UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

The Role of Writing in a Democracy

Kelly Carty, Consultantkelly-c

On Friday we witnessed what Barak Obama called a “hallmark of our democracy:” the peaceful transition of power from one leader to another. Donald J. Trump, to the horror of some and the delight of others, is now the 45th President of the United States. He will occupy the White House for at least four years as our Commander in Chief.

But you already know this. The details of the day have probably trickled down to you much better than the benefits of the wealthy. I’m not going to reiterate what you’ve seen on your Facebook newsfeed, Google News, or SNL. Instead, I would like to explore the role of writing in a democracy. I want to explore the ways in which we can write to resist, dissent, and call for change. I want to explore the relationship between writing and active citizenship.

Writing, as a political expression of our freedom of speech, is central to the functioning of our democracy. Even with its legal limitations (e.g. libel, slander, obscenity), the freedom to express ideas ensures that democracy, a system of government in which rule emanates from the common people, remains a democracy and does not morph into an aristocracy, an oligarchy, or a totalitarian state.

You may be thinking that writing can’t do much. That writing can be an expression of freedom of speech, but no one listens. I certainly felt discouraged when I wrote to Rand Paul about gun control and received a slightly off topic, pre-crafted reply in the mail.  But writing is powerful. It has led to drastic social and political changes. If you are skeptical, Google any of the following:

  • Foundational Religious Texts (like the Sutras, the Vedas, the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Qur’an)
  • Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
  • The Communist Manifesto
  • Letter from Birmingham Jail
  • J’accuse…!
  • WikiLeaks
  • Social media posts in the Arab Spring
  • (and because I also think literature changes the world)
  • Shakespeare’s plays
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • The Jungle
  • (and because science can change the world)
  • Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres
  • Newton’s Principia
  • Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
  • Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis papers

While I don’t want to discourage you from attempting to write such dramatic pieces, I recognize it is difficult (and often situation-dependent) to write something so influential.  So how can we still write politically effective pieces?

We can write to engage in civil discourse.

You may already do some of this. Writing a political Facebook status or commenting on someone else’s is a way of engaging in discourse. In order to do this effectively, however, you must be willing to engage with those who disagree with you. You must be willing to attempt to understand other views. You must be willing to practice rhetorical devices. (And we have a handout on this! Lucky you! Unfortunately, Facebook’s algorithms tend to isolate us in agreeable newfeeds.

You could try other avenues of online discourse, such as Twitter. Our new prez loves to tweet. Matt Bevin, our Kentucky governor, likes to tweet and block.

If you want to work outside the bounds of social media, you can write letters or responses to your local newspaper. Here are links to the contact information for a few of our local newspapers:

We can write to our representatives.

If you want to supplement your civil discourse with direct interactions with the government, you may want to consider contacting your representatives. Before you do that, however, it’s useful to know a bit about our system of government. The United States is a representative democracy. This means that elected representatives, not the common people as is the case with a direct democracy, run the government. If citizens want something to happen, they have to go through their representatives.

Complicating this a bit further, the United States is also a federal republic. This means that we have representatives on multiple levels (the state government and the federal government). Thus, depending on what you want to be done, you may need to talk to representatives from one or both levels.

There are a couple of ways you can find your representatives. On the federal level, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have searchable databases. Each state will have it’s own website, but for Kentucky, you can find your legislators here. The website Common Cause is useful as well, as it provides more information on the specific actions of your representatives.

Hopefully, your representatives will be responsive. Some of them send letters. Some of them send emails. For example, I received this from Mitch McConnell:

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We can write to supplement other political acts.

Maybe you want to do more than write. That’s great! Keep in mind that writing can supplement your other political actions. For example, if you want to march or protest, you can create a witty sign:

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If you want to join a politically active group, such as Showing Up for Racial Justice or Black Lives Matter, you may need to write to support the goals of the group. If you want to create your own, you may want to write a mission statement or a list of objectives.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that writing can augment your voice.

I will leave you with something a friend showed me on the day of Trump’s inauguration. It’s an arrangement by Anne Carson in her book Nox:

cinerem1

 

Accessibility and Accommodations in the Writing Center

Layne Gordon, Assistant Directorlayne-g

At the end of last semester, the Writing Center debuted a new page on our website for Accessibility and Accommodations. We are excited to be among the relatively small group of writing centers who have public statements along these lines, and we’d like to take a moment at the beginning of this new semester to account for some of the decisions we made and to address why we think accessibility is an important philosophy for writing centers to adopt.

Although I was responsible for the specific content of the page, the decision-making process was a team effort. As we started brainstorming, we quickly realized that there were a few things that would be central to our approach to accessibility. First, we wanted to communicate the ways in which accessibility is already part of how we think about tutoring writing and the design of our space and resources. For example, we emphasize in our statement that we work with writers at any stage in the writing process. We already work regularly with writers on brainstorming and understanding assignments, and writers with disabilities might find this particularly helpful. I go on to note that our consultants spend time discussing identity and disability in our Writing Center Theory and Practice Course. And, in terms of space and resources, we offer transcripts of our videos, our consultants are currently working on making our handouts screen reader-friendly, and we have a long-standing history of welcoming additional visitors to tutoring sessions such as American Sign Language interpreters and service animals. These are just a few ways that our existing efforts and approaches can be beneficial to writers with disabilities.

Second, we wanted to convey that we are committed to accessibility as a disposition as well as a policy. We know that students often encounter accessibility policies on syllabi and in other official documents from the University, but we wanted to offer a slightly different take on what accessibility could mean for all writers who visit the Writing Center. Accessibility as a disposition means that we are not only willing to adjust our space and our tutoring approaches when requested, but more importantly that we are committed to being inclusive of writers with a range of abilities, experiences, and identities. In other words, it means that we strive to be proactive about accessibility rather than reactive. Understanding accessibility in this way is part of our broader commitment to an ethic of service and hospitality, and this is one reason why accessibility and accommodations policies are particularly important for writing centers to consider. If we are going to claim to serve all writers in a particular community, it is essential that we try to anticipate the range of abilities and identities that those writers will bring with them to their Writing Center experiences.

Finally, we wanted this page to communicate that we are receptive to any and all accommodations requests that writers may have. One way we work towards this goal is by explaining that, in most cases, we do not require official documentation to make accommodations. Rather, we are open to dialogue with all writers who have ideas about how we can accommodate their needs, including writers with undocumented disabilities or those who may simply have learning styles and preferences that don’t match up perfectly with our typical approaches to tutoring writing. For example, we can conduct tutoring sessions in one of our side rooms and we can use a variety of media to communicate with writers about what they’re working on. Rather than a narrow approach to accommodations that would place a kind of burden of proof on the writer, we hope that this conveys a broader and more inclusive attitude toward accommodations.

As we mention on our Accessibility and Accommodations page, we welcome feedback and suggestions for how we can improve our efforts at accessibility, and we hope that this initial work offers others the opportunity to think about accessibility as a philosophy.

Getting Going on a Personal Statement: Motivation and the Role of the Writing Center

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Cassie Book, Associate Director 

There’s no shortage of advice about writing your personal statement for graduate school applications on the University Writing Center’s blog or website. Our past writing consultant bloggers have tackled the personal statement from several angles:

Five Tips for Writing a Killer Personal Statement

Personal Statements Part I: Just How Personal Is It?

Personal Statements Part II: Research and Focus

Timely Tips for the Personal Statement

Tips on Crafting an Effective Personal Statement

We also have a handout on personal statements, which comes in handy during appointments.

With so much great advice, you should be good to go, right? No? In my experience, both as a writer and a consultant, the most difficult aspect is getting started. So that’s what I’d like to write about today: moving from nothing to something on your personal statement or statement of purpose.

We do have a helpful FAQ about getting started on personal statements, so I’d suggest checking that out too. However, here are three strategies, adapted for this particular writing task, to jump start your process. These strategies will work best after you’ve reviewed genre basics about personal statements and the instructions for your specific program applications.

  1. Freewrite: Prompt yourself with an open-ended question such as “Why am I interested in this specific program?” and set a timer for five or ten minutes. Keep your pen or pencil moving on the page or your fingers typing on the keyboard. The point isn’t to produce coherent writing; the point is to work yourself up to an idea you can build on later.
  2. Start a shoe-box collection: If you have time, take a day, week, or month to let ideas for your personal statement simmer in your mind. When an idea or experience comes to you, write it down and put it in a box or envelope. When it comes time to draft, you’ll already have a few starting places.
  3. Create visual or a map: Generate ideas visually either with a paper/pencil or a digital mind map. You might find that approaching the project visually loosens your writer’s block and helps you see the personal statement in a new light organizationally and logically.

Getting started is not a problem unique to personal statements. The difference with personal statements is you can’t distract yourself from writing with reading or research. Writing a personal statement always comes back to thinking about constructing yourself with words, and that is what you’re trying to avoid! No matter how much anyone says “just start writing,” sometimes you just feel frozen.

This is a moment where the Writing Center can be a huge help in your writing process. When I talk with new peer writing consultants about their job, one of our first discussions centers around the various roles a writing consultant can play. One of those roles is the motivational coach. And this is the role we’ll play for you as we help you get started on your personal statement. You don’t have to write anything beforehand, just schedule an appointment to brainstorm and bounce ideas off someone else. Bring your personal statement instructions, and we’ll have a low stakes conversation to help you generate ideas.

Another opportunity the University Writing Center offers is the New Year. New You: Personal Statement Workshops in January. The workshop will be designed to help you even if you haven’t gotten started yet. We’ll talk about personal statements in general, give you some prompts for getting started, and look at a few examples.

So, if you know that you’re applying to graduate school in the next few months, but you’re having trouble getting started, let the Writing Center do what we do best: talk with you. Schedule an appointment or stop by one of our workshops in January. You do have to write about yourself, but there is no reason to do it alone.

How I Write: Dr. Jose M. Fernandez

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.

jose-fernandez-pic

Dr. Jose M. Fernandez is an Associate Professor of Economics in the College of Business. His research is in the areas of crime, health, and industrial organization.

Current project: “Less Alcohol, Less Service: Do local alcohol bans affect the number and mixture of full and limited service restaurants?”

Currently reading: Dollars and Sex, Naked Money, and Harry Potter & the Cursed Child.

 

What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

I primarily write for scholarly journals in economics and health policy. These articles tend to be technically dense filled with economics jargon, tables, and equations.

When/where/how do you write?

I need a fairly quiet place to write with few interruptions. The few interruptions is key for me. This usually means I am writing in my office after hours when my colleagues and students have gone home or at my house while my wife is at work and my children are at school.

The interesting part to being an academic researcher is to find the answer to a research question. You do all this work with data collection and analysis just to be the first person to better understand this little corner of our world. It is a thrilling high that comes with the job, but all this effort goes to waste if we do not share it with everyone else. Therefore, we write afterwards. When I write my papers I actual start in the center. Since I am a data head, I first write the data description and analysis sections of the paper first.

Next, I write the literature review. There is an old saying that goes, “if it is good it isn’t new and if it is new it probably isn’t good.” This quote always reminds me to look into the scholarly literature for the works of others that inspired or contributed to the question and answer that I am presenting.

Lastly, I write the introduction and the conclusion. I write these pieces last because they are the most important. We live in a world with information overload, you need to grip the reader’s attention in that opening paragraph. You need to convince them that their time is worth reading the next 30 pages. If you can’t achieve that, then you want to at least explain the question and tell them the punchline by the time they have reached the end of the introduction even if they skimp on the details.

What are your writing necessities—tools, accessory, music, spaces?

I mainly need my computer with a word processor or Latex editor, my statistical program, and google scholar. I do not really play music unless I am cleaning data.

What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

My best advice for revisions is to read your paper out loud. Your brain tends to fill in missing words for you when you read silently, but out loud it is easier to catch. Secondly, I recommend printout your paper or using MS Words track changes, get some coffee, and a red pen. Much of my revisions are taking sentences and first making them into the active voice. In the second pass my goal is to make the sentences shorter and remove grammatical/spelling errors.

For writing scholarly papers in general I like these two resources: Economical Writing by Deirdre McCloskey and, for students, an Economics sample paper.

What is the best writing advice you ever received?

I received two pieces of advice that have helped me with my writing. First, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT PAPER. This phrase will help you get over the anxiety of writing in the first place. Your first draft should be rough. It should be a brain dump where you get everything you wanted to say about the topic down on paper. This will get you started and revisions will take care of the rest.  The second piece of advice is for when you are stuck. I tend to write in bulk, but if I am not feeling creative or inspired that day I force myself to write at least one page. This single page serves several purposes. I have something concrete to show I have worked today. Next, it has started me to think more about the topic. The best part is that even if you do this every day for a month you will have a paper done by the end of the month.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations! 

 

How I Write: Joey Wilkerson

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers

joey-wilkersonJoey Wilkerson is a 2L at the Brandeis School of Law. He received his bachelors in English from the University of Louisville and his Masters in Communication from Bellarmine University. His goal is to work in criminal law and one day be a judge.

Joey is also the Program Coordinator Senior for the African American Male Initiative in the Cultural Center.

Current project: Asteroid Mining- The Environmental Cost

Currently reading: Problems in Criminal Law

What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

These days, the bulk of my writing is dedicated to legal briefs and legal memos.

When/where/how do you write?

Typically I write either at home or in the office.

What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

Mac Book Air, bourbon, 90’s movies on TV.

What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

Read your papers aloud. When you hear it verbally, you can catch a lot of mistakes.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

“If you’re gonna cite, you better do it right!”

Writing Places and Spaces

Jeremy Dunn, Consultantjeremy-d

You’ve picked a paper topic, done some research, and now you’re ready to begin writing that term paper. Or maybe you’ve just struck on a bit of inspiration for a new poem, or a short story—maybe even the next great American novel. There’s only one question left: Where do you go to write?

The question seems simple, but sometimes the answer isn’t. Over the years, I’ve had to do a lot of writing, and one factor that has turned out to be crucial for any writing project I’ve undertaken has been my writing environment, the physical places and spaces I inhabit while writing.

Researchers have taken an interest in how material environments and writing tools can aid or inhibit writing. In a study of how college students’ “composing unfolds materially through space and time in a mobile culture,” Stacey Pigg observes, “While the materiality of academic writing easily slips under the radar, how students access and incorporate places and technologies in composing habits outside classrooms may be one of the most important determinants of their success within them” (271). In other words, the places where we write, and the technologies we employ in our writing (i.e. pen and paper, laptops, desktops, typewriters, stone and chisel, etcetera) constitute foundational elements of the composing process.

Indeed, as examples of famous writers illustrate, writing is often a ritualistic, idiosyncratic process deeply rooted in particular environments and surroundings. Mark Twain reportedly wrote while lying in bed. Dylan Thomas had his writing shed where, legend has it, his wife would lock him up each day to ensure he got some writing done. Similarly, Virginia Woolf sometimes wrote in a toolshed she had converted into a “writing lodge.” Sir Walter Scott apparently liked to compose poetry on horseback.

I find other writers’ writing places and spaces interesting and inspiring, but not all of us have access to a cozy writing shed overlooking rolling English hills—or a horse to sit astride, if you’re interested in that sort of thing—while we write. So where do we turn to carve out writing spaces for ourselves?

Perhaps the local coffee shop. As Pigg suggests, “Informal public spaces such as cafés, coffeehouses, and commons areas serve as commonplace productive locations for many writers” (261). Pigg further explains that such environments often provide Wi-Fi to support mobile laptops, or in-house desktops in commons areas. These spaces thus offer technological access in addition to “clean space” where writers can concentrate on their projects (261).

Public spaces help many writers write, but they are not ideal for everyone. A quiet-seeking introvert at heart, I’ve learned that coffee shops—even library study areas—are not great writing spaces for me. I’ve tried to write in such places, only to realize I don’t really feel comfortable in them, or there’s too much going on for me to focus. Consequently, I’m unable to do much writing in those environments. Though the café or common area are good work areas for many, I’ve discovered that I do better by writing in my bedroom at home. There, I have a small, worn desk and lamp that help me settle into writing. The environment is a quiet one where I feel comfortable and able to focus (most of the time). In addition, writing at home better accommodates my idiosyncrasies. For example, while I write, I like to take breaks to stand up and pace around a bit, a practice I’m not exactly comfortable trying in a coffee shop. I also like the convenience of being down the hall from the kitchen if I want a snack or a drink of water, or in case I feel like brewing some coffee or tea. In short, at home in my room I simply feel a greater sense of quiet and am consequently able to get more writing done.

All of this rambling is simply to say that if the coffee shop helps facilitate your writing, or the park bench, or the library, or maybe a room at home, go there and write. If you find you’re stuck in a rut, consider seeking out a different writing space for a while and observe whether or not the new environment helps you break through your writer’s block. We all have to write somewhere. Learning which environments are most conducive to our writing practices can help us demystify writing and develop our composing processes in productive ways.

Works Cited

Pigg, Stacey. “Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces.” CCC 66.2 (2014): 250-75.

 

How I Write: Dr. Kristi King

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers

Dr. Kristi King is an associate professor in the Exercise Physiology (MS) and Community Health (MEd) programs in the Department of Health and Sport Sciences at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Dr. King is the principal investigator on multi-year research studies that focus on the improvement of health, specifically through community-basedkristi-king2012 physical activity and nutrition interventions and policies.

Dr. King serves on local, state, and national health advocacy committees. She also collaborates with communities to educate their decision-makers on local, state, and national policies related to public health. Dr. King earned her PhD from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, completed post-doctorate training in Physical Activity and Public Health Research with the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is a Certified Health Education Specialist.

Location: Department of Health and Sport Sciences, Student Activity Center (SAC) East 105G

Current project: I usually juggle between a few articles from different research studies.

Currently reading: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering American on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson, The Namesake by Jumphi Lahri, and Rolling Stone magazine

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

Since I’m an associate professor hoping to apply for full professor some day, I primarily write articles for peer-reviewed, health-related journals. My articles are based on my research with community-based health interventions and advocacy. I also get to write a Clinical Applications column for the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal.

2. When/where/how do you write?

Usually 1 day per week I get to stay home to write. My day always starts with a short workout and yoga video. Then the dogs and I go to my sunroom office for about 4-5 hours. We take lots of 10-minute study breaks to go outside get fresh air (rain or shine). If I’m lucky I get to write at work 1-2 days a week for about 1-2 hours each if I don’t have too many meetings. Again, I’ll take a few 10-minute study breaks to stroll around campus. I must get outside often to walk – it clears my mind so I can be more productive when I return to my computer.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

The late mornings or early afternoons are usually when my mind works best. If necessary I’ll make a cup of tea for an extra boost. I am very careful to protect my writing time by keeping my phone, email, and other techy-distractions off when I write. I always write on my computer – never paper and pencil.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

I usually start with a general outline of the headings I think I’ll use in a paper. Typically the mandatory headings are introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion. From there I add other headings that may be specific to my project such as theory, interventions, and specifics about the communities, policies, participants, etc. When I save each version I title it with the date so I know which date is the latest version – then I email it to myself so I can work on it from home or work. Even if I just get a few sentences written per session, I feel like I’ve accomplished something big – very motivating.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Get words on paper. Until I see my thoughts in print, I don’t have anything tangible to edit or review or motivate me. Even if the words are messy and just thrown onto the page, at least it’s a start and will give me something to come back to later when I begin my revisions.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations! 

Pulling Together a Portfolio

Ashleigh Scarpinato, Consultantashleigh-s

There are so many help systems and articles designed to help you write a research paper, but what about all us Creative Writers out there? Who is going to guide us through the chaos that is a printed rough draft with a coffee stain in the center or a Cheetos smudge on page seven? If you have taken any Creative Writing classes, chances are you have had a chance to workshop your pieces in class, but where do we go from there? What pieces make it into our portfolios, and how do we make all the peer reviews when they are often telling us differing or conflicting suggestions?

Here are some notes about my method for pulling together a portfolio:

Phase 1: What to Include

Drafting a poetry portfolio is going to be different from drafting a short story portfolio, but the method can be the same. Start small, go through and pull out your best pieces. Look at your feedback, what did you peers identify as your strongest work? When deciding which pieces I want to include, I always look back at the speaker’s voice. I start by identifying which speakers are the most honest or believable. I had a peer in undergrad that would say, “I am not buying this line,” and it became my goal in writing and revising to ask myself: is this believable, will my reader buy this? And I challenge you, reader, to do the same.

Phase 2: Making Revisions

After pulling together the pieces you (and your peers) identify as your strongest pieces, collect all your peer reviews on each of them (hopefully, you still have them hanging around somewhere). I put all the peer revisions and notes in one pile and have a freshly printed copy in the other. Now, begin reading more thoroughly through those comments, noting which ones you like and find most effective. As you identify which changes you would like to make, write them onto your clean copy. This helps give yourself a base while also eliminating some of the chaos.

Phase 3: More Revisions (they never truly stop)

What if some of your peers recommended you change something in your piece? Do you have to listen to them? Although this might depend on their suggestion, please do not feel the need to change something that you do not feel comfortable with. As the writer, if you feel as though you are not doing the writing justice, that might be a sign to leave that detail, image, or word. Most importantly, if you do not change something, make sure that you can justify that choice.

Phase 4: What Time is it?

Get some sleep. I promise you will make more errors and have more typos on a lack of sleep than you will well rested. Along with lack of sleep may come lack of motivation, and you might find it difficult to convince yourself to read back over your revisions. I repeat, get some sleep. Your work will still be there in the morning—provided you didn’t forget to save it while surviving on coffee and Cheetos. When you come back to it in the morning, try reading your work aloud. This can help you hear how something sounds and allows you an opportunity to locate the typos you may have glanced over while skimming the piece.

Phase 5: Come to the Writing Center

We love Creative Writing pieces, and we do not get enough in here! Creative Writing work can be more personal, but as writers ourselves, we understand that the speaker’s voice does not necessarily coincide with the author’s voice. As tutors, we do not need to know if a piece is non-fiction or fiction, and we can help you through whatever part of the writing process you need help with.

I hope you found these notes helpful as you go forth into the world of revising and editing. Stand strong; you can do this.

After the Election: The Work of the University Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Franklin Roosevelt, in 1938 in face of the rise of fascism around the world, had this to say about the role of education in politics:

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. It has been well said that no system of government gives so much to the individual or exacts so much as a democracy. Upon our educational system must largely depend the perpetuity of those institutions upon which our freedom and our security rest. To prepare each citizen to choose wisely and to enable him to choose freely are paramount functions of the schools in a democracy.

This quote has been on my mind the past few days in the run up to, and in the wake of, the recent presidential election. I’ve been thinking about the role of education in civic and political discourse and, more specifically, the role we should play in such issues in thedscn2185 University Writing Center. We have always welcomed and worked with writers from every political position, and that will not change. Our goal will continue to be help each writer become a stronger writer, but also to create writing that reflects ethical critical thinking and a commitment to civil discourse. Still, I think there is more to be said, and more to be done, on our part. Although it may seem that an organization of fewer than 20 people in a large university and larger city is limited in the impact it can have on such issues, I believe that the daily work of small groups of committed people is one essential way that education – and by extension, change – happens. At this moment, then, I want to make a more explicit, more emphatic statement about the principles we hold in the University Writing Center and the actions we intend to take to support those principles.

An Inclusive, Safe Space: The University Writing Center Mission Statement says that “The Writing Center is dedicated to being a safe, inclusive environment. We work to make the Writing Center a welcoming place where writers feel comfortable bringing the diverse range of perspectives found in the university community.” There is nothing wrong with that statement. Yet, I want to be clearer about what it means today when friends and colleagues whose identity positions – whether by race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, cultural background, or others – are making them feel further marginalized, silenced, and threatened. We need to be more than welcoming. We need to be advocates. We need to be activists. We will renew our commitment to making the University Writing Center a place were writers can express their identities and be assured that they will receive a respectful and supportive response. Trust and safety are key elements to writing and teaching and we will continue to work as a staff to educate ourselves, listen carefully, and reflect on issues of identity, language, and power so that we can respond as allies and advocates for writers in the UofL community. We will also work harder to get the word out about this aspect of our work in University Writing Center sessions.

Supporting Writing on Campus and in the Community.  We will commit ourselves to more events and activities that support the writing and voices of people who feel silenced and marginalized in our culture and that engage conversations about the political nature of reading and writing. We have been engaging in these kinds of activities through our LGBTQ Writing Group, our events during Banned Books week, and our plans to celebrate International Mother Language Day in February. We will continue with our plans to engage in literacy tutoring in the community through Family Scholar House and the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library to support the writing and expression of ideas of people in the city. At this point I do not know what other events we will be planning. I want to listen to the community, in and out of the university, to think about how best we can support literacy practices that are empowering on both an individual level and community level. We will also renew our commitment to be part of conversations about the role of writing in culture and politics.

Education and Civil Discourse: Finally, we will continue to do what we do best: Educate. Our mission statement also says that we consider “writing to be an indispensable part of the intellectual life of the university as both a vital means of communication and an essential tool for learning.” What is not explicit in that statement, but is part of our mission and identity is a commitment to critical thinking and civil discourse. We will work with all writers, from all political viewpoints, to help them learn how to create arguments that are evidence-based, nuanced, and engage respectfully with opposing points of view. We will work with all writers to encourage a discourse that, even when in opposition, is respectful of the humanity of others. We will engage in conversations that help writers understand the influence of culture and systems of power on issues of education, language, and learning. We will work to help writers understand how their identities are positioned by larger cultural ideologies and narratives and help them explore options on how to communicate their ideas most effectively to their intended audiences. We will continue to believe in and advocate the value in listening, and responding, thoughtfully to the ideas of others. We regard empathy as a strength, not a weakness.

We will do our part, small though it may be, to keep communication and conversation going. We will continue to work toward writing that connects our minds and our shared humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

Finals Stress: You’re Not in This Alone

Carrie Mason, Consultant carrie-m

It’s about this time when you’re starting to freak out. Deadlines and commitments and all that heavy, heavy, jazz. Caffeine consumption is at an all-time high, sleep at an all-time low, and you’re not even sure if you took time for lunch. There. Is. Too. Much. To. Do. The four (or ten) page essay starts to feel like a full length novel, and the book you desperately needed isn’t at the library and you thought you had time for an inter library loan but it turns out you don’t and now you’re hoping Google Books has it as a preview and then you realized that you forgot about the one page reflection piece over some book you skimmed and then the professor talks about the in class exam you also forgot about and your mom called to say that your grandma misses you and you should call her.

Stop. Breathe. Relax. You can’t do anything if you’re thinking about everything. And that’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn.

It’s almost impossible for me to multitask when it comes to research and writing or any kind of homework, really. In the past, I’ve been able to obsess about a single project, conquer, and move on. It doesn’t seem like that strategy will work particularly well this go around. There are too many assignments due at the same time. Perhaps you’re finding yourself in the same boat. Whatever battle plan you’ve used before, it isn’t working now. Maybe you found that out at midterms and now these last assignments are even more daunting. Regardless of how it happened, you realize the boat has sprung a leak. Man overboard. But you can’t abandon ship. And neither can I. We have invested too much to give up now. We are actively working toward our dreams, to better ourselves, and the pursuit of something much greater than an in-class exam. So, knowing the journey has its rough parts, I offer some tips that might help keep us all afloat until we hit the winter break shoreline.

  1. Coffee is not water and you should drink less of the bean juice and more of the h20.
  2. Don’t let school work take away your sleep. Not only do we turn into incorrigible creatures when we don’t sleep; we don’t do better on our assignments either.
  3. Energy drinks are also not water.
  4. Breaks are good for your mind and soul and sanity.
  5. Focus on a task for half a day, take a substantial break, and then switch tasks. This can help you gain progress on multiple projects (this is my current method).
  6. Eat real food.

I wish I had more things to say that would be encouraging and provide step by step instructions for end of semester success. But this is all I got. I could say start earlier, but I think we all already know about that. In fact, we probably already know most of the things I’ve suggested. I certainly didn’t learn them all on my own. And I think that’s the greater lesson here. You–whoever you are–are not the only one who is drinking way too much caffeine. You are not the only one who didn’t get a book in time. You are not the only one who forgot to eat lunch. You are not alone. Finish Strong.

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