Tutor Handbooks: Heuristic Texts for Negotiating Difference in a Globalized World
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I would like to begin this article by telling a true story. When I was a graduate student earning my doctoral degree, I worked in a writing center on a midsized and predominantly white university campus. Every week I attended and sometimes facilitated the writing center’s tutor education workshop. At one of these meetings, an undergraduate tutor from a Euro- American background said that one of the things she liked about working at the writing center was that if she had a question about grammar during a conference with a client, she could simply lean over to the next table and ask another tutor for advice. In response to this statement, an African-American tutor said that she would never ask another tutor for grammar help because she felt that doing so would undermine her authority and lead clients to question her competence in Standard American English. At this point a bilingual Asian-American tutor said that clients often doubted her ability to tutor based solely on her appearance. For many of her American clients she was too foreign, while for many of her international clients she was not American enough. This discussion was a revelation for many of the Euro-American tutors, since it had never occurred to them that one’s physical appearance could bring his or her linguistic competence into question. All of the tutors learned a great deal from this remarkable discussion, and the theory and practice of the writing center shifted in ways that more fully accounted for the experiences of tutors from diverse backgrounds. I tell this story for two reasons.