In 2001-2002, with a “getting started” gift from Leslie and George Hume, we opened the Stanford Writing Center. The grand opening was near Halloween, and the deans, the vice provost, the provost, and the president of Stanford all attended: we took out a page ad in the Stanford Daily announcing “A new Stanford tradition: the Stanford Writing Center.” If you build it, they will come—and come they did. So many students appeared for the Center’s first workshop that we had an overflow out into the hallway and barely managed to pull it off. Still, with all of us working to get the word out, we conducted only about 800 tutorials during the remaining terms of that year. We were tucked away into a basement (naturally), and while the space was really nice (completely renovated), students had a hard time finding us.
On May 11 of this year, the renamed Hume Center for Writing and Speaking celebrated fifteen years of building and sustaining a culture of writing at Stanford. As of year, the Center will have tutored over 12,000 students, provided hundreds of workshops, and sponsored special events such as Writer’s Nights, Tea Parties for multilingual students, performances, and presentations. Now out of the basement, the Center has its own building on the campus quad: easy-to-find prime real estate, with a lounge/performance space, two classrooms, separate tutoring rooms, rooms for practicing presentations—even a kitchen. To celebrate the occasion, Interim Director Sarah Pit tock and her Hume Center team organized a panel about the Center, chaired by Wendy Goldberg (along with John Tinker, whom we miss every day, Wendy was first Co-Director of the Center) and featuring talks by people involved in the Center, past and present. Best of all, Zandra Jordan, who is joining Stanford this fall as Director of the Hume Center, was on hand for the occasion so that we all got to spend a bit of time with her and soak up some of her energy.
I said a few words and told the audience, as I have told many others, that building the Center was the most fun and exciting thing I was able to do in my very long career. Designing the original space, establishing a staffing pattern that included our brilliant Program in Writing and Rhetoric lecturers along with undergrad and grad tutors, building outreach to the rest of the campus and far beyond, and spending time in the Center tutoring and working with tutors—that’s a good definition of “joy” to me.
After the panel, we all trooped across the street to the Center itself, where a grand buffet and anniversary cake were waiting, along with a program:
The opening by Everyday People, one of Stanford’s stellar acapella groups, left us breathless, as did spoken word poetry performed by Mark Otuteye (a very early tutor in the Center and the founder of Stanford’s now legendary Spoken Word Collective) and Edan Armas (a current member of the Collective), just back from Nationals. Founded in 2001, the year we opened the Center, the Collective has met every week in the Center for the fifteen years of its existence, though their performances are now such hot items that we don’t have a space big enough to accommodate the hundreds of students who want to attend their performances. We also heard from former and current tutors, some of whom wrote in with special greetings and reminiscences. And we were inspired by Adam Banks, now Faculty Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, who spoke eloquently about the role of writing in a 21st century university, and by Harry Elam, Vice President for the Arts and Senior Vice Provost for Education. Harry, whose field is drama and theater, was especially helpful in bringing Stanford’s speaking program into the Center, so that we are now prepared to tutor students on presentations and performances, whether spoken or written.
I left campus positively glowing with energy and excitement and a sense of hope, which is in short supply in these dark days of the Trump debacle. As always, I am inspired and moved by the strength and commitment and brilliance of college students, who make me glad and grateful, every single day, that I have been able to spend my life among them.
Happy Anniversary, Hume Center, and greetings to all those who work to support writing centers across this country and far beyond. Good work. Ethical work. Necessary work. Keep it up!
Credit: Photos by Andrea Lunsford