Increasing Accessibility in the Peer Writing Center

As we’re slowly moving back to operating mostly in person, this past year has taught us some beneficial things about how our center can be more accessible to more people. Being wholly remote for the 2020-21 school year has made us more intentional. It’s shown us ways to welcome more students to the center; it’s made staff meetings more inclusive; and it’s leveraged the affordances of online spaces to reimagine what it means to stay true to the PWC’s vision, mission, and guiding principles.

Our peer writing consultants take these things seriously, and everyone has worked hard to ensure our remote protocols make space for as many people in as many ways as possible. It can be easy to forget that not everyone in our University community has the ability to “pop on over” to an on-campus location. But we’ve learned that we can work around physical limitations. We did some self-reflection, and we asked ourselves some hard questions: Can anyone access any campus location on crutches in the ice, for example? Can you believe we ever lived in a world where someone had to go to a writing center session while ill rather than lose their chance to get help? We can overcome scheduling limitations. Not all of our students are “simply” students. Shouldn’t commuting students and/or those who work for a living have access to synchronous sessions? Shouldn’t consultants who work multiple jobs have some agency over how they “clock in?” 

Likewise, while the energy of full staff meetings is different when we’re not in a shared physical space, several more introverted consultants contributed actively to staff conversations in the Zoom chat when they might have been reticent to speak in a room full of people: we actually heard from more people than we might have in person. So, our community has grown. Our ability to add to the ways we follow the guiding principles of accessibility and inclusion and “learning through dialogue” has also grown. Since more of our consultants worked asynchronously than in “normal times,” we’ve also expanded our ideas about how we can make asynchronous feedback conversational even in a situation that seems one-directional at first glance. Finally, more of our PWCs are working on how to reach students we still haven’t reached. In short, the PWC continues to push pre-pandemic limits of accessibility made clear in lockdown. We’re committed to understanding each other’s varied experiences of being students at U-M and to providing ongoing flexibility in how we serve each other.

Shelley Manis
Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing
Interim Director of the Sweetland Peer Writing Consultant Program