Ratchford Writing Center Director Bri DiBacco wants her students to feel seen and supported

Bri DiBacco has only been at Lees-McRae a year, but in that short time she has already made a huge difference for students in her roles as Instructor of Foundations in Reading and Writing and Director of the Ratchford Writing Center. This year DiBacco will take on another responsibility: Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR).

As the FAR, DiBacco said that she acts as a bridge between the athletics department and the Lees-McRae faculty, serving and acting as a representative for student-athletes at the college by helping them capitalize on the academic and social resources they have at their disposal.

“I just started that position, but it came about because I noticed that our student-athletes weren't using the resources down here in the Burton Center, so I kind of took it upon myself to start going over to the gym,” DiBacco said. “I would set up my office hours once or twice a week over at the gym, and just try and get them familiar with me, and give them some steady assistance over there, but also really push our services here. I wanted to get them to trust me and know me, because I feel like if they know me, they're going to be more likely to come see me.”

Now in addition to helping students in the Writing Center, DiBacco serves as a direct line between student-athletes and the content tutors, peer coaches, and non-academic resources available at the Burton Center for Student Success, including counseling services and financial aid.

“I see both these roles working together. I want my Writing Center full, and I want it to be used as much as possible, because I want all our students to be successful in their writing assignments,” DiBacco said. “Because such a big population of our students are athletes, I think it's a really good chance to help our student-athletes and fill up the Writing Center at the same time.”

DiBacco’s investment in student success does not end with student-athletes. As the Director of the Writing Center, she is passionate about helping students develop stronger writing skills that will help them be more successful throughout their time at Lees-McRae and beyond.

DiBacco and her peer writing coaches—who are all students themselves—focus on instilling skills and behaviors that help students become more effective writers, rather than just helping them earn a better grade on the assignment in question. She wants to reach all students across campus with the Writing Center services and has even opened an option for online consultations to service the college’s extended campus and online students.

“I think it’s a really big myth that the only students who come to the Writing Center are the ones who aren't good writers,” DiBacco said. “When I go on class visits, or when I'm talking to students trying to encourage them to use the Writing Center, I always talk about how we really are for everyone. Yes, we help struggling students feel more confident and better able to navigate their writing assignments, but we are also for the students who feel like they're really strong writers. I like to say that we make better writers, not just better single assignments.”

Now, over the summer, when many of the students she works with daily are away from campus, DiBacco has been focusing on revamping, reworking, and reinvigorating the Writing Center to better serve students once the new school year begins. Since coming to Lees-McRae this time last year, DiBacco said there have been multiple foundational projects on the backburner that she didn’t get to start before immediately jumping into the 2021−22 academic year. These have now become her focus.

“I'm working on recreating the Writing Center space. I am also doing a lot of the planning for and organizing of Writing Center events, all this stuff with the FAR role and with our student-athletes, and writing a lot of proposals myself,” DiBacco said. “I'm working on things like an ‘adopt-a-team’ policy, where faculty and staff can adopt one of the athletic teams and make them their own. I'm doing a lot of revamping of my class. Really just a lot of the behind-the-scenes work.”

She said she wants the Writing Center space to be comfortable and inviting so students feel encouraged to visit. While part of this is making the space cozy and enjoyable to be in, DiBacco said another component of creating a safe environment is having quality peer coaches.

DiBacco recruits these coaches from across campus, seeking to gather a group that represents the diversity of the Lees-McRae student body. While some students apply or come recommended from other faculty members, she also identifies potential candidates through their own use of the Writing Center.

“Writing is a really personal thing, and many students are apprehensive to let someone else read their paper. I always say we're a judgment-free zone, and none of my writing coaches, or myself, or any of the students who come down here are going to be talking about the mistakes that you made, or what we worked on,” DiBacco said. “I feel that I have done a great job of recruiting a really diverse group of writing coaches for this fall. We have some different athletes and a variety of different majors, from education to criminal justice to psychology majors. I think they're going to be a really good group to advocate for Writing Center use.”

While each of her roles across campus is different, DiBacco said there is a throughline that connects all the work she does at Lees-McRae: the philosophy that relationships matter. When she was a college student at a small liberal arts institution, DiBacco said it would have been easy to give up, but the relationships she built along the way helped lead her to success.

“I was a first-generation student, I had no clue what I was doing, and I remember after my very first class at college I went back to my dorm room, and I called my mom, and I was bawling,” DiBacco said. “It was actually one of my English professors who was kind to me and built a relationship with me. I went to a small school like this, and that was what I count as being the reason I was able to finish.”

Now, as a professor and faculty member herself, DiBacco said she hopes to provide the same support and guidance for her students, whether that be in the classroom, the Williams Gymnasium, or the Writing Center.

“I see all three of those roles as being relationship building and leading to students' success,” DiBacco said. “They're not going to remember the perfectly crafted lesson plan that you presented, but they are going to remember that you made them feel important, that you made them feel seen. That's why I was able to get through college.”

Learn more about the Ratchford Writing Center

By Maya JarrellAugust 03, 2022