The Richard Wright Center (RWC) was founded in 2003 to provide “daily support services for students who need assistance and encouragement in completing their writing assignments” (Jackson State University, Herrin Grant Proposal, p. 1). The center was named after Richard Wright, Mississippi-born writer who was once part of the community now served by Jackson State University. From 2003 until 2013, the center was called the Richard Wright Center for the Written Word.
Monique Guillory, a former journalist and specialist in comparative literature, was instrumental in developing the initial proposal for the center in 2001. She envisioned the writing center as a place where students could “share their work with someone else, get feedback, and think critically about how well they have made their point” (M. Guillory, personal communication, September 15, 2009). Funding for the center was secured through Title III and Herrin grants. From 2003 to 2008, the center was affiliated with the Division of the Undergraduate Studies. Brenda Kaye Anderson was appointed its director, and Katie M. Dearborn was hired to set up the center and to assist the director in its daily operations. The RWC was initially located on the 3rd floor of the H.T. Sampson Library, in the extreme southeast end of the building, and later moved to the 4th floor, near the atrium.
During its first semester, the center’s staff saw only 8 students. By its fifth year, the number soared to an average of 400 students a semester. Undergraduate students were recruited as peer tutors and trained by then director of the writing center at Millsaps College Kathi R. Griffin and a group of her peer tutors. In March 2006, in collaboration with the Division of Undergraduate Studies, University College, and the Department of English and Modern Foreign Languages, the Richard Wright Center sponsored a large conference on Writing Across the Curriculum, co-chaired by Brenda Kaye Anderson and Carol Jackson Cooper.
In 2008, the RWC became a part of the Strengthening the Core Curriculum and Academic Leadership Project, a Title III initiative aimed at enhancing core courses in English, history, philosophy, biology, and mathematics, and Stephen G. McLeod became the director of the project and the center. The center functioned as a site for professional development for faculty and graduate teaching assistants. While the focus of the center shifted to curriculum-based support, with graduate teaching assistants providing one-to-one consultations to students of faculty in the different disciplines, the center continued to offer tutoring sessions to writers at all stages of the writing process and in all disciplines.
In 2012, as the program phased out, Debra Buchannan was appointed Executive Director, initiating a revision of how writing was taught on campus. The initiative, however, was stalled by further administrative and funding changes.
In 2013, the center underwent another transition and became part of the College of Liberal Arts. Lawrence Potter, Dean of the college, renamed the center the Richard Wright Center for Writing, Rhetoric, and Research, appointed Kathi R. Griffin director, and revised the mission of the center. Again the center began to recruit and train peer tutors, this time in collaboration with the Honors College, and to offer an opportunity for volunteer tutors to receive community service hours. In 2015, the center began to offer a 1-credit tutor training course, first in the history of the center. With support of Dr. Loria Brown Gordon, Associate Dean of the W. E. B. Du Bois, this course was at first offered as an honors colloquium to the Honors College students. In the fall of 2019 it was also offered through the English Department as ENG 310, Tutoring Writing in the Global Context. At the same time, ENG 311, Issues in Tutoring Writing, was added to provide continous professional development for peer tutors.
Today the RWC is a site of professional development for peer tutors and graduate assistants and the only research site on campus, where staff members engage in replicable, aggregable, and data-driven research in student writing.
Acknowledgement: We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Evelyn J. Leggette, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Jackson State University, and Dr. Monique Guillory, Special Assistant to the President, Xavier University, who contributed to this report in 2009.