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Okay guys (other than Miranda), I have a question that has to do with writing center "code." We've had some discussions about proofreading code, of our student's privacy code and even about proper dress code, but after two minor but embarassing incidents in Nicholson and Appleby, I need to clarify the speaking code.

Last Friday, Miranda and I were chatting a bit as we both got to the end of our shifts in Appleby, on a relatively quiet day. One consultant was working with a student, and they were both silently reading parts of a paper, so Miranda and I began to gush over how interesting our theory class is, how we feel a little iffy about the Blog (it's still cool, though!), how some people in our class are incredibly skilled at thinking outloud with perfect syntax and grammar maintained, and how Kirsten is able to command a group of talkers like us with the most buoyant of personalities. Amidst this really great conversation, we were suddenly stopped by a co-worker who shall remain nameless, who asked us if we were having a consultation - which we weren't - and then proceeded to tell us that we were being much too loud and were certainly distracting anyone who was there for help. My face flushed, and we both apologized, and then doggedly finished our talk. I felt like such a poor representation of the center - but at the same time, I felt so sad that our talk had been really relevant and invested in our jobs!

And the previous week, I was checking in with Sharkey at the front desk, where he was telling me about my scheduled appointment for the day when an irate computer lab user came up to us, pointed to the "no-cell policy" and informed us that if we didn't allow phone conversations, we shouldn't allow talking either, "because some people are trying to work around here." I know I don't handle criticism well, but I am starting to feel like I am one of those kids that gets repeatedly sent to the principals office!

Is this conflict between maintaining a work space within the rather casual, friendly environment we are trying to set up in class and meetings presenting a problem to anyone else? Should I bring a piece of tape with me to my next shift?

shamefully yours,



The real problem is that I'm a horrible influence. I blame myself for the outbreak of un-approved merriment.

I really don't see anything wrong with talking in the office as long as it's done at a low volume. It seems to me that the person who shushed you in the computer lab was a bit too sensitive. I chat all the time over in Nicholson - in fact, one of the duties of writing consultants [this is true - just ask Kirsten] is to "create community" when not consulting; i.e., talk to one another. So, in fact, you all were doing your job. That guy who shushed you can go somewhere.

Here's my take on ChatterGate 2007. I have two responses, one to the Appleby incident and another to the front desk. They both come from the view that respect and talk are two fundamental elements of SWS (and of any writing center, really).

1. DeskChat: I can understand a lab user feeling cranky about noise, on the one hand--it can be hard to concentrate on solo work when others are talking. On the other hand (and this hand is in fact the hand I believe in), we run on talk. Even SWS.online is based in conversation; face-to-face SWS consultations are all about giving writers a voice--and responding aloud to what they have to say. Attendants at the front desk absolutely need to communicate with consultants about what's coming next. And, finally, SWS-Nicholson consultations can (and do) also take place at a computer in the lab itself. Lab users cannot expect a silent workspace in 15 Nicholson Hall. In short, people who are having conversations are also "people who are trying to work around here"--and doing their jobs well, for that matter.

I don't think it's a contradiction to have a "no cell phones" sign but still have a talky space. The cell phone sign is as much for students in consultations as it is for lab users--it's to ensure that all parties in a consultation are present mentally as well as physically for that collaborative conversation. Having cell phones in one part of the space but not in the other would be weird--as would having silence in one part but talking in the other.

More to the point, however, our cell phone policy (as is clearly stated on the signs) is about treating others with respect. Lab users have every right to ask other to keep their voices down to a more reasonable volume. They just need to demonstrate the same level of respect that they request when they ask for a quieter workspace. I hope that no one who is treated as disrespectfully as Keely and John were takes it to heart.

2. ApplebyChat: Again, I completely understand a writing consultant or student being distracted by talk elsewhere in the space. I myself have been consulting and having a hard time concentrating because of other talk in the room. The answer, as far as I'm concerned, is not shushing, but politely asking colleagues to talk more quietly. They are always glad to do so, and often don't realize that they were being loud in the first place.

What surprised me about the Appleby story, Keely, is that there was no indication that the student or his/her consultant was distracted--it seems like the third person assumed that was the case. I'd like to think that we have a culture where people can talk, have fun, build community--not only a social one, but an intellectual one, as well--without being silenced...and where people can also speak up if they or their students feel distracted. If the consultant who was working with a student felt that the other talk in the room was a distraction, either for him/herself or for the student, then it is that consultant's right (and responsibility) to politely ask the speakers to keep their voices down. If another coworker is being distracted by noise, then that coworker certainly should respectfully ask the speakers to lower the level of their voices. However, I don't think it's appropriate for someone outside the consulting session to translate their assumptions about how either person in it is feeling--no matter how well-meaning such empathy may be--into a moment of shaming or silencing.

While loud talk during one session might be a short-term problem, creating an environment of shame or embarrassment for others (even accidentally) is a more serious matter. Perhaps a better solution for the consultant who was worried about distraction would have been to wait until the session was over, then privately ask the consultant if he/she or his/her student was distracted. The answer could very well be "no"--different students and consultants have different tolerance levels for background noise. If the answer were "yes," then the co-worker could encourage the consultant to speak up (again, politely) next time, rather than making an assumption that does not take the consultant's or student's real feelings into account, and that preempts the possibility for a different kind of productive talk: a respectful negotiation between the consultant and his/her co-workers of how best to share our space.

Ultimately, this all comes back to the equally vital roles of talk and respect: people in a writing center should feel comfortable talking, collaborating, laughing, and thinking aloud--doing so with respect for others in the room [hence our not using the public spaces of SWS to say anything about our work that we wouldn't want potential or actual clients to hear]. And by the same token, people working in a writing center should feel comfortable asking speakers to lower their voices--as long as they, too, do so with respect.

Writing centers are not places of silence and shaming. As writing center scholar Elizabeth Boquet notes in her aptly-titled book, Noise from the Writing Center, they are, like all places for education on a college campus, "common spaces designed for intellectual engagement. This activity takes many forms, from individuals working in solitude to groups problem-solving collectively. ...[T]he Writing Center...is a space where people gather to talk and to share ideas." (xv) At SWS, Kirsten, Debra, and I want our center(s) also to be places of community-building, as Grant rightly points out. All of us--consultants, visitors, students--have the responsibility to build that community with respect.

i definitely don't think it's necessary for us to speak in whispers in either nicholson or appleby. i haven't been to appleby yet (it's on my to-do list) but i assume the procedures are similar to those of nicholson: consulting and working with people. it's ridiculous to ask people to be silent. plus, i don't feel people should be made to feel bad for conversing with their co-workers. i've been to computer labs all over the u where lab attendants are obnoxiously loud and treat students disrespectfully. we're certainly not doing that here, so why be reprimanded for chatting? and about that lab user...there are certainly many campus labs to choose from. i think it would be a good idea to put up some kind of sign informing users that we're going to be talking in nicholson. and probably loudly and excitedly.

no that wasn't anonymous, that was ME, meher!!

Not only should we be talking, we should be rapping. About writing. Writing raps and rapping about writing. That would increase traffic flow [get it? rap? flow?] and it would make consultings ever so much more fun.

rappity tap tap.

If we're lucky, we could get the break-dancers from out front of Coffman to throw down while we have epic C4W rap battles.

Oh, snap, Shark Doggy Dogg, I like the cut of your jib. Let's throw it down, olde-skool stylee.

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