At Canisius College, Students Write to Learn About Themselves ̶ And Show Care for Others

By Kristin E. Etu ’91, Associate Director of College Communications, Canisius College

Graham Stowe, Ph.D. works with students in the Canisius College Writing Center (photo by Brianna Blank ’14 for Canisius College)

Graham Stowe, Ph.D. works with students in the Canisius College Writing Center (photo by Brianna Blank ’14 for Canisius College)

An element of Jesuit rhetoric, Eloquentia Perfecta revolves around cultivating a person as a whole, as one learns to speak, write and communicate effectively for the common good. To that end, the new Writing Center at Canisius College offers students help with writing at any stage of the writing process in any discipline, whether it be a hard science, a social science or the humanities.

“I see writing centers as an extension of Cura Personalis (care for the whole person) in that our goal is to work with students as individual writers, as real people with real ideas, who aren’t just checking off a box to complete an assignment, but rather to grow as people,” says Graham Stowe, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and director of the college’s Writing Center. “I believe writing is an important way for students to grow and learn about themselves, and our aim is to help students do that.”

The Center is staffed with peer tutors who are prepared to assist with any stage of the writing process, from brainstorming to drafting to proofreading. Tutors are undergraduates who come recommended by professors ̶ and are not limited to English or creative writing majors.

Among them is Veronica Ward ’20, a creative writing major who notes that tutors go through rigorous training. She says, “I took a class with Dr. Stowe and we spent the semester discussing Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and R. Mark Hall’s Around the Texts of Writing Center Work. During our training, we research and study the theory of writing center work. I don’t think most people would realize that.”

Some students come in with an assignment sheet and nothing written, and some come in wanting help with polishing their work. If they have nothing written, tutors work on developing their ideas with them, or perhaps help them with a thesis statement or an outline. Staff members also offer workshops for classes or small groups working on specific projects.

Freshman computer science major Sam Struble ‘22 has enlisted the Writing Center staff to assist him with everything from a history paper on Alexander Hamilton, to choosing a topic for a religion term paper proposal, to tweaking an English essay on Medieval literature.

“The staff at the Writing Center has helped me with my writing skills by explaining the writing process as an easily follow-able ‘algorithm’ of sorts,” says Struble. “Rather than feeling completely lost in the assignment, I am able to follow this algorithm to construct an argument and produce sound reasoning and analysis.”

Ward agrees, remarking, “Students don’t just gain writing skills but learn about the role that writing plays in learning course material, and in life. I don’t just tell students they’ve made a mistake, but rather explain exactly where and how that mistake occurred. I then work with students to not only help them fix the problems, but show them how to spot that kind of issue so it happens less often in the future.” Ward adds that while she finds it is especially challenging to explain the mechanics of writing to non-native speakers, it is incredibly rewarding when she is successful.

These results, among many others, help contribute to the Writing Center’s contributions to the common good. Stowe says, “[Helping] students who are open-minded and willing to change and learn from others are my aims, both in Writing Center work and the courses I teach.” One of Stowe’s research interests investigates the ways in which the pedagogy of love operates in the context of a writing center ̶ but it’s not what you think. He says, “I teach tutors to think of love as a comportment rather than an emotion, a stance I borrow from social psychologist Erich Fromm. So, tutors position themselves with a loving attitude and it grows from there.”

The value of love is reflected in a portion of the Writing Center’s mission statement:

“The Canisius College Writing Center exists to help writers in all disciplines become better writers. We have faith in both the writers we work with and the evolving tutoring process. We have hope that writers are willing to engage in the writing process, and we will treat all writers as if they are entirely invested in their work. And most of all, we will love writers where they are as colleagues, peers and fellow human beings whose ideas and voices deserve to be heard and understood.”

“Tutors must wear many, many hats ̶ they’re coaches, editors, collaborators and commenters,” adds Stowe. “Valuing the humanity of each person who comes into the Writing Center is the aim of using love as our starting point.”