Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at Fairfield University, Elizabeth H. Boquet, Ph.D., will be awarded on Nov. 4 the National Conference on Peer Tutoring and Writing (NCPTW) Ron Maxwell Award for Distinguished Leadership in Promoting the Collaborative Learning Practices of Peer Tutors in Writing.

This distinction honors one individual each year who aids in undergraduate student development “through mentoring peer writing tutors involved in collaborative learning,” stated a press release from NCPTW. “NCPTW Ron Maxwell Award recipients are often individuals who have provided extraordinary service to the evolution of the NCPTW organization and conference.”

“I hope this award is an endorsement that the work I’ve done matters to others too,” Boquet avowed. 

Contributing almost 30 years of professional service and leadership to Fairfield University’s English department, Dr. Boquet admits that her interests do not particularly lie in English but in linguistics as a whole. Growing up in South Louisiana, diverse languages surrounded Boquet, complete with various Englishes, Frenches, Kreyols and Houmas—to name a few.

Because of her exposure to diverse speaking and writing patterns, she became intrigued with the intersecting moments of these wide-ranging dialects. 

“Writing centers are places where we can try to intervene in these intersections—to talk in rich and varied ways about how to meet educational expectations in meaningful, authentic ways for students.”

Boquet worked as a peer writing tutor at her own undergraduate institution, Nicholls State University, in Thibodaux, La. Aside from the typical tasks of guiding idea formation among individuals and small groups, she also learned about the histories and developmental necessities of writing centers. 

These experiences and novel knowledge acted as vital factors in unearthing the career possibility of a writing center director.

Fairfield University’s Writing Center was founded in the early 1980s by Dr. Mariann Regan, Professor Emerita of English. Boquet classifies Dr. Regan as a brilliant and “deeply humane” individual and hopes the Writing Center can maintain her spirit of curiosity and humanity.

An admired scholar herself, colleagues of Boquet offered similar testimonies to her own, trailblazing successes. Professor and Chair of the English Department, Nels Pearson Ph.D. asserted that while the department was thrilled to hear of Boquet’s Maxwell Award, they were certainly not surprised.

“Beth has been a pioneer and a leader in the teaching of writing through peer-to-peer and collaborative student work for over two decades, both at Fairfield and nationally,” he began. “In her scholarship and teaching and advocacy, she asks to think deeply about how and with whom we communicate, especially on crucial issues such as violence, identity and language and dialect bias. As director of the Writing Center, she has had a transformative impact on so many student lives.” 

Boquet acknowledges the weight that school can place on students and teachers alike, and adds that literacy and language instruction, as well as English teachers, play a key role in that school experience: both inside and outside the classroom. Contrastingly, she notes with apparent regret that English teachers bear the reputation of the “correctness police,” a concept that brings her physical pain.

“I am the very last person who is going to correct your grammar. I am the person who is going to be curious about your usage—how it connects to your identity, your communities, your personal history,” she confessed. “We will never build a more just, more inclusive world if we’re busy focusing on error and on what people are doing wrong.”

Instead, Boquet emphasizes the importance of changing focus from correction to breakdown and understanding. The rewarding aspect of mentoring students at Fairfield, she continues, is the opportunity to work with so many others who share that commitment toward the greater good.

Upon receiving this Maxwell Award, Dr. Boquet uses the word “surprised,” along with “meaningful.” The National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing acted as a critical organization toward her own professional development. Early in her doctoral program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she assisted the university in preparing for the conference; through this experience, Boquet learned first-hand about professional organizations.

“This organization at its heart centers students as knowledge-makers and honors the essential work that students do with each other and with those of us professionals in writing centers,” she stated. “So to be, at this whole other end of my career, recognized for my contributions to this amazing organization over these past thirty years is incredibly meaningful to me, beyond what I can express.”

Whether she is delivering keynote speeches to publications centered on peer writing tutors, supporting and mentoring students or serving as editor for The Writing Journal, Boquet has demonstrated thoughtful leadership throughout her scholarship and history with NCPTW. Committee members further applaud her extensive work and collaboration with undergraduate student researchers as authors and co-researchers.

Professor of English at Fairfield University Sonya Huber undoubtedly agrees with the selection of Dr. Boquet as this year’s winner. “This doesn’t surprise me at all,” she said. “She’s a visionary, an advocate and just a wonderful human being.”

Huber gives additional acclaim to Boquet’s devotion to her students and her community. Professor of English and long-time friend of Boquet, Betsy Bowen Ph.D., provides more testament toward the scholar’s leadership.

“She is reliably the first person I ask to read drafts, even messy drafts, of my own writing. She is, clearly, a leader in the field of composition, and that’s unusual for a scholar from a relatively small university,” Bowen expressed. “Of all that I’ve learned from her—and that’s a lot—I most value what she has taught be about trusting students’ capacity to learn and lead.”

Language in America, specifically the English language, has encountered numerous challenges throughout its existence. Boquet remorsefully describes the English language as a colonial one, in which it “gobbles up nearly every language in its path.” Moreover, the global spread of the English language has resulted in serious accounts of violence and oppression towards non-English speaking groups.

Nevertheless, Boquet affirms that we must grapple with that quandary.

Despite its issues, the English language also represents numerous possibilities for society. She contends that it stands as the result of vast, ongoing language contact, which she deems “our starting point.”

“I’m not afraid of language change. That’s what languages do. That’s the beauty of them. That’s not work we can leave to other people,” she advised. Through the Writing Center, these changes and intersections of language are continually built upon. 

The Writing Center relishes interpersonal work by collaborating with various other Academic Commons and partnering with the library. This year, a new collaboration with the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures was inaugurated to offer multilingual writing tutoring, an effort in the works for the Center for quite a while.

Dr. Boquet will be honored with the Maxwell Award at the business meeting of this year’s National Conference on Peer Tutoring and Writing in Pittsburgh. She concludes with personal recognition for the hundreds of peer, graduate and professional tutors she has had the opportunity to work with.

“Their kindness, curiosity and commitment have kept me in this work, learning from and with them, all these years.”

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