On Tuesday, Feb. 2, the Writing Center informed its consultants that, due to budget constraints and a decrease in traffic last fall, the Center would return to its previous number of walk-in hours, a 29-hour reduction from the fall semester.
Writing Center consultants regularly worked 3-4 hours last semester, but have only been working 1-2 hours on average this semester.
Last semester, in order to make the Center more accessible for remote students, the Writing Center added the additional 29 walk-in hours per week to its schedule. However, according to Writing Center Director Jeanne Griggs, the Writing Center only logged 303 total consultations during the fall semester — two to three times less than previous years. In the fall of 2019, for instance, the Writing Center had 697 conferences.
According to Griggs, as a result of this reduced usage, the Writing Center has left most consultants with only one or two hours of work a week.
“Obviously, it’s harder for people to walk into Peirce [Dining Hall] when they’re not there as much,” she said. Griggs also noted that the Writing Center’s temporary home on Peirce’s third floor is quite cramped, with only enough room to have one in-person conference at a time while observing social distancing. Consultants also expressed concern with the insufficient work space.
Griggs was careful to emphasize, however, that this recent shift in hours is not a “reduction,” merely a return to the hours that were available to consultants in previous semesters. Last semester’s effort to build a stronger online presence, she said, was a “pilot program.”
Still, Writing Center Student Manager Nathan Geesing ’21 said that the change, while not a reduction, points to pre-existing issues with the Writing Center, specifically insufficient hours and the semester-long training course (ENGL 217) required of new Writing Center employees. “What we need is a real overhaul of the way the Writing Center is run,” Geesing said.
While many consultants are frustrated by their own loss of work, they are also concerned about what this change means for their peers who are on work-study. Accommodating work-study employees was already a priority for those consultants who are members of the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC), according to Writing Center consultant and K-SWOC member Anabel Barnett ’23, and now, has become more important than ever. The change also comes at the heels of the College’s refusal to recognize the group as a union, the combination of which consultant Ellie Roman ’22 described as “a pretty hard blow.
Roman elaborated on the difficulties many of her fellow consultants on work-study face with the dearth of jobs on campus, especially during the pandemic. “For me, it’s just extra pocket money. It’s not that huge of a deal,” Roman. “But there are workers at the Writing Center to whom it’s a way bigger deal.”
Since last week’s announcement, Griggs has encouraged consultants to work with their professors to become liaisons, who are paid per appointment, for courses they have taken in the past. “We always have more professors looking for liaisons than we have students willing to work,” she said, though did not indicate that the Center would take charge in matching professor with consultants.
Griggs has also recommended that consultants pick up additional hours by becoming a mentor with Kenyon Writes, the Writing Center’s new program that seeks to help first-year students with their writing. Employees can also write blog posts for the Writing Center or work with students for whom English is a second language.
Some consultants feel that these options do not suffice. “I’ve done all of that. I’m a liaison, a student manager, I’m mentoring two first years this semester — I’m still making less money and working fewer hours than I did last semester,” Geesing said.
Writing Center Student Manager Alexia M. Ainsworth ’21 noted the difficulties this change in hours has posed for her and her peers. “As a student who has worked 7 jobs simultaneously to try and cover payments, I completely understand the frustration,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian. “The other student managers and I have tried to come up with opportunities for additional pay … but there’s no easy solution with our current budget and current student engagement.”
This recent budget setback has also led many consultants to worry for the future of not only the Writing Center, but for student work as a whole. Citing support from other student workers, Geesing, who is also a member of the K-SWOC steering committee, said, “They understand that if Kenyon turns around and says the Writing Center isn’t useful to them anymore, they’re going to start cutting its budget. What’s going to stop them from tomorrow doing that to [Library and Information Services workers] or the [Math and Science Skills Center workers] or the [assistant teachers] or [Lowry Center] workers or farmers or professors?”
However, Associate Provost and Professor of Chemistry Sheryl Hemkin, who oversees Griggs and the Writing Center, said that, barring additional financial setbacks posed by the pandemic, she did not expect there to be cuts to the Writing Center’s budget for the coming year.
She also put to rest rumors regarding the possibility of the Writing Center being replaced by professional tutors as it undergoes its external review. “I think we all value the peer relationship, the peer-peer tutoring,” Hemkin said. “If anything, [the external review] may result in something more for the Writing Center. I can’t imagine that it would yield anything less.”
Ainsworth, too, remained optimistic. “I am hopeful that this will serve as a cause for the Kenyon community to rally around,” she said. “Bring your papers, poems, lab reports, and personal statements to the Writing Center. Engagement is really key to keeping the Writing Center an integral part of our campus community.”
This article has been edited to reflect updated information on Writing Center consultants’ hours. Additional context has also been included where necessary.