Hume Center for Writing and Speaking celebrates 20 years at Stanford
What began as a resource for frosh in a campus basement two decades ago is now a major campus center serving thousands of Stanford students and other campus affiliates each year looking to improve their writing and oral communication.
The Hume Center for Writing and Speaking marks its 20th anniversary at Stanford this year. Since its inception, the Center has grown from a resource for first-year students to now offering thousands of writing and oral communication tutorials, workshops, events and other programming for the entire Stanford community. Initially called the “Stanford Writing Center,” its name changed in honor of generous supporters George and Leslie Hume.
“We had big dreams when we founded what was first called The Stanford Writing Center 20 years ago,” said Andrea Lunsford, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Emerita, in the Department of English, and founder of the Center. “It now stands as a model admired and emulated across the country.”
The Hume Center, which is part of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), offers free one-on-one tutorials for students in all disciplines, in all aspects of writing and oral communication. Tutors work collaboratively with students as they explore ideas and craft messages for a variety of audiences and purposes.
“Our approach to tutoring enriches students’ ability to write, create, and communicate with thoughtful, deliberate consideration of what their words can do in the world,” said Zandra Jordan, director of the Hume Center.
When Lunsford founded The Stanford Writing Center in 2001, it was housed in a campus basement where it focused on supporting first-year undergraduates, holding 700 appointments that year. Years later, and following a generous donation, it changed its name to the Hume Center, and in 2013, it merged with the Oral Communication Program’s (OCP) Speaking Center. It has since found a new home near the Main Quad, across from Green Library.
Over the years, the Center has grown incrementally, expanding services to other campus constituencies. For example, since 2005, it has supported graduate students through individual tutoring, workshops, and its popular Dissertation Bootcamps, which help them make serious progress on a dissertation, master’s thesis or other graduate writing project.
In 2019 – Stanford’s last full calendar year on campus before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to shift to remote learning – the Center held an estimated 11,000 tutoring sessions. Jordan said that number declined, as expected, when her team first moved services online in 2020, but has since rebounded.
“Since our return to campus last fall, we have been piloting a hybrid model, with virtual and in-person appointments available,” said Jordan. “Thus far, each quarter has been different, so it’s unclear what the spring will look like, but the Center remains in high demand and will continue providing writing and speaking support regardless of the circumstances.”
To graduate, Stanford undergraduates must complete writing and rhetoric courses that include analytical and research-based writing, as well as an oral presentation of research. To assist with these requirements and other academic materials, many students seek help at the Hume Center. Due to the pandemic, first-year biology major Alexandra Lee took a gap year before enrolling at Stanford last fall. She hadn’t written in an academic setting in a year, but she said the Hume Center helped her reacclimate to writing weekly papers.
“The tutors at Hume welcomed me at all stages of the writing process, whether it was discussing readings, ironing out ideas, or helping to navigate messy first drafts,” she said. “I appreciate how the sessions are dynamic discussions rather than one-sided lessons and have recommended Hume to my classmates and friends.”
Tutors are well-versed in writing and speaking pedagogy and come from various disciplinary backgrounds. PWR lecturers and graduate students hold appointment-based writing sessions, while undergraduate student “peer tutors” staff drop-in writing tutorials. All oral communication tutorials offered by PWR lectures, graduate students and undergraduate students are by appointment.
In addition to individual tutoring, the Hume Center offers workshops, often in collaboration with other programs and departments. For instance, in The Writers Studio (a collaboration with the Stanford Storytelling Project and the Creative Writing Program), students study the art of writing and storytelling. At the request of faculty and instructors, the Hume Center and OCP also offer workshops tailored to course assignments and students’ needs.
Other programs focus on building community, such as Thursday English Afternoon, or T.E.A., which helps multilingual learners practice conversational English. And open-mic events invite Stanford community members to perform their creative work, including during Admit Weekend and Family Weekend. Jordan said that the Center will also host a celebration to honor its 20 years of service at Stanford.
“To mark this important milestone, we do plan to hold an in-person event in the spring that will include student voices, performances, as well as reflections from past and current directors and tutors,” she said.
More information about the Hume Center is available on its website.