A space for partnership and empowerment: how the Writing Café negotiates inclusion in Higher Education
Keywords:inclusion, social justice, student empowerment, peer mentoring, belonging, third space
Higher education (HE) has traditionally been shaped for a specific type of student, but as widening participation initiatives are increasing opportunities for under-represented groups to attend (e.g., mature, disabled, those from a low socio-economic background, and care leavers), it is imperative to illuminate examples of best practice that are accessible and equitable once students are at university. This paper discusses the Writing Café, an interdisciplinary, peer facilitated space for students to explore writing techniques and strategies with trained student writing mentors. This will illustrate how the Writing Café is promoting inclusion for students who have been traditionally excluded from HE. The Writing Café encourages student partnership through its interdisciplinary nature, which empowers students to be experts in their work. This is challenging deficit and hierarchical approaches in academia, repositioning who has the power and knowledge in HE. The Writing Café provides a space out of formal teaching that has more support than independent learning, thus being considered a third space for learning (Hilsdon, 2014). The offer of hybrid Writing Café spaces has boosted inclusivity and accessibility through improving comfort and ease of access. Under-represented students are likely to face more barriers in HE, so supportive and accessible provision can combat many such barriers. The Writing Café’s success is highlighted by engagement, with the development of hybrid delivery increasing participation by 45%, with engagement for under-represented students being 10% more than the university demographic of such students. The Writing Café is illustrating how inclusion in academic practices is possible.
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