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Fostering Emotional Well-being at the Writing Center

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

by Alaa Itani

On Saturday, the 3rd of April, Writing Center tutors Tamanna Taher and Alaa Itani hosted a Tutor & Tutee Emotional Well-being workshop for all AUS Writing Center peer tutors. Attended by approximately 25 of the Writing Center staff, the tutors learned about different ways empathy has been defined in the field of psychology and then learned about the three different types of empathy. This introduction was followed by a short activity that involved tutors completing an empathy quiz to receive an empathy score and its interpretation. It was particularly interesting to see the range of empathy scores across tutors, with some tutors expressing surprise at the values of their scores.

After this activity, Tamanna introduced the concept of effective empathy, its benefits, and examples of how verbal and non-verbal empathy can be employed in the Writing Center. The reactions to Tamanna’s examples of correct and incorrect methods to employ and express verbal empathy were rather mixed, with some tutors noting that they were guilty of employing the incorrect methods Tamanna had presented. This was followed by a role-play activity involving Alaa and two volunteers from the Writing Center staff in which they demonstrated the correct way to empathetically conduct a session. In the first scenario, a volunteer took the role of the emotional tutee stressed over her assignments whilst Alaa took on the role of the unempathetic tutor who dismisses her tutee’s emotions. In the second scenario, another volunteer took on the role of the tutee who was struggling to cope with academic work alongside other COVID-19 demands whilst Alaa took on the role of the empathetic tutor who recognizes and empathetically acknowledges her tutee’s struggles. Following these scenarios, some tutors remarked that integrating empathy was more deceptive than it seemed, as both scenarios seemed realistic and both the “good” and “bad” responses to the tutees’ emotions seemed familiar and plausible.

Following the activity, Alaa discussed the steps tutors should follow when confronted with an emotional tutee and how to handle a session if an emotional tutee loses control, such as giving them a break and sharing a similar personal experience. Finally, Alaa ended the workshop by explaining the different aspects of affective labor in the Writing Center, how these aspects can cause burnout, and how such burnout can be mitigated. Discussion of burnout sparked conversation amongst tutors, with some expressing how they found it emotionally exhausting to maintain a positive attitude during their sessions. Other tuors rushed to help with suggestions of how they have been dealing with burnout, especially during a time when online learning has blurred the line between work and rest. The conversation eventually led to discussion among tutors about work-life balance struggles and tips. Tamanna shared a strategy she uses to distinguish her study, work, and relaxation times: using different colored, twinkling lights for each activity.

The response to this workshop was one of exceeding positivity and engagement, sparking the conversation on mental well-being amongst the writing center staff. The response eventually led to a second workshop on mental well-being presented by Dr. Tammy Gregersen. Dr. Maria Eleftheriou, AUS Writing Center director, expressed hopes that the workshop would be the first step into integrating a focus on mental well-being and empathy training into the AUS Writing Center.

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