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FEN Blog Call for Submissions: Fake or fact? Teaching Writing in the Misinformation Age

In his Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition, Bruce McComiskey asserts, ‘The fact is, rhetoric and composition have had the tools to combat post-truth rhetoric for years, and we, as a community of scholars and teachers, need to double-down on those tools’ (38). Living in the age of misinformation and fake news has put writing teachers in an uncomfortable space while also challenging us to adopt new ways of thinking about teaching rhetoric, research, and writing.  Since 2011, with the start of the birther movement by Donald Trump, his presidential election win in 2016, and the subsequent fallout of the spread of misinformation and fake news including the “stolen” 2020 election and the January 6 US Capitol attack were precursors to the climate we currently live in. Long interested in teaching critical literacy, composition and rhetoric scholars have begun to respond to this moment, as evinced by recent collections, such as Teaching Critical Reading and Writing and Literacy in the Era of Fake News and Pedagogy in an Age of Misinformation. In these works, composition scholars build on critical literacy traditions while grappling with the changes to our rapidly evolving information space, “the structures that sustain the creation, distribution, and reception of mis- and disinformation” (Lockhart 2).

Some writing instructors have responded by centering their composition courses around the subject of mis/disinformation. Paul T. Corrigon, in his “Fake News: An Undergraduate Composition Course,” demonstrates how we might teach writing through having students use their research skills to combat the post-truth rhetoric they, and we, encounter on a daily basis. He challenges us to focus on research, not as an end but as a means to teach writing using the skills students might already possess:  “as the best pedagogues have always exhorted us, we can teach critical literacy, research, and information literacy not merely as technical skills but as personal dispositions—as ways of being and perceiving in the world”. Corrigan’s syllabus aims to teach students to recognize claims that might be false or falsely accused of being false in their daily encounters with information. As Corrigan notes in the Writing Commons page for his course, he has adapted his course to the local scene of the Evangelical university in which he teaches. The diversity of the spaces in which we teach means that no one course or curriculum will serve as a workable model for all composition classrooms, thus our call for new perspectives on this persisting and societal issue.

The issue of fake news/misinformation is tied to our current political moment, which makes the issue relevant and risky to address in the classroom. The issue is also tied to our current technological moment as developments in technology have rapidly increased the reach and speed of information circulation. And, finally, the issue is relevant to our field’s scholarly and pedagogical history with regard to critical consciousness and critical literacy. Given the political, technological, and scholarly landscape, and living in the post-truth era, we ask: What can teaching in the time of fake news and the age of misinformation teach us about teaching rhetoric and writing? Moreover, what can FENBlog add to conversation about pedagogy in this post-truth era? We invite submissions that speak to the pedagogical developments writing instructors have made due to the fast moving news cycle, how writing instructors have adapted to teaching in the post-truth era, how they deal with comments that arise from fake news and misinformed sources or preconceived notions of prior dispositions (or, confirmation bias), and overall handled tension in the classroom. These ideas are not meant to be limiting; rather, we invite pitches and blog posts, individually or collaboratively written about anything related to teaching composition in the age of misinformation and fake news. 

Pitches and full-length blog pieces should be submitted to fenblog.compstudies@gmail.com

*Featured image on this post created by Dilok Klaisataporn

Looking Ahead: FEN Blog’s New Editors Talk Year Two

Ben Hojem | Guilford College

Jada Patchigondla | University of California, Los Angeles

Jada Patchigondla and Ben Hojem are the incoming editors of the FEN Blog taking on the role from the previous editors, Lauren Fusilier and Megan Von Bergen. What we learned from Lauren and Megan’s time with FEN Blog is the prevalent topics in the field of writing studies published on the Blog. These issues are current and also written in a language that might be more accessible to a wide audience. In this conversation, we want to highlight our goals and purpose for the blog in the 2022-23 academic year. 

Jada: One of the reasons I decided to apply for the editor position for FEN Blog is because the blog is under the umbrella of Composition Studies, an academic journal, but the blog provides a space for multimodal work. It invites writers of all backgrounds to write for a wider audience than just an academic one. Moreover, I wanted to be involved in the field of composition more and the prospect of using the skills I’ve developed as a lecturer to be an editor for a blog was exciting. 

Ben: I was similarly attracted to the blog because it struck me as a space for conversations that don’t readily fit within the strictures and particular affordances of “academic” writing. 

Jada: Right! I have been a lecturer for twelve years. Since the beginning of my career in teaching composition, I have been passionate about students writing in different modes whether they are blogs, sites, memes, and even creating videos on reflections, TEDx talks, and more. Multimodal writing is more “real” and relevant to students because it’s a genre they engage in quite often and more than traditional academic writing. So, multimodal writing really appeals to me personally. 

Ben: Where you say “modes,” I say “genres.” This is probably because I’m one of those compositionists who crossed over from creative writing, which means I have a certain attachment to writing as writing, with all the connotations (and baggage) that that word implies. 

Jada: I love the word genre! I got interested in rhetorical genres and genre studies in graduate school and believe in the explicit teaching of genres with my FYW students. Thinking of our blog submissions as specific genres could be helpful for potential submiters. 

Ben: But then of course we can’t forget the role of technology in shaping the blog as a genre. It’s multimodal at the same time as it’s a genre. Personally, while I recognize that technology is rapidly and irrevocably evolving our modes of communicating, I am still invested in writing as a method (or perhaps a plurality of methods) of thinking and understanding the world. This is all a roundabout way of saying that I am interested in writing that tries to push the boundaries of what “academic” or “creative” means, perhaps in a move for something more “real,” as you say.  So is a blog a mode or a genre? I suppose this is one of the questions we might try to answer, or at the very least pose to our audience.

Jada: I love the idea of pushing the boundaries of traditional academic writing. Our blog is a space where we invite submissions from a wide range of scholars and teachers of writing and rhetoric whether they are mid- to late-career or new in the field, including graduate students.

Ben: I like that you are emphasizing both “scholars and teachers” in that range. I think it’s important to acknowledge that our field includes so many teachers of writing who aren’t tenure track or even full-time grad students. And while there are some non-TT faculty who are able to sustain their research and writing in spite of unfavorable teaching loads and little institutional support, for others it’s a feat to just to keep up on the latest scholarship, nevermind finding the time to do research and write and publish. But this is me speaking as a newly full-time, non-TT faculty instructor who is also still finishing his dissertation. 

Jada: I totally get it; however, I’ve never been a lecturer while finishing a dissertation! I have mostly taught at large public universities in California. I do think that non-TT faculty have perhaps not been recognized through their own writing. But there’s a very real disadvantage, as you say– time. I remember at several points in my teaching career, I taught six FYW courses a semester on multiple campuses just to make ends meet. I had no time for reading scholarship or engaging in, much less writing to get published. Sometimes it felt like the system is built against me really doing much of that. 

Ben: I’m lucky to have only adjuncted for a couple of semesters between graduate programs.  Nonetheless, the struggle feels very real. I think we’re in agreement that we’re especially open to submissions that speak to labor conditions in our field and what these conditions mean for our scholarship as well as our teaching. These aren’t new topics, of course, but it has been much easier for TT faculty to write about these issues on behalf of non-TT and contingent faculty than it has been for these faculty to get their own voices heard. 

Jada: Very true. The voices that should be heard must be heard. 

Ben: And I hope that FEN Blog will continue to be a platform for more voices. I think one of the most important affordances of the blog as a genre (or mode?) is its immediacy. And this applies on many fronts: faster to write, faster to publish, and faster to read. This greater velocity can make it more accessible for more readers and more voices and give it a responsive quality that can be difficult to achieve when you’re looking at a couple years long process to publish in an academic journal.

Jada: I like your approach of “faster to write, faster to publish, and faster to read” because I hope that this is encouraging to lecturers and non-TT writing instructors at various types of higher education institutions. But at the same time, we still aren’t as immediate as other forms of online publishing. We’re still an academic publishing space. Our editorial standards don’t allow us to publish with the same velocity as a Tweet or social media post.

Ben: I think we do have a bit more patience than the rest of the internet…

Jada: Yes, more patience and more encouragement! I really want to encourage scholars and teachers to submit pitches and full-length multimodal blog posts. We are looking for pieces that incorporate more multimodal elements that really allow us to expand the notion of the multimodal space.  So potential submitters should feel free to submit texts with various kinds of multimodal elements– images, hyperlinks, videos, and more. 

Ben: While Megan and Lauren did a terrific job creating this space from scratch, as new editors, we’re still learning how this space differs from the academic journal space. I’d like to see what our readers and writers have to contribute to answering that question. 

Jada: Megan and Lauren have worked hard to create this space that has redefined what academic readers and writers could be. We want to thank them for the blog and we look forward to carrying on their legacy in new directions.

Ben: Our first CFP is dropping as we speak (or, more accurately, as we publish this conversation). We’d like to see pitches and full-length submissions that speak to the post-truth world we’re now living in, but we’re also open to other concerns that are of this moment and about the issues that affect the teachers, researchers, and students in our field. 

Jada: Agreed, Ben! I am very excited to see what we receive and publish this year! I hope we are casting a wide net in our call and hope many are encouraged to submit. For any submission and pitches, we ask they be submitted to fenblog.compstudies@gmail.com.

Writers Learning with Their Elders

Gaby Bedetti | Eastern Kentucky University

Lindsey Danielle Horn | Eastern Kentucky University

With the support of the Kentucky Foundation for Women, I spent an academic year learning to write poetry with many older adults, aged sixty-five and over, at the Carnegie Center Author Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. Once examined in my poems, my murky and amorphous emotions felt validated and reframed. My poems try to change the conversation about women’s aging. For example, I challenge the stereotype of the accommodating woman who defers to the forces around her. I attempt to channel the fear and isolation many older women feel, myself included, into a purposeful and passionate life. Observing and trying to express older women’s reality are the first steps to changing that reality for the individual and the community. When readers connect with my poems, they validate my experiences, improve my self-image, and inspire me as an artist to bring the joy and playfulness of writing poems to others. 

While I had initially planned for students to assist me in leading group poetry workshops for older adults, pandemic conditions led me to reinvent the project as a Collecting Memories Circle.  During the 2020 pandemic, students at my university collected memories remotely at a senior living community. The intergenerational collaboration gave voice to the elders by eliciting, recording, transcribing, editing, and submitting the stories for publication. After five months of virtual meetings of students and elders, the pairs selected one of the five narratives, and I mentored students through the submission and manuscript preparation process.  

Utilizing oral history among elder populations promoted community literacy and provided benefits to elders and students through intergenerational relationships. From the interviewer/editor’s point of view, what emerged from the pandemic is a technique for developing editing skills. From the interviewee/narrator’s perspective, what emerged is a recognition of the sweetness and joy of sharing memories. Not only did the collaboration help students synthesize and put into practice what they learned about writing, but it also helped validate their elders’ wisdom. The editors had a symbiotic relationship with the narrators that humanized and transformed students and elders alike.

Students are poor at editing their own writing because they read into it what they wanted to mean when they wrote it. In addition to avoiding that pitfall, gathering oral histories benefited the students’ editing skills in other ways. After reviewing best practices and cultivating a relationship with the narrator, the students developed their skills at asking for specific examples and explanations of words that the interviewee used. They learned to find out not only what the person did, but also what she thought and felt about what she did. They became experts at asking follow-up questions. In the later stages, students learned to verify facts and edit for readability while preserving the flavor of the narrator’s speech. They consulted with the narrator throughout the editing process. Finally, they collected photographs relevant for the interpretation of the oral history by future users.

Imagine this veteran teacher’s delight in learning that one of her student’s editing skills was recognized by her classmates. At the 2021 Kentucky Book Fair, the editor of Kentucky Monthly shared with me that the high school of one of my students, Lindsey Danielle Horn, had ordered 500 copies of the issue to distribute at the school’s reunion. Imagine the pride of Danielle’s elder, Diane Sears, as her senior living community celebrated her publication. Finally, imagine Danielle’s pleasure in the validation of her editorial skills and connection she made with an elder. An English teaching major with a creative writing path, Danielle has experience working with students at our university’s Noel Studio for Academic Creativity. Her article “Boo’s Superpower: An Exploration of To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Boo Radley on the Autism Spectrum” won a 2020 Library Research Award for Undergraduates. With this project, however, Danielle brought her editorial skills beyond campus in an intergenerational collaboration resulting in Diane’s personal narrative being published in a magazine with a circulation of 35,000. Danielle narrates her experience working with Diane below. I could not have wished for a more willing and able collaborator. Her light and encouraging touch with Diane, her sense of humor, her sensitivity to Diane’s changing needs and circumstances, as well as her editing skills made her the perfect collaborator.

The Teacher’s Goals

My goals as an educator include developing my students’ writing skills, academic socialization, and practices of listening, turn-taking, and respect for difference. With regard to writing skills, English teachers are aware that one of the last skills their students develop is editing, partly because writers are too close to their material to see it from the reader’s perspective. By following oral history interviewing guidelines—for example, listen quietly and carefully and actively, don’t interrupt a good story—as they listened to the senior’s narrative, the student collectors cultivated an objectivity they would not otherwise have had writing their own narrative. Furthermore, while they cultivated empathy through intergenerational relationships and developed writing and leadership skills, their elders experienced the pleasure of giving voice to their memories. Sharing my voice as a poet has increased my empathy for adults older than myself and intensified my desire to combat ageism. Like my teaching, I want to create emotional connections, raise awareness, and foster creativity beyond as well as on campus. Toward that end, the Kentucky Foundation for Women supported my artistic enrichment  to complete a poetry collection to develop my voice as a feminist poet, defuse discrimination against women based on age, and empower older women. As well, a research grant from my university funded our collaboration with the seniors. When elders share their deeper memories, they develop a positive self-image and shift the community’s discourse to eliminate discrimination against women based on age and instead value their wisdom and experience.

To begin, I prepared for our activities by contacting Ashland Terrace Senior Living Community—a non-profit that has been providing housing to those in need since 1849, when it was called Home of the Friendless and served those left destitute by cholera outbreaks. A colleague, Neil Kasiak, was kind enough to lend us recorders from the Oral History Center since pandemic conditions did not permit face-to-face encounters. Equally invaluable, his article, “Navigating Uncertainty: Coronavirus 2020 Oral History Project” initiated us into the art of interviewing others

From my perspective as an English teacher, the intergenerational collaboration successfully met the following goals:

  • elicit, record, transcribe, edit, and submit narratives for publication
  • develop the storytelling skills of seniors 
  • combat ageism in culture
  • cultivate intergenerational relationships 
  • serve as ambassadors for English education in Kentucky

Significantly, partnering with an elder and experiencing writing as a social process provided students the motivation to prepare a polished oral history for publication. With weekly check-ins, each senior composed five oral histories over five months. This article follows one student, Danielle, from June to October 2020 through brief excerpts from her weekly reports (Assistants’ Log: Collecting Memories Circle). Because situations related to aging are often difficult, the students had to accommodate for hearing and seeing issues. Hence, the monthly prompts linked below appear in 16-point font. In all, we recorded, transcribed, and edited ten oral histories. 

Danielle’s Experience 

My Goals and Trepidations for the Project

I learned about The Collecting Memories Circle through one of my employers at The Noel Studio for Academic Creativity on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus. As a fellow professor at the university, my employer had worked closely with Dr. Gaby Bedetti and spoke highly of her and her teaching methods. I loved the idea of networking and developing a mentorship with someone in the English department at a university, so I inquired more about The Collecting Memories Circle, and I unexpectedly sent Dr. Bedetti my resume the same day. The project just hooked me. Especially as a future English and creative writing teacher, I couldn’t decline an opportunity to expand my knowledge on the writing process or how to assist different types of learners. More than that though, I also had a personal connection to the project. In 2015, I watched my grandmother publish her first book. She was 64 at the time, and I saw how much joy she got from accomplishing one of her lifelong dreams. She knew that her story would remain a part of history and continue to impact people, even after she was gone. I imagined how the project could accomplish that for someone else, and I knew that I would not forgive myself if I didn’t participate.

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Fig. 1. Danielle Horn, recorder and editor
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Fig. 2. Diane Sears, oral historian and storyteller

June 1, 2020: Meet, Greet, and Brainstorm First Prompt, Character Sketch 

I (see fig. 1) was nervous, but she (see fig. 2) was talkative and made me feel welcome. She decided that she wanted to write about Mr. and Mrs. Wallace. They were like parents to her and she wanted to honor their memories. I assured her that I loved that idea. I’m not sure that we will ever use Zoom, because she uses captions on her phone to understand what I’m saying. 

June 8, 2020: Develop Character Sketch

She is proud of what she’s written so far. I don’t think she realizes how funny she is. We ended the phone call after she gave me some good advice about sharing my feelings with people. She said that when she was growing up, her family didn’t talk about things. She is glad that she can be open with her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even strangers like me now. She likes the world better that way, and I think I do, too.

June 15, 2020: Edit Character Sketch

This was was the first phone call where we really connected. She also impressed me, because as she read the papers aloud, she caught the exact mistakes I planned to talk to her about. Since she has a caption phone, we agreed that it would be easiest to discuss our main concerns over the call, then I could send her small corrections with the transcript. She begged me to organize it better, even though I assured her it was a good start and even better than some of the first drafts I have seen from students.

June 22, 2020: Proofread Character Sketch

She agreed that I could make the revisions on my own, which I didn’t want to do because I wanted the story to stay in her voice, but I suppose it’s the best option. Maybe she was having an off day. We all have those sometimes. Here is a recording of Diane reading the first paragraph of her personal narrative, “My “Mama” and “Daddy,” Mr. and “Mrs. Ira and Mary Wallace.”

June 29, 2020: Rehearse for Videotaping
The conversation led to us adding each other on Facebook, and her excitement about that made me happy. She wanted to show off pictures of her cat, Prissy, and she said she considers us friends now. 

July 6, 2020: Brainstorm Second Prompt, a Significant Place

She already started her story about Germany. I asked her questions so she would elaborate on certain details that needed to be clearer, and she was eager to tell me more. 

July 20, 2020: Editing a Significant Place

When we first got on the phone, she expressed how much she loved the story and how few changes she wanted to make. I encouraged her to read the story aloud, though, to catch anything either of us missed. I let her know I would fix the errors and send her another copy as well as do the illustrations this week. 

July 27, 2020: Proofread a Significant Place

She made notes before I called so she could tell me what I needed to revise. She’s getting the hang of our routine, and it makes me so happy. She continued to tell me about how her life changed after the pandemic. One of her biggest disappointments is not being able to go to the YMCA anymore. She told me that one of her friends there told everyone in their group that Diane hadn’t been there because she was in jail. It cracked me up! That’s what they call quarantine, but I can just imagine all the senior women wondering what Diane’s in jail for. I love her sense of humor and the role it plays in her storytelling.

August 3, 2020: Brainstorm Third Prompt, the Pandemic

Each time I talk to her, I feel like I learn a little bit more about her heart. For example, even though they can’t celebrate residents’ birthdays with big parties right now, she colors pictures for the other residents and slips them under their doors during birthday week. 

August 10, 2020: Develop the Pandemic Story

Diane was a little tired this morning. She was up late, messaging me about the story, and she didn’t sleep that well. She read her answers to my questions about the story, which helped me elaborate on a lot of the paragraphs we already had.

August 17, 2020: Edit the Pandemic Story

She was very chipper. She let me know she got her birthday presents and was very thankful. We read through the story in its entirety (I think) for the first time. 

August 26, 2020: Proofread the Pandemic Story

We discussed the letter that she needs to start for next week. She plans to write to her daughter, Jean, who lives in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. She said that Jean was her wild child, so she will be easy to write about.

September 2, 2020: Brainstorm Fourth Prompt, Letter to a Young Person 

I let her know that there was a lot she could elaborate on and she encouraged me to text her questions to get her thinking about what else to write before next time. 

September 7, 2020: Develop Letter to a Young Person

Diane plans to write about her granddaughter, Brittney. I know a little about Brittney since she’s in Diane’s story about Germany, but I’m still excited to learn more. Diane admitted that she worked on the letter last-minute, but I told her that was okay. We all get busy sometimes, She shared her start with me. It was good. I let her know there was a lot she could elaborate on and she encouraged me to text her questions to get her thinking about what else to write before next time. It was a good call.

The call made me realize that we have become really comfortable with each other. Knowing that the collaboration is going to end makes me feel sad! So Diane and I made plans to see each other after the pandemic. She wants me to meet her cat, Prissy, and some of the other residents that she’s close to. What sparked our personal conversation today was when she got a notification about the U.S. sending troops to Iran. She wants to learn as much as she can about other cultures. She told me about her brothers and sisters of color at church and a mother and son who graduated from college with theology degrees and wanted to lead a Hispanic group for the ESL congregation members. I was thrilled! My uncle is from Mexico, and he’d love to hear about the things she told me. She taught me a few Spanish words and German ones when we wrote her story about Germany. I’m learning from her!

September 14, 2020: Edit Letter to a Young Person

Today, Diane read the entire letter aloud. She had two or three revisions. We then went through pictures she sent me, and she explained who everyone was and where they had taken the photos. Other than that, we talked about the pandemic. I was glad to hear that Ashland Terrace held Bingo the other night. They also allowed residents time for visitors to see them outside, as long as they social-distanced and wore masks. 

September 23, 2020: Proofread Letter to a Young Person

I texted her after the phone call and prompted her with questions so she would be prepared when we discussed the new story.

October 5, 2020: Brainstorm Prompt, Aging

She added to the story and gave me a lot to encourage her to expand on. For example, she talked about how all the ladies at Ashland Terrace were sisters, so I prompted her to tell me about some of her favorite residents. I was excited to meet them on my next visit.

October 12, 2020: Develop Piece on Aging

Diane added a final paragraph and encouraged me to add a paragraph in the middle about different residents at Ashland and how many of her “sisters” in the community lift people’s spirits by staying positive. Diane “refuses to be a crabby old person”; she is like lots of the ladies at Ashland who “have glad hearts.”

October 19, 2020: Revise Piece on Aging

She had a fall this morning, so we chose to take the day off and take it easy.

October 26, 2020: Proofread Piece on Aging

My final phone call with Diane was bittersweet. She read the story aloud one last time and made one or two revisions. She also told me how she read it to her friend, Vena, who she mentioned in the story. Of course, Vena loved it. Brittany also received her letter and was in awe. Diane complimented me as an editor and told me that Brittany liked how we wrote and polished the works together. We talked about how happy we both were that we did the project and decided on her story about Mr. and Mrs. Wallace for the submission to the Kentucky journal. It seemed like Diane finally realized that she would have something to show for her hard work because she was so excited about the future publications. 

February 14, 2020: Submit an Oral History for Publication

Over the last several weeks, I studied Kentucky Monthly in preparation to submit Diane’s personal narrative, “My ‘Mama’ and ‘Daddy,’ Mr. and Mrs. Ira and Mary Wallace.” 

What I Learned and How the Project Impacted Me

I had big ambitions going into The Collecting Memories Circle, and the reality of the project still managed to surpass them. While I learned skills that benefited me educationally (such as how to accommodate learners with hearing difficulties), the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic changed what I intended to accomplish during the project. In a way, the project became less about cycling through the stages of writing and more about giving the other person a connection to the outside world. Almost every phone call, Diane and I took minutes away from our work time to make small talk. I made a goal to ease the isolation that she felt in quarantine, and while I never asked if it worked, our conversations helped loneliness of my own that I didn’t even realize I had. I listened to Diane talk about her family until I knew all their names, and I heard the excitement in her voice when she saw them on FaceTime or they sent her gifts in the mail. Eventually, I sent her some gifts as well. Working so closely with a stranger was definitely the most intimidating part of the project, but Diane made it easy. She taught me about the importance of building relationships with collaborators, going at my own pace, and having a sense of humor. At the end of our last phone call, she even invited me to visit. After the COVID-19 mandates are gone, she wants to get me a pass for the dining hall to introduce me to everyone she has been telling me about over the last few months. I am thankful the project has left a lasting impact on me in the form of a new friend.

The Publishing Learning Outcomes

The log of weekly exchanges between the writer and editor document not only the growing friendship but also Danielle’s internship as an editor who continued to experience writing as a social process from the article’s submission in June 2021 to its publication in October 2021. As part of that process, Danielle:

On publication, Danielle, Diane, and I celebrated the article’s publication (see fig. 3). The success was also celebrated on several Facebook pages. The author received more than thirty likes, comments, and shares on the small retirement community’s Facebook, as did Danielle, who shared her elation on her own as well as the English Department’s Facebook page. The intergenerational collaboration not only allowed for development of writing skills but also served to challenge pervasive ageism in a country where in a couple of decades, the elderly will outnumber children.

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Fig 3. Screenshot of the published article in Kentucky Monthly, Oct. 2021, pp. 70 – 71

Authentic learning opportunities motivate students. My students have replied to minor league baseball player blogs, written essays in response to 9/11, composed letters to their next English instructor, anthologized essays concerning their career choices (What Do You Want to Be), published a literary and arts journal, and wrote and performed comedy sketches (EKU Shiloh). To cultivate empathy in our divisive times, one prompt asks students to choose someone they know well who holds an opinion with which they differ and explain how the person’s experiences, circumstances, and future hopes and fears helped shape that opinion. Emerging from the pandemic, people are hungry to connect again. Partnering with seniors gives students an opportunity to empathize with their elders and share the elders’ stories—all while they develop their own writing skills.

More importantly, by taking students outside the classroom and discipline, they will have learned that learning is a collaborative, inquiry-based practice. All educators can embed course skills and content in real world experiences, thereby inviting students to become creative problem-solvers. Granted, designing learning experiences in real world contexts requires greater preparation and involves additional participants. However, the field of immediate experience will deepen and widen the learning by connecting the instructor’s SLOs with students’ lived observations. Increasingly I enjoy designing learning experiences that engage the whole student in a classroom without walls. College teachers are not simply preparing tomorrow’s workforce, they are educating tomorrow’s decision makers and problem solvers. The significance of the collaborative experience of collecting oral histories and editing them to share is based, after all, on concern for college students’ moral development—not on developing editing skills alone. Whether the class invites the public to a culminating end-of-semester performance or works with the community throughout the semester, I trust—and my co-author’s account confirms—that students will internalize not only the lessons learned but also the pleasure of learning.                                                                        

Note

This work was supported by a Kentucky Foundation for Women 2018 Artist Enrichment grant and an Eastern Kentucky University University-Funded 2019-2020 Scholarship grant 20-103. The subjects followed all protocols and granted the copyright permissions required on the William  H. Berge Oral History Center’s Release Agreement. 

An earlier version of this essay appears in Community Works Journal, 13 Jan 2022. magazine.communityworksinstitute.org/student-writers-learning-with-their-elders/.

Works Cited

Assistants’ Log: Collecting Memories Circle. Google Drive. docs.google.com/document/d/1CI4s_jiVTprNBu6n9dAXYCLyeEhdN4h7VWmXMWL6aY8/edit?usp=sharing.

Sears, Diane and Danielle Horn, “Lockport Humanitarians Ira and Mary Wallace,” Kentucky Monthly, Oct. 2021, pp. 70-71. issuu.com/kentuckymonthlymagazine/docs/october2021_?fbclid=IwAR2pcZjDdgv4-mkcK89BQmNmuZuuP6FU9JX-Izj1VEXk0Iz_wLLqPe30lOQ.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? Career Dreams. Google Drive. drive.google.com/file/d/1RLc3Z_NorHdjgQ85dKXo2bETO8wSY-XT/view.

Reflection on a Year of Editing FEN Blog

Lauren Fusilier | University of Louisville

Megan Von Bergen | University of Tennessee, Knoxville

As of June 2022, both Megan Von Bergen and Lauren Fusilier are stepping down from the editorship of FEN Blog and turning the reins over to a new editorial team. It’s been a privilege to work on getting FEN Blog off the ground over the last year, and we look forward to seeing where the blog goes in the future. We knew we wanted to write a reflection on our work with the blog. Rather than using an essay style, we chose a dialogic style, a conversation about our takeaways over the last year. We reflect on what we learned as scholars during our work on the blog, how we approached the labor of the blog, and how we hope the blog contributes to the field of composition studies. 

Megan: One of the things I think we both really appreciated about working with FEN Blog was the chance to see what goes on “behind the scenes” in journal editing. Shall we start there? 

Lauren: Sure, I can speak to that. As editors, we loved the back-and-forth with writers, particularly graduate student writers. I liked seeing the kernel of someone’s idea as it progresses and develops, especially as the collaborative work happens with feedback, where you see a writer saying, “oh, I haven’t thought of it that way, but now that you point this out, my ideas are developing, and it’s growing in this direction.” That collaboration brings out unforeseen and valuable elements in a piece. So, we got to help writers figure out how to hit the marks, bring their piece in line with their vision for it, so it could succeed. 

Megan: We’re also graduate students, so it’s useful to get the experience for when we’re approaching a new writing project: what should we think about as we’re preparing to send in a journal article? For me, getting the first-hand experience, especially as we worked with Kara, of what editors might ask for and when was invaluable. I’ve been fortunate enough to publish a few times already, but always as part of a special issue or edited collection, and as I look to submit some of my work unsolicited, I feel much more confident in the typical processes of editorial work. It’s like a black box has been opened. 

Lauren: I like the black box metaphor. Publishing in higher ed can feel obscure and confusing, especially since its editorial rhythms are different from other kinds of publishing, such as journalism. So having the opportunity to open that box and see the gears in motion earlier in our careers was really key. 

Megan: One thing that I’m really proud of is that we’ve established a new, less formal place for composition scholars to work through ideas. Writing for blogs (in my case, the Digital Rhetorical Collaborative) was key in getting some early work published, and so I was excited to help start FEN Blog. We’ve published tenured folks –– starting with Sheila Carter-Tod’s excellent piece on multiple rhetorics, we’re so thankful that she agreed to be the first piece on the new blog –– but also graduate students and non-tenured folks. Writing a blog post is a great way for scholars to get their ideas in front of an audience without committing to an arduous and sometimes years-long process, so especially in a time of greater contingency and swifter circulation of ideas, having a new blog in the field is great. 

Lauren: The point about precarity is something that it’s important to me, personally. While adjuncting, the thought of publishing was so daunting, so the accessibility of what we do with FEN Blog felt really meaningful. It feels almost retroactive for me, in that I wish I’d had this space as an adjunct, because I was working through a lot of ideas, but I wasn’t confident enough to send that work to a formal journal. Now, in the first two years of my PhD program, I also felt really intimidated. But working through the blog has built up my confidence. Also, it feels really important that we share the work of especially scholars who are facing precarity, because they have so much to say. They’re the on the ground workers, teaching the bulk of the first year composition classes, and they’re the ones who have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in those classrooms. I think that sometimes we’re at risk of missing those perspectives in the more traditional publishing routes. 

Megan: I agree! Sometimes I hear a colleague or friend talking about how much they’ve appreciated one of FEN Blog’s posts. I really like that these pieces have already been taken up and circulated within first year composition and among folks who teach and research first year composition. I know that I personally have recommended Sharon Mitchler’s piece, particularly for its discussion of best-by dates, in helping friends and colleagues rethink their grading and attendance policies. These kinds of really practical, hands-on pieces are invaluable and timely –– and also, good scholarship. 

Lauren: Yeah, I used Megan McIntyre’s piece in my antiracist professional development course. People loved it. The ease of which her work can be applied in the classroom is great. When your course load is really heavy theory, that kind of lighter, more practical reading helps balance the material really well; it offers a hands-on angle that pairs so well with classics like Geneva Smitherman’s work. 

Another area where I think we both experienced some professional growth was in figuring out the logistics of what it meant to get the ball rolling on the blog and keep it going. At first we were really committed to keeping a close schedule, going above and beyond in our work to meet the deadlines we had outlined, but as time went on, we had to adapt to the ebbs and flows of submissions and the academic calendar. 

Megan: Part of managing the labor of the blog turned out to be sharing the labor of editorial work between ourselves. I handled much of the feedback and responses to writers. And you did a great job with the technical side, choosing good photos, uploading the post, wrangling WordPress.  

Lauren: Taking on the technical aspect was a good challenge for me! It felt really important to me to use this opportunity to deepen my knowledge about design and digital communication, which are part of my scholarly interests but weren’t something I’d pursued on my own previously. So the editorial work for FEN Blog gave me a chance to hone those skills in a new way. 

Megan: I felt as though I was already fairly strong with feedback, but for me, the recursive, critical process of editorial work was a good learning experience. I get enthusiastic about pieces, and so being patient with their development and offering the critique, really, that they need to improve was hard for me. Kara was a great coach, and as time went on, I think I got better at balancing constructive criticism with my eagerness to share writers’ vision with our readership. 

Lauren: Coming from my journalism editorial background outside of academia, doing a second pass of feedback was really helpful for me because I had the opportunity to learn by seeing your feedback and Kara’s. It gave me a chance to develop –– not a softer voice, but more a open-ended suggestion style that is less directive and more welcoming of writers’ growth.   

Megan: And then, we passed on these strategies to the incoming team. They’ll develop their own rhythms, of course, but the chance to establish editorial structures and flows that work for us –– especially as grads and/or non-tenure-track faculty working on this project –– and for the writers was really a privilege. 

Lauren: I think overall it was helpful, especially in the context of the pandemic, to think through what was in our control –– and what was not. And sometimes the labor of the blog called us to more flexible processes and structures. I’m really glad that we could approach the work in that way, and I hope the blog continues to be a space that considers labor and positionality. 

Megan: I’d add here that this attention to labor really fit in with the larger vision we had for the blog. One of the things we wanted the blog to do was to make space for people to talk about exigencies in our field and address what’s happening now –– questions, problems, concerns –– not two years down the road to be published in a journal article. That long process for journal publications is really important, but having timely scholarship is also important. Dr. Carter-Tod’s piece does this really well, engaging with the really urgent need our field has to get at rhetorics that are outside of the white, western, Greco-Roman epistemology. And other pieces do this as well –– we were really pleased with Natalie’s piece, for instance, about writing centers supporting a diverse range of voices, using creative writing strategies to recreate that space. 

Lauren: It was a goal for us from the jump and one I think we met pretty well. The timing of the blog, beginning in the midst of the pandemic and the cultural movements happening with police brutality, really plays into this, as well, I think. The pandemic put into sharp relief what is important. Things have really shifted for me in the past few years and my ideas of what’s most important have sharpened into focus.  

Megan: It’s a little bittersweet handing the reins over to new editors. We’re confident that Ben and Jada will do great, of course! And Kara will provide good direction, as she did for us. Both Lauren and I are stepping away to focus on our dissertations, so it makes sense. 

Lauren: Yeah, we got FEN Blog off the ground, and Kara gave us a lot of freedom. 

Megan: So it’s been really rewarding to see it take shape and have an impact on our field. 

Lauren: It feels very much like our brainchild! We had a lot of space, and we’re proud of where it’s gone. 

Megan: And excited to see where it goes next. 

Note: We borrow the dialogic (versus essayistic) format of this piece from T.J. Geiger and Melody Pugh’s book review, “Christian Rhetorics: Towards a Hopeful Future.” The review appears in Composition Studies 43.2 (2015), pg. 216-224 and may be found here

A small stack of the following books: Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Well-Read Black Girl by Gloria Edem, and Black on a spine with the rest of the title cut off from the picture.

Antiracist Ways of Reading

Paul T. Corrigan | University of Tampa

During the first year of the pandemic, in the small town of Homewood, Alabama, the Berthiaume family took a set of “discarded red chest drawers” and built a “little free library” outside their home, as CNN’s Alaa Elassar reports. The family of five “added a roof and painted it, finalizing it with the words ‘Antiracist Little Library’ on the side,” and stocked the shelves with such titles as Ashley Jones’s Reparations Now! and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. Kristen Berthiaume, the mother of the family, explained that with Covid closing their local public library, they wanted to ensure such books would still be “accessible” to readers, to provide “knowledge” about race and racism or “just a good story where all the characters aren’t White.” So far they have given away over 300 books.

The Berthiaumes are not alone in their efforts. Along the way, they partnered with the nonprofit organization Little Free Library, which, as part of its Read In Color initiative, has distributed “more than 30,000 diverse books” (Elassar). Moreover, still other folks buying antiracist books, often to give as gifts, recently propelled such titles into all of the top spots of the New York Times Bestseller list (Evelyn). These efforts to circulate books illustrate a widespread theory of antiracist reading that stresses access to books—a theory that I, as a teacher of reading and writing, want to endorse but also complicate.

One complication comes from those striving to limit access to antiracist books. In the county where I live in central Florida, two books by Toni Morrison, Beloved and The Bluest Eye, along with more than a dozen other diverse titles, have just been removed from the middle school and high school libraries after complaints and threats of legal action by a group called County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF). One of the group’s leaders, Hannah Petersen, claimed the books made her “physical (sic) nauseous.” When local reporter Kimberly C. Moore asked what was objectionable in the books, another leader, Jimmy Nelson, declared, “It’s pretty evident. The books speak for themselves.” Although the stated concerns reference sex and gender, the ban inescapably affects—and apparently targets—books that expose racism or advocate for racial justice. If the Berthiaumes are not alone in promoting access to such books, then neither are the CCDF in opposing it. “So far, at least 36 states have adopted or introduced laws or policies that restrict teaching about race and racism,” Chalkbeat’s Cathryn Stout recently reported, and “new legislation is in the pipeline.” 

If opposition to access offers one complication, another comes in the form of a surprising consensus about what access means, one that can be seen by examining a tool proponents and opponents both use: lists of antiracist books. While proponents forward lists of books to read—such as Bookshop.org’s list of books that “help examine anti-Black racism and the fight for antiracism in The United States”—opponents create lists of books to ban—such as Texas state representative Matt Krause’s list of 850 books that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex” (Chappell). Though these competing lists have opposite aims, they share a couple features. First, both contain many of the same authors. For example, the Bookshop.org and Krause lists both include Ibram X. Kendi, Isabel Wilkerson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander, Patrisse Cullors and Asha Bandele, Claudia Rankine, Layla Saad, Mikki Kendall, Ijeoma Oluo, and Tiffany Jewell and Aurelia Durand.

Both sets of lists also tend to give little indication of what readers ought to do with the books. As Lauren Michele Jackson observes, an antiracist reading list “seldom instructs or guides. It is no pedagogue.” The same goes for a banning list. In both cases, the exhortation, sometimes stated, other times implied, is just read or just don’t. In this regard, proponents and opponents of access appear to share a key assumption: that the messages and effects of the books are self-evident and self-enacting; that simply reading antiracist books is in and of itself sufficient to make something happen in readers, something the one group wants and the other group does not; that simply reading makes readers either more antiracist or psychologically “distressed” and physically “nauseous.” In this way, the access theory of antiracist reading is an instance of what education scholar Patrick Shannon calls “the direct-effects theory of reading” (44). Whatever it is books can do, exposure makes directly possible. In other words: It’s pretty evident. The books speak for themselves

But though such an assumption about the inherent power of books may be shared, it is also questionable. Reading carries antiracist potential but is also plagued by recurring insufficiency. Yes, in our own experiences and in history, we may find many examples of readers being profoundly affected by antiracist reading. For instance, in my own life, reading Ernest Gaines’s A Gathering of Old Men in college transformed my understanding of racism. I think also of reading testimonies by Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, bell hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jesmyn Ward, and the writers included in Well-Read Black Girl (Edim) and Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing (Oliver)

But we can find plenty of counterexamples, too, times readers were not particularly moved.For instance, reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school just left me confused. Another counterexample, a particularly pointed one, comes from the crisis unfolding in my county: the people who wrote the report to ban the antiracist books first read the books, carefully enough to cite specific passages they objected to, along with page numbers, and then they went on to act in ways that are more racist, not less, by pushing for the ban. Clearly, reading antiracist books does not automatically make people antiracist. 

So, to talk about the antiracist power of reading, we need caveats. Reading can be powerfully antiracist. But it is not inevitably so. There are variables: what one reads and how one reads matter. There are, as the title of David Bartholomae and Tony Petrosky’s famous anthology puts it, many different Ways of Reading. Unfortunately, considerations of what is read often overshadow attention to how it is read. The fact that internet searches for the phrase “antiracist reading” turn up the sorts of book lists discussed above, and not, say, methods for how to read, suggests that many people understand antiracist reading as tantamount to reading books with antiracist content. However important the lists are, this emphasis on content strikes me, and Patricia Roberts-Miller who pointed out the parallel to me, as an error in the tradition of the transmission model of education, or the “banking” model, to use Paulo Friere’s term. Just as learning requires more than “covering” information about a topic, antiracist reading requires more than just “reading” antiracist books. What we do with the information and with the books—how we process, respond, and use them—matter. So, in my view, antiracist reading has to mean reading in ways that are antiracist. 

To help us become more conscious of the options available, more intentional in using and promoting a range of reading practices for a range of antiracist purposes, I’ve sketched the following preliminary taxonomy of modes of antiracist reading through reflecting on the approaches I have come across in my studies. Some of the models are implicit—such as Ta-Nehisi Coates immersing himself in reading about the history of US slavery and Toni Morrison critiquing white representations of Blackness in US literature—while others have been spelled out overtly—especially Asao Inoue’s step-by-step method for attending to our racialized reactions to texts. I have also been helped by Gary Lemon’s “autocritography,” Eliza Ramirez and Sarah J. Donovan’s “ABAR (anti-bias, antiracist) lens,” AnaLouise Keating’s “(de)racialized reading,” Lisa K. Taylor’s “anti-colonial feminist reading strategies,” and Timothy Oleksiak’s race-conscious “worldbuilding.” 

I say “sketched” and “preliminary” advisedly. The taxonomy is not a treatise but an outline. At this juncture, I name and briefly define ten modes of antiracist reading. I also cite an example source and suggest an example lesson for each mode, gesturing toward yet-to-be-traced genealogies of these practices and anchoring them in teaching. But all of the modes need more unpacking, including consideration of their respective affordances and limitations and of, as co-editor of FEN Blog Megan Von Bergen asked me, how they might be practiced differently by readers who have lived different experiences of race and racism. Also, although I’ve tried to identify discrete modes of reading, they inevitably overlap in practice and could very well be sorted into different categories. The order I’ve arranged the modes in makes intuitive sense to me but does not necessarily represent a progression or hierarchy. Additionally, the taxonomy is not an unqualified endorsement; all the modes remain open to caveats, critiques. Indeed, I invite readers—even in comments on this post—to challenge these modes, propose new ones, and offer additional examples and counterexamples.

Informative Informative antiracist reading is reading to learn about race, racism, and antiracism. The “immersive” reading Ta-Nehisi Coates undertook to understand the history of US slavery is an example of this mode (66). A possible lesson in this mode would be to assign students to read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time to get a contemporaneous view of the 1960s civil rights movement.
Attentive Attentive antiracist reading is reading to listen carefully to the words of racially othered writers. When Jacqueline Jones Royster asserts that “voicing at its best is not just well-spoken but also well-heard,” she invokes the attentive mode of antiracist reading (40). An example of applying this mode in the classroom would be to direct students to spend time carefully working through the fractured sentences in poems by Jay Wright.
Empathetic  Empathetic antiracist reading is reading to feel with the experiences of racially othered writers or characters. Samantha Blackmon’s argument that popular culture’s “Magical Negro” trope limits segregated white readers’ “ability to empathize” with Black people underscores the empathetic mode of antiracist reading. Asking students to read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and write a letter “back” to Celie, expressing compassion for what she’s suffered, pride for what she’s accomplished, would be a lesson to teach this mode.
Affirmative Affirmative antiracist reading is reading to verify one’s racialized experiences as real and shared. Jesmyn Ward’s reading of James Baldwin illustrates the affirmative mode, showing her that “someone else saw the myriad injustices of living while black in this country” (7). A way to teach in this mode could be to ask students to read Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s womanist anthology This Bridge Called My Back and comment on texts that resonate with their own experiences.
Introspective  Introspective antiracist reading is reading to surface racist impulses within oneself. AnaLouse Keating’s observation that “self-reflection . . . can expose the hidden ‘white’ framework” of “conventional” reading is a call for the introspective mode (85). An example lesson in this mode might have students read Jamaica Kincaid’s comments against tourists in A Small Place and take careful note of what (possibly defensive) emotions arise as a result.
Critical Critical antiracist reading is reading to critique racist ideas and representations in texts. For example, in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison employs the critical mode of antiracist reading to expose racism in US literature. Watching pre-Black Panther MARVEL films and critiquing the greater prominence of red, green, and purple characters, compared to Brown and Black characters, would be a lesson in this mode.
Rhetorical Rhetorical antiracist reading is reading to analyze the role of race in texts’ rhetorical situations. Henry Louis Gates demonstrates rhetorical antiracist reading when he examines the racially cautious language of some of Phillis Wheatley’s poems in light of the racist confines of her enslavement. An example lesson would be to ask students to consider which audiences find comedian Ali Wong’s racial jokes funny, which audiences don’t, and why.
Imaginative Imaginative antiracist reading is reading to imagine what a racially just world could look like. When bell hooks recalls that reading as a child “made the impossible possible” for her, she’s describing the imaginative mode of antiracist reading (133). A possible lesson in this mode could entail reading Nnedi Okorafor’s LaGuardia and discussing how the alternative, inclusive communities she depicts might look in real life. 
Activist Activist antiracist reading is reading to motivate and guide antiracist action. Elizabeth Ammons teaches this mode when she has students in an environmental justice literature course undertake a “final social activism project” connected to course texts (171). Watching Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th and writing letters to representatives opposing the use of private prisons would be another possible lesson in the activist mode.
Sacred Sacred antiracist reading is reading that moves readers in ways that are antiracist on an existential, even spiritual, level and difficult to categorize. Overcome by grief over the death of his mother and anti-Black violence, Andre Henry turned to this mode: “Writings on hope from freedom fighters, past and present, became my holy texts” (169). A lesson about this mode might discuss Frederick Douglass’s testimony of how reading an argument against slavery “roused my soul to eternal wakefulness” (41).

After the Berthiaumes set up the Antiracist Little Library, vandals cleaned out all of the books twice. But supporters quickly donated enough books to replenish the supply many times over. As soon as the sixteen books were pulled from my county’s school libraries, our librarians and our local chapter of the NAACP spoke out in response. (As did I in a letter to the editor of our local newspaper.) The struggle to protect and expand access to antiracist books is unending. But it is also just the start. As we attend to access, let us also attend to the many options available for how those books are to be read.

Selected Bibliography
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. One World, 2017.

Edim, Glory, editor. Well-Read Black Girl:  Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves. Ballantine Books, 2018.

Inoue, Asao. “Teaching Antiracist Reading.” Journal of College Reading and Learning, vol. 50, no. 3, 2020, pp. 134-156. 

Keating, AnaLouise. Teaching Transformation: Transcultural Classroom Dialogues. Palgrave, 2007.

Lemons, Gary. Black Male Outsider: Teaching as a Pro-Feminist Man—A Memoir. SUNY Press, 2008.

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Harvard University Press, 1992.

Oleksiak, Timothy. “Culturally Relevant Student Response: Responding to the DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice.” Paper presented at the College Composition and Communication Annual Convention, Mar. 9-12, 2022.

Oliver, Stephanie Stokes, editor. Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing. Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Ramirez, Eliza and Sarah J. Donovan. “Harm and Healing: Reading with an ABAR (Anti-Bias, Antiracist) Lens.” Voices from the Middle, vol. 28, no. 4, 2021, pp. 54-59.Taylor, Lisa K. “Reading Desire: From Empathy to Estrangement, from Enlightenment to Implication.” Intercultural Education, vol. 18, no. 4, 2007, pp. 297-316.

The Cycle of Progressive Failure

Annie Halseth | Colorado State University

We’ve long lived with the idea that failure is not an option. But that is far from accurate. As teachers, we fail all the time, or at least more often than we’d like. And, furthermore, we don’t like to talk about our own failures. So, as I approached the opportunity of writing this blog post about failure, I experienced a certain kind of excitement tinged with trepidation. I knew I wanted to talk about the importance of failure as a teacher and what that might look like when we implement new technologies in the composition classroom. However, as a graduate student with a Spring 2022 graduation, I recognize the potential risk of writing about failure and entering the job market with hopes of finding a position teaching composition. I am plagued by the fear that my discussion and candid experience of failing as a teacher might disqualify me from certain positions. I love teaching composition, and I want to keep teaching composition. But I believe that in the process of improving my teaching practice I need to embrace the process of failing as I try new methods of instruction; particularly in regards to new and evolving forms of writing and technology. Yet, as I turn towards this discussion on failure I am faced with the obstacle that failing as a social stigma carries. I realize that as academics who are notoriously high achieving individuals, we often do not want to share our experiences with failure. But, in the field of writing studies and composition, we also know that writing is an evolving technology. As instructors, we want to teach our students how to successfully write and communicate with others. As we navigate this evolving field, we need to adapt our instructional practices. And adaptation will most likely include moments of failure.

This post is meant to start a conversation about our failures so that we can learn from each other and work to destigmatize what it means to fail as instructors. I want to share my own experience of failing in the classroom as an instructor who works to integrate new technologies into the composition classroom. I also want to invite all of us to participate in this conversation about failing and teaching. Hopefully, as composition instructors and scholars in writing studies and composition, we can embrace our own failures in the classroom and learn from each other. 

Failure as narrative and counternarrative
The word “failure” carries a negative connotation. The dominant cultural narrative equates failure with laziness and ineptitude, giving failure a distinct flavor of shame. Modern educational practices are focused on constant evaluation, and with evaluation comes success or failure; and there is rarely room between these two polarized judgments. Consequently, the maxim failure is not an option is ingrained into most classrooms for both students and instructors. Certainly, this is a narrative that is echoed in pop culture as well as education. I am excited by the counternarrative that “failure is fundamental a part of success” which has begun to emerge in societal discourse. Yet, in education, we still tend to treat failure like a permanent outcome instead of as part of the process.

In holding the line for failure for our students, educators become complicit in equating failure with ill-preparedness, inadequacy, and laziness for both our students and ourselves. There is a burgeoning conversation in writing studies to reevaluate failure in the writing classroom for students. For example, Allison Carr is an outspoken advocate for promoting a pedagogy of failure in the writing classroom and Shively et al. describe “failure as essential to the writing process.” Failing as a primarily negative experience needs to be transformed into an opportunity for learning. As composition instructors, we are uniquely situated to do this work since a majority of our college students are required to enroll in at least one composition course. In addition to the ongoing push for writing students to see failure as a key part of the creative process, the emerging use of digital tools for writing can help instructors reflect on the generative role of failure in that process. In answering the call to include new technologies in our classrooms—a process accelerated by the pandemic climate—we need to reconsider our own failures as instructors. 

We need to fail progressively with new writing technologies 
As writing instructors, we shoulder the mantle of preparing our students to write successfully outside of our classroom. Twenty years ago, that goal looked very different than it does today. When we teach our students about the rhetorical situation a la Bitzer (1968) or about the conversation model (Palmquist), we need to account for the increasingly digitized modalities many of our students are familiar with and use on a regular basis. Selber, in his book Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, cogently argues that it is “when teachers ignore technology and its contexts that the real pedagogical and social damage is likely to be done” (13). As technology transforms the way we communicate, educators need to consider how a failure to adjust accordingly can perpetuate social inequalities. Under these circumstances, there is a clear and desperate need for educators to re-envision the writing classroom using multimodal genres and an awareness of how our students navigate and write in the technosphere.

A smart phone screen is one with a group of social media icons open. Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Clubhouse, and Facebook icons are all present.

Indeed, there are educators who are integrating new technologies successfully into their classrooms. For example, Lilian Mina published a critical study that examined writing instructors’ pedagogical use of social media platforms in first-year composition courses. Her findings reveal that these innovative methods of instruction resulted in community building, student engagement, and support in understanding rhetorical choices (Mina). These new methods of instruction are incredibly inspiring and their successful implementation is well documented. However, the process of achieving these incredible successes is often excluded from the story. Often, when we first try something new in the classroom we cannot be so confident in its immediate success and there is certainly a tacit understanding that a degree of trial and error is necessary when introducing new instructional methods. The moments of failure are completely omitted from most published success stories. So when we attempt similar methods and experience failure ourselves, it can create self-doubt in our own teaching practices. And, at its most damaging, can dissuade us from embracing the opportunity to explore new forms of writing and writing instruction.

If we accept the need to develop new instructional strategies to evolve with the new ways our students are writing, we need to become comfortable trying new and creative designs for our courses—and that means we might fail. Anne Lamott writes that “almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere” (25). I believe the same is true with teaching. Teaching is an art and a science that is developed and refined over time. However, to be bold and creative in the classroom requires a willingness—perhaps even a goal—to fail spectacularly. Allison Carr brilliantly states that “to fail willingly in writing is to be empowered by the possibilities that emerge. It is to trust oneself and one’s ideas” (76). Putting aside for a moment the heavy weight that the term failure carries in our social and institutional context, it is worth considering the potential ramifications that we fear accompany failing in our instructional practice. Personally, I fear failing my students. I don’t want to deprive them of a rigorous course that would provide them with a strong composition foundation. To that end, I think it is reasonable to say that we care deeply about our students’ growth in the classroom and our desire to see them succeed. Consequently, we strive to be efficient and effective instructors and often rely on pedagogical and rhetorical theory to help us achieve those goals. However, as mentioned previously, what is often missing from those research-supported pedagogical strategies is the process of failing that occurs in order for those educators to find the most effective moves. While I was inspired by these innovative researchers, I found when I first attempted to bring blogging into my creative writing course, I was frustrated by my perceived failure and their overwhelming success. 

My experience with failure
When I first attempted to use Blogger, the Google-powered blogging tool, in a creative writing class, I found that some students were blocked by the institutional wireless network for inexplicable reasons in our first class. My hours of preparation did not account for this first obstacle. So, in a quick bid for flexibility, I switched to WIX, a platform that also allowed for more personalization. This unexpected shift provided opportunities for discussions on design and purpose – which felt exciting. The initial failure with Blogger had turned into an opening for a deeper discussion about rhetorical design. Despite my initial flustered frustration with the failed attempt using Blogger, WIX provided new and exciting instructional opportunities. This switch to WIX was initially fast—it happened in the same class period that our initial Blogger failure occurred—but it was the time spent reflecting on the Blogger => WIX transition that allowed me to find excitement and space for these deeper instructional moments. 

Tiles from a board game spell out the words adapt or fail.

The second big failure in this attempt at introducing new technology in this course came very shortly after the WIX switch. I found that so much of my time in class and during office hours was spent troubleshooting errors with students that everyone in the course was frustrated. In a move to salvage the blogging project, I created heterogenous student groupings where students who had found success in navigating WIX could support their struggling peers. After one class period of this new arrangement, I found that everyone in the class had successfully written, designed, and published at least one blog post. The byproduct of this new class design was the collaborative work and intuitive peer review that was organically taking place within these small groups. By no means was this the final failure in this first attempt to introduce WIX to this class, but I do find I often return to the blogs this class created when I am again feeling frustrated and alone in the process of failing. Because as unavoidable as failure is, it can feel really lonely and just bad. However, transforming the idea of failure as a permanent state into a part of the creative process can reveal the generative potential of failing as a composition instructor.

The cyclical process of reflective failure
Since that course, I have continued to work towards integrating different forms of technology and writing into my classes—with varying degrees of failure and success. I suppose there is a driving force behind my determination in continuing to fail and grow as an instructor—and it is that fear of failing my students. It is becoming imperative that writing instruction adapts to incorporate new forms of language and writing as our students are writing and participating in new forms of discourse that have evolved. However, the teaching process—and the failing process—would not be complete without the necessity of intentional reflection. kathleen blake yancey, in her post to the FEN blog writes, “Reflection doesn’t so much provide answers as point to and open other ways of seeing and being.” As instructors who embrace a willingness to fail, we also need to intentionally reflect on our failures to see the opportunities and possibilities they expose. To that end, the failing process—like the writing process—becomes cyclical. 

The diagram below is my attempt to visualize and share my progressive cycle of failure. By no means is this post meant to advocate for last-minute attempts at innovative teaching; but rather to view failure as an integral part of improving our instructional practices. This cycle’s foundation of research and planning incorporates failure as a means of progressing towards new and effective methods of writing instruction. This cycle begins with inspiration. One of the most exciting moments as a teaching scholar is reading about a pedagogical theory or instructional strategy that I want to try. The field of writing studies is full of innovative research and dedicated instructors who publish such inspirational work. As I consider an approach I want to try, it is important to thoroughly read scholars’ accounts of their work as I formulate my own ideas. Of course, context matters. Someone else’s classroom is most likely going to be a different environment than my classroom. I need to consider the needs of my students and my own instructional strengths and weaknesses. This next step of developing and planning may include more research and—my favorite—collaboration with a colleague. Talking through our ideas with our colleagues is, in my opinion, one of the highlights of working as a composition instructor. And the input and perspective of others is always a benefit! Next, I have to put the plan I developed into action. There will most likely be moments of success and failure. However, it is the moment following both success and failure that reflection is necessary. Considering why something worked and why something else did not provides openings for growth and new opportunity. It is with intentional and consistent reflection that I have come to embrace my own failures as a part of my growth as an instructor and a person.

A chart outlining the Progressive Cycle of Failure. Step 1 is Start with inspiration; Step 2 is research; Step 3 is Formulate your own ideas; Step 4 is Develop and plan your practices; Step 5 is Put your plan into action; Step 6 is Failure or, alternatively, Success; and Step 7 is Reflect on your practice, look for new opportunities.

Opening our instructional practices in the composition classroom to allow for new ways of writing—and failing—is certainly not limited to the necessity for multimodal writing and technology instruction. Clearly, the ways we communicate are constantly transforming and evolving. As writing instructors, we must be willing to fail spectacularly as we push the boundaries of traditional composition expectations. Because, at the end of the day, we are writing instructors. We teach writing as a way of knowing and being in this world and, as such, must provide our students with the tools they need so they can interact meaningfully and successfully with the world around them. And this is a constantly evolving world that requires our imagination, creativity, and a willingness to fail, reflect, and talk about our failures so we can best serve our students.

A red background with white text saying keep calm and fail on topped by a crown.

Works Cited
Brooke, Collin, and Allison Carr. “Failure Can Be an Important Part of Writing Development.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth A. Wardle, Utah State University Press, 2016, pp. 62–64. 

Carr, Allison D. “Failure Is Not an Option.” Bad Ideas about Writing, edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe, West Virginia University Libraries, 2017, pp. 76–81. 

Carr, Allison. “In Support of Failure.” Composition Forum, 2013, https://compositionforum.com/issue/27/failure.php. 

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird. Anchor Books, 1997. 

Mina, Lilian W. “Social Media in the FYC Class: The New Digital Divide.” Social Writing/Social Media: Publics, Presentations, and Pedagogies, 2017, pp. 263–282., doi:10.37514/per-b.2017.0063.2.14. 

Palmquist, Mike. Joining the Conversation: Writing in College and Beyond. Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. 

Selber, Stuart A. Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. 

Shively, Lauren, et al. “Failure as Essential to the Writing Process.” Arkansas English Resource, Department of English at the University of Arkansas, 12 Dec. 2020, http://aer.uark.edu/doku.php?id=failure_as_essential_to_the_writing_process. 

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “The Meaning-Making of Reflection.” Composition Studies, 12 July 2021, compstudiesjournal.com/2021/07/12/the-meaning-making-of-reflection/. 

Zanatta, Eduardo. “Failure is a Part of Success.” YouTube, uploaded by TEDx Talks, 30 April 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bujIb_sQZvQ.

Notes on Writing and Desire

Jonathan Alexander | University of California, Irvine

Earlier in my career (I’m now well into my third decade of the profession), I wrote a book, Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies, in which I attempted to mobilize the insights of queer theory for the teaching of writing.  I began that work out of a sense of myself as not just an outsider to the field of composition studies, but also as an outsider to normative orders of being in the late capitalist cultures of a heteronormative and patriarchal American hegemony, a hegemony that extended outward globally and inward (a la Foucault) to the construction of normative selves in the workroom of power we call the “self” and that Foucault and others rightly call the “subject,” as in what one is subject to.  Queer theory is born out of these insights and deeply felt senses of the normative insides and outsides of the social.  As such, it offered me a way to think about how composition studies and its focus on language, communication, writing, and rhetoric might be re-oriented toward an understanding and critique of the construction of normative discourses of the social.  It also allowed me to think about ways to approach an interrogation of a privileged heteronorm and a consequent derogation of lives, loves, interests, investments, and dispositions that lay, for whatever reason, outside those norms.  I wanted to know, and explore with others, how the insights of the “others” might complicate the discursive and material construction of such norms and what kind, to borrow from Foucault again, of “available freedom” was possible, discursively and materially, through the act of writing.

I think now I was missing the point.  In that book, I told a story about reading C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a boy—actually about how that book was read to me and other fifth graders in a class, and how the experience of that book and its telling of two stories at the same time (the fantasy story of Aslan the lion and the Pevensie children as allegory for the death and resurrection of Christ) opened my eyes to the possibilities of writing as the fantastical capacity to tell two stories at the same time, however related.  Such seemed a magical power of storytelling, of creation, of writing.  But I also quickly moved to how the narrative, a pedagogical story of Christian indoctrination for young minds, discursively and then just as surely materially trapped me in the closet, my nascent queer feelings and being already identified on the schoolyard as faggotry, as sinful, as undesirable.  I called Lewis’ wardrobe my first closet.

I wasn’t wrong, but I gave short shrift to what Lewis offered – or, perhaps more correctly, what I took from Lewis.  For I have never stopped believing in the power of writing to speak doubly, to tell a tale and tell a very different kind of tale at the same time.  And if my perversion of Lewis’ allegory lies in my commitment to writing as not just gesturing to the “real” story but to multiple, divergent, even contradictory stories, then so be it.  For this is what it did.  Yes, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe allegorized the story of Christ.  But it also allegorized the creative power of the word to mean multiply – and perhaps to mean very differently than what was first intended or first apprehended or later imposed on the text.  Writing couldn’t be as controlled as Lewis had perhaps imagined, or wanted.  Its correspondences were not as tightly braided as he hoped.  It was fluid.  It opened up and out.  It is (to return to Lewis and Prince Caspian, the sequel to Lion, the first book I read cover to cover as a prepubescent boy) my imagining crawling into bed with one of the Pevensie boys, perhaps the bed of Prince Caspian himself, surrounded by his strong arms, cuddled and cradled, imagining connection, dreaming of a being with that, yes, I quickly learned to keep to myself, but that I sought out in book after book.  And then I slowly started finding others with similar desires—even those with desires I didn’t know were possible—that sparked and ignited and inspired and that kept me looking, reading, dreaming, discovering.  That, in a word, kept me desiring.

Perhaps what I learned most importantly about writing and desire is that I pursued writing that opened up the world and its queerness to me precisely to resist the discursive and material injunctions against my queerness that surrounded me.  I kept reading, voraciously, because I needed not so much to find myself in writing but to discover how to survive, to re-educate my sense of self away from the damaged conception I was given of a damned and sinful self and toward a vibrant and lively self I wanted and wanted to be.  I then started writing my own fantasies, with accompanying maps, modeling myself on Lewis and others, because I needed to explore other worlds, other ways of being, other fantastical and creative capacities for living that were otherwise foreclosed in my day-to-day existence.  I have learned that such reading and writing were less about finding an identity than about the experience of language itself as a capacious, multiple, and generative process – less of being than of building, less of identifying and more of discovering.  My writing was expressing a desire, multiple desires surely; but it was also, more importantly, desire itself.  It was not just the representation of desire; it was desire.

To be sure, writing can represent a range of desires.  It can absolutely channel desires for foreclosure, for harm, for limitation.  But it can also be the gesture, the enactment, the being toward the other, toward otherness, the being that is becoming.  I have learned from my own story, my own desires, and the stories I have come to tell about those desires, about the need to cultivate, actively, my own desires – before they are cultivated in me, and even after they have been cultivated by others in me.  I am not talking here about authenticity, about the true self and its desires.  I have never been sure such exists.  But I am talking about awareness, about activity, about agency.  We learn desires, even how to desire, through the sponsorship of different institutions; my fifth-grade teacher reading us a book for children by C. S. Lewis was attempting to shape our emerging beings, direct us on particular paths.  But there is also writing that can direct us beyond the sponsorship of particular institutions, writing that resists certain forms of sponsorship and the values and ideologies channeled through it, and writing that opens us onto the unknown territories of being and possibility.  At moments, I want to argue (I desire to argue?) that the generative capaciousness of languaging, the inherent power of writing’s fundamental metaphoricity, lies precisely in its inability to fix reality and instead in its capacity to open it up for other ways of thinking, feeling, and being.  Lewis’ allegory deconstructing itself in my fifth-grade mind, pointing me less toward the sacrificial Christ and more to the power to tell a very different kind of story, was my first encounter with such a capacity.

In this way, writing as desire can become a constant education and re-education of desire itself.  As one initial example, I can point to how Eric Darnell Pritchard relies on Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic” to forward a theory of restorative literacy and love.  He is thinking in particular about American Black folks and how they use language and writing to repair the damages done to them by racism. For Pritchard, writing is the desire for something different, something better than what is offered.  He writes that 

Lorde describes the erotic as a power source engendering the vision one has for one’s life on one’s own terms. . . . The erotic challenges and invites us to see how this kernel of energy animates the entire enterprise of our interventions, and of our lives as a whole. Lorde cites the erotic as an affective power within individual and collective struggles against oppression. (57) 

Indeed. But Lorde’s turn to the erotic and its uses is not just in service of living life on one’s own terms. It is also a turning outward and an opening to the experience of joy across multiple spheres, domains, and ecologies. As Lorde herself puts it

[An] important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea. 

Bodies, music, dancing, bookcases, writing, and ideas.  This is the erotic as desire not just for satisfaction of identity, but as a stretching, a hearkening, an opening.  And Lorde, as master poet, knew well of the capacity of writing to enact such eroticism, to be such desire.

I want to write now, finally, not just about those desires, but about writing as desire, about writing as the particular kind of desire that is that reaching out.  Not a fixing, but a becoming.  Not an allegory, but a constant metaphorizing out that delights in difference, that learns to love the power of language itself to open us onto the brilliant and diffuse and shattering and extraordinary differences that surround it. I want to know what happens when I focus my attention now, finally, at last, on how writing is desire.

NOTE: These thoughts are part of a larger project.

Roll Call: Labor Logs as an Additional Method of Accounting for Classroom Attendance

Jake Hennessy | Florida State University

As an instructor, even before COVID-19, I tried to remember my positionality as an undergraduate student from a school with a large commuter population. I wanted to embrace flexibility in my teaching and syllabus policies that extends empathy towards students who have difficulty juggling the many responsibilities they have in their lives. And, as someone who struggles with two different diagnosed forms of depression, I wanted to extend my flexibility beyond the logistical hurdles students face to also include the marginalized students who might have trouble with attendance due to depression or other mental health issues. I found that generally students weren’t unwilling to come to class and engage but rather faced various difficulties that made it hard for them to attend. While some faced hour-long commutes, a lot of students with attendance issues mentioned family tragedies or other mental health related struggles as the main obstacle to their attendance. In response, I created a labor-based attendance form where students filled out the work they did outside of class to remove up to two recorded absences. This way, I can remain empathetic to these issues that cause students to miss class sessions. 

Adding flexibility within attendance policies matters because of  the increased mental health struggles college students endure. In 2014, Doris Iarovici reported on student survey data from 80,121 students at 106 institutions in Mental Health Issues and the University Student. When asked about the top 10 impediments to academic success or performance, students ranked these as the top five in this order (6):

    1. Stress
    2. Sleep Difficulties
    3. Internet use/computer games
    4. Depression/anxiety disorder
    5. Alcohol 

Even more concerning is that nearly half of students felt “so depressed it was difficult to function” and almost 1 in 10 students “seriously contemplated suicide” (Iarovici 6).  Recently, Changwon Son et al. conducted interview surveys with 195 students at a large public university in the United States to explore the effects of the pandemic on their mental health. Out of the 195 students, 71% noted increased stress and anxiety, 89% noted difficulty concentrating, and 82% noted increased concerns about academic performance. Changwon Son et al. concluded that these findings highlighted an urgency to develop interventions and preventative strategies for students’ mental health. 

Findings like these warrant a change in how writing program administrators and composition instructors alike account for and/or think about attendance. Disability studies is a great place to start when thinking about how pedagogical changes could account for student mental health. As Adam Hubrig rightly notes in their post “Access from/as the Start: On Writing Studies and ‘Accessibility,’” “Composition instructors might be tempted to think of our courses as “accessible” because we’ve put an institutionally mandated Accessibility statement in our syllabus—often waaaaay at the back.” It takes more than just that, and I hope I’m doing my part in increasing access to my composition classrooms with the labor log example you’ll find later down this blog.

I also lean towards Mad at School from Margaret Price as a key conversation starter when talking about mental health issues. Price’s idea of kairotic spaces is helpful to understand the rigid social expectations of a typical classroom discussion. Price stated that these spaces are “the less formal, often unnoticed, areas of academe where knowledge is produced and power is exchanged” (60). Examples of these spaces for students include group work and classroom discussion where they may feel uncomfortable participating. For writing program administrators and composition instructors who have power to change or adapt attendance policies, acknowledging these kairotic spaces and bringing them into pedagogical focus by mindfully reconsidering these strategies as “normal” allows for an effective critique of the ableism involved in such practices. As Price noted, “Ableism contributes to the construction of a rigid, elitist, hierarchical, and inhumane academic system” (8). Composition instructors ought to stay reflexive in their syllabus policy statements, as well as collectively engaging in changing potential strict departmental policy. This collective effort is essential to affect policy making decisions for the benefit of those with mental health struggles.

To further explore expanding flexibility for composition classroom policy, I thought about the questions Price asked when she pondered “what does ‘participation’ in a class mean for a student who is undergoing a deep depression and cannot get out of bed? Or a student who experiences such severe anxiety, or obsession, that he can barely leave his dorm room or home?” (5-6). I felt that I had enough agency to adapt my policy to be mindful of this idea of presence that Price attended to through her critique of conflating classroom presence with the act of “experiencing” a class. Price rightfully noted that not all who physically attend class are attentive and experiencing the class in that moment, whether it be due to anxiety or prior sleep problems due to issues with depression (66). The idea of out of classroom productivity is crucial for me to remember; Price noted that instructors should not be so quick to correlate attendance with presence or participation, as it is possible for students to be engaged in the process of the classroom and learning outside the physical classroom (68). We, as instructors, must remember that there are times when students may miss class to spend more time composing their major project and that instance may provide more learning or experience for a socially anxious student than forcing them to endure additional small group work (68). 

My labor log helps students remove two of their absences by telling me what they accomplished outside of class that week for our class. This idea stems from an adaptation of Asao B. Inoue’s idea of a labor-based writing course in First Year Composition: From Theory to Practice. Inoue also mentions this flexibility as “compassionate recognition” in his blog on attendance.  

The attendance log includes a prompt for the student's name, date of absence, an explanation of the type of work performed outside of class, reflection on what went well, and reflection on how the student felt while working.
Figure 1. Example of Labor-Based Attendance Form

I believe that my labor-based log challenges students to reflect on their experiences as writers while respecting their process with mental health as well. This form is my attempt to respect the labor of the student, which Inoue defined as being often signaled as “the quantity of time and effort put into a project or an activity” (73). As I moved to teaching on Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to somehow account for the tremendous, new mental burden placed upon students. I thought it was fair to reconsider my conceptions of attendance and presence in this new Zoom environment. Most of the content I sought from students filling this sheet out relates to reflective work that accounts for the amount of labor they are putting in for the class. Reflection is a major part of my composition course and this sheet provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their labor practices outside the classroom.With this form, I wanted to be mindful of placing too enormous a burden upon the student to provide proof; this unfortunately would resemble the current university accommodation model of providing documentation. Rather, I attempted to keep the spirit of the labor-based course in mind and asked the student to write about their process and experience related to the work of the project. As Inoue notes about his composition course:

I also wanted to avoid making students provide proof in the form of screenshots of the outside of the classroom labor. A lot of students who struggle with mental health need someone to understand. Sometimes, that understanding comes in the form of not asking for definitive proof of a reasonable, documented excuse for their absence. The last thing I want to do is resemble the same cold and unforgiving legality the university imposes on them when dealing with seeking accommodations. This also served a pedagogical benefit, as these questions are an attempt for the students to exercise a degree of self-reflexivity in their writing process. 

First, students account for the actual labor they performed outside of class. They get to see and confront an estimation of the work they write down, which I think helps put into perspective their relationship with labor and the writing process. Along with writing down their labor, I believe that asking them to reflect on what went well and what they would change challenges them to attend to their writing and research practices outside of the classroom. This helps students figure out if they should change or improve their labor practices. Finally, I wanted to include a question that allowed students to express the emotional dimension of this process if they wanted. I created this labor-log to primarily help students who face mental health issues, and I feel it would be a disservice to them if I did not allow them to express how it felt to perform the labor I ask of them. This question helps create a link between myself and my students, which also goes a long way in building trust and classroom community that I value.  

This labor-based-attendance form is one suggestion in a long conversation of expanding flexibility and accommodation related to classroom policies. This is by no means an attempt to totally replace the attendance model. One benefit I found with this labor log is that students seemed to miss fewer classes once I implemented this policy. I believe that it relates back to building trust by giving my students a fallback mechanism to use if other classes are getting difficult or they experience some issues in their lives during the semester. This labor-log also aids in issues of classism, as mental health issues are not the only reasons students have to miss a few classes. There are issues of taking care of family, and/or having multiple jobs, as well as many other reasons that this sheet hopefully might expand awareness for. 

As far as assessing the success of this sheet, I have received reassuring feedback from students that they appreciated the flexibility offered by me. More importantly, multiple students admitted to the  difficulties that came with being a new college student. They stressed that this accepting class space was a very needed factor as a student, and that I was considerate of the environment we were all in.  I believe that this labor-log was one of many strategies that built trust and community in my classroom. 

As I mentioned above, when I teach, I always try to be mindful of the many different burdens students face in order to attend college. This means that many students work one or even two jobs just for the same affordance to attend college as others, and these burdens add to the stress and mental health issues many students face. Instructors considering the student labor that goes into the course becomes as important as considering attendance itself. Just as a blanket attendance policy cannot accommodate or fit all students, neither can an expectation that students will put similar amounts of labor into each assignment. This disproportionate amount of labor that initially is invisible may influence the also invisible mental health struggles students face. As COVID-19 provided an overt exigence that commanded institutions, writing program administrators, and instructors to re-think policy and practices on the fly, we must recognize and acknowledge that exigences to prompt such reconsideration existed long before the pandemic. At the same time, we should not immediately sweep new practices that emerged from teaching in different synchronous and asynchronous formats under the rug as we eventually reconvene from the pandemic. 

Works Cited
Changwon, Son et al. “Effects of COVID-19 on College Students’ Mental Health in the United States: Interview Survey Study.” JMIR Publications, vol. 22, no. 9, 2020, https://www.jmir.org/2020/9/e21279. Accessed 15 July 2021. 

Hubrig, Adam. “Access from/as the Start: On Writing Studies and “Accessibility.” Composition Studies Journal. https://compstudiesjournal.com/2021/04/19/access-from-as-the-start-on-writing-studies-and-accessibility/. Accessed 23 November 2021. 

Iarovici, Doris. Mental Health Issues & the University Student. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. 

Inoue, Asao B. “Attendance in Labor-Based Grading.” Asao B. Inoue’s Infrequent Words. https://asaobinoue.blogspot.com/2020/04/attendance-in-labor-based-grading-part.html. Accessed 23 November 2021. 

—. “A Grade-Less Writing Course That Focuses on Labor and Assessing.” First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice. Parlor Press, 2014. 

— [AsaoBInoue]. “One way to understand this focus on labor and effort is to consider what this course really is about. This is a writing course, not a paper course. Writing is a verb, a practice. It is labor.” Twitter, 15 June 2021, https://twitter.com/AsaoBInoue/status/1404830967815049217?s=20

Price, Margaret. Mad at School. The University of Michigan Press, 2011.

Using Spoken Word Poetry to Foster Inclusivity in Writing Centers

Nataly Dickson | Texas Christian University

On January 20th, 2021 Amanda Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. Her spoken word poem “The Hill We Climb” described America as a country that “isn’t broken but simply unfinished” during President Joe Biden’s inauguration (00:53-00:57). Gorman broadly discussed the country’s losses but also provided a hopeful outlook on its future. Her use of spoken word poetry provided Americans an opportunity to just listen. And, while nothing is without response, spoken word poetry proved once again to be powerful.

Specifically, this power occurs when Gorman places herself within the recognition of America’s continuous grappling with its racist past and the reality of the “American Dream”. She says,

“We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one” (00:58-1:14).

Not only does Gorman confront America with its flaws but through the performance, her poem embodies the truth which many people from marginalized communities experience as it relates to the “American Dream.” Spoken word poetry provides one way for these truths to set in.

When I listened to Gorman’s performance and had an opportunity to discuss the poem with my colleagues, I was drawn to the genre of spoken word poetry. More specifically, I was drawn to how Gorman was embodying her message. I am not a creative writer but as someone who studies rhetoric and composition, I saw a parallel between the genre and one of my areas of focus: writing center studies. My past experiences as a writing center tutor and as an assistant director of a writing center helped me imagine what it would mean to place spoken word poetry in the writing center with the possibility that tutors could listen to what is being said by writers like Gorman. Gorman’s work, and the broader question of connections between spoken word poetry and conversations about writing centers and race, raises the following questions: 

What would it mean to make the performance of spoken word poetry more common in writing centers? How could spoken word poetry, especially written and performed by writers from marginalized communities, help foster inclusivity in writing centers?

In order to consider these questions, let us take a step back. Writing centers started as writing clinics or writing laboratories where “remedial” students were sent to meet the standardized writing levels required in colleges and universities. As a result, writing centers were negatively perceived and have continuously struggled with these perceptions. In his article, “The Idea of a Writing Center,” Stephen North voices his frustrations with those who perceive the writing center as places where students can get their papers “fixed.” Although an older piece, this article is continuously one of the most referenced texts in writing center scholarship because of the notion that writing centers should be about making better writers, not better papers. While North’s frustrations are appropriate, and many writing center enthusiasts voice these frustrations as well today, one thing is worth noting––no matter what we are “making better,” to make it better would mean to place it against the dominant standardized English. 

North’s article, however, valuable in its emphasis on making better writers, neglects to question the intersection of race and writing. The gap, though I am not the first to address it, does raise the following questions: 

Who are the writers being sent to these “remedial” spaces? Why might these writers bring themselves to these spaces? 

It may be of no surprise to us that the answers to these questions are marginalized students. As a result, I also ask:

What levels of vulnerability do these writers feel when walking into the writing center knowing that their writing does not reflect the white dominant standard?

Writing centers continuously need to find better ways for writers, especially marginalized writers, to be well served in these spaces. My research revolves around questioning how writers like these, usually with two or more intersecting identities or hyphenated identities, impact or are impacted by writing spaces. Through this already established interest, I began to explore other spoken word poets whose work expresses this grappling with identities. I imagine placing spoken word within the writing center to see how this genre could change the space. In order to showcase how spoken word poetry can foster inclusivity in writing centers, I bring attention to Ariana Brown. 

Ariana Brown is a queer Black Mexican-American poet from San Antonio, Texas. For the past ten years Brown has been writing, performing, and teaching poetry and has received a various number of prizes for her work. Brown’s poetry explores the intersection of being Black and Mexican-American and “explores the histories of Black people in Mexican, Mexican-American, and Latin American spaces” (“I BELONG IN MY COMMUNITY”: A CONVERSATION WITH ARIANA BROWN”). Through a brief observation of her work, we can begin to imagine what the practice and performance of spoken word poetry can do to transform the writing center space to a more inclusive one.

Brown’s exploration of the intersection of the Black, Mexican-American, and Latin American spaces begins through the title of her debut poetry chapbook, Sana Sana. The title refers to the Spanish folklore which states, “Sana sana colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.” This folklore is said to children when they hurt themselves and essentially translates by ensuring to the hurt child that if they do not heal today, they will heal tomorrow. In an interview, Brown takes this a step further by stating that she sees the performance of poetry as a ritual or ceremony. She even shares that spoken word poetry is a form of therapy which requires community. Lastly, she emphasizes the importance of the audience to the performance of poetry and the relationship between performer and their audience (Flores).

How might Brown’s approach to viewing spoken word poetry as a form of therapy bring tension into the writing center, especially when considering, for example, the format of writing center consultations? In my experience, writing center consultations have been one-on-one, at times have been rigid due to the tutor being seen as a type of  authority figure, and ultimately, writers tend to receive feedback based on the white dominant standard of language and writing. I use Brown’s aspirations for her poetry to bring healing through community by moving away from the typical format of writing center sessions which allow the tutor to give feedback based on the standard whereas the writer may just need to be listened to. This could also serve as an opportunity for the tutor to learn from the writer. The tutor may ask themselves: what am I learning about this writer’s life through their creative work? What might this work teach me about identities and histories unlike mine? How can I take the time to ask the writer what they need versus immediately falling back to the usual methods of discussing writing? This is work that I want to continue researching and hope that what I share here serves as the inception for others interested in similar conversations. 

The following lines from Brown’s poem “Dear White Girls in my Spanish Class” are examples of what it might mean for someone like Brown, who embodies multiple identities, to come into the writing center space and unmake the space, meaning that Brown’s presence and the conversations she is bringing forth through her poetry can be another way writing centers uncover the racism in these spaces through this grappling of her identities. In this poem, Brown discusses the intersection of being black and Mexican-American through talking about the Spanish language.

Brown begins by addressing the white girls in her Spanish class:

“I bet you thought this class would be easy, since Spanish is what poor brown people speak right? Not something you actually have to try to understand, not fancy or sophisticated, not like French.” (00:37-00:47)

Later, Brown brings her Mexican grandmother into the poem:

“You are the reason my grandmother feared her children would speak with accents. So afraid, she buried her first language in the space between blood and bone because your grandparents wouldn’t let her make a home outside her body.” (00:55-1:07)

Then, Brown ties her Mexican-American lineage with that of her father’s:

“Don’t you know I had to fight for this? For each scrap of culture I could get my hands on, even if its lineage is as European as yours. My father, a Black American man, is descended from slaves. I am not sure if you understand what that means. I am descended from slaves. I wanna know where I come from, but I can only trace my history in one direction. So, I am here, in yet another Spanish class, desperately reaching for language I hope will choose me back someday.” (1:55-2:23)

Similar to Gorman’s poem, Brown’s poetry invites the audience to listen to the struggles which many marginalized communities face, while also using performance to heal from the histories of her communities. By welcoming the practice and performance of spoken word poetry like Gorman’s, Brown’s, and that written by the marginalized writers amongst our college and university communities, we can both provide them an opportunity to share, practice, learn, and be heard. Subsequently, if the writing center wants to foster inclusivity, this can be one way to question how it is responding to students from marginalized communities. Ultimately, this will show that there is no room for the harms of the white dominant standards of writing present in this space. 

In order for writing centers to use spoken word poetry to foster inclusivity, I envision that the first step in doing so is making it clear that writers can bring creative writing pieces into the center. In my experience, it was very uncommon for writers to bring creative pieces to a tutoring session, let alone spoken word poetry. The genre of spoken word, especially its performance, disrupts the privileged forms of composing happening in these spaces as well as the one-on-one consultation format between writer and tutor. In this case, writing center directors can emphasize writer agency when tutors encounter creative pieces. Regardless of the experience the tutor has in working with these genres, employing active listening versus resorting to the usual need to provide feedback can better support the writer especially if they are writing about themes similar to Brown’s.

Another important step is providing a space for writers to practice and perform their spoken word poetry. Whether you are at a community college, university, or in a K-12 setting, having a space where writers can go to work on their poetry is useful. There are various writing centers who are well-known for doing just that, such as the Salt Lake Community College Community Writing Center and the Stanford University Hume Center for Writing and Speaking. (Thanks to Dr. Nathalie Singh-Corcoran for bringing my attention to these writing centers which are doing similar work to what I propose here). On an additional note, if a college, university, high school, etc., does not have a writing center, finding a space in the library, student union, or any room where writers know that they can gather to practice their work, would suffice just as well. Reaching out to the manager of a building like the library for a room request could be a great start in establishing a meeting space, especially if you are able to reserve the room consistently. This space does not even have to be tied to a college or university. In his book, Digital Griots: African American Rhetorics in a Digital Age, Adam J. Banks purposefully decides not to use institutional spaces to meet with the community to discuss writing, literacy, and social issues. He went into his town, avoided choosing community gathering spaces, and instead walked into a local restaurant and asked if he could use a part of their space to discuss writing. Nevertheless, the space should work to invite people to discuss, practice, and perform their creative pieces.  

Community colleges, universities, and K-12 settings could also consider including spoken word poetry in writing spaces by dedicating times or events for practices and performances. The Miami University Howe Writing Center specifically works in conjunction with Miami University Spoken Word, or MU Speak, a group of writers who utilize the writing center space to host various events such as poetry slams and writing workshops for writers of all skills and levels. Personally, when I began this project I imagined the possibility of the writing center hosting an open mic night style event where writers, especially from marginalized communities, can perform their creative writing in this space. Imagining the writing center space move from one-one-one consultations to a space where there can be a better relationship between performer and audience, like Brown suggests, will support writers that may, at first, feel vulnerable about their writing especially when performing their work. Through an open mic night event, however, writers can know that the center will not revert back to its usual methods of engaging and assessing writing against the white dominant standard. To be more specific, these events can be in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each week of the month of April could have a focus like women writers, poets of color, local poets, etc.

No matter how writing centers or writing supporters invite writers to present their spoken word poetry, I believe that there is potential to transform these spaces into more inclusive ones. Because in order to listen and learn from writers like those who have been excluded and silenced, we have to provide the space first.

Works Cited
“Ariana Brown- “Dear White Girls in my Spanish Class” @WANPOETRY”. YouTube, uploaded by Write About Now, 12 November 2017, https://youtu.be/sAbbGEEstjc 

Banks, Adam J. Digital Griots: African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age. Southern Illinois University Press, 2011.

Flores, Joseph. “Ariana Brown on “Sana Sana”. MUD. http://www.wetdert.com/2020/01/22/feature-ariana-brown-on-sana-sana/?fbclid=IwAR2NOyec3ezDL5Yie7i-VUjRUlLcG1Wo-hW6id7Vu3tpTW2VFXvKz4DKBO4. Accessed 6 April 2021.

North, Stephen M. “The Idea of a Writing Center.” College English, vol. 46, no. 5, 1984, pp. 433–446. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/377047. Accessed 1 Apr. 2021.

“Poet Amanda Gorman Speaks at the Biden-Harris Inauguration 2021.” Biden Inaugural Committee. YouTube. 20 January 2021. https://youtu.be/_U6IKviDWFs

“Roger and Joyce Howe Center for Writing Excellence” Miami University. https://www.miamioh.edu/hcwe/hwc/writing-resources/creative-writing/index.html. Accessed 5 Oct. 2021.

Willis, Mia S. “I BELONG IN MY COMMUNITY”: A CONVERSATION WITH ARIANA BROWN”. The Adroit Journal. https://theadroitjournal.org/2020/04/06/i-belong-in-my-community-a-conversation-with-ariana-brown/. Accessed 6 April 2021.

Rows of hundreds of blue and white archive boxes on shelves.

Archive: Developing Critical Collaborations

Walker Smith | University of Louisville

I arrived at my first in-person visit to an institutional archive with a strong foundation in archival research methods—both in teaching and in research. I had taught many composition research assignments with digital archives at Oklahoma State University even using readings from the field at the director’s suggestion (Gaillet). I had read extensively for my graduate seminar papers about how archives are not apolitical repositories of truth but require the user to navigate records critically, attuned to the ethical impacts of the histories that appear there (Cushman; Graban; Kirsch & Rohan; Morris; Ramsey et al.,). However, what my training hadn’t fully prepared me for was the laborers behind an archive’s organization and presentation to the public—archivists—also have their own theories and debates about the power dynamics of records management.

Entering the Edgar Rice Burroughs Archive, the world’s largest collection of “ERB” ephemera, the archivists offered me bits of information and context that I didn’t know I should or even could be asking for—particularly, what is this collection’s provenance

What is its history of ownership? 
Who had custody prior to its acquisition?
How and why was it acquired? 
What principles do the archivists follow in processing its records and making them accessible to others? 
Do they adhere to the original order of its creator or owner, or is its order negotiated among the collection’s various managers, users, and stakeholders?

Such questions of provenance in the Burroughs Archive came with high-stakes ethical concerns. The author of violent colonial fantasy novels like Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs himself espoused white supremacist values and promoted a eugenicist vision for the U.S. As the “Godfather of American Science Fiction,” his works still garner a massive fandom who actively continue to produce fan art and fiction, hold events, and catalog their activities online. As the custodians of a challenging, undoubtedly colonial archive, University of Louisville’s archivists go above and beyond to present Burroughs’ records and artifacts to the public in appropriate historical context and to collaborate with instructors and researchers who treat its contents with a fervent critical stance.

My own time researching in the Burroughs Archive helped me to notice the often untapped potential for critical collaborations with archival staff who do much more than simply provide us with access to archives and information. Below, I outline the commitments of a subfield known as “critical archival studies” (CAS) and offer one example of how I have tried to integrate CAS into writing classes. Certainly, rhetoric and composition scholars in the field have drawn from critical archival theories before (especially from Stoler) and often encouraged collaborations with archival staff (e.g., Rawson), but here I only seek to draw attention to our potential theoretical overlaps.

What is CAS? Or, What are Archivists Saying about Power Today?
Critical archival studies (CAS) is in part a response to critical theory’s uptake of the archival metaphor in the late twentieth century. On the one hand, this body of theory was vital for explaining how multiple historical narratives vie for official commemoration and for how certain publics draw on shared resources for rhetorical invention. On the other hand, many archivists have rightfully criticized that when we invoke “the archive” as a theoretical idea, we often ignore the long tradition of archival practice and scholarship that informs the world’s second oldest profession (Schwartz & Cook).

Critical archivists also bemoan this theoretical trend while pausing to consider what aspects of critical theory may be useful to their field. For example, Caswell et al. outline the commitments of CAS as follows:

(1) explain what is unjust with the current state of archival research and practice, (2) posit practical goals for how such research and practice can and should change, and/or (3) provide the norms for such critique. In this way, critical archival studies, like critical theory, is emancipatory in nature, with the ultimate goal of transforming archival practice and society writ large.
(2)

The question posed by Caswell et al. is essentially: What do feminist and queer theories, critical race theory, Native American and Indigenous studies, post/de/anticolonial theories, and other theories of power in society have to offer those who manage archival records? A lot, they argue: “We know that power permeates every aspect of the archival endeavor” (Caswell et al. 3).

Interrogating archival power is a central tenet of CAS. Rather than adhering solely to a collection’s original order, they encourage archivists to embrace the many flourishing orders and “disorders” that appear, meaning that an archive’s organization and accessibility should be determined not only by those who created or acquired it but also by those marginalized stakeholders who are represented in the collection (Schwartz and Cook 18).

We archival researchers in rhetoric and composition have been leading similar conversations about the rhetorical power of archives to reinforce harmful metanarratives, to validate official versions of history, and to bolster violent institutions’ memory-making capacities. But clearly, we also have a lot to learn from archivists about what they see as “unjust” practices in their own field.

What Can First Year Writing Students Do With CAS?
In Spring 2020, I designed my section of second-semester composition to provide students the opportunity to conduct primary research (finding and reading firsthand accounts) in the first half of the semester before we dove into secondary research (finding and reading sources that summarize or analyze the primary sources) in the latter half. Moving from primary to secondary allows students to experience the messiness of gathering and organizing sources and piecing them together into coherent narratives for others to read, and it always highlights the ethical decisions they must make along the way about who comes to be considered a “reliable” source.

While I had taught digital archival research assignments many times before, I wanted to specifically develop in-person critical collaborations with archival staff. I first contacted UofL archivists Delinda Stephens Buie and Rebecca Pattillo and explained to them the goals I had for the first two primary research assignments of the semester. Excited by our conversations, Delinda and Rebecca worked diligently to prepare a presentation that both defined archiving for students and provided them with the history of the Burroughs Archive. Additionally, prior to arriving to the archives, I had spent a week with students defining coloniality, reading about the colonial history of archives, and discussing the impact colonization continues to have on public memory (Powell; Cushman).

With all of the necessary pieces in place, the archivists invited students to explore a personally curated exhibit of Burroughs artifacts that they thought might support the course’s focus, including all sorts of Tarzan-themed books, board games, movie posters, action figures, toys, lunch boxes, children’s shoes, and more. As students experimented with the different oddities that lay before them, Delinda and Rebecca circulated around the room, offering extra information about the history of certain items, answering questions from students, and helping them make connections between artifacts. Throughout the session, students were encouraged to take extensive notes and pictures, so that they could refer back to them over the next few weeks.

For the Unit 1 essay, students were asked to write a rhetorical analysis of one artifact from the Burroughs Archive. But as they quickly learned, this work couldn’t successfully be done alone. We engaged in research together as a class and in group activities, sharing sources and helpful bits of information along the way, and asking questions of our archival guides when necessary. In this way, primary research processes were framed as a negotiation among multiple, often competing audiences and stakeholders. Contrary to dominant understandings of history as a ready-made narrative waiting to be told, students naturally found themselves drawing connections between their artifacts and debating about the credibility of various, contradictory sources.

The contextual information provided by archivists gave students enough material to draft their essays or gave them enough clues that they could find more history in secondary research. For example, some students wrote about the 1930s Tarzan board game made by the Parker Brothers only a few years after they released Monopoly, which they were able to read more about because Delinda had provided some of the history of the artifact’s donation and condition. With this kind of background information, many of the students were able to trace how the violent aspects of Tarzan’s origin story were transformed into an entertaining colonial fantasy digestible for children.

Other students chose the 1966 “Tarzan Rub-ons” in the Picturama Magic Transfers series. Using some of the other sources provided by archivists, students were able to find interviews with Burroughs about how he made the decision to manufacture Tarzan’s image in multiple media.

This image features the "rub-on" images that will fill in the blank page of figure 4. Tarzan's torso, legs, palm trees, patches of grass, and a child holding a chimpanzee can be transferred to the blanks in the other page of the magazine.
Figure 5. The “rub-on” images.

These discussions flowed well into Unit 2 where students were asked to critically evaluate an aspect of the archive. Following class discussions, I articulated the following criteria:

Content layout and toolsOrganization and hierarchy of information, and inherent biases/stances
Originality/uniqueness of artifactsSignificance/relevance of historical events
Updated navigation guides and exhibitions for new usersImpact/learning potential of exhibitions/guides
Usability/legibility/accessibilityAccuracy/credibility/reliability of sources

Ultimately, we were able to collectively compose a list of recommendations to different types of researchers and teachers who might use the archive in the future. By the end of the two units, students were able to clearly articulate the features, functions, and tools they need from in-person archives and digital research databases, which was helpful preparation for the latter half of the course where they would need to become comfortable with navigating the university library’s various online search engines.

While students reported that they found the work of primary research exciting and beneficial, they also reported that the assignments were challenging and that they occasionally faced difficult setbacks. Most of these were successfully addressed in class discussions and responsively designed activities only because the UofL archivists made themselves available to us as secondary sources themselves, offering “the context of record creation, of archival functions, of the formation of archival institutions, of archival outreach and use and advocacy” (Caswell et al. 3). The artifacts on their own can appear somewhat a-contextual, leaving the responsibility to the user to determine what is of value and what artifacts mean, but archivists’ honest, critical histories of the archive’s acquisition and selection decisions made our analytical work easier and more effective.

We could perform rhetorical analyses of what simply lay before us, but we couldn’t answer certain questions on our own like:

    • Who originally called for the archive’s preservation and creation?
    • How have the archivists selected what records will be showcased or shelved?
    • What practices guided their organization?
    • How much of the collection is processed, and how do they decide what to process first?
    • Which stakeholders influenced these decisions?
    • What are the archivists’ goals for the collection?

Encouraging students to dialogue with archivists about their specific artifacts led them into other exciting avenues of inquiry, making it possible for them to develop critical stances and fully evaluate the various aspects of the artifacts they had chosen.

How Do I Support Critical Archivists?
These kinds of collaborations with archivists have multiple benefits for students. Not only do they enrich the researched arguments they write for the course, but they also demonstrate the dialogic and rhetorical nature of research, foregrounding how containers of knowledge like archives are socially constructed and organized according to certain theories of practice and with various groups of users in mind.

My hope is that asking students to interact with archivists supports the goals of CAS by valuing the labor of archival staff, which in turn, may also challenge their preconceived notions of research as an apolitical, fact-finding process. Below is a small snippet of some of the work that critical archivists are doing, provided by Rebecca, and which my students have used in their writing and appreciated:

Additionally, these are some of the open-access, digital archives from which students have reported rich researching experiences, all taken from a longer list written by Lynn Lewis for the Oklahoma State University First Year Composition Program:

Works Cited
Caswell, Michelle, Ricardo Punzalan, and T-Kay Sangwand. “Critical Archival Studies: An Introduction.” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies, vol.1, no. 2, 2017, pp. 1-8.

Cushman, Ellen. “Wampum, Sequoyan, and Story: Decolonizing the Digital Archive.” College English, vol. 76, no. 2, 2013, pp. 115-135.

Gaillet, Lynée Lewis. “(Per)Forming Archival Research Methodologies.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 64, no. 1, 2012, pp. 35-58.

Graban, Tarez Samra. “From Location(s) to Locatability: Mapping Feminist Recovery and Archival Activity Through Metadata.” College English, vol. 76, no. 2, 2013, pp. 171-193.

Kirsch, Gesa, and Liz Rohan. Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008.

Morris, Charles. “Archival Queer.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, vol. 9, no. 1, 2006, pp. 145-151.

Powell, Malea. “Dreaming Charles Eastman: Cultural Memory, Autobiography, and Geography in Indigenous Rhetorical Histories,” pp. 115-127. In Kirsch, Gesa, and Liz Rohan. Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008.

Ramsey, Alexis E., Wendy B. Sharer, & Barbara L’Eplattenier. Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2010.

Rawson, K.J. “The Rhetorical Power of Archival Description: Classifying Images of Gender Transgression.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 4, 2018, pp. 327-351.

Schwartz, Joan M., and Terry Cook. “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science, vol. 2, 2002, pp. 1-19.

Stoler, Ann. “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance.” Archival Science, vol. 2, 2002, pp. 87-109.

Images Cited
Feature image photo by Nana Smirnova on Unsplash.

Tarzan board game, Parker Brothers, 1939. https://www.erbzine.com/mag6/0662.html.

Tarzan Picturama Rub-on Magic Transfers, Hasbro, 1966. https://www.hakes.com/Auction/ItemDetail/28695/TARZAN-RUB-ONS-TRANSFERS-SET