|"Musical Chairs" from abode.teachforus.org|
A few of the themes that emerged from my analysis of the observational data were exclusivity in space, exclusivity in discourse, distracted and unhelpful receptionists, and food smells. To elaborate, although the design of the wait area was probably meant to encourage a sense of community, it tended instead to enhance community among tutors, but separate and exclude students. Furthermore, the behavior--discourse and actions--of tutors and students in the wait area continued to divide the two groups.
A specific example of this sort of divisive discourse from my observations occurred when the writing center was experiencing technical difficulties with their printer in the computer lab of the waiting area. Only three of the computers were able to print documents, so, to keep students from spending long periods of time on those particular computers when other students needed to use them, the tutors removed the chairs at those stations, imagining that students wouldn't want to stand up and work for longer than the amount of time it would take to print. One student, however, asked the tutor working at the reception desk whether she could pull up a chair because all of the computers that had chairs in front of them were occupied. The tutor responded, "Yeah, just don't take too long"; his tone was joking, although his meaning was serious.
After this, other students began to pull up chairs, and when tutors noticed, they began to laugh about the situation. One said, "I give up. They won... I'll just take away all the chairs!" Although, the comments were made in jest, the insider/outsider dynamics of the wait area are apparent--based on the tutor's ability to enforce control, should she wish to, over the environment and students' experience. The fact that she did not "remove all the chairs" indicates, however, that she recognizes that accommodating students is a priority. I think it's not a stretch to claim that when tutors are responsible for the running of the writing center's wait area, the decisions they make and their professionalism in handling certain situations can affect potential clients' levels of comfort and satisfaction, making them more or less open to talk about writing during an actual consultation.
Even though the writing center in which I now work does not have a separate room for a waiting area (we are smaller and only have three chairs along the wall in our consulting room for a place for students to wait), I have still been able to apply lessons learned from this research, most specifically that writing center workers need to increase our reflective practices, constantly analyzing the tradeoffs for our decisions before we make them. A few other suggestions for breaking down the existing insider/outsider dynamics between tutors and students that I would also offer to writing center directors are to 1) encourage tutors to generally increase their reflective practices by considering what the consequences to their actions might be, especially as they affect stunt clients; 2) coach tutors not to engage in negative discourse (which differs from constructive discourse) about student clients, especially in spaces where students and tutors cohabit ate; 3) recommend that tutors attempt to engage clients in friendly conversation while they wait for appointments, as long as the student appears open to such interaction; and 4) explain to tutors/receptionists that they should be as "helpful" as possible with the understanding that while they are at work, work is their first priority.