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Lab Culture: University Writing Center is here to help

Oct 17, 2018
Marilee Brooks-Gillies and Ashley Taber share a laugh.
Marilee Brooks-Gillies, left, director of the University Writing Center and assistant professor of English, visits with one of her staff members, Ashley Taber, an English senior.Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

The Lab Culture series explores the research, traditions and quirks in labs and centers across the IUPUI campus.

Whether you consider yourself a Shakespeare or a Fakespeare, the University Writing Center has been dedicated to helping writers of every skill level produce pristine prose on campus for almost 40 years.

Located on the fourth floor of Cavanaugh Hall along with a second location in University Library, the writing center is open to students, staff and faculty. From poems to syllabi, the graduate and undergraduate writing consultants are eager to dissect documents and bounce around ideas to help improve the piece.

“The Writing Center is a site for writers to be supported by other writers,” said Marilee Brooks-Gillies, director of the writing center and an assistant professor of English. “We see this as a space to learn about and practice writing.”

Users must schedule sessions online. Writers can bring their own laptops to work, or they can use one of the several desktop computers available in the centers.

Description of the following video:

[Marilee Brooks-Gillies appears on screen in the University Writing Center]

[Title appears in upper-left corner: IUPUI presents]

[Brooks-Gillies speaks: Hello, I’m Marilee Brooks-Gillies.]

[Words appear by the IU trident and “IUPUI”: Marilee Brooks-Gillies, Director of University Writing Center, assistant professor of English]

[Brooks-Gillies speaks: I’m the director of the University Writing Center here at IUPUI. The writing center is a site for writers to be supported by other writers …

[Video: Camera pans around the room, highlighting activity of students and staffers collaborating around computers]

[Brooks-Gilles speaks in voiceover: … so we are staffed primarily by undergraduate and graduate student consultants. Writers come in to have support on their writing and mentoring around writing. We see this as a space to learn about and practice writing.]

[Brooks-Gillies speaks onscreen, in front of a whiteboard where the “word of the week” is defined: Every week, we have a word of the week, and they vary pretty broadly. This is the first time I’ve seen a popular music reference, so the word of the week this week is “reggae.” And so a lot of times they’re unique words that people might not know much about.

Sometimes they’re funny or just words we don’t think about much. We’re trying to also convey that there are a lot of different ways to think about the world, and language is a way to do that and so kind of bringing people’s attention to different kinds of words.]

[Video: Footage of paintings on the center’s walls]

[Brooks-Gillies speaks: So students come in and get support. And we also have a consultant in training. So he is running the session right now. So that’s exciting. And you see that he’s right next to our tea station. So we did try to, again, build community by having things like hot beverages.]

[Video: A cutout of Gandalf watches over the center, positioned behind a table with a Halloween tablecloth and .]

[Brooks-Gillies speaks: We have events like “Difficult Conversations,” where we talk about things like the myth of standard English. We have a “Spooky Stories” event. So we do kinda fun things like that. We have one coming up, so you might notice we are decorating for Halloween already. And we also have game nights and things like that. So try to be a very social place on campus where people can feel connected and build a community.]

[Video: Screen goes to black]

[Brooks-Gillies speaks in voiceover: Both the staff of the center, who again are mostly undergraduate students, as well as any writer coming in, that we want them to feel part of our community.]

[IU trident appears]

[Words appear: IUPUI Fulfilling the promise]

[words appear:]

[End of transcript]

While entering a room full of writers could be intimidating, the center has become a festive space. With the area currently decked out in Halloween decorations, Brooks-Gillies wants clients to feel comfortable while cultivating creativity.

Word of the week

A new word is selected each week. It could be academic; it could be tricky. It could be most groovy: “Reggae” was the term for Oct. 8-12.

“We’re trying to convey that there are a lot of different ways to think about the world, and language is a way to do that,” Brooks-Gillies explained.

Tea time

The writing center is always equipped with an array of hot tea selections. The beverage is meant to soothe, warm and sometimes caffeinate. It’s all meant to unclog writer’s block.


The roster of undergraduate and graduate students often works on projects when not helping their fellow Jaguars with papers, resumes or short stories. The consultants build workshops to bring to classrooms across campus, and they have the opportunity to publish work. The papers are presented at regional and international conferences.

Dozens of books and binders contain data of the center’s usage – who uses the facility for what, and when? How many students come in a month, semester or year?

Various committees exist within the centers. Creative writing senior Savannah Cox works with the digital resources and online consulting committee. She helps develop handouts and other outreach materials to educate users before they sit down for their first session.

Cox said the main point users should keep in mind is to keep an open mind: “Be open to the suggestions. Another person might be able to see some things that might strengthen your work and help improve your overall work.”

Art of writing

Dozens of paintings produced every semester by the student staff are hung on the center’s walls.

“We want this to a welcoming community space,” Brooks-Gillies said.

Writing Center student workers help a client.
Gandalf guards the University Writing Center.

Photos by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

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