Inhabiting the Writing Center

A Foyerstic View of Owls Introduction Treatment of Physical Space Conclusion References

Treatment of Physical Space
A Foyeristic View of OWLs
Works Cited

Nathalie Singh-Corcoran
Amin Emika,
West Virginia University

A Treatment of Physical Space: A Review in Five Texts

Here, we identify texts that characterize how the writing center community talks about space. There are many texts we could have chosen, but for the purposes of our review, we decided to follow these representative samples: two brief articles from early issues of the Writing Lab Newsletter (WLN), excerpts from the 1993 book Writing Centers in Context: Twelve Case Studies (Kinkead & Harris), two recent articles about writing center space, and a series of webtexts promoting a new writing center. Each of these texts addresses the physical appearance: room layout, furniture, lighting, decorative features, and location. They also point to the same underlying assumptions regarding space, nodding to common values and beliefs within the community, such as an inviting space is conducive to learning. In addition, these works implicitly point to some of the community's anxieties over institutional status and power.

The Writing Lab Newsletter (WLN)

We begin with two short texts from the WLN because they represent some of the earliest public conversations regarding space. The WLN is the writing center community's first journal. It began in April 1977, and for the first several years of its existence, it served primarily as a forum for the community's questions and concerns (not unlike a modern-day listserv). The earlier issues of the WLN featured profiles of individual centers. They were largely descriptive and provided information such as individual center histories, reporting lines, staff make-up, staff training, equipment/technology, and descriptions of writing center space.

In the April 1978 edition of the newsletter the publication first makes reference to physical space. Virginia Stone chronicled the design and construction of the English Learning Center at Del Mar College:

The wall between two classrooms in the English Building was taken down, the floor was carpeted, and 34 carrels equipped with Wolensak Tape Players and Sawyer Slide Projectors and five tables for programmed materials and testing were moved in. . . a counter storage unit was put in front of the library shelves on one wall, and two file cabinets and a desk for the instructor and the assistant completed the furniture arrangement. . . Pictures were hung on a picture rail on three sides of the room, a wallpaper mural of a wooded scene was put on the fourth wall behind the shelves, and hanging baskets of devil's ivy and planters of ficus trees completed the décor. (p. 5)

Stone went on to provide information about the ELC's funding sources and budget, essential equipment and materials, and curriculum. According to Stone, it was a space that opened under "almost ideal conditions" (p. 5), and while she didn't explicitly share the conditions under which the center opened, it is clear that the center had ample funding. For example, the ELC had $20,000 in soft money for hardware and software ($67,000 adjusted for 2010 inflation). Stone also did not elaborate on the ELC's aesthetic elements, but ended her piece with a nod to those elements: The ELC "justifies its existence by creating a pleasant atmosphere for the students while they work at essentially egregious remedial tasks" (p. 5).

Her comments about the physical space are significant because they are not only the first spatial discussions to appear in the journal, but they also spark a dialogue. A few WLN issues later, Richard B. Larsen (1979) in his "A Note on Lab Layout" called attention to Stone's piece—particularly the section where she discussed her center's decor (pictures, mural of a wooded scene, hanging baskets). He argued that, "pleasant surroundings can make the learning process itself more pleasant and therefore easier for the typical anxiety-ridden lab student"  (p. 3).

In nodding to Stone, Larsen extended her implied claims: ideal conditions are the result of plentiful funding and the freedom to design an attractive learning environment. He said: 

If you, lab person, have inherited the shabby back room of gymnasium full of old sox and jocks [sic], my heart goes out to you . . . For the more fortunate among us, those blessed with the choices and the money to back them, allow me to enter this plea for the humanization of a skills center with color and flora. ( p. 4)

While the two WLN pieces are brief, they point to significant and lasting trends in the writing center community. They forward that space is not value neutral. Space can shape how one acquires knowledge (i.e., one's learning behavior), and they assume that an ideal space can only exist if a center has access to significant capital.

Writing Center in Context: Twelve Case Studies

Jeanette Kinkead's and Joyce Harris’ 1993 edited collection, Writing Centers in Context: Twelve Case Studies does much of the same work as the WLN center profiles. Like the WLN texts, the book offers general descriptions of writing centers, including information about the centers' histories, chronology of a typical day, administration, and physical description—information the editors identify as the "defining characteristics" of each individual program (p. xviii). It is also important to note that Writing Centers in Context is one of the first book-length publications on writing centers. This detail is significant because it foments the collection as a historical "go-to" text for writing center scholars.

In their introduction, Kinkead and Harris maintained that each writing center profiled is unique to its home institution. However, the profilers talk about their physical space in ways that are remarkably similar to and reminiscent of the WLN profiles. Of the twelve descriptions, nine emphasize the affective dimensions of physical space. For example, Muriel Harris (1993) explained that the Purdue Writing Center:

is set up so that students who walk in first see the receptionist's desk and a smiling face staring at them, as well as couches, the plants, and the informal arrangement of tables and chairs around the room . . .The room is also a mix of comfortable, old donated couches, tables, plants, posters, coffeepots, a recycling bin for soda cans and paper, and even a popcorn machine, all of which signal (we hope) that this mess is also a friendly, nonthreatening, nonclassroom environment where conversation and questions can fly from one table to another. (p. 6)

At the University of Southern California center, if one were to look

…across the main room from the reception area, one [would] immediately hear a buzz of talk and catch a glimpse of plants, pictures, and posters. In the corner of the room is a blue-and-white sofa/loveseat combination for those who prefer a relaxed informal tutoring style; on a nearby coffee table is a plant, a dictionary, and a few haphazardly placed, brightly covered textbooks . . . Both rooms are carpeted, so students and consultants sometimes sit on the floor. (Clark, 1993, p. 106)

At Harvard, the

…furniture is comfortable and inviting, with two couches and several chairs in the reception area, rugs in all offices, and attractive posters on the walls . . . At high stress times, [they] offer trays of cookies or fruit to those who visit. (Simon, 1993, p. 118)

Not all of the profiles are elaborate; a few are fairly basic, offering only sparse descriptions that read more like inventories (see, e.g., Brenda Greene's [1993] chapter on Medgar Evers College). However, most of the physical descriptions include words such as comfortable, inviting, friendly, nonthreatening, non-institutional, relaxed, informal, and attractive.

In his review of the text, Brad Hughes (1994) called the 12 profiles "a synecdoche," a part that stands for the larger whole of the writing center community (p. 173). If he is correct in his assertion, then "writing center" takes on a connotative meaning, one that points to the same outcome even though writing centers themselves are the result of their local, institutional contexts. The community's identity is dependent upon the affective dimensions of space—the tangible details that make people feel comfortable or at ease and that make these spaces decidedly nonclassroom.

Larsen's (1979) language in his WLN profile—the center as space where anxious students work on "egregious remedial tasks"—may shed some light on the community's desire to make a space comfortable and inviting. Students at his institution visited the writing center for remediation (p. 5). They were underprepared for college-level reading and writing and perhaps anxious about their place in the university. Writing centers still serve these students today, and tutors can sense their palpable discomfort when they work with them. These students have anxieties about their performance in school, and they choose not to seek out help for fear of being labeled deficient. A comfortable, inviting, and non-institutional space—one with soft lighting and comfy chairs—is designed to ease a student's apprehensions.

However, writing centers serve more than underprepared students. The writing center community, especially in the mid-80s and 90s asserted that they were not remedial or supplemental but rather spaces for all writers (see Stephen North's, 1984,"The Idea of a Writing Center"). Several of the profiles provided in Writing Centers in Context make this same point. For example, the Purdue center clientele consists of "freshman in the regular two-semester composition sequence as well as . . . students in the developmental course and the one-semester honors course . . . students in English as a second language courses. . . business and technical writing . . . creative writing . . . journalism" (Harris, 1993, p. 9); in short, everyone at every level of writing ability. Edward Lotto (1993) at Lehigh University makes a similar claim about its student population, who are a "self-selected" group doing fairly well in their freshman English classes but "perhaps earning a high C or low B" (p. 86). These students want "to do better since [they are] used to doing well" (p. 86). The rest of the students who visit the Lehigh center "vary from the very good writer who responds to the slightest suggestion with originality and insight to the writer who is struggling to pass a course" (p. 87).

How might we reconcile the two competing notions of writing centers (centers as spaces for remediation and centers as spaces for all writers) and their common aims for physical space?  One answer is that when students are comfortable, they are more likely to perform in ways that speak to learning outcomes—outcomes that are determined by a writing center's mission. Writing centers have long been touted as safe spaces for learning, spaces where "experimentation and practice are encouraged" (Harris, 1988). Students familiar with conventional classroom environments encounter a writing center and notice that the space is different. The traditional classroom promotes a specific kind of student-to-student, student-to-teacher interaction, one that's conducive to one-way communication: lecture and listening. By contrast, the writing center space promotes a certain kind of student-to-tutor engagement, one that encourages conversation and collaboration: Student and tutor can sit side by side at tables, slouch on couches, or sit on the floor. A comfortable writing center environment is also conducive to a level of intimacy and familiarity that cannot be replicated in the traditional classroom. The comfortable and inviting, reified writing center space—counter to the equally reified classroom space—is decidedly low-stakes. For example, students do not compete for a teacher's attention or shrink from a teacher's gaze by using tactics like sitting in the back row and avoiding eye contact. Ideally, in a low-stakes space, one can experiment and practice without competition or fear of failure.

Leaving Home Sweet Home: Towards a Critical Review of Writing Center Spaces

Two recent writing center texts complicate conceptions of the writing center's physical space: Jackie Grutsch McKinney's 2005 Writing Center Journal article, "Leaving Home Sweet Home: Towards Critical Readings of Writing Center Spaces" and Melissa Nicolas's 2004 Academic Exchange Quarterly piece, "The Politics of Writing Center as Location." We begin with the Grutsch McKinney piece because it contends with texts we've already addressed—namely Kinkead and Harris' Writing Centers in Context.

In addition to Writing Centers in Context, Grutsch McKinney examined various W-Center listserv posts, "An Ideal Writing Center: Re-Imagining Space and Design" (Hadfield, Kinkead, Peterson, Ray, & Preston, 2003), and many other pertinent texts. She argued:

Writing center spaces tend to be marked with particular objects to achieve a certain mood, serve specific purposes, or send a particular message to those who use the space. Having couches or photos or coffee pots is an effort to construct a space different from classrooms and other impersonal institutional spaces. An unintended result, however, might be that these objects become prescriptions for these spaces; to be legible—to be read—as a "writing center," a space needs to have a particular array of objects. And because many writing center professionals seem to be operating under the tacitly accepted notion that writing centers should be welcoming, cozy, comfortable, friendly spots where talk about writing can happen, one prescription wins out: writing centers should be like home. (p. 7)

Grutsch McKinney challenged the writing center community to complicate notions of space, especially the affective dimensions that connote home.  She posited that in the writing center community's early history, "Professionals in the field created friendly centers . . . for conscious reasons—they did not want to be that other scary, institutional lab for remedial students, they wanted students to feel welcome. . . like one big family" (p. 9). If we juxtapose Grutsch McKinney's article with the WLN profiles, we see that her assumptions are founded. We also come to the same conclusions in our discussion of Writing Centers in Context previously.

However, she also argued that the home metaphor "distracts us from the material realities of actual writing centers" (p. 10). Writing centers that are homey—marked by objects such as art on the walls, couches, soft lighting—represent middle-class conceptions of the domestic space: "These patterns may not be shared by all students [. . .] when our clientele might include a greater portion of students who are not white or privileged or American than the general university population" (p. 16). One's "home life may be abusive or dangerous" (p. 16). In addition, "one cannot ignore the gender implications of home" (p. 17) and the corresponding assumptions that equate teaching with mothering wherein teaching becomes a non-intellectual endeavor. In short, Grutsch McKinney established all of the ways in which the writing-center-as-home is a deeply problematic metaphor.

Given her laudable efforts to reshape the conversation about writing center space, in the seven years since Grutsch McKinney's publication, the community appears to be only slightly more attentive to the complexities of space. For example, at the 2010 International Writing Centers Association/National Conference on Peer Tutoring, sessions like  "Creating Safe Cultural, Emotional, and Physical Spaces for Diverse Students" addressed questions such as "Does the physical arrangement make the center accessible?" and, "Can a center's decorations offend someone's culture?" (Smith, Lessner, Childers, Conard-Salvo, & Severe, 2010). But, in other sessions like "The Writing Center Space: Is your Center Designed to be a Safe Harbor" (Wysocki, 2010) and "Sea Change: The Importance of Space in the Writing Center" (Morgan, 2010), the emphasis on "new and creative design" that facilitates the overarching goals of a writing center or "sprucing up" a writing center suggests that an emphasis on a center's affective dimensions still dominate the conversation. We find further evidence in publically available images posted on Facebook (see Figures 1 and 2).  

HWC facebook page

Figure 1. The Hume Writing Center (2010), "Your Home Away From Home"


WVU Writing Center photo

Figure 2. The West Virginia University Writing Center (2010)


Both Figure 1 and Figure 2 deliberately hearken to the idea of home. The Hume Writing Center album positions the writing center as home via the Facebook photo album title, while the West Virginia University Writing Center suggests home by staging a family Christmas photo within the space of the writing center. 

The Politics of Writing Center as Location

In her 2004 Academic Exchange Quarterly article, "The Politics of Writing Center as Location," Melissa Nicolas took the physical space conversation in a different direction: Writing center space is indicative of power and access to capital. Nicolas argued that:

…the spaces we occupy, or the lack of space for us to occupy, is more than a problem of limited resources . . . Since campus real estate at most institutions is at a premium, occupying a real physical space sends a message to the campus community that who or what inhabits that space is important enough to garner a piece of this limited resource since space connotes the power and the value attached to who or what occupies it. (para. 8)

Nicolas's text is largely a narrative about her experiences at an institution where the writing center was attached to one person, embodied by a woman who tutored students, and when she went on maternity leave, the center ceased to exist. Nicolas called on the writing center community to be attentive to space because "Not having a room to label 'the writing center'," or having a writing center filled with broken chairs and outdated equipment conveys a powerful message about the value an institution assigns to its writing center" (para. 4). Nicolas's words prompt us to revisit Stone and Larsen's WLN texts, which we discussed previously. Stone's ability to configure the writing center space as she saw fit, her access to an abundance of soft money, and Larsen's comment regarding the privilege of space: those blessed with choice and money versus those who have inherited "shabby back room[s]. . . full of old sox and jocks" (Larsen, 1979, p. 4).  They also force us to acknowledge that while 25 years has elapsed between the articles, the issues regarding writing center power and institutional legitimacy—as evidenced through space—still persist.

The WLN texts juxtaposed with Nicolas's text suggest that writing centers are always at once in peril and in celebration. Examples of peril can be seen in the several recent articles that chronicle the current university budget crisis and its decimating effects on writing centers (see, e.g., Caudel, 2011; Drescher, 2010). At the same time, we have seen examples of new, robust, or reconfigured writing centers. The recent opening of Eastern Kentucky University's (EKU) Noel Studio for Academic Creativity (2010a) is the most recent and most striking example.

Future Spaces

In September 2009, EKU began chronicling the construction of the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity on a wordpress blog. Russell Carpenter, the studio director also made announcements (2010) about the blog on W-Center and sent repeated updates so that subscribers could see his space progress and even attend the center's live dedication. According to an EKU press release, the studio was the result of a $1 million-plus gift, which created a setting offering

a variety of spaces that allow students to develop their communication skills through critical and creative thinking: invention spaces where ideas are born, presentation practice rooms, a presentation suite for delivering and refining oral communication, breakout spaces for spontaneous collaborative group work or creative work with manipulatives, conference space for networking with colleagues on campus and remotely along with practicing and capturing group dynamics, and a discovery classroom for orientations, guest speakers, conferences, and instruction sessions.

The Noel Studio is rather unlike any of the other writing centers we have reviewed thus far. It offers multiple spaces within a space: invention spaces, presentation spaces, breakout spaces, conference spaces, and classroom spaces. Because of its focus on communication across the curriculum—in all of its multimodal forms—during her 2010 IWCA/NCPTW keynote address, Andrea Lunsford (2010) called it the future of writing centers. Indeed, the studio's physical space evokes the future. The center is brightly lit; the ceilings high; the furnishings are ergonomic and in Danish modern style. Computers, large plasma screens, and presentation hardware and software are featured (see Figure 3). This place is a departure from long-standing conceptions of writing center spaces, and is decidedly nothing like home.


Stanford Writing Center

Figure 3. Noel Studio for Academic Creativity (2010b)

In addition, this space is not counter-institutional as writing centers have traditionally positioned themselves. In fact, because the Noel Studio is directly connected to the university's strategic plan, specifically EKU's Quality Enhancement Plan (2007) and a focused university-wide initiative to "develop informed, critical and creative thinkers who communicate effectively" (, it is hyper-institutional (Eastern Kentucky University QEP, 2011).

The Writing Center Through a Spatial Rhetorical Lens

As we reviewed the WLN profiles, Writing Centers in Context, "Leaving Home Sweet Home" and "The Politics of Writing Center as Location," and the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity, we found ourselves returning to two questions: (1) How does the writing center space affect social practice? and (2) How does social practice shape the writing center space? What follows is our response to those questions, using theories of space and place.

How does space affect social practice?

In asking how space affects social practice, we do not suggest that space is neutral or that it is divorced from behavior. We fully acknowledge that human interaction changes space—something that we discuss more fully below. However, we also need to acknowledge that various structural parameters (e.g., location and access to capital) constrain what is possible within a physical space. These constraints are a space's resultant habitus, or "structures independent of the consciousness and will of agents" (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 14). According to Pierre Bourdieu, habitus consists of  "systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures" (p. 72). In short, forces (structures) outside of an agent's control inevitably affect what is real and what is possible in a particular environment.

Three of our reviewed texts explicitly point to a writing center's habitus: Stone's (1978) "ELC at Del Mar College," Nicolas's "The Politics of Location," and The Noel Studio webtexts. Stone's WLN piece and The Noel Studio texts, while decades apart, share a similar habitus. The Del Mar Center and The Noel Studio are both technological marvels for their time—the Del Mar Center having Wollensak Tape Players, Sawyer Slide Projectors, CTR terminals, and an IBM 3278 model 2, and the Noel Studio having a CopyCam system, articulating monitors, touch-screen technology, and video equipment. Both have fairly large sums of seed money, but their spaces' missions are directly tied to larger institutional structures. For the Del Mar Center, the connection is implicit. The very specific function of this center is likely connected to the era of Open Admissions and the university's desire to remediate and therefore retain a new population of students. The funding helps the center serve its primary remediating function. The Noel Studio is directly connected to EKU's QEP and a "focused university-wide initiative to develop informed, critical and creative thinkers who communicate effectively" (

Centers so closely tied to an institution's mission and/or strategic plan retain symbolic capital, particularly when juxtaposed with the one-person center Nicolas (2004) described. However, such capital-rich sites are also under more institutional scrutiny and pressure to perform/conform to institutional learning outcomes—outcomes that are a distance from writing centers' liberatory past. Here, we nod to Tilly Warnock and John Warnock's (1984) canonical "Liberatory Writing Centers: Restoring Authority to Writers." In their article, Warnock and Warnock saw writing centers as "risk taking operations" (p. 23) where students could act on their own critical consciousness and revise themselves in the worl, two outcomes that are immeasurable in the context of institutional assessment. According to Warnock and Warnock, centers are liberatory because they exist on the fringes of the academy: "often in unused classrooms, old barracks, and basements" (p. 23).

We note the inherent paradox. Centers with more institutional status and power are under more rigid control, but they are more permanent structures; whereas centers with less power and status may operate under the radar and therefore can be more experimental and liberatory.  Despite this freedom, they are also the most susceptible to staffing issues, economic crises, fund reallocations, and a host of other institutional forces outside of a center's control.

How does social practice shape space?

Just as space shapes practice, so does practice shape space. Edward Soja's (1996a) conceptions of thirdspace help us understand the multidirectional relationship among place, history, and ideas: "We traditionally tend to think about space in two ways, one as concrete material forms, empirically expressed geographies; and the other as a more mental construct, as imagined geographies. Stated differently, the first involves things in space, the second thoughts about space" (p. 1426). In his book Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real and Imagined Spaces, Soja (1996a) argued against such binary thinking and instead encouraged us to consider a "third alternative that combines both the 'real' empirical geographies and the conceived of 'imagined' geographies in a much broader notion of lived space" (p. 1426). Thirdspace, or lived space, is the union between first space: "a material and materialized 'physical' spatiality that is directly comprehended in empirically measurable configurations" and second space: "conceived ideas about space" (1996b, p. 10).

When we apply Soja's ideas to our review, we note several texts that address writing centers only as first or real space. The WLN texts, Writing Centers in Context, and the Noel Studio webtexts primarily identify the center as material, noting room layout, location, decorative features, technology, budgets, as well as other material realities not emphasized in this review, such as staffing or tutor training. These texts also identify writing centers as second/conceived spaces, informed by philosophies regarding comfort-and-learning as well as trends in higher education (e.g., Open Admissions, QEP, 21st Century Literacy, etc.).

If thirdspace is place and idea enacted, then Nicolas (2004) and Grutsch McKinney (2005) provide the most complete portraits of writing centers as thirdspace because they challenge readers to examine their everyday practices in a given space and call into question the beliefs that inform their actions and ideas about the writing center. Nicolas (2004) thirds the writing center when she treats it as real-and-imagined, location-and-concept. She evoked Bonnie Sunstein, Stephen North, and Elizabeth Boquet when she argued that if the writing center is divorced from space—a moveable feast, a place to talk about ideas, or a method—its institutional value is undermined. She argued that writing center-as-concept cannot supersede writing center-as-location: "Writing center space is political, invested with meaning, and most clearly, a physical manifestation of often unspoken attitudes about writing center work and writing center workers" (para 9).

Grutsch McKinney's (2005) approach to writing center as thirdspace also began with center-as-concept (i.e., the home metaphor), then she discussed actual center usage. In other words, she examined how the metaphor plays out in material space and affects the users (staff and students). In her analysis, she asked an important question:  "…if a writing center is a home, whose home is it? Mine? Yours? For whom is it comfortable?" (p. 16). She continued, "Like it or not, when we fill our writing centers with touches of home, we may be marking it as familiar and comfortable for directors and tutors   often . . . of a certain class (upper or middle) and cultural background" (p. 16). In short, our intent to make our centers comfortable for students might backfire given their individual lived experiences with home.

Nedra Reynolds (2003) also shed some light on the metaphors that are repeatedly reproduced in educational environments:  "We should be asking how metaphors result from, rather than simply shape, our experience in the material world . . . we need to understand more about the embodied activity and situated experience that leads to our dependence on and reproduction of spatial metaphors that so often characterize writing and learning" (p. 46). To a great extent, Grutsch McKinney (2005) helps us understand how the home metaphor helped the writing center community construct an identity distinct from (and in our assessment, counter to) the traditional classroom. However, we also posit that the metaphor helped (and perhaps still helps) centers mediate their location. For example, if a center is located in a less than desirable space, like a basement in an old building, those who work at the center might attempt to transform the space into a something that makes the location livable or even comforting and nostalgic. The (mostly white and middle/upper middle class writing center staff) here attempts to mediate a space and connect it to something with which they already have an affinity.

In her analysis, Grutsch McKinney argued that the home metaphor best serves the writing center staff and that the metaphor may be in disservice to other users of the space: students. However, we disagree with some of her conclusions. We end our review section with a nod to contemporary writing centers that deliberately invoke the home metaphor (including our own). The home/comfort metaphors still persist—even after Grutsch McKinney challenged the writing center community to reconsider them—largely because the writing center staff, not the students, represent the predominant users/occupiers of the space. Consider the following: A high volume writing center may log 4,000 contact hours, or 4,000 one-on-one sessions, with students in a given semester, and may have a staff of 40 peer tutors (note: 4,000 sessions does not equal 4,000 students, and many students will be repeat visitors to a center). Those 40 peer tutors spend more cumulative time at the writing center than the students who receive tutoring. In short, the design of the space may have less of an impact on the student who is passing through than it does on the tutor and director who actually live in the center.

From the student-user perspective, the center then may be more akin to a nonplace. First coined by Melvin Webber (1964), nonplaces were marked by access rather than proximity. According to Webber, the necessary conditions for community were once a "sense of belonging, a body of shared values, a system of logical organization, and interdependency of spatial proximity" (p. 109). However, he saw community as becoming less place bound and more conceptual or interest bound, and because communities were no longer determined by place, ideas could proliferate (Arefi, 1999). Since Webber first defined the nonplace, the concept has been taken up and extended most notably by Marc Augé. Augé (2000) argued that while nonplaces are not bound to time or region, they also do not provide their inhabitants with any sense of identity, community, or tradition. Nonplaces begin with "unrootedness or detachment" (p. 9). They are not conceptual spaces, but rather transient, temporal, and intermediary: the spaces in-between places like airports, malls, waiting rooms. However, a nonplace is also not fixed. It "comes into existence when humans don't recognize themselves in it", or cease to recognize themselves in it or have yet to recognize themselves in it (p. 9). It is also possible for a space to be looked upon "as a place by some people and a nonplace by others, on a long-term or a short-term basis" (p. 9).

And while there isn't a direct parallel, for many students, the writing center may have qualities of a nonplace, particularly for those students who just pass through as they fulfill their university writing requirement. These students do not develop lasting relationships with others in the center, and they develop no place attachment or emotional linkage to the physical site (Milligan, 2003). As writing center professionals so deeply tied to the writing center as place, it's difficult for us to imagine that some students see the center as an institutional space among many nonplaces of their everyday, but we contend that seeing the writing center through the eyes of a passerby adds new layers of dimension to our conceptions of what is real and what is possible within the center. For example, if we examine writing centers through the lens of nonplace, how might that inform our usage data? Might it help us better design studies that get at why some students only use the writing center once or why many students never use the writing center at all?  Might it help us get at other questions regarding a student's place attachment to the center and the likelihood of retention? How might it help us navigate our writing center identities—especially as we look towards the spaces we occupy online?