UCU officially opens writing centre

By Nyapendi Best Irene
Uganda Christian University (UCU) has officially launched its writing center, the first of its kind in any Ugandan higher institution of learning. Intended to improve the writing skills of both students and staff, as well as improve the collaboration between writers and tutors, the center, launched on October 10, 2022, is housed at the UCU Hamu Mukasa Library, Mukono.

UCU Vice Chancellor Assoc. Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi said the center is expected to support all genres of writing. He summed up the latest addition to the 25-year-old UCU as “as a place where you should go to workshop your ideas; to be assisted to improve your draft; and not to edit your work, but rather guide you through the process of revision until you get your work perfected.”

According to Mushengyezi, a student who cannot write well cannot thrive. Writing centers may offer one-on-one scheduled tutorial appointments, group tutoring, or writing workshops. They are maintained by universities or created as part of the writing program to help students find their writing voice and tackle any writing challenge.

Participants at the launch.
Participants at the launch.

The launch of the center, a brain child of Prof. Thomas Deans from the University of Connecticut in the USA, is a dream come true for many creative arts enthusiasts, including Mushengyezi, who hopes to build it further to the level of other writing centers in renowned universities. The center, whose proposal was the centerpiece of Dean’s Fulbright application, has been open and operational since April 2022.  A “soft launch” happened on two separate days in August and September 2022 with presentations by American journalists and authors, Alan Johnson and Patty Huston-Holm. 

Deans, who was an American Fulbright Scholar in Uganda from August 2021 to February 2022, and Mushengyezi share an affiliation with the University of Connecticut, where Deans is a professor and the director of the writing centre, and Mushengyezi earned his PhD in English. When Mushengyezi first met Deans, the former was an academic at Makerere University. 

In Deans, UCU could not have asked for a better person to help them set up the centre. Before joining the University of Connecticut, Deans played a pivotal role in steering a college writing program. He was the Director of College Writing at the Haverford College in Pennsylvania. No doubt he is fully aware of the benefits an institution can reap from a center designed to enhance writing skills. In a November 2021 article, Deans said “students won’t grow as researchers unless they are writing papers that involve sustained research.”

Mushengyezi speaks during the official launch of the writing center in October 2022

He believes that writing is a craft that needs to be exercised. Drawing lessons from his experience at the University of Connecticut, Deans said: “Writing is not something you graduate from; it’s a skill you constantly practice and build.” In a February 2022 podcast, Deans explained the significance of writing centers in higher institutions of learning.

During the launch of the centre in October, Mushengyezi extended an invitation to all interested undergraduate students to participate in an essay writing competition due February 29. 

The guest speaker at the event, Hilda Twongeirwe, the Executive Director of Femrite Publications, commended UCU for establishing the center and urged both students and staff to make use of it. 

“You cannot be a prolific writer if you are not a prolific reader,” she said. Femrite donated over 100 books to the UCU Writing Center.

Dr. James Busimba, the Head of UCU’s Department of Languages and Literature, where the center falls, said for now, the center is a learning facility and that any ventures to generate revenue for the establishment will be thought about in future. 

During the launch, students performed two poems, including How To Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam. The university has committed $10,000 for one financial year to support the writing center, according to Mushengyezi. The Muriel Lile Trust of Fenton, Michigan, USA donated $10,000 to the establishment of the center through the Uganda Partners non-governmental organisation.