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The History of the Writing Center

The St. Norbert Writing Center has evolved since its founding in 1977. From its humble beginnings in Boyle Hall, to the Todd Wehr Library, to its present location, the SNC Writing Center’s history encompasses 40 years, multiple directors, hundreds of consultants and thousands of student writers. Considering the prevalence of writing centers in colleges and universities across the country, it’s astonishing to realize how quickly writing centers have become such integral parts of efforts in higher education to create the “well-rounded student.”

Writing centers began appearing in colleges in great numbers in the 1970s, and St. Norbert College went right along with the trend by establishing "The Write Place” in 1977. Its mission was to give students who did not meet the college’s writing standards a way to catch up and develop into mature writers. Over the next three decades, writing centers across the nation worked to shed this early “remedial” image by reaching out to all students on campus. Writing center directors and staff shifted from near-exclusive focus on lower-order concerns of writing, like grammar and spelling, to help student-writers recognize and revise higher-order concerns, such as continuity and organization. After all, proper grammar can only do so much in an unorganized paper with flimsy content. 

At St. Norbert, The Write Place made this shift very early in its history. As former directors Maureen Harrington and Cathy Upham note in documents in our archives, “Essentially, the tutors at the Write Place function as a test audience for student papers and ideas. In the tutorial, the emphasis is on helping students improve their writing skills, not on finding and fixing all the errors in the students’ final drafts.” Students learn how to strengthen their critical writing skills by repeated visits to the writing center, potentially working on different needs each time. To learn how to recognize students’ writing needs, consultants at the Writing Center go through training before consulting with their first writer. Only student consultants are employed at St. Norbert College; this strategy provides students with peer review that can be used for help with any stage of the writing process, from brainstorming to polishing a final draft. Kalin Lebrun, an SNC Writing Center consultant for two years, explains that the tutoring session “goes beyond whether the student received a good grade on the paper — I wanted the students to learn something, too, and to be able to help themselves.”

The Writing Center serves as a hub for all three divisions at the college by working with student-writers from all disciplines. The Writing Center is also a key component in the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program, part of the college’s general education curriculum. The WAC philosophy expects writing to take place in all departments of the college, not just in the English department where writing is stereotypically centered. This interdisciplinary collaboration forms an integral part of the liberal arts legacy that St. Norbert College proudly describes in the college catalog: “Writing is integral to the liberal arts curriculum at St. Norbert College. To write is to think, to learn, to discover, to create and to express. To write is to participate in the world — locally and globally.”

The SNC Writing Center has experienced rapid change. During the fall 2008 semester, the Writing Center started booking consultations online. The Writing Center website also underwent an overhaul to reflect its new space in the Mulva Library with a heightened presence online. The Writing Center’s usage by students has continued to increase, and during the 2018-19 school year we performed nearly 3,000 consultations. Students seem to appreciate our efforts to help them become better writers, and we are hoping to serve even more students in the future.

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