The Power of Collaboration

“Tutor.”  “Consultant.”  “Worker.”

As an employee at the Writing Resources Center, part of my job is to provide students with the tools they need to strengthen their writing, including the development of strong diction. It is ironic, then, that I find it so hard to find a single word that aptly describes my job at the WRC while conveying the immense benefits the job brings me. “Tutor” seems lopsided and authoritarian. “Consultant” evokes the image of stagnant, sterile office space. “Worker” implies a bitter lack of interplay. I find that the best word to describe what I do is one that can sometimes be taboo within the context of the Center: “Collaborator.”

Merriam-Webster states that to collaborate is “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” As an employee of the Center, one of my central goals is to never take authorship over a student’s work. This definition of “collaborator” can mean just that; working “jointly” on a paper implies a co-authorship that steps beyond our reach as consultants. When I define “endeavor,” however, I don’t think of it merely within the scope of a paper. I think of it as the intellectual endeavor at large.

On a base level, working at the Writing Resources Center is collaborating with students to better their writing skills, thus helping them in their efforts to engage in the holistic intellectual endeavor. The goal of the Center is to give students the means to improve their writing themselves. We point out and explain grammar mistakes with the expectation students will fix them themselves later. We teach strategies for brain-storming and planning. We talk out ideas with our consultees so that they’ll better know how to articulate their ideas going forward. These efforts improve the ability of our students to communicate, and thus strengthen the college’s collective intellect.

It is not, however, just the consultees who gain writing expertise; I’ve perhaps learned more about good writing from students at the Center than I have in the entirety of my years prior. When I notice things that don’t work well in my consultant’s papers, it has a twofold effect on me. On a personal level, I recognize flaws in my own writing, thus allowing me to better express my ideas going forward. Meanwhile, on a consulting level, I become better at recognizing these flaws in others and helping them get past them. Additionally, I often recognize strengths in student writing I could use to improve my own. In short, consultations teach me a ton about writing, allowing me to improve as both a writer and consultant.

Beyond writing skills, collaborating at the Center makes me better versed in the intellectual world at large. Reading papers exposes me to topics I would never be introduced to in my own studies. Not only does this make me better versed in disciplines I would otherwise be uninformed about, giving me a broader view in my own scholarly endeavors, it also helps me become a better consultant. When I first started working at the Center, I was terrified any time someone came in with a paper in philosophy or history. After working with students in these fields, I’ve developed a far better understanding of what works in these papers and what doesn’t. Once again, my work at the WRC has improved me as a student and consultant.

With this constant give and take of learning and teaching, terms like “tutor” and “consultant” become obsolete. When I go in to work at the Center, I have no misconceptions about my job. While I hope a student will end up with a better paper through my consultation, this collaboration towards a better academic whole is what lies at the core of the writing center experience. We’re all inadvertent collaborators in each other’s learning, through exchanges as simple as small talk. The Center simply provides a place for the collaboration to be that much more conscious.