Date of Award

Spring 2020

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Christina Ortmeier-Hooper

Second Advisor

Alecia Magnifico

Third Advisor

Soo Hyon Kim


This study examines identity formation and student agency development for international student writing tutors in HELP (Hi English Learning Partner), a writing center founded and staffed by international multilingual students. This study adopts a critical anti-deficit perspective to examine how these student tutors negotiated the deficit environments on their campus to create a writing center that expanded the roles and possibilities for multilingual students within writing centers and writing conferences. I discuss a series of case studies to trace identity formation and student agency development for seven multilingual, international student tutors at a research university in the northeastern United States.

This three year-long qualitative study used transcribed interviews, writing excerpts from HELP leaders about program design and organization, audio-recorded writing conferences conducted in HELP, and institutional data and artifacts. These sources were then triangulated with fieldnotes from observations and follow-up interviews with participants. I relied on the constructs of Critical Pedagogy and Consciousness, Communities of Practice, Imagined Identities and Imagined Communities in language learning and analyses of deficit ideologies to construct the themes proposed in this study. These frames allowed me to propose an anti-deficit framework for understanding identity formation and student agency development for this group of international multilingual student writing tutors.

Findings revealed that programming decisions provoke and promote student identities. Furthermore, findings illustrate that the HELPers deployed shared identities and resources to transform the nature of writing conferences and to re-envision their own positions on their campus and the real and imagined communities of writing center studies.

This study bears implications for writing program administrators and researchers in particular. It suggests that writing centers benefit from the contributions multilingual students are especially well suited to make in writing centers locally, as well as contributions to the scholarship of writing center and second language research. Finally, the present study suggests that radical trust is required in the full ability and resourcefulness of multilingual students to engage in problem-posing education to achieve their own educational objectives.