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On January 15, I attended a celebration of the life and work of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., as I try to do every year. Held in our community center, the event draws a full house of people from the Mendonoma coastal communities, from little ones to oldsters like me, all who want to remember King and to be inspired, again, by his words and deeds.

 

Local supermarkets and bakeries donate food and drink (including a very large birthday cake) to sample as we listen to local musicians, singers, poets, and speakers. This year I was particularly struck by a poet who read a piece called “Strapless Dresses.” In it, she tells about being a clerk in a department store in the South in the days of segregation and struggles against it. In vivid and terse language, she paints a picture of two African Americans who come in to the store, much to the disapproval and disregard of most of the staff. The poet steps up, though, encouraging them to look at dresses and to try them on. This they refused to do, but they did indeed buy one of the dresses, which the poet saw as an act of true courage, one she still remembers well over fifty years later.

 

During a brief break, I walked around the room, looking at photos of King and some of his closest associates and reading passages from his speeches, the words ringing in my ears from memory. But I didn’t need to depend on memory for very long, since one of the presenters, Peggy Berryhill, founder of the Native Media Resource Center and General Manager of our local public radio station (KGUA), spoke about her own connection to King and his legacy, as well as her work in support of indigenous people and languages, racial harmony, and cross-cultural understanding. More to the point, she introduced us to drummer, singer, activist, and artist Sheila E. and her August 2017 song/video “Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America,” which was filmed in San Francisco’s Mission District and directed by her brother.

 

According to Gail Mitchell in Billboard, Sheila E. was granted the right to use King’s likeness and his words in the video, along with those of other past leaders. In Sheila E’s words,

We are living within a web of deceit and lies, but the essence of America still remains… It’s time to take a stand for the freedom we speak of, for all Americans and the world. A time to embrace those ideas and words that have come from great voices of guidance to us in other turbulent times. Voices of our past, which can still lead us to a better future.

 

Then we watched the video, most of us rising to our feet as the momentum built, as we were carried along by words and images that took us back fifty years to King’s time—and pulled us forward to work that must be done today. It was one of those moments of group solidarity that people experience in communities all the time, but what struck me so powerfully was the thoroughly multimodal nature of the experience: the video with images and music and voices; the room we were in with posters, quotations, flyers, challenges ranging around the walls; and our own voices joining in with those in the video.

 

So, two points to make here: first, if you haven’t seen "Funky National Anthem," do so right now! But second, think of this performance and think again of why our students want to create such multimodal projects; why they not only want but demand to develop and produce them: because they reach audiences in ways that go so far beyond what a traditional print text can do. Perhaps most important, such multimodal productions can feature real people’s spoken voices, in all their richness and diversity, along with images that remain in viewers’ minds and memories for a very long time, and that can bring events from fifty years ago alive again to instruct, challenge, and inspire us.

 

Credit: Pixabay Image 516061 by jensjunge, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

David F. Green Jr. is an assistant professor of English at Howard University. He is the director of First-Year Writing, and his research interests include African american and hip hop rhetoric, as well as critical language awareness and composition pedagogy. 

 

 

In 2014 I taught an introduction to a rhetorical theory class at my respective university. It was a course that hadn’t been taught in so long that many of my colleagues assumed it was a special topics course I had created for the students. I was not surprised given the relative silence around rhetoric at many HBCUs in previous years. But the class was special to me for a variety of other reasons. The students were energetic for the most part, and willing to work with difficult texts. I was finally able to teach engage students in conversations about Hip Hop and rhetoric, and African American rhetoric in ways that privileged their own vernacular voices. One particular moment that stays with me from the class was a request for a recommendation letter from a student. He was a young, vibrant, black male student from New York City, not far from my home in Newark, New Jersey. Most requests for recommendation letters are for graduate or law programs, this one was instead for a judge, and I was asked to speak to the character of a student. The details of the student’s incident are not necessary to share beyond the fact that he had rolled with the wrong crew and had succumbed to bad decision making as many of us have from time to time.

 

The student had been a welcomed voice in my class that semester, one among a mixed group of inquisitive students grappling with a variety of rhetorical concepts and texts. He’d come into his own making sense of Kermit Campbell’s Gettin' Our Groove On and was able to apply much of Campbell’s discussion of vernacular voice, rap as rhetoric, and gangsta ethos to John Wideman’s Brothers and Keepers and produce a pretty good final paper exploring the ways a gangsta ethos is constructed to define individuals rather than describe particular positions taken by orators. Given his participation in the course and our talks in the office, I felt obliged to write the letter. He was given probation and allowed to return to school in the fall.

 

I mention this sequence for two reasons. First, the student request coincided with the 2014 HBCUs and Composition conference at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (North Carolina A&T University) in which a group of composition specialists at HBCUs met to discuss our pedagogy, our students, and our goals over a two-day period (see A Spark Ignited: What’s Going On with Composition and the HBCU). And second, the student’s request reminded me of a short essay by Keith Gilyard entitled, “The Social Responsibility that Is Writing—and Writing Instruction Too.” In the essay, Gilyard makes a convincing argument about the need to recognize one’s writing and literacies as relevant to the social stances one might take and the political values revealed through one’s acts of composing. Of import to me is Gilyard’s observation that without careful examination of the what, how, and whom one teaches, literacy becomes an equally powerful tool in reinforcing inequality rather than ameliorating it (23). Now I’m not making the case that my reference letter for my student enacted a type of social justice, rather I am suggesting that the choices we make as instructors have material effects on the broader social world, as well as the imaginative possibilities we consider for students.

 

The social responsibility that is writing instruction has been an indelible theme of composition and rhetoric at most HBCUs. Jelani Cobb’s recent editorial on Howard University, “Under Trump, a Hard Test for Howard University: A Historically Black Institution Confronts a New Era of Politics,” highlights this theme of social responsibility that continues to shape the legacies and relevance of HBCUs. Part of what came out of the 2014 HBCUs and Composition conference at the prestigious North Carolina A&T University has been an overt concern with how one educates learners of color in spaces designed for them. I think such a move contributes to broader efforts within academe to place anti-racist scholarship and teaching, and culturally sustaining work at the center of critical pedagogy and rhetorical studies. The press, from my perspective, has been the need to meet rising questions by youth and public culture about issues around race, state violence, and community. In the case of the 2018 HBCUs and Composition conference, the desire has been to provide more workshops, roundtables, and panel presentations that acknowledge the complex identities and critical intellectual work done at these institutions and build on them.

 

While much of the conversation about HBCUs has been about the lack of resources and the heavy teaching loads, enduring realities that remain rising hurdles for scholars in these spaces, it is important to recognize the research that continues to occur in these spaces as well. I am thinking about the important research on Hip Hop that Shawanda Stewart is doing at Huston-Tillotson, or the interesting research into writing studios that Karen Keaton-Jackson is completing at North Carolina Central University. This work takes on added value within HBCU spaces because of the way such work attends to the nuances of a predominantly Black and minority audience and their reception of these strategies. Such work begs for further scrutiny and asks us to consider:  Who is the learner of color in the 21st century and in what ways are we working to understand rather than flatten differences that exist among these learners? How do particular cultural traditions and techniques influence these learners and their views on the fiduciary and social responsibilities they must take up? These are the questions that animate me at the moment, and questions that remain at the center of our recent push to build on the important conference at North Carolina A&T University.  Professional responsibility demands that we expand the ways we think and discuss writing and rhetoric at the modern HBCU. For, it’s never merely about where you’re from but where you are at.

 

Campbell, Kermit. Gettin' Our Groove On: Rhetoric, Language, and Literacy for a Hip Hop Generation. Wayne State UP, 2005.

Gilyard, Keith. Let’s Flip the Script: An African American Discourse on Language, Literature, and Learning. Wayne State UP, 1996.

Wideman, John. Brothers and Keepers. Houghton Mifflin, 1984.  

Newspapers, black and white

As a new year and a new term begin, it’s time to look at the basic terminology of argumentation and how it relates to today’s headlines. A claim is a statement that your argument supports—the thesis statement of your argumentative essay. A claim of fact drawn from the headlines may or may not need to be supported. The statement that a bomb cyclone hit the Eastern coast of the United States on January 4, 2018, does not need to be proven. It is simply a fact verifiable by a number of different sources, although you might need to define the key term “bomb cyclone.” A claim worded as though it is a fact may need proof if it is open to interpretation or can be verified only at some point in the future: Flood damage along the East Coast from the high tides of January 4, 2018, will run into the millions.

 

A claim of value goes beyond fact to make a statement of relative worth. Because estimation of worth is subjective, a claim of value may be relatively more difficult to defend. Claims of value most often deal with aesthetics or morality. The thesis of a movie or book review, for example, is a claim of value: Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a disappointment to some long-term fans. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour is Oscar worthy. Other judgmental statements are also claims of value: Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury is an unbiased report of what those inside the White House think of President Trump. Fire and Fury is a self-serving and unsupported attack on the Trump presidency.

 

A claim of policy is future oriented. It states what should or should not be done. It is the most difficult thesis to support because it requires proving that a problem exists and that a proposed solution is a feasible and desirable solution to the problem. President Trump should be impeached for obstruction of justice. Robert Mueller should be fired as special counsel to the investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 US presidential election.

 

When you seek support for your argumentative claim, you will most often be looking for a blend of factual support, which appeals to an audience’s reason, and appeal to needs and values, which appeals to the audience’s emotions. The more controversial the issue at hand, the harder to overcome a reader or hearer’s emotional investment in the matter. Over the last two years, we have realized as never before the extent to which the “news” has become biased. News networks that are on the air twenty-four hours a day no longer even try to clarify the line between reporting the news and commenting on it. Add to that the fact that the “news” on our Facebook feed during the campaign was being influenced by Russia, and we have to be more cautious than ever about what sources we trust for reliable information.

 

We also must be aware of what assumptions underlie our arguments. We cannot construct an effective argument if we cannot understand our own biases and the biases of those with whom we disagree. Abortion is such a very difficult issue to discuss because those who believe a child is a human being from conception may be trying to talk or write to those who do not define a fetus in the same way. Those who voted for Trump primarily because of his ability to influence Supreme Court decisions for decades, including those regarding abortion, were willing to dismiss what others saw as disqualifying flaws in their candidate. The basic question that can help a writer or speaker get to the heart of underlying assumptions is, what do I have to believe in order to accept that claim? What do I assume about the electoral process or same-sex marriage or the legalization of marijuana that shapes my argument? What does my opponent believe?

 

Claim, support, assumption—these are the elements that shape all arguments and that will be our means of approaching the issues that appear daily in the local, national, and international news.

 

Image Source: "Newspapers B&W (4)" by Jon S on Flickr 8/11/11 via Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Bedford Bits and Grammar Girl are no strangers to each other. In fact, check out all of these posts that incorporate Grammar Girl into their teaching tips:

 

Now Bedford/St. Martin's and Grammar Girl have teamed up even more. Grammar Girl podcasts are now available in LaunchPads and Writer's Help 2.0 for new English titles. Students can access these podcasts on grammar, usage, and style on the go as an accessory to learning in their writing courses. Click on the links below to see walk-throughs of the media offerings for the following titles, which all include the Grammar Girl podcasts.

 

 

In addition to podcasts, the Grammar Girl blog makes a great accessory to the podcasts and textbook. Assign the content to your students when it supports an assignment, or have them analyze the website design or rhetorical strategy Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl) uses in these posts to educate writers. 

 

The following blog post on writing a case study could work well if you're taking a writing in the disciplines or writing across the curriculum approach, if students will be writing papers for the social sciences. Or, perhaps you're teaching illustration or exemplification. Or primary research. Maybe all of the above.

 

How to Write a Case Study in 5 Steps

Five simple steps designed to take you from your pre-writing preparation all the way through to submitting your case study

By Varsity Tutors, as read by Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl 

Writing a case study for a college course can be a challenge. Although there are different types of case studies, you can count on two things to remain the same—they require analytical thinking skills and a great deal of research.

When composing a case study, you’ll likely be asked to explain a problem or situation and to then illustrate a potential or implemented solution. You should generally include these basic elements:

  • An explanation of the problem or situation being analyzed.
  • A description of the solution (or proposed solution) and its implementation.
  • A summary of the results and an analysis of the effectiveness of the solution.

 

The five steps that appear below are designed to take you from your pre-writing preparation all the way through to submitting your case study.

 

How Do You Write a Case Study?

  1. Conduct Research
  2. Begin By Summarizing the Situation and Why It Is Important
  3. Detail the Solution That Was Implemented
  4. Analyze the Results of the Solution
  5. Cite Any Source Material


1. Conduct Research

A case study is analytical in nature and can require plenty of research. This means that a large portion of the work is done before you start writing your study. Your case study should tell the story of your case from beginning to end, so you will need a thorough understanding of the different factors at play.

 

Say you plan to write about a city that was successful in reducing excess waste, specifically through recycling. Your first step will be to gather relevant information about the situation. For example, you may investigate the following topics:

  • What are the laws or policies related to this scenario, and when were they put in place? Have they affected the situation positively or negatively?
  • What are the important data points in both current and historical terms?
  • What have city officials and other influential figures said about the situation?

 

Depending on how in-depth your assignment is, you might rely on articles, other case studies, or even interviews with people. Gathering as much information as you can will help you analyze why the solution worked or did not work.

 

2. Begin Your Case Study By Summarizing the Situation and Why It Is Important

What are the conflicts or risks in the given scenario? Ensure you clearly lay out the basic facts of the problem or situation being addressed so the reader will understand why the solution was needed. This is where the statistics you gathered will help supplement your explanation, and you can describe the context of the situation either historically or in comparison to other similar situations.

 

3. Detail the Solution That Was Implemented

Describe changes in strategy or the laws of the city or state that aimed to reduce the problem. Include context for when and how the changes occurred: what was the process, and who were the main players?

 

Also make sure to include information on the time or cost involved in implementing the solution. And, if there were complicating factors, don’t leave those out. Explaining how unexpected complications were handled can also be important.

 

4. Analyze the Results of the Solution

Did it have the intended effect on the situation? If the solution could be a model for similar cases, explain the wider usefulness of understanding its impact. If the results were mixed or created results different from what was expected, what were the factors affecting that outcome? How could a more effective solution be found?

 

5. Cite Any Source Material

In a reference list at the end of your case study, it is vital to cite any source material you used in your writing. This includes articles, books, other case studies referenced, or any people you may have interviewed to gather information. Keep track throughout the research and writing process of all resources used—you will thank yourself later.

 

Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

 

SOURCE: The original post for Grammar Girl can be found at Quick and Dirty Tips: How to Write a Case Study in 5 Easy Steps 

 

Do you like seeing this Grammar Girl post on Bits? If so, "Like" this post and/or let us know what you think in the comments.

 

The following post first appeared as a talk at the 2018 MLA Annual Convention.

 

In 1983, Lisa Ede and I asked what we thought at the time was a simple question: Why write together? In a series of articles, and later in a nation-wide study of writers in seven professional organizations, we aimed to demonstrate that people write together because–well, because that’s the way writing works. The more we thought about it and the more we observed writers, the more we realized that writing is social and collaborative, through and through.

 

But not so fast! What Lisa and I intuited, and later demonstrated through research, was not accepted by our peers or our institutions, including MLA, who held to the notion of what we called “radical individualism” and of authorship as decidedly singular.

 

Fast forward thirty-five years. Aided by the technological revolution, which both revealed and enabled extensive collaboration, and by decades of research by scholars in rhetoric and writing studies (along with some important feminist literary scholars), the social/collaborative nature of writing is firmly established, in theory if not yet in practice (think of the MA thesis and doctoral dissertation requirements for “original scholarship” that is, of course, done individually to see how the singular author paradigm holds on, and on).

 

It seems important to think about collaboration not as a stable or fixed entity but as a series of at least three continua: of degree, attitude, and control or agency. In terms of degree, forms of collaboration stretch from the “single author” who collaborates with a web of sources and voices to the kind of whole-group collaboration increasingly enabled by technology (think a crowd-sourced piece on Wikipedia, e.g.). In terms of attitude, think of the range between the loving, mutually composed wedding vow to the tough-as-nails agreement worked out through warlike negotiations. And in terms of control or agency, think of the range between writers who have control over not only content but forms of publication to the almost total lack of control characteristic of much online writing.

 

So the collaborative nature of writing today is highly complex and fraught, much more so than Lisa and I could have imagined 35 years ago. Thus the need for ongoing research into how, when, where, and why writers collaborate to create meaning. Perhaps more important is the need for a robust ethics of collaboration. So to the three continua mentioned above, I would add a fourth—responsibility. Bakhtin alerts us to the multiple meanings of this term: literally the ability to respond (who gets to respond and who doesn’t), the recognition that response inevitably invokes audiences both known and unknown, and the need to take responsibility for what is written or spoken. This continuum runs from the text painstakingly crafted and held to the highest standards of evidence and truth-telling to the thoughtless retweets of unverified rumor, misinformation, or lies. Indeed, the deeply collaborative nature of writing in a digital age calls into question earlier distinctions between “singular” or collaborative writers and between writers and audiences (when consumers of information can suddenly become producers, for example, it makes it increasingly difficult to tell the writer from the audience, the dancer from the dance).

 

Such shifting and expanding understandings of writing, of collaboration, and of the way writers today interact with, address, invoke, become, and create audiences raise serious new questions about the ethics of various communicative acts. They also call for pedagogies that involve students in critically examining their own role(s) as effective AND ethical communicators who understand the complexity of such acts as well as their personal and collective responsibility for them.

 

Credit: Pixabay Image 593341 by StartupStockPhotos, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

This past October, I travelled to Boulder, Colorado for the Conference on Community Writing (CCW). The tone at the conference was celebratory, seeming to announce that community writing/partnership practices had “arrived” as an important element in Composition and Rhetoric programs. Indeed, during the conference, there were numerous panels where speakers discussed how they had transformed their upper division writing courses into sites of community inquiry and investigation.

 

I wondered, however, what about the community writing/partnership work being done in First-Year writing? Does “community” only belong in the upper division? Placed within a special niche separate from our historical role in supporting marginalized/non-traditional students?

 

I would argue just the opposite.

 

I have always believed that “community” should be a central focus in any required freshman writing course. One of the central elements of a community writing course is an investigation of how ‘academic’ and ‘everyday’ knowledges both rely upon argumentation, sources, and persuasion. Community writing focused courses enable students to understand the affordances (and limitations) of each individually, and ask them to find ways the two can be brought together for greater insight and effect.

 

Moreover, in such a classroom, students come to understand academic knowledge itself as a community literacy. That is, academic writing is the name of a particular community literacy, with a history, a set of practices, and participants. By putting academic and everyday communities into dialogue within a classroom, students learn, hopefully, the power of such communities when joined together. And in the process, students come to understand the potential value of their home community’s literacies in their own college education.

 

Yet too often, students are immediately asked to imagine themselves as “in the academy,” either entering with a deficit and needing ‘skills’ or being asked to take on the role of a historian or other discipline-specific identity. In both situations, their home literacies and knowledges are too often framed as unimportant for the educational journey that lies ahead. And in such scenarios, it is too often the literacies of marginalized students, from differing heritages and legal statuses, that are ushered out of the classroom. Too often, that is, the dismissal of community leads to a re-instantiation of standards which benefit white, middle-class students.

 

If we want to remain true to the legacy of open access education, of advocating for all literacies and languages, then I would argue that freshman writing is one of the most important places in which to invest in a community literacy/partnership framework. And I would further argue that such an investment does not necessarily mean the creation of actual community partnerships – work which while important is not always possible given the often burdensome-workload placed on first year teachers.

 

As one way to begin such work in our classrooms, I might suggest the following:

 

  • Assign students a short essay where they discuss the intellectuals in their own communities. Ask them to not just describe the individuals, but to describe these individuals’ sense of how the world works – what justice means to them, why there is injustice, how their community attempts to foster equality. Consider how these essays might provide some key terms from which to understand subsequent academic readings.
  • After reading a scholarly essay, ask the students to identify the key research questions addressed. Break them into small groups focused on answering how those questions would change if located in their home communities. Ask them to revise the research questions accordingly. Use these questions to enable students to see how “community-based research” might provide a way to value academic-based research.
  • Before writing an academic response to an assigned scholarly essay, ask students to imagine themselves as someone from their community who they consider to be an “intellectual.” Have them write a short essay about how this person might respond to both the writing and content of the essay. Use these essays to discuss any limitations in the academic essay, particularly in how it imagines its reader as well as the “community” to which it is speaking. What might a writing that brings these two community insights together look like?

 

Clearly these examples are not exhaustive. (See Writing Communities for other such assignments). And without too much effort, a community partnership could be embedded within each assignment. For instance, a meeting might occur in a neighborhood-location where community intellectuals engage with students on a topic previously studied through an academic essay.

 

The most important point is that through investigating the relationship between community and academic practices, students are simultaneously thinking about how knowledge is produced in each community, how “facts” are deployed to convince their specific audiences, and why certain ways of speaking are being used. In short, students are learning about the nature of research communities and what it means to join in their work. Which is, to my thinking, one of the primary goals of freshman writing.

 

It is time, therefore, to see community literacy/partnership as existing within (and supporting) the historical legacy and current ambitions of freshman writing courses. Such an integration of insights and efforts would truly be a cause for celebration.

Today's guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon, an Assistant Professor of English in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies and critical engagement pedagogies; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: jeanne_bohannon@kennesaw.edu and www.rhetoricmatters.org

 

At the start of each semester, I am nervous. I don’t sleep well the night before classes start, and I try to be early on the first day. If I feel this way, I am certain students do as well. It must be something about fear of the unknown, or maybe just the need to make a good first impression. Either way, I know that we both need an ice-breaker to get our first day conversations off to a positive start.  In today’s Multimodal Mondays post, I describe an activity I use to start productive conversations about writing on the first day of class; I am also interested to hear yours! Check out the listicle below for activity instructions, outcomes, and ideas on how to engage with students in a class community from first-year composition to upper division writing courses.

 

Measurable Learning Outcomes

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  1. Describe how their own writing informs their professional interests
  2. Engage with classmates and instructors in discussions of writing genres
  3. Compare their writing styles to classmates and their instructor

 

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

 

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 1, “Expectations for College Writing” and Part 6, “Effective Language”
  • The Everyday Writer: Ch. 3, “Rhetorical Situations” and Part 4, “Academic, Professional, and Public Writing”
  • EasyWriter: Ch. 1, “A Writer’s Choices” and Part 2, “Writing that Works”

 

The Post-It Note Ice-breaker

Multimodal often makes us think of all things digital. For this activity, we need to think low-tech and kinesthetic learning. Think of this as a sense of presence and community while gearing up for modeling class discussions for the semester from Day 1.  

 

Here’s what you need:

  1. Post-it or sticky notes of different colors and sizes
  2. Pens, pencils, or markers
  3. Tape, just in case the notes don’t stick
  4. Signs printed or written with categories (see below)

 

Hands-on multimodal activities makes us present in the moment of the classroom.

 

Here’s what you do:

  1. Type or write categories of analysis and place them on three walls in the classroom
  2. Frame the activity: Let’s get to know each other and the types of writing we like to produce. On each wall, you’ll see a type (or genre) of writing: personal (like diaries and journals); public (like blogs and listicles); and creative (like poetry and stories). Take three sticky notes and write down your name and what you like to write that fits into one or more of these categories. Then, place your notes in the corresponding category on the wall. I’ll join you and post mine too. Ok…go!
  3. Allow 6-10 minutes for students to write and post their notes on the walls.
  4. Gather the large group back together and ask for volunteers to name their writing. If you have a group of shy students, you can start with your own notes!
  5. Visually check which categories have the most or least notes and talk about why. A trending topic my classes have found interesting over several semesters has been discussing the intersections between personal and public writing, especially when we think about social media and how today’s writers interact on public writing platforms.

 

 

Reflection

I have found that this first-day activity helps to introduce students to me and to each other. We also can see where our classmates place themselves in terms of writing genres. Students have also reported that this activity helps them situate themselves in the writing class and makes them feel less self-conscious about interacting with me. We might call it self-disclosure meets composition J

 

Stay tuned for Part Two of a post-it note activity – the Fishbowl.

 

Do you have an idea for a Multimodal Mondays activity or post? Contact Leah Rang for a chance to be featured on Andrea's blog.

 

 

In the era of Trump double- (and triple-) speak, it may seem that words are cheap, that the whole notion of truth has been called into question. In such a time, it’s more important than ever that teachers of writing work hard to show that words matter and that they have power—often very great power—for good or for evil. The barrage of Russian bots that spread misinformation and outright lies during and after the 2016 election is a good case in point of how words can work very effectively—for ill.

 

I often like to open the second term with a meditation on words, going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and their views on how words can be actions, can do things, and can make things happen. And that brings us, often, to the word of the year. For 2017, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg chooses “tribe,” “tribal,” and “tribalism” as his word(s) of the year:

There's virtually no phenomenon in public life that someone hasn't tried to discredit as tribal. A writer in National Review blames left tribalism for creating the myth of "rape culture"; Sen. Jeff Flake says it's political tribalism for Republicans to support Roy Moore. Business consultants argue that it's the tribalism of corporate white males that keeps women and minorities out of the executive suite, but Andrew Sullivan sees feminist tribalism behind Google's efforts to hire more women engineers. The Guardian's John Abraham writes that the Republicans' tribalism has led them to deny human-caused climate change. But according to The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins, it's the tribalism of progressives that leads them to refuse to debate the question.

Nunberg goes on to say that this series of back-and-forth accusations is “maddening,” and a symbol of the deep fragmentations of our society which refuse to recognize the other side’s validity: “That's what it means to say that America has become tribal in the first place, and one sign of that is that we can't agree on how to use the word.”

It’s also a sign that the word “tribal” is exerting serious power in our world, no matter who uses it.

 

Dictionary.com dubs “complicit” its word of the year due to the huge number of lookups of the word between March and October 2017. Many looked it up because they wanted to understand what it meant when SNL featured a spoof on so-called Complicit perfume or when Ivanka Trump insisted that she didn’t “know what it meant to be complicit.”

 

Merriam Webster chose “feminism,” saying that this word was its top lookup of 2017 and citing the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration and the debate over whether it was a “feminist” march or not. They also cited the huge influence of the #MeToo movement and the critical and cultural success of the television version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the movie version of Wonder Woman starring Gal Gadot.

 

Finally, the Oxford English Dictionary went back to a term coined by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland in 1965: youthquake, which they define as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from actions or influences of young people.” Citing the youth-driven elections in New Zealand and the UK along with the #MeToo movement as evidence of youthquakes, Oxford also considered “antifa,” “broflake,” “newsjacking,” “Maybot,” and “Bitcoin.”

 

The American Dialect Society has yet to release its word of the year, and there are no doubt many others out there for the finding. All of these words and their definitions—and conflict over those definitions—make for excellent discussion in the classroom in preparation for students to determine their own words of the year. I often ask students to come up with their own personal word of the year and write a brief definition of the word along with evidence that supports their choice. Inevitably, some students choose the same word while others bring in outliers, words no one else thought of as “word of the year” material. We can then move to an analysis of what makes a word worthy of this notation, drawing up criteria and debating them rigorously. Eventually, we try for consensus: our class’s word of the year. A couple of times we have had such enthusiastic discussions that the class decided to write an editorial for the student newspaper putting forward their word of the year for the campus to consider. That’s one more way to demonstrate to students that their words matter!

 

What is your word of the year? Leave a comment below!

 

Credit: Pixaby Image 1615793 by Wokandapix, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Today's guest blogger is Meghan Kelsey, who is completing the MFA program in poetry at Arizona State University. An experienced teacher and zine artist, she has just finished her first semester of teaching in ASU’s Stretch First-Year Writing Program.

 On beginning my first semester teaching Basic Writing, I created my syllabus by choosing a handful of essays from my textbook and created projects centered on text response and argumentative writing. It was flat and I could feel its depersonalizing effects during the first week of school; I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to really connect with my students because it felt too structured, not even close to approaching learning in a more viable, alive, and humanistic way.

 

When I got to know my students better, I learned quite a few of them were enrolled in the School of Business with a focus in Sustainability. They began making connections from some of the assigned readings like Gandhi’s On Moral and Economic Progress to conversations about how their own lives fit into the political and economic equation, and how sustainability was factored in. For most of my students, this was their first semester at the university, living in a dorm away from home; we also explored the social and cultural implications of this lifestyle during discussions.

 

Organically, my projects began to take shape and were re-written into the syllabus. The new accompanying readings were strange and different on purpose, taking after a Surrealist tradition I now know as Ostranenie, or defamiliarization. I gave them poems ranging from contemporary American to Italian Futurist, we looked at photo essays written by young adults from the suburbs of LA, and I made them participate in Autopilot, an activity in which writers deconstruct an automatic movement or thought of their day and become an active participant in changing that routine. My idea was that if I wanted students to arrest their current thought patterns and learned formulaic ways of writing, they needed to be exposed to unique and non-traditional texts and writing activities.

 

With this idea in mind, for the first writing project of the semester, I invited students to explore space using only primary research (see project description below). This was at first challenging for the students, as they seemed to be more comfortable using outside research to say something about the world instead of drawing on their own experiences. My hope for this project was that once students began seriously deconstructing the physical spaces they embodied in the university, they would become more adept at breaking open the vastly creative interior spaces that perhaps had been stifled or ignored. The French writer Robert Escarpit once said, “Place is an object under the assault of your imagination and little by little, it changes its form, without entirely dissolving, and reveals unknown dimensions.”

 

As a poet, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of space: cosmological space and its influence on our small world, architectural space and how it dictates our lives, the blank space in poems between words that represent caesuras of the unknown, the possibilities of what could exist on the page, ideograms, languages and their infinite combinations and connections.

 

Project One: Investigation of Space

What constitutes the memory of a place? Who decides what places hold specific meanings and uses? Often we drift through spaces unconscious of their meaning, purpose, and history. Your goal for this project is to help your audience see a public place differently from how they might otherwise through primary research only (evidence you gather on your own, rather than evidence gathered through books, research articles, or online sources.)  This analysis will offer the reader a cultural observation of a public space in or around ASU that will raise questions of social relevance. For this project, you will write a four page, double-spaced essay examining, by observation, your space. Your goal will be to develop effective primary research methods in order to study and closely examine your chosen space, take careful notes based on your own observations and analysis, and ultimately defend your personal interpretation of this space and its implicit or explicit arguments and values. You might ask:

 

  • What activities does this space encourage or discourage?
  • Who uses this space—why this group of people, and not another group?
  • What features of this space strike me; how do they make me feel?
  • Why is this space arranged or constructed in this way? What planning might have gone into this arrangement?
  • What are the historical influences of this place/area and how does that affect people today?

 

The students’ response was enlightening. They seemed to have liked writing from their own experience. They discovered something about themselves, their peers, or the university—both positive and negative. The project gave them the space to explore their own feelings and opinions about their daily lives which often can fall by the wayside with such a large educational institution serving as their backdrop.

 

 

I have been dreading the announcement of Time’s Person of the Year Award, because I feared it would go again to Donald Trump, who has been boasting that he would probably win the award. Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when the magazine named “The Silence Breakers” as 2017’s Persons of the Year. The five women on the cover, and many more included in the cover story, are those who have been speaking out—persistently and bravely—about ongoing sexual harassment in many different workplaces and in the everyday life of so many, many women. This is indeed an important moment in our culture. It’s worth thinking about, and celebrating, during this holiday season.

 

On October 15, 2017, actor and activist Alyssa Milano took to Twitter to issue a call to action: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write “me too” as a reply to this tweet.” Milano was joining the conversation surrounding a spate of revelations about very high-profile and powerful people accused of sexual harassment: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Harvey Weinstein. Milano’s tweet argues for standing up and speaking out—in big numbers. And her message certainly hit a nerve: within 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world had joined the “me too” conversation, with over 12 million posts and comments.

 

Some of these comments pointed out that the “me too” movement is actually more than ten years old: it began with activist Tarana Burke, who, along with Milano, features in the Time story. Burke was directing a Girls for Gender Equity program in Brooklyn and created “me too” with the intention of giving voice to young women of color. As Burke told CNN after Milano’s tweet went viral: “It's not about a viral campaign for me. It's about a movement."

 

Burke’s response to the 2017 meme makes an important point, one that was echoed in some of the responses Milano received and was further elaborated by Jessi Hempel, the editorial director of Backchannel. In “The Problem with #MeToo and Viral Outrage,” Hempel said that, “on its surface,” #MeToo has what looks to be the makings of an “earnest and effective social movement.” But, like Burke, she wondered whether it would actually have the power and longevity of a true social movement. She was concerned that while millions of people are weighing in, at last, on a long-ignored issue,

In truth, however, #MeToo is a too-perfect meme. It harnesses social media’s mechanisms to drive users (that’s you and me) into escalating states of outrage while exhausting us to the point where we cannot meaningfully act.

Hempel cites extensive research by Yale professor Molly Crockett that suggests that “digital technologies may be transforming the way we experience outrage, and limiting how much we can actually change social realities.” In other words, expressing outrage online may let us talk the talk but not walk the walk of actual change.

 

But cascading events during the late fall and early winter of 2017 suggest that the work begun by Tarana Burke over a decade ago and given new urgency by Alyssa Milano’s viral tweet indeed constitutes a true movement, as women continued to come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men: Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose lost their jobs; Louis C.K. admitted to harassing five women; James Levine was suspended from the Metropolitan Opera; Al Franken and John Conyers resigned from Congress; and women continue to accuse former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and, indeed, the President of the United States, of sexual harassment.

 

So when I woke up a few weeks ago to hear that Time named “The Silence Breakers: The Voices that Launched a Movement,” as their Persons of the Year for 2017, I began to feel like women’s outrage is not going to waste and that true change in workplace safety and opportunity for women will happen. I know others are not so optimistic, but in this holiday season with so many things going all wrong for our country, this is one thing that is going right.

 

And let’s not forget the role that writing and speaking have played in bringing these stories to light: we need to celebrate how language acts can make change, even against all odds. So BRAVA and happy holidays to silence breakers everywhere.     

 

Credit: Pixaby Image 2859980 by surdumihail, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

 

The principle is: Refer to people the way they want to be referred to.


Admittedly, special situations come up that test the principle—as when Prince changed his stage name to a symbol that none of us have on our keyboards and that is said to be unpronounceable. But Prince’s fans went along with it, mostly calling him “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Seven years or so later when he changed his name back to Prince, they went along with that too.


Then again, some special situations lurch over the line between showing respect and acquiescing in puffery. Maybe a senior employee likes to be introduced by his title, Chief Knowledge Officer So-and-So, or a group wants its name written in all capitals and never mind that the name isn’t an acronym. Marketers and publicists and so on may not fully understand the implications of terminology they ask for. We have to think for ourselves.


And yet the general principle holds: Refer to people the way they want to be referred to. It applies when writing or speaking to or about individuals in academic, workplace, and social settings. It applies to pronouns (“a transgender man … he”). It applies to groups (“people with autism,” “Rohingya”). In many cases, we can’t truly know what most members of groups, or what particular atypical individuals, prefer. But since the principle we’re discussing is fairly commonly understood, we can rely on sources such as reputable media online to have done that part of our homework for us, and we just need to see how they refer to the people we’re writing about.


The principle also applies to you—even if you’re not particular about how your students refer to you. It may be useful to remember that students are negotiating the transition from treating adults with deference, as they were probably brought up to do, to treating them mainly as peers. In my opinion, you’ll be doing students a favor if you make some preference or other about how to refer to you clear as early as possible in your interactions with them. Various choices can be valid in a student-instructor relationship (Dr. Baker, Professor Baker, Ms. Baker, Victoria, Vickie), so why make them guess which you’d like? More important, this situation is about respect, and it offers you a nonconfrontational opportunity to indicate what you find respectful to the right degree.


In addition to the question of how to address someone is how to refer to someone in writing. When students cite sources in papers, the style they’re following (MLA, APA, Chicago, CSE) tells them the forms to use. Most styles call for citing last names only, and never mind the advanced and honorary degrees, the lofty titles that many of the sources they’re citing worked so hard to earn. For instance, in academic text and bibliographies alike, the cosmologist, when he’s a source, is simply “Hawking.”


But what if the assignment is to write a brief biography of Stephen Hawking? On first reference he’s probably “Stephen Hawking.” After that, though, is he “Hawking” or “Dr. Hawking” or “Stephen”? Is his first wife “Jane” or “Mrs. Hawking”? Is his second wife “Elaine” or “Ms. Mason”? These options are either more or less appropriate in different contexts, for different audiences; they set different tones. Similarly, calling Hillary Clinton “Mrs. Clinton” sets a different tone from calling her “Secretary Clinton.”


To be sure, these are trivial choices. But they also signal to readers, possibly several times per page, such things as how familiar the writer is with the genre in which she is writing. If students can keep half an eye on how their sources refer to people, even as they keep their other eye and a half on what the sources are saying about them, it can only work to their advantage.

 

Do you have questions about language or grammar, or are there topics you would like me to address? If so, please email me at bwallraff@mac.com.

 

Barbara Wallraff is a professional writer and editor. She spent 25 years at the Atlantic Monthly, where she was the language columnist and an editor. The author of three books on language and style—the national bestseller Word Court, Your Own Words, and Word Fugitives—Wallraff has lectured at the Columbia School of Journalism, the Council of Science Editors, Microsoft, the International Education of Students organization, and the Radcliffe Publishing Program. Her writing about English usage has appeared in national publications including the American Scholar, the Wilson Quarterly, the Harvard Business Review blog, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times Magazine. She is coauthor of In Conversation: A Writer's Guidebook, which will be published in December 2017.

 

Credit: Pixaby Image 2849602 by surdumihail, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Global Partnerships, Local Acts

During the past year, my students have worked with students and activists in the Middle East/North African region. For many of them, the act of corresponding and writing with students from this region has enabled them to hear from communities at the center of today’s public debate, such as Syrian refugees. As a result, the student writing for my classes has demonstrated a larger global framework through which they now understand public rhetoric about this region and, often, has produced personal connections with individuals from that region that humanize the harshness of our current public rhetoric.

 

Yet global partnerships are more than just student interactions. Such partnerships are also structures designed to provide a platform for teachers, students, institutions, and communities to build a transnational space for dialogue.  In the final post for the year, I want to offer three tactics to insure any such partnership can reach its potential, as well as survive challenges emerging from the current political context.

 

Participant Safety

In a global partnership, the political context of public speech will necessarily be fraught. This is particularly true when there is actual violence occurring amongst the nations in which the project is situated. In such an environment, there needs to be increased awareness of how participation in a project is not an “innocent act.” Indeed, participating in a project located within Trump’s United States will necessarily impact how any dialogue is understood, no matter how seemingly innocuous.

 

Given this situation, there has to be a clear understanding among the partners on how student privacy/anonymity can be ensured. This might mean that students are provided with pseudonyms when they interact online; it might mean that certain types of private/personal information are placed “off-limit” in “student-to-student” conversations. There will also need to be regular dialogue with the global partner to understand how the public framing of student participation in the project might differ within each national context. While we might frame a discussion around “human rights” in the United States, that same discussion might be framed differently within the partner’s national context. Which is to say, the partnership must be consistently aware of how differing national rhetorical contexts must be navigated to ensure the safety of participants and the continued possibility of dialogue.

 

Institutional Awareness

Given the current political context, global partnerships need to be fully discussed across a set of university sites, including departmental, collegial, and, possibly, university-wide offices. There are several reasons for this discussion. First, in my experience, global partnerships necessarily are perceived as “university projects.” It could well be that the administrative figures above your specific global partners reach out to your university about a certain issue, believing it to be the appropriate response. For this reason, it is best that your university understands both your partnerships and the structures you have put in place for its success. This will enable productive dialogues with your university. Second, given the current political context where publicly engaged programs are facing political attack, you want your university to have overtly or tacitly approved your partnership so you have a backstop to any seemingly random criticism. Essentially, then, the more a partnership is understood and supported by your university/college, the better.

 

Circulation Protocols

All partnerships produce materials that speak to the work done. Often these partnerships also have the goal of circulating these materials publicly. In a global partnership, it is important to have in place protocols which have layers of approval – from the author, to the partners, to perhaps partnering organizations. (It might also be important to have policies on how authors will “mask” elements of their story for anonymity.) In addition, any discussion with the authors will need to be overt about where their writing will intentionally circulate (based on the partnership plan) as well as how it might circulate unintentionally (through social media). Such discussion also have to occur with partnering organizations, who will need to decide how/if to publicize their participation across printed/digital products which emerge from the project. And unlike other projects where students might be given a strong editorial role in any publications (for experience, etc.), here such decisions should be made by those partners responsible for the project. This is a case where faculty expertise needs to outweigh student learning.

 

I recognize that, to some extent, the tone of this post seems ominous. Given such a tone, who would ever want to initiate such global partnerships? One response would be that such a short post is unable to capture the excitement and interest students feel about such opportunities. (See earlier blog posts.) Yet perhaps a more important response speaks to the current political moment. At a time when public rhetoric is so divisive, so bigoted toward different Middle Eastern and North African cultures, I believe it is morally and ethically necessary to create partnerships which can provide opportunities for transnational dialogues, premised on trust and pointed towards greater understanding. If we truly believe in the public power of writing and rhetoric, then we have no other choice.

Everyone has a secret vice, I suppose, and mine is reading online newspapers like Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education—as in multiple times every day. I admit that there is something compulsive about the matter, something that goes beyond the unquestionable usefulness of such reading for someone who is both a university professor and a cultural semiotician, something, I'm afraid, that is akin to the all-too-human attraction to things like train wrecks. This might surprise anyone who does not read these news sources: after all, wouldn't one expect there to be nothing but a kind of staid blandness to higher education reporting? Tedium, not harum-scarum, would seem to be the order of the day on such sites.

 

But no, in these days when signs of the culture wars are to be found everywhere in American society, even the higher-ed news beat is not immune to the kind of squabbling and trolling that defaces so much of the Internet. The situation has gotten so bad that the editors of The Chronicle of Higher Education have discontinued the comments section for most of its news stories, while Inside Higher Ed has polled its readers as to whether it should do the same. So far, IHE has decided to continue with posting reader comments (though it just shut down the comments section responding to an article on a recent controversy at Texas State University), and although I think it would be better for the overall blood pressure of American academe to just scrap the comments section altogether, on balance I hope that that doesn't happen. Here's why.

 

Because for the purposes of cultural semiotics, the comments sections on the Internet, no matter where you find them, offer invaluable insights into what is really going on in this country. Unlike formal surveys or polls—which, though they claim scientific precision, can never get around the fact that people, quite simply, often lie to pollsters and other inquisitors—online comments, commonly posted in anonymity, reveal what their authors really think. It isn't pretty, and it can make your blood boil, but it can get you a lot closer to the truth than, say, all those surveys that virtually put Hillary Clinton in the White House until the votes were actually counted.

 

Among the many things that the comments on IHE can tell us is that the days when we could assume that what we do on our university campuses stays on our university campuses are over. Thanks to the Internet, the whole world is watching, and, what is more, sharing what it sees. This matters a great deal, because even though the sorts of things that make headline news represent only a very small fraction of the daily life of the aggregated Universitas Americus, these things are magnified exponentially by the way that social media work. Every time a university student, or professor, says something that causes a commotion due to an inadequate definition of the speaker's terms, that statement will not only be misconstrued, it will become the representative face of American academia as a whole—which goes a long way towards explaining the declining levels of trust in higher education today that are now being widely reported. This may not be fair, but all you have to do is read the comments sections when these sorts of stories break, and it will be painfully clear that this is what happens when words that mean one thing in the context of the discourse of cultural studies mean quite something else in ordinary usage.

 

Linguistically speaking, what is going on is similar to the days of deconstructive paleonymy:  that is, when Derrida and DeMan (et al.) took common words like "writing" and "allegory" and employed them with significantly different, and newly coined, meanings. This caused a lot of confusion (as, for example, when Derrida asserted in Of Grammatology, that, historically speaking, "writing" is prior to "speech"), but the confusion was confined to the world of literary theorists and critics, causing nary a stir in the world at large. But it is quite a different matter when words that are already loaded with socially explosive potential in their ordinary sense are injected into the World Wide Web in their paleonymic one. Another part of the problem lies in the nature of the social network itself. From Facebook posts that their writers assume are private (when they aren't), to Twitter blasts (which are character-limited and thus rife with linguistic imprecision), the medium is indeed the message. Assuming an audience of like-minded readers, posters to social media often employ a kind of in-group shorthand, which can be woefully misunderstood when read by anyone who isn't in the silo. So when the silo walls are as porous as the Internet can make them, the need for carefully worded and explained communications becomes all the more necessary. This could lead to lecture-like, rather boring online communication, but I think that this would be a case of boredom perpetrated in a good cause. The culture wars are messy enough as they are: those of us in cultural studies can help by being as linguistically precise, and transparent, as we can.

 

During the last two months, I’ve visited three universities, where I had a chance to sit in on Writing Center sessions and talk with undergrads. I’ve also spent time in two high schools visiting Bread Loaf School of English teachers. What I didn’t remark on at the time—when I was 100% engaged with individual students—but note now, in hindsight, is that the high school students seemed to be doing more multimodal composing than the college students, at least in their class assignments. Now I’m wondering what evidence we have of the percentage of writing students do (in high school and in college) that is multimodal—that is, writing that engages a range of media as opposed to the traditional print-only assignment. I don’t have an answer to this question right now, though I’m doing some research and will report if and when I turn up compelling information.

 

In the meantime, I think it’s worth thinking or re-thinking assignment sequences in first-year writing to ask how many of them call for multimodal practices, how many do not, and why these decisions have been made. At one school I visited, the WPA told me that upper administration frowned on multimodal assignments because they think the assignments can’t be “reliably scored.” Another WPA said that his teaching staff is divided on the issue, with older staff favoring traditional print-based assignments while younger staff (the smaller group) leaned toward multimodal assignments. My sense is that at Stanford students do multimodal writing in their writing and rhetoric classes, but in most other classes the assignments are still the traditional print essay.

 

More important than the ratio of single-mode to multimodal writing, though, is the question of the strengths and weaknesses of each, or more specifically of how each helps develop student writing and helps support student writers’ rhetorical knowledge and strategies. The longitudinal study of Stanford student writing known as the Stanford Study of Writing found a strong relationship between performance, digital engagement, and heightened audience awareness. In other words, when students prepared multimodal compositions and then performed them (delivery, delivery, delivery!), they demonstrated stronger connections to their audiences and stronger understanding of their rhetorical situations. We have also found that asking students to “remediate” a piece of writing—to turn it from written medium to one or more other media—enhances their rhetorical awareness.

 

These findings suggest, to me at least, that the move to more carefully crafted multimodal opportunities for student work, and especially the opportunity to perform or deliver that work, is a very good one. That’s why I’m focusing more on multimodal writing in textbooks like Everything’s an Argument and The Everyday Writer, and why we support Multimodal Mondays on this blog. If you have a favorite multimodal writing assignment, we’d be very glad to showcase it! Comment below to share your favorite assignment, or message Leah Rang for more information on how to become a guest blogger on Multimodal Mondays.

 

Credit: Pixaby Image 849825 by StartupStockPhotos, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

By Faye Maor and Jason DePolo of North Carolina A&T State University.

 

So, where are we?

 

We have been and are creating spaces for ourselves through innovative ideas and creative partnering. One result from this work was the Symposium on Composition and the HBCU in 2014 on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University (NC A&T). This symposium came about through conversations with Jimmy Fleming of Bedford/St. Martin’s in 2012-2013 — conversations that started with discussions about textbooks and ended up with talks about the unique context of composition at HBCUs and the need for that work to be heard and spread abroad. We at NC A&T argued that faculty at HBCUs needed opportunities for research partners and mentoring because continued underfunding of our institutions left us little to no resources for research and travel. We teach, and our work, in many ways, can help our colleagues at all institutions!  Jimmy asked how Bedford could help. We told him. After more conversations with Bedford, and our then Dean, Dr. Goldie Byrd, the idea of a conference morphed into a much more manageable one-day regional symposium on HBCUs and Composition. The symposium was held at North Carolina A&T State University on April 2, 2014.

 

Over 50 participants from as far north as Baltimore and as far south as Georgia converged on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University to share and learn that they were not alone in the work, innovation, and struggle of teaching writing at an HBCU. At the symposium, HBCU faculty were able to engage with scholars such as Andrea Lunsford, Gesa Kirsch, Vershawn Ashanti Young, and Staci Perryman-Clark: scholars who came to talk to them, who wanted to know their experiences and challenges. As a result, these teacher/scholars were able to get a glimpse of the work done in this context. Specifically, students were able to hear and exchange their thoughts with Vershawn concerning code switching in a packed auditorium full of sharp thinkers who challenged what they heard in ways that not only impressed Vershawn but everyone in attendance. Workshops were held, and community was built. It was a special moment in time. It was also a spark.

 

Since that symposium, more of our colleagues in composition at HBCUs are engaging in continued research and its presentation to institutional- and discipline-based conferences and workshops. Collaborations and other connections are blossoming. We are inserting the need for our involvement in STEM education. We are working together and planning to do more symposia and conferences to make our voices and work known and useful to all of us who care about and do this work. We have always been here, but we are striving for and obtaining a stronger voice and presence.  We can no longer afford to be a small part of the conversation or an afterthought. Our context is similar and unique. Our challenges are similar AND unique. 

 

Ultimately, we believe Writing Program Administrators and Composition Faculty at HBCUs traditionally face limited resources, excessive teaching loads, and few opportunities for research productivity. The aim of the 2014 Symposium on Composition at the HBCU was to provide a platform for these underrepresented voices to participate in a teaching and learning colloquium. The goal was to provide professional development activities through workshops conducted by specialized, nationally recognized faculty. In addition, it was our hope to engender an enduring dialogue and encourage teachers to continue collaboration on pedagogy and research relevant to teaching writing at HBCUs, leading to future symposia and conferences.

 

The spark has ignited a flame. In Spring 2018 at Howard University, one of the oldest and most prestigious HBCUs in the United States, the collaboration will continue. We are delighted and excited! We are coming, and we will lift as we climb!