The room, RML 350, felt cozy and inviting. Gold balloons floated around the space. Library staff, students and faculty drifted around talking amongst themselves, taking free pens, reading pamphlets, grabbing a cup of coffee or cutting a slice of the cake. The cake itself was the center of attention, a vanilla cake with raspberries and blueberries inside, crushed nuts on the sides and beautiful frosted roses on the top. Iced lettering ironically proclaimed, “Happy 40 Birthday Writting Desk” (an unfortunate mistake on the part of the caterer, this reporter was later told). This was the St. Olaf Writing Desk’s 40th birthday party, and it appeared to be a success.
Bridget Draxler ’05 is the Academic Support Center’s Writing and Speaking Specialist. She is in charge of both the Writing Desk and the Speaking Space and planned the birthday party.
“We decided to throw a birthday party for the Writing Desk because … when I was a student here I didn’t know the Writing Desk existed,” Draxler said. “I wasn’t a tutor or anything, but I just thought, ‘I would like to know a little more about the history of the Writing Desk and where it came from and how it’s evolved over the years.’ And as I was doing my research, I found out that this school year is the fortieth anniversary since its starting and we thought, ‘Well, we should throw the Writing Desk a birthday party to celebrate forty years.’”
In those forty years, the Writing Desk has certainly evolved. Draxler wrote a history of the Writing Desk chronicling this evolution and handed it out at the party so attendees could learn more about it. Over the past forty years, it has gone through several name and location changes, from the Writing Lab to the Writing Place to the Writing Desk. Expectations have also changed of the Writing Desk, from being a place for students to have their papers proofread and copy edited to its current function of making students better writers. In addition, the number of tutors has expanded to three students working only with first-year English classes in 1978 to twenty-five working across disciplines in 2018.
“The writing tutors are really committed to their work, and they all care so much about helping students as writers and I would just encourage you if you haven’t been to the Writing Desk to stop in and say hi,” said Draxler.
Nicole Degillo ’21 and Fiona Greathouse ’21 agree. Both came to the party and have interacted with the Writing Desk on multiple occasions.
“I’m going to be employed [by the Desk] next year, so I’m training in the spring,” said Greathouse.
Degillo, meanwhile, used the Writing Desk extensively during her writing class last fall. “Every Friday I had a writing tutor … without the Writing Center my structure of papers wouldn’t be great. They would be very messy, like high school probably.”
Draxler was pleased by the success of the party.
“We’re really excited by how many people came out to the party,” she said. “We had faculty and staff and students, current tutors, current patrons of the Writing Desk, and it was great to see everyone together and chatting and talking about the history and eating cake and just honoring four decades of great work on this campus. I’m really proud to be a part of that.”
Spelling error and all, the cake and the party were both great successes for the Writing Desk and a good way to celebrate forty years of helping students become better writers.