Workshop, though an invaluable aid, remains mostly undiscovered

Believe it or not, even faculty members have benefited from the Writing Workshop. Assistant Dean and Coordinator of the Writing Workshop Peter Grudin notes that several faculty members, including him, have found the Writing Workshop of immense help. Grudin said, “It could help anyone.”

The Writing Workshop is a program where specially trained upperclass tutors help undergraduates, graduate students and faculty with a spectrum of writing assignments, including thesis projects, fellowship and grant proposals, foreign language papers and science lab reports, as well as other class writing assignments.

However, students asked to comment on the Writing Workshop admitted they knew little about the service, and even fewer knew where the Workshop was located.

When asked about the general lack of recognition and use of the program, Grudin replied succinctly that the greatest challenge was space. “At some colleges, a Writing Workshop would have its own building. We don’t really have anything that we could call ours. We just kind of go around begging for space.” The meaning of his words becomes immediately evident upon a trek to Sawyer Library. The Writing Workshop is stuffed into a corner of the library, and occupies a portion of space equal to a modest double in the Frosh Quad.

In terms of the impact the Writing Workshop has had on students, Grudin said, “It’s hard to calculate, but it’s conceivable that we interact with over 50 percent of the students at Williams every year.”

Freshman tend to form the majority of visitors, but upperclassmen still form a significant percentage of tutees, according to statistics from the 1989-1990 school year. Publicity consists mainly of fliers, a constantly updated web page with online help, and word-of-mouth. Small groups of tutors also go into first-year entries to speak about the Writing Workshop.

Tutors are picked through a process that begins when first-year professors nominate students in the spring. Prospective tutors are invited to an interview with Grudin and senior tutors and are asked for writing samples. Once chosen, tutors undergo a semester-long apprenticeship that includes observing older tutors, analyzing one’s own papers, role-playing and sessions on different approaches to various types of papers.

Tutors can also serve as Writing Assistants for classes, where they work with professors. They read each draft, comment on papers and meet with students. Alternately, tutors may be assigned to individual students on a semester or yearly basis in a program known as “The Murphy Wing.” This allows students to build up a rapport with one tutor, and to receive regular advice over a semester or year. English as a Second Language tutoring is also available by appointment.

Tim Menza ’01, a current tutor, shared an anecdote: “Last year, I had this freshman girl who thought her paper was horrible, but it was actually really good. And then this year, I saw her in the Writing Workshop as a tutor.”

Kamille Richards ’00, also a tutor, thought the most rewarding part of being a tutor was just being of service to fellow students. “[We’re] here to bounce ideas off of. We don’t really touch content, just the structure and clarity and if it makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense to us, it probably won’t make sense to other people. It exposes you to so many different writings. I’ve learned a lot just being a tutor.”

There are various forms of tutoring available, from drop-in workshops to long-term arrangements. The two drop-in workshops are open Sunday through Thursday evenings. One is located on the third floor of Sawyer Library and is open from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The other is in Jesup Hall, directly across from the WSO Office, and opens from 8:00 p.m. to midnight. Most students simply show up for half-hour sessions, but signing up for an appointment is recommended.

Grudin summarized the purpose of the Writing Workshop: “Every writer needs a responsive reader at some stage in the writing process. What we do is to provide trained, responsive readers for the community.”