My service-learning project for Mentoring Writers English 1810 was a writing workshop for sexual trauma survivors called Reclaiming Voice: Writing Through Sexual Trauma to be held at the Community Writing Center. I developed this workshop in collaboration with Kati Lewis, Associate Professor at SLCC, and Jodi Lycett, Community Mental Health Counselor at SLCC. These collaborators were pivotal in offering expertise in writing workshops and a trauma-informed approach to working with survivors of sexual trauma. I also had several peers review the workshop and offer feedback. I wanted the workshop to be reviewed through several different lenses of experience. I understand each survivor is unique and has different needs. With collaboration from many readers, I hoped to address the differences while also coming together on what we have in common.
I developed this workshop with the intent to show survivors of sexual trauma that writing, specifically storytelling, can be healing. Sexual trauma is devastating, and often survivors feel isolated and silenced after their traumas. Many survivors lose touch with parts of themselves and don’t know where to turn for support and healing. Our identities are a representation of the collection of our experiences. Writing is connected to our identities, and the writing process is an opportunity to explore ourselves and our experiences. We are able to expand our perspectives and understand ourselves more deeply as we converse with other writers and share our stories within communities of support. This workshop was designed to give sexual trauma survivors the opportunity to see themselves as writers with stories that matter, to explore themselves by experimenting with the writing process, to see how writing restores their power and their ability to choose and foster change in themselves and society.
In creating this workshop, there were many elements to consider. Because of the sensitive nature of the workshop, the goal of the writing is not technical or academic, but expressive. As we discussed this semester, the purpose of this workshop is founded in expressivism, helping sexual trauma survivors discover their own truth and putting that truth to paper. As I developed the curriculum for this workshop, my focus was creating opportunities for survivors to create meaning from their writing and making it safe to take ownership of what they have created. I wanted participants to walk away from the workshop feeling like writers and acknowledging that writing can help them heal. Any revision or revisiting of their writing would be presented under the idea that it was an opportunity to dive deeper and reflect on their understanding of who they are and what they had experienced. Revision was an opportunity for metacognition, a chance to talk about their writing and their writing process. I attended a memoir workshop conducted by the CWC, and I was able to see a similar purpose practiced in this workshop. It was helpful to watch the facilitator use interest and praise to build the participants' confidence in themselves as writers and to use open-ended questions to help the participants deepen their exploration of their stories and experiences.
Many of the practices of successful tutoring that we discussed this semester were very helpful in creating a safe environment for the workshop. As I worked with Kati and Jodi on developing the outline for the workshop, we took these practices into consideration. Safety was a key concern for the workshop, and I was able to reflect on the practices mentioned in The Oxford Guide, specifically “Be Flexible, Be Ethical, Be Safe, Be Professional, Learn, and Listen”. As we discussed the safety plan for the workshop, we reflected on practices that would ensure safety and validation for the individual participants and the group as a whole, in essence how we would tutor across trauma. In working with individual writers, it was important to use metacommentary rather than criticism to discuss writing, sharing with the writer what it was like reading her writing rather than pointing out errors. Also, expressing interest and offering praise for her courage is sharing an extremely difficult story. The focus with individual writers would be listening so the writer could feel validated and heard. Also, we discussed paying attention to the non-verbal cues of the participant to assess their distress or difficulty in writing about their traumas. In working with the group as a whole, we wanted to cultivate an atmosphere of acceptance. We came up with safety guidelines to help participants have safe conversations around their writing. We believed conservation with other survivors was key in the experience of the participants, and we wanted to offer guidance on how to give feedback about another writer’s story. By providing these guidelines, the group could benefit from hearing other perspectives on their writing and deepen their writing process within a safe environment.
Originally, the workshop was scheduled for April of this year, but in the wake of COVID-19 the workshop has been postponed until the fall. I was really discouraged by the postponement and decided to try and adapt the workshop for an online setting. I found the section in The Oxford Guide on online tutoring helpful as I built the workshop website. Using rhetorical strategies, I analyzed what would make the workshop successful online and how I could apply the tutoring strategies we discussed in class. The online tutoring assignments we completed for the class were helpful in thinking about my design, for instance, how can I greet the participant virtually and how can I gain the trust of the participant. Although I have not launched the website online yet, I believe these assignments will also help me better respond to participants who submit their writing online through the workshop.
Creating this workshop has been a great learning experience and a powerful way to apply to strategies we have learned in class. I believe sexual trauma writing is important and the stories of survivors are important and need to be elevated for personal and societal change. As a person who has been affected by sexual trauma myself, I am personally invested in the writing community of survivors and understand the importance of healing tools that are both accessible and affordable. I am excited to continue working with the CWC to schedule the in-person workshop. In the meantime, I hope that the online workshop I have created will help survivors see the power in their writing and stories and create a community for healing and support.
The link to Reclaiming Voice: Writing Through Sexual Trauma Workshop is found below.