On The Topic of Romance Novels

The erasure of representative characters from assigned stories and assignments that aren’t inclusive dishearten minoritized youth.

1280px-Gay_Pride_Flag

By: Sophie Reznick (’20)
First-Year Tutor

When I was little I loved to read. I would stay up far later than I should’ve reading in the dull lamplight on my bed. As I grew older the books I was reading grew up as well, my interests would always shine through what I was reading; from Junie B. Jones to Dear Dumb Diary, those characters developed just as I was. But there was always a disconnect with me and that main character, always something missing when I was reading that made it hard for me to relate. All of these characters had their high school crushes and practically modeled for me what they should be like, but I never liked any of that. I never liked boys at all. I thought I was weird. I thought something was wrong with me, and I wanted to keep that a secret. I would pretend to have crushes on all of these (unfortunate) boys, yet never explore why I got butterflies in my stomach every time one particular girl would sit near me during our reading circle at school.

The lack of LGBTQ+ characters in literature creates a disconnect between the reader and the story, and makes it hard for some to really develop an interest. A common motto throughout many writing centers is, “Any student, Any project, Any stage” (Reich). This motto touches on the idea of acceptance, and in a way paints the Writing Center as a safe space. But we don’t need something that touches on the idea of acceptance, and we don’t want it to merely paint a picture of the Writing Center as a safe space. It should be known fact that anyone of any race, sexuality, and belief can walk through those doors and be embraced for who they are. 

Academics are supposed to help students grow their minds in healthy and productive ways. The erasure of characters from stories that are representative of all students is already disheartening for anyone, but the fact that there are even assignments that fall more towards the discriminatory side than inclusive makes the assignments counterproductive. As an LGBTQ+ youth, I found some of my growth stunted while being given assignments that always fell towards the heteronormative side. Teachers constantly would poke fun at me when I found a joke that a male peer said funny, asking me to stay focused on my schoolwork and not “silly boys, regardless of how cute they may be.” Teachers with these mindsets assigning work to students can be detrimental. “Empathic Tutoring in the Third Space” by Nancy Effinger Wilson and Keri Fitzgerald gives a vivid example of a university student coming in for help on his paper, when presenting the assignment the struggle is more deeply ingrained with the concept of the assignment and less with the academic side. The student was asked to find women from articles that he found attractive; yet he was not attracted to anyone of the opposite sex. The overwhelming examples of a disconnect between students and academic reading materials is saddening, and is yet another example of the dire need for inclusivity in academic settings, like that of the Writing Center. 

When reading a novel in a classroom setting, the characters and settings in the books are in need of an update. Enough of these heteronormative characters, and that is implied in every meaning of the word. Not only their sexuality, but their lifestyles. Their lifestyles of white skin and privilege, a mother and a father, a home with food that they know will be there everyday, enough of these assumptions being shoved down student’s throats on a day to day basis. Enough of writing a pretty motto and calling it a day. There will only be inclusivity for all when it is everybody on board, checking their privilege, checking in with each other, and opening their minds to the world around them. And we can start that trend here, in our very own Writing Center.

Through the Looking Glass: Gaining a Fresh Perspective on Education Through Writing Center Work

The competition for grades and scores is contributing to student anxiety and an increase in opportunity gaps.

UnschoolingBy: Savanna Cowley (’20)
Second-Year Tutor

Out of the several formative tutoring experiences I’ve had over the past year and a half, one particular classroom visit sticks out to me as representative of something much greater than Writing Center work. After a rather loud conference with the teacher, they pointed me in the direction of one student who was struggling to start the assignment due at the end of the hour. I gingerly walked over and started a conversation with the student, who was obviously embarrassed to be called out in front of their peers, and together we decided to scrap the topic of their paper that didn’t particularly interest them. A few days of rigorous work and great connection went by before we turned in the essay. Needless to say, for the first time in a while, I felt like I had done my job very well. 

A year ago, I would have never tutored any one of my peers like that. Being your typical AP student, I was used to muscling through papers and projects that didn’t engage my interests, my only focus on what my teacher wanted to see from me and the steps it took to get to an A. My mindset would influence the kind of work I did with the kids I tutored, who were oftentimes lowerclassmen who had more creative leeway than AP courses did. I would work to get the assignment done and perfect-score worthy, not to connect with the student and build their confidence as writers. 

Nancy Effinger Wilson and Keri Fitzgerald describe the writing center as a “third space”, an objective place within a school that is supposed to be completely separated from the school faculty and students, both in function and practice. Over a year of sitting in this glass room and observing the values that American schooling enforces onto kids and you start to view this objectivity as a blessing and a curse. 

On the one hand, and from the help of experimental grading from some of my current teachers, I’ve been able to look past measuring my understanding of arbitrary material with letter grades and instead focus on building skills in self-reflection, communication, and critical thinking. I’m being absolved of viewing education as a competition amongst my peers and only seeing my academic achievements on a 1600-point scale.  On the other hand, I am exposed to the immense hurt and abandonment in the building I learn in, seeing the kids who are so often left behind in pursuit of measuring God-knows-what in a way that no one understands. Not everyone is served by this current educational system. In fact, not a single person is and ever will be. 

Competition breeds discrimination. Putting kids up side-by-side and measuring their worth in skills and contexts that are not valuable to everyone is toxic. Thinking about the end result and the percentage of mastery given to a certain assignment has never served a single student during a tutoring session, so how could anyone expect it to serve elsewhere? If grades do motivate, they only motivate anxiety to develop in every kid who could instead be ensured that they are valued and capable of learning. There is no real purpose in our traditional grading system except to serve the students who can afford the “benefits” of receiving high scores and push and hold any student who can’t below the surface. 

For any sort of progression in our battle to end inequity, we must start with the education system. I do not want to be apologized to for a student having a disability, just learning to speak English, or who have been sent by their teacher because they continuously fail assignments they never connected to or understood in the first place. I am done hearing apologies from my peers about what they think are nuisances but are really just the results of a structure that was never built to help them learn; we are the ones who perpetuate it to be so. We must reframe and rebuild our educational complex, and the clarity a writing center offers is the best place to start.