Swarthmore Hosts First Writing Program Organization Conference

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Swarthmore, along with Pomona College and Wheaton College, co-initiated a new national organization for writing directors at peer institutions, called Small Liberal Arts Colleges – Writing Program Administrators (SLAC-WPA). Swarthmore hosted the organization’s first conference on January 11th-13th. The organization aims to create a community among small college WPAs as an alternative to the national organization, the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA). The conference, open to 58 colleges around the country, simultaneously showcased Swarthmore’s acclaimed resources and attempted to cull others’ writing resources in a cross-campus dialog.

Directors from the three colleges launched the idea after attending a frustrating conference hosted this summer by CWPA. Since most of the participants were faculty from large universities with writing programs very different than those of small colleges, the issues of the conference were not as relevant to the directors of SLAC-WPA, and as a result, the conference isolated them. Among other issues, Jill Gladstein, Swarthmore’s WA program director and co-founder of the SLAC-WPA organization, found little focus at the national level on issues faced by small colleges. Lisa Lebduka, director of Wheaton’s writing program agreed, saying, “We wanted something that speaks to our unique challenges.”

Surprisingly, there had never been any attempts to create such a community for writing programs at the level of small liberal arts colleges. “We’re so involved in our own campus, and it takes a lot of work to create a conference,” said Gladstein.

Aided by Dara Regaignon at Pomona College, the three directors spearheaded the movement for a national community of SLAC writing program directors by creating the organization and the conference. The conference focused on three important issues: faculty development, diversity, and program assessment. Support for faculty involvement in students’ writing, for example, is central to these colleges because most professors are not trained in helping students improve their writing, even though professors necessarily need to fill this role. The issue is unique because the professors are more involved with their students’ education than in larger schools. “At small colleges, the faculty know each other much better,” said Regaignon, “so the way you design and facilitate faculty development on a specific issue and the variety of ways you get them started is very different.”

The conference also gave the colleges an opportunity to learn from each other’s programs; Swarthmore’s was considered a model. “We see the Swarthmore writing center as an ideal,” said Lebduska. “We have a learning center as opposed to a writing center, and we don’t have the internship [program] that [is available] at Swarthmore; it’s something we could secure at Wheaton.” Gladstein agreed that the conference was both a resource and a confirmation of the Swarthmore WA program’s success.

Ultimately, directors left the conference with concrete goals and a community for the first time. “The fact that this group got together is in itself an accomplishment,” said Gladstein. “The potential for this group is strong.”

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