RESONANT REFLECTION: CULTIVATING EMPATHIC DISPOSITIONS IN WRITING CENTERS
Empathy is a complex emotional response to others’ experiences that can both advance and obstruct mutual understanding. Many fields in the humanities and social sciences have their own theories of empathy, including recent advances in rhetoric and composition. However, writing center studies have not yet arrived at a theory of empathy despite a body of scholarship that invokes empathy as a necessary skill or disposition in writing center praxis. This dissertation argues that empathic dispositions can be evoked and tempered in staff education classrooms through assignments that facilitate critical self-reflection on one’s positionality. The present pilot study describes four aspects of empathic dispositions that can be tempered in a writing center curriculum. The first chapter categorizes different concepts of empathy in writing centers and theorizes four aspects of empathic dispositions that align with theories on rhetoric, affect, and feminist approaches to empathic, critical engagement with others. The second chapter outlines the feminist methodologies and methods that were used to collect and analyze interviews with research participants. The third chapter describes a sixteen-week staff education course that was oriented to evoking and developing students’ empathic dispositions. The fourth chapter shares interviews with new consultants who reflect on their first semester in our writing center and how their work was influenced by their assignments and experiences in our curriculum. The final chapter concludes the study by outlining its limitations, charting a path forward for future research, and offering a pedagogical approach to cultivating empathic dispositions that I call resonant reflection. The results of this study indicate that consultants draw from their own experiences and values when they imagine a writer’s circumstances. They can access their rich, yet tacit, experiences through deliberative reflection, a necessary component of developing empathic dispositions that advance mutual understanding. These findings implicate that a stronger theoretical framework for empathy in writing centers can advance not only writing center research and pedagogy but also our commitments to social justice in our centers.
- Doctor of Philosophy
- West Lafayette