Though students and other staff at Boston University may know him as the film and television professor whose niche profession aligns with his passion, Professor John Hall considers the
writing center is his legacy.
As the director of the College of Communication’s writing center for the past 25 years, Professor John Hall is genuinely fond of his job. He and the space go way back–as he met his wife while they were both tutors at the very center he currently operates.
Yet his path to the Boston University started on a different note: with the College of Communication’s graduate film studies program–a big leap after getting his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
“I thought long and hard as I was in my 20s about what I wanted to do,” Hall said. “I was good at math, and I had a good, paying job…but I just felt unfulfilled, and I didn’t love the work I was doing day in and day out. So I thought about what I really enjoyed, which is going to movies and writing about them.”
The thought of packing up and setting out to become a film critic resonated with Hall, and that was exactly what he set out to do.
“It was the best decision I made, but it was a hard one,” Hall said. “Took me a few years to figure out what I wanted to do. That was my real desire […] to do something related to movies, so I went for it.”
Hall first encountered the writing center was when he enrolled as a graduate film studies student at BU. His way in was an open job opportunity to become a writing tutor.
He admitted that he was turned down the first time he tried to apply for that tutoring spot because he did not have much background in writing, and he decided to start out by being a teaching assistant for a semester before giving the tutoring opportunity another try.
“That’s what led me down the line to be a writing teacher and–eventually–to help run the writing center,” Hall said. In addition to running the center, he now also teaches courses in television and film.
Having met many people through the center, he thinks that there’s nothing more enriching than making connections and opening minds.
“I found that I really, really enjoyed the interactions with other students,” Hall said. “I got to meet a lot of international students that way. For me, it was really fascinating, and that’s led to a lifelong interest in helping them when they’re writing.”
Hall has also seen the center transform a lot since he arrived. One thing he misses is a hand-painted mural of metaphorical information about the writing process, which someone painted over during a renovation 12 years ago.
“I sort of feel like I helped make that space, so just the whole look and feel of that I think of as a reflection of me a little bit, even though it’s the university’s and not my property,” Hall laughed. “I like to think that I had some part of leaving an imprint there.”
Hall has also seen an increasingly diverse student population come through the door over the years. Upon noticing the number of international students coming from the far east, he decided to change the writing center’s attention to the varying levels of help that they offer.
“The nature of what we do has changed a lot because of the kinds of sentence-level work that we have to do,” Hall said. “Their writing has often got a lot of good content, but the sentence-level problems kind of get in the way of the clarity.”
Hall tries to hire at least two multilingual graduate students to work at the writing center each semester, particularly Chinese students, as most international students at COM come from China. He also acknowledges the problems non-native English speakers might struggle with, such as grammar skills interfering with content.
“I want some sense of reflection of who’s coming into the door on my staff,” Hall said.
As part of expanding and welcoming more international students into COM, Hall explained that the writing center is planning to establish a new program for ESL students. He plans to hire a full-time staff in the college to support all sorts of multilingual issues. The new staff will not only work with students directly, but also with tutors and other faculty members to better manage classrooms where more students are non-native English speakers.
Flying thousands of miles away from familiarity can be daunting, but the new staff is expected to help orient international students adjusting to their new surroundings. Hall is confident that the system will lead to the development of more incentives for a better transition, such as in-person consultations, added resources, and workshops.
“That fulfills a need that many of us had felt,” Hall said. “We’re patching up what we can do from the writing center, but that’s only with our own students. What about having a professional staff member, besides myself, who can really address some of these issues?”
An obvious perk of the job for Hall is that he gets to connect with the broader writing center community. Not only does he know more colleagues on campus, such as the other directors at the different writing centers at BU, but on a regional level, Hall is also part of the Steering Committee of the Northeast Writing Center Association, where he has helped organize the annual spring conference for the past 10 years. Here, new ideas in the writing center field circulate among tutors and directors from other universities across the northeast.
“It’s been satisfying to connect–not just with my own staff–but to have these broader conversations with people around the country and certainly across the northeast,” he said.
Aside from managing the writing center, Hall is also a professor for the writing and for the film and television departments. He has two offices for the respective work that he does from day to day: One is the writing center, and the other is right next to it, in B25A.
“I find that, by going back and forth, I’m able to be clear about what I’m working on,” Hall said. “I’ll do an hour of writing center email, or schedule stuff and working with the tutors, and then I’ll take an hour for class preparations.”
His colleagues even call Hall a hybrid because he is always doing so many things, and it’s a title he embraces. In the spring, Hall teaches COM 201 and switches to film and television courses in the fall.
“That’s another thing that I love,” Hall said. “To do not just one thing–and only one thing. I get to do multiple things that I’m excited about.”
Jennifer Suryadjaja, Staff Writer
Jennifer is a junior at Boston University majoring in communication studies. Born in a small town in Central Java, Indonesia, Jennifer keeps her mind open toward moving and adapting to different cities. She is also minoring in sociology, as she is interested in understanding more about people and their behaviors socially. On campus, Jennifer is also a writer for the Daily Free Press and Spoon University, and she is a host on WTBU News. Her favorite activity is anything related to brunch or coffee.