’s no consistent form of communication that all students receive, which makes advertising for the Writing Center difficult.
Currently, the Writing Center has posters in the writing and rhetoric departments, but Christensen admits those posters only reach a certain population. But she explained that some of the best ways that the Center is promoted are through word of mouth. When a student comes into the Writing Center to get some guidance and has a beneficial experience, the student will tell their friends about the Writing Center, and then their friends will visit. Christensen said these conversations are the best type of promotion for the Center.
Anne McMurtrey, the director of the Writing Center, agreed with much of what Christensen said, but also added that the Center is on the orientation tours. And she does her best to represent the University Writing Center in classroom visits and tabling events. She said the Center even uses social media, news stories, and podcasts to spread the word.
So the word is being spread, perhaps slowly, by word of mouth, or through orientation tours or social media. But even if people are catching wind of these promotions, and are aware that the U has a Writing Center, what do they think the Writing Center does?
Guo believes the Center “allows students who want some improvement on papers or other written things to get the advice that they need.”
But when asked, Muench answered, “I don’t even know.” She said that maybe she would visit the Center to work on a resume, but is unsure if the tutors can even help with that sort of thing.
To clarify, McMurtrey said, “The Writing Center can help with so many things! Our tutors can help writers brainstorm ideas, understand their assignments’ needs, focus their arguments, support their points using proper evidence, organize their ideas, and polish their final drafts.” She added that the Center can also help students with procrastination and self-confidence as well.
Christensen said that “it would be helpful to have more students realize that we have a diverse range of tutor experiences and we’re not just English people,” and tutors can assist all students from across disciplines.
McMurtrey believes that students don’t visit the Center because some “may think they are better writers than our tutors. Some might be embarrassed to share their writing out of fear that it isn’t very good. Some may have crazy schedules, and they simply can’t make it in.”
McMurtrey said, “The UWC welcomes all currently-enrolled University of Utah students and offers free, one-to-one consultations in person and online.”
Both McMurtrey and Christensen strongly advocate for the Writing Center. They believe that everyone should come in for any written work they need help with and hope that students are aware of how the Writing Center can assist them.
Christensen wants students to know that it “doesn’t matter what you’re bringing to the table in terms of writing level or ability.” The Writing Center can help with all of it, and it’s a free service. She explained how people don’t realize how relaxed the Writing Center is, and maybe if students could recognize that, they might find the Center a lot more inviting. Knowing about the relaxed environment would help many students, like Mary Muench, who found the Writing Center scary and intimidating when she was a freshman at the University of Utah.
McMurtrey described the Writing Center as “the best place on campus, hands down!” She is proud of the fact that the Center attracts good people who just want to help others succeed.
“The Writing Center’s energy is positive and diverse, with tutors and students from a variety of disciplinary, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds,” McMurtrey said.
To add to the warm, positive, and inviting air of the Writing Center, she added excitedly, “I often bring in baked goods!”
At the end of the interview, Mary Muench was asked if she would ever see herself visiting the Writing Center in the future. “Personally, probably not,” she said. “But it’s possible.”
And it’s that possibility that makes McMurtrey excited: “I just want to encourage students to give us a try. Our tutors are highly trained and nonjudgmental.”