Review: Rhetoric of Respect: Recognizing Change at a Community Writing Center by Tiffany Rousculp (NCTE, 2014. 185 pp.)

Review written by Yuan Sang, doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A writing center is an institution for people to discuss and improve their writing with tutors who work there, thus it is often seen in various levels of schools where it provides services to the school’s students. Compared with that kind of commonly seen writing center, one devoted to the community is rare and very different.

Tiffany Rousculp’s recent publication, Rhetoric of Respect: Recognizing Change at a Community Writing Center, revealed how the Community Writing Center (CWC) sponsored by the Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) survived and kept going forward in its 12 years of service to more than 5000 community members. It also had relationships with more than 130 various communities, especially those socially underrepresented groups such as homeless people, prisoners, and veterans. The book is not only a theoretical reflection on the operation of the institution, but also a thoughtful and practical reference on how to make a college writing center meet the needs of the community at large. Therefore, this book is bound to attract readers from a wide range of areas—those who have experience with a writing center, and those interested in community work, education, writing, or communication.

The Community Writing Center was founded in 2001 as the community college tried to reach out for its name’s sake. Over the years, it went through all kinds of struggles to survive—change of locale, construction of the rationale, constant flow of the staff, and clarification of their orientations and principles. Eventually, the people at the center worked toward a place where people in the communities gathered, enjoyed, and expressed their voices. It was not an easy process. Through all the confusions, uncertainties, dilemmas, stresses, and pains, the writing center explored its role in the community and negotiated its relationship with the college. The faculty and students working there also found their own position in the tutoring and serving of the community.

Using Marilyn Cooper’s ecological model of writing, Rousculp conceptualizes her reflections and rethinking on her work with CWC. Trying to maintain a healthy environment for each other, every element involved with the center—the time, the space, the individuals, the organizations—in the ecological cycle had been sending and sharing positive energy. Rousculp attributed that to the rhetoric of respect. It was this respect as well as trust among people of all different groups—staff, the working students, and the community—that led to the sustainability of the center. The staff and students exhibited their flexibility and self-awareness in their work with the CWC, for there were never strict boundaries dividing them. To name a few, the students came up with the ideas that connected the center with the communities, and the community writers defined their relationships with the center and with writing itself. Only with respect could all this happen, which determined the attainment of the ultimate purpose of the institution—serving the community.

The respect came with the challenges of conventional assumptions about writing, publication, education, community, and their relationships with each other. Are the tutors trained to be better in writing than the community writers? Does publication validate a piece of writing? Can students perform as workshop teachers? Does the writing center exist to tell people what they should write about and how? In asking these questions, Rousculp, the writing assistants, the faculty, and the staff, together with the community writers, were all learning.

Rhetoric of Respect was written in five parts. The first part, “Recognizing the SLCC Community Writing Center,” described the foundation and function of each element of the writing center. The second part, “Evolving a Discursive Ecology: A Rhetoric of Respect,” framed the author’s ideological and metaphorical reflection on the development of the center. The third part, “Transforming Energy in Pursuit of Uncertainty,” analyzed how elements in the ecology tried to make the energy flow positive and allowed uncertainty to be the center’s normality. The next part, “Shifting Relations, Transforming Expectations,” showed how people in the center accommodated what the community needed and transformed their own expectations into the respect of the direction and performance of the writers. The last part, “Engaging Place: Acclimation and Disruption,” concluded and prospected the road ahead in providing a better service to the community.

Rhetoric of Respect is a reflective story about 12 years of functioning of a writing center. The experience was not a planned or expected journey, as the staff and the assistant students had thought it would be. The survival and success were achieved through failures and struggles. What allowed them to succeed was respect in a sustainable ecological cycle. The writing center would encounter more unexpected challenges, Rousculp was sure, but the people in the center would not be afraid. The CWC would bravely face every challenge as long as they kept their gradually developed concept—respect—in mind. Therefore, this book would be a great guide for a writing center as well as a thoughtful perspective for anyone interested in the challenges and benefits of collaboration.

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