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Feats (and Defeats) of Association: A Cartographic Exploration of the Rowan University Writing Center By Phil Cole


Being a graduate assistant at the Rowan University Writing Center (RUWC) for the past two years, I spend a lot of time there—taking in the sounds, images, and movements that exisit inside it. If you talked to me before I started Visual Rhetoric and Multimodal Composition this semester, I might have told you that I could explain every detail and happening that goes on within that space. And perhaps I could, but there’s a lot more to understanding a place than being able to pick out any detail about it. Sometimes, you have to isolate things in order to better understand them. To see everything, in a sense, is to see nothing. Meaning cannot be made from an overwhelming blob of information; it can only be made from reaching into that noisy body of numbers, pictures, and words, pulling things out, and throwing them together like chemicals to see what kind of new compound they might make. As Robert Frost wrote, “An idea is a feat of association,” and this was exactly my intention when mapping the RUWC: to pick out different parts of its space and see what other parts conflict, compliment, and add to each other. It can only help me do my job better—seeing things in a different way—along with reinforcing the idea that maps reveal many things about our culture. Much like other kinds of narratives, my narrative atlas has characters. There are the tutors, who are my coworkers and the tutees that come in for help. There are the tax volunteers, whom I will refer to as “Tax Workers” so that they better correspond to their “Tax Customer” counterparts (though they are taking a free service). Also, much like other narratives, this series of maps presents conflict and tension at times between these characters.


ICC vs. Regular Sessions In the RUWC, we take part in the Integrated College Composition course at Rowan University. In this course, students who need a little more help with their writing come to the writing center once a week with their designated tutors and groups for workshop sessions in addition to the two other days spent in the classroom with their professor. These sessions tend to make the place look a lot more full and inviting as opposed to when the place is relatively empty—filled only by one or two face-to-face sessions and the strange, irreverent conversations between tutors. On a Monday, I located every person in the RUWC and identified them as such: ICC tutors and tutees, and tutors and tutees holding face-to-face sessions. It was still a little sparse in the room, particularly because it was the beginning of the semester and there were only three ICC sessions happening on this day (as opposed to the five happening throughout the day on Friday). Still, the ratio of ICC to face-to-face sessions still says enough about who takes up the most room.


Posters I remember when we put up posters in the RUWC. Our goal was to make the place look a little more alive and create a more inviting place that people might want to hang out in. When I was observing the posters one day, though, I wondered if they were working for or against one of our foremost goals at the RUWC: to create appeal to all majors and courses. It’s an uphill battle trying to convince the majority of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors that we aren’t just a bunch of English and Writing major literature nerds who can’t help them with their subject matter. Okay, we probably are nerds, but that’s beside the point. We are tutors from all majors—marketing, biology, philosophy—who understand the essential elements of composition that go into writing any paper in any subject. So, shouldn’t the posters on the wall reflect that? In this map, I compared how many literatureappealing posters we had compared to all others. I categorized them based off of any reference, quotation, or affiliation they might have with any literary author or work of literature. The ones that fell outside of this literature category were pretty general—some even containing their own quotes, but just not from or appealing to any literary figure(s).


Invasion: Pt. I: Eyeing up the Space If the title sounds hyperbolic already, it’s because it is. We have, however, just entered back into a familiar conflict we experienced last year: sharing our space with the Tax Workers. Since moving into our new spot on the first floor of Campbell Library, we’ve been spending tax season with students and faculty from Rowan’s Accounting program. It sucks that it sucks. They’re doing a great thing for the community by providing a free tax service while we help people with their writing. But as April approaches with the simultaneous impetus for students to work on their papers and everyone else to finish filing their taxes at the last minute, tensions flare in our very limited space. And when I was mapping this relationship, I was a little freaked out by how much what I made came out looking like war maps. After all we’ve read in this class and my inevidable bias, maybe I shouldn’t be that surpised. In this map, I tracked the movements of two samples: an active Tax Worker and an active Tax Customer. The Tax Worker spent a lot of time running back and forth between tables and the different offices they had set up in the small meeting rooms. The Tax Customer, naturally, wanted to walk around a big on his long wait to talk to a Worker, so he toured around a specific section of the RUWC, taking a particular interest in some posters and tutor profiles we have hanging by the entrance. The dots that track the footsteps draw from traditional war maps that track the enemy in two distinct colors, implying to the reader that there are two camps among people that they might not otherwise have any reason to sense any hostility or separation from.


Invasion: Pt. II: Making Moves By this point, while it was still early in the season and there was not yet an overwhelming amount of people in the RUWC, I figured I’d tally up how many people each side had brought into the place. While I was doing this, though, I noticed something very interesting: every table and couch seemed to be occupied by one party only—almost as if each had claimed territory in the room. I mapped it accordingly. There’s still a lot of vacant space, fortunately—particularly because their times in the RUWC don’t fall on the same days as our ICC sessions and also because it’s still early in the season, resulting in lower traffic for both of us. As far as I see, though, both of us respect each other and leave our dispute over space at just that. I always try to smile and offer help where I can. Last year, I even did my taxes with them. I have to be honest, though, and say that I hope for everyone’s sake who will be there next year that there’s a lot less blue on it by then.


Invasion Pt. III: Compromise By late February, both parties have become busy with the peak of tax return season and midsemester papers approaching. On this day, the RUWC has prepared for its “Writing Your Way to the Job” workshop, setting tables up in the back half of the room to suit the presentation. However, through a lack of foresight or denial of our situation, we overlooked that the tax people would be here on this night. Things are about to get real. I directed workshop attendants to the back of the room where we had the projector and tables reconfigured while making space for the Tax Customers away from that section. As the room became more and more packed, I panicked—that is until I tried a cutting-edge, underrated war tactic: communication. I spoke to one of the tax workers—someone I perceived to be a professor and supervisor of their operation—along with a couple of student volunteers under him. I told them that we were having a workshop in the back and that I made some extra room in the front for their clients to sit while they fill out paperwork. A few seconds later, we had a friendly compromise: divide the room in half. In this map, I highlighted the ground space instead of the tables and sitting spaces. The division implies a separation of space, as opposed to specific objects. And, much like the maps of North and South Korea or Israel and Palestine, the straight and distinguishable line separating the central space of the RUWC suggests that there is some sort of cooperation (be it stable or unstable) and understanding between both parties.


Profile for Phil Cole

Feats and Defeats of Association  

This is a narrative atlas I made for my Visual Rhetoric and Multimodal Composition graduate course at Rowan University. It creates a narrati...

Feats and Defeats of Association  

This is a narrative atlas I made for my Visual Rhetoric and Multimodal Composition graduate course at Rowan University. It creates a narrati...

Profile for philcole
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