Funds of Knowledge: The Importance of Diversity in Writing Centers

Caitlyn Donnelly (’21) believes that everyone has a piece of the puzzle and that building a diverse writing center staff is critical to a successful program

By: Caitlyn Donnelly (’21)
Second-Year Tutor + Writing Center House Leader

Before Winter Break, I was talking with another tutor in the Writing Center classroom, looking up at the name tags and commenting on the cool designs that everyone had made to fit in with their names. Some were bright and colorful, but others were more muted and tame. Some had extra little drawings around the letters, and others just simply showcased their name in bright, bold lettering alone. None of these were decorated the “right” or “wrong” way, but each of them showed off the tutor’s creativity and personality in a different manner, which made the wall more exciting.

That’s what makes the Skyline Writing Center so special; everyone comes from a different background that adds a new perspective to tutoring.

A good tutor isn’t always the person that gets straight A’s, or gets a perfect score on the SAT, or is the president of 3 clubs. Those qualities alone don’t constitute being a good tutor. Compassion, care, and an understanding of funds of knowledge and growth mindset are some of the most important qualities that a tutor could have.

School hasn’t always come easy for me. I’ve struggled in math class before and felt the frustration of not understanding something right away, and I’m not a perfect writer either. I would especially struggle with grammar rules and spelling in the past, and still often do. I know that I would never want anyone to judge my intelligence on my ability to place commas, since there is so much more to me than that. When I’m tutoring someone, I never feel like I’m above or smarter than them, because of these experiences and feelings I’ve had as a student and a learner.

One time, while tutoring in a ninth grade class, a girl asked me for help with her comma placement. She reminded me a lot of myself, and I never once thought that she was “stupid” for not knowing where to put a comma. As I helped her, I told her about how I struggled with this same concept when I was her age, and how I had only just figured it out in recent months. This is what separates a Writing Center tutor from a teacher; the hierarchical idea that the person offering help is smarter than the writer is shrunken when small vulnerable experiences can be shared.

This is one of the reasons why having a diverse writing center is so important. If every tutor looked like the “perfect student” that I described earlier, the Skyline Writing Center would not be as successful as it is today. When students at Skyline walk past the glass windows of the Writing Center and glance in, they see a diverse group of tutors that represent the demographics of our school, ensuring that someone in there looks like them. This alone might make a student more comfortable visiting the Writing Center, knowing that they could receive help from someone without the possibility of being judged. One of the main reasons for having a high school writing center is to provide a space where students can get help from their peers, not their intimidating teachers. So why are so many writing centers dominated by white, able-bodied, cishet girls? Because the truth is these people often fit the description of the “perfect student” in America, which is a whole other issue in itself. Having writing centers filled with the same type of people with the same experiences does not foster an environment of growth mindset and vulnerability, and can deter students who don’t want to feel judged for reaching out for help.

The nametags on our wall are widely different, yet they all fit together to make a perfect square that’s intriguing to look at, just like how each individual in the Writing Center is special in their own way, but our differences help us operate successfully as a whole.

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