This June, the SU Language Centre’s Writing Lab is celebrating its 20th birthday. The Writing Lab prides itself as a welcoming, friendly and safe space where students and academics feel free to discuss writing issues and get support from dedicated staff and writing consultants.
What started as a dream for Prof Leon de Stadler (former director of the Language Centre), became a reality when the Writing Lab opened its doors in June 2001. Since we work with so many students and upcoming professionals, it seems fitting to highlight this milestone in Youth Month.
At the Writing Lab, we believe that everybody deserves to be heard and seen. But if you can’t speak ‘university’, you will not have a voice on campus. This is why we work with writers to develop their academic voices and improve their ability to argue their points. Our peer-learning approach developed from American progressive pedagogical movements of the 1970s and is all about increasing student access to higher education and participation in academic activities.
The Writing Lab has come a long way since its humble beginnings, in a consulting room borrowed from the University’s Department of Social Work, 20 years ago. Sharifa Daniels and Rose Richards shared the consulting room as an office and had one e-mail address! The office was so small that each time one needed to use the computer to send an e-mail, the other had to leave the room to make space. The dean, who had an office two doors away and didn’t know what was going on, must have thought that we looked quite suspicious, lingering in the corridor like that. Two floors above, in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, Anne-Mari Lackay shared a desk with several other people in a common room. None of us had a phone, so every time we needed to contact each other, we would run up and down the stairs.
Back then, in 2001, we conducted consultations with 20 students; now we are doing 3 000 and more. Although Sharifa retired in 2018, Rose and Anne-Mari still work at the Writing Lab and have since been joined by Selene Delport, Vinelene Hartley and Celestia February. We are supported by about 35 postgraduate students who are trained to be writing consultants. Many of these young academics go on to be supervisors and mentors of young writers themselves.
Before 2020 – the difficult year of the Covid-19 pandemic – our consultations were largely face to face. When the pandemic struck and we saw how isolated students were and how worried they were about their academic work, we took on the challenge to start consulting online via MS Teams. It’s going well. This April alone we reached more than 500 students online. The writing workshops for postgraduates, about 60 annually, are also online now and in high demand.
We feel honoured and grateful for the opportunity to work with students. These writers are the voice of tomorrow and with good writing they can be heard where it counts. If you have some academic writing to do, you’re most welcome to book a writing consultation with us. If there is something else we could assist you with, please reach out and e-mail us!
– by Rose Richards and Anne-Mari Lackay
Note: At the Language Centre, we observe the required Covid-19 protocols. These pictures were taken before the pandemic.