Author Archives: jacketcopy

Gipson Schabel on Working at Book Arts Collaborative

Creative Writing minor Gipson Schabel recounts her experience working at Book Arts Collaborative, a “makerspace in downtown Muncie where community members and Ball State students learn about letterpress printing, book binding, and artist’s book design and publishing.” Book Arts Collaborative is currently fielding applications for the Fall 2017 semester; interested students should email Rai Peterson at rai@bsu.edu to apply.

It is important to first note that I earned my bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in actuarial science, with a minor in creative writing. Actuarial science is a brand of financial math specifically focused on statistics and predictive modeling. Creative writing is nearly the opposite. Half of my undergraduate years at Ball State were spent as a double major in these two subjects, which I was warned countless times was very weird. Mathematics and creative writing could not mesh, I was told. They were “left brain” and “right brain,” whatever that means. To me, it made sense. I was good at math and I enjoyed the concise correctness of it. Yet, I have been writing novels since age five. I wanted my education to reflect not only my strengths, but my passions. This is also the goal I had for my senior honors thesis: to combine mathematics and creative writing in a way that reflects not only what I have learned, but who I have become during my time at Ball State.

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Tara Olivero: Teacher at Homestead High School and Writer at Book Riot

Tara Olivero is a teacher at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne and a contributing writer at Book Riot. She graduated from Ball State in 2014 with a degree in English Education. In this post, she discusses her job as a high school English teacher and how her time at #bsuenglish helped her find her passion for teaching.

How would you describe your job?

My main career will always be my teaching career – I’m in my third year of teaching in Fort Wayne at Homestead High School. As any other high school teacher knows, it’s an exhausting job but one that’s personally satisfying beyond all compare. I also have two side-gigs outside of teaching. I’m a contributor at Book Riot, which I really love because it gives me a platform for my own writing. And my “purely for fun” job is that I work at an Escape Room in Fort Wayne on the weekends; I also write blog posts for the Escape Room’s website.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

I usually try to get to school between 6 and 6:30, so I can set up all the documents I need and make copies for students who have laptop issues. That’s when I don’t oversleep, of course. I teach five classes of freshman high school English, where we do the standard reading/writing you’d expect. I also teach one class of juniors and seniors in Film Literature, Tara Oliverowhich is essentially how to write thoughtful and critical analysis of films. After school, I’m usually still there until 4 or 5, either running one of the clubs I sponsor (including the school’s Creative Writing Club) or helping the theatre department with costuming. At the end of the day, I’ll finally head home to grade papers, work on my current Book Riot pieces, or pet my cat.

How did your English major affect your career path?

I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have the teaching position I have today without an English major. One of the strengths I bring to the table in terms of serving my students IS my English content knowledge. While I’m always trying to work on improving my teaching strategies, inclusion of technology, etc., I know I never have to worry that I’m not hitting at the heart of the books we read in my classes and the structure and content of the essays my students write.

When I was student teaching, I was overwhelmed with the experience, too. I didn’t realize how stressful it would be until I was already in it, but I knew that I wanted to teach English more than anything. I was armed with so much knowledge from my English classes, and I knew how painful it was to be in non-English classes at Ball State and see that writing was something that plenty of other students desperately needed to work on. All of that made me want to teach English even more. Reading comprehension, critical analysis, and the ability to put that comprehension and analysis into words are some of the most important skills high school students need to master, so I’m honored to have a part in that now.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

The English Department did a bang-up job helping me hone my analytical writing skills. Until I started teaching Film Lit, I didn’t realize how helpful it was that I can actually write well. I’m able to show my students examples of my own analytical writing that they can use as models for specific tasks, which is nice.

The instruction I received in my writing classes also helped me hone my style and build my confidence in my own writing. The voice present in my writing and my passion for literature, both of which grew throughout my time as an undergraduate, helped me land a spot as a Book Riot contributor. For the longest time in college, I was a “quasi” book blogger; I ran a YA book blog but didn’t interact much with the blogosphere because I was intimidated. I feel like I can run with that crowd now and not feel inadequate, which is partially because all of the Book Riot people are lovely individuals and partly because I know I’m now a decent writer when I put in the time and care about what I’m writing.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

The young adult literature class impacted both the way I teach English, especially the way I run the student-chosen summer reading activities in class in the fall, and my experience writing for Book Riot as a critical reader of YA fiction. The ideas that were covered in that class – how to talk about tough subject material, how to tie in relevant current events, etc. – were more helpful than I could have anticipated. I also know that the entire education program, but specifically the English education classes, helped prepare me for how to design the best reading and writing lessons that I can.

What advice would you give current English majors?

If you’re trying to get onto a writing staff, be brave and apply when there are job openings, even if you think you won’t be good enough! You never know until you try. Write your passions and your voice will come through.

The Twittersphere is on fire right now, and Book Twitter is one of the greatest social platforms you can engage in. There is so much critical analysis happening in 140 characters, it’s madness. So find some authors, publishers, book bloggers, etc., to follow so you can get in on all of that action. It’ll also help you make connections that can further your own aspirations once you graduate.

Save all of your notes! I had to teach The Scarlet Letter my first year at Homestead, and I knew I had taken such great notes in Dr. Habich‘s class, but I tragically couldn’t ever find them.

Professor Mike Donnelly Publishes Book (And More December/January Good News)

Prof. Mike Donnelly‘s book, Freedom of Speech and the Function of Rhetoric in the United States, was released on December Donnelly book15.

Prof. Jill Christman recently had two essays published: “The Alligator and the Baby” in TriQuarterly and “This Story” in Phoebe: A Journal of Literature & Art Since 1971Prof. Christman is also chairing the conference committee for AWP this year and will be delivering a welcome address on the opening night of the conference.

Prof. Lyn Jones‘ immersive learning class explored #blacklivesmatter for Rethinking Children’s and YA Lit. Their magazine is out now! Download the BSU NOW app to read the #blacklivesmatter edition.

Prof. Pete Davis‘ fourth book of poetry, Band Names, will be published this fall.

Prof. Matt Mullins had two filmpoems (“Aubade” and “After Image”) screened at the 5th Annual International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, Greece.

Prof. Mai Kuha is serving on the steering committee of the newly formed Ecolinguistics Association.

Prof. Emily Rutter published “Contested Lineages: Fred Moten, Terrance Hayes, and the Legacy of Amiri Baraka” in the African American Review (vol. 49, no. 4).

Recent #bsuenglish graduate Lauren Birkey (December 2016) was hired at Spotted Monkey Marketing in Muncie. Go Lauren!

#bsuenglish student Elyse Lowery had three poems; “Crosshatch”, “Blood and Diamonds” and “Five Cigars;” accepted for publication by The 3288 Review. They will be published in late February 2017.

Students Brittany Mayfield, Josh Mooshian, and Julia Robben presented a project called “Mock Spanish” at the Unity Connections Conference on January 21, and they facilitated a substantial discussion on linguistic diversity and inclusion following their talk. The project was inspired by Prof. Kuha’s ENG 220 (Language and Society).

#bsuenglish MA graduate Heather Gemmen Wilson recently had two pieces, “How to Deceive Yourself” and “Divine Tantrums” published.

Hold Onto Your Passion: Advice from Audra Dittlinger

Stars to Steer By presents Audra Dittlinger, a Marketing Content Manager and Client Experience Director. Ms. Dittlinger began her journey at Ball State in 2001 and officially graduated in 2014 with a degree in English Studies.   

How would you describe your job?Audra Dittlinger

I would describe my job as fast paced, exciting, and unpredictable. It’s a mixture of editing, brainstorming, and creating some amazing content for a start-up company that is growing quicker than we ever thought possible!

What does a typical work day look like for you?

A “typical” work day depends on the day. I am able to work about 75% remotely, with the other 25% happening onsite, usually at our office headquarters. On my work-from-home days, I get up, check in with my team, and work through daily tasks. Since our company is still relatively small, all team members are able to take on multiple positions at the same time. My day may consist of mostly writing and editing, or I may find myself conducting interviews with prospective customers. It’s never the same and it’s certainly never boring. The days that I am able to spend in the office are often charged with enthusiastic co-workers and inspirational leadership. Team meetings are perfect opportunities for us to collaborate and afterwards we all leave the office feeling recharged. It’s a relief, really. A lot of times, meetings can get a bad reputation in the corporate world. In our company, we’re constantly innovating and creating so we all get jazzed about coming together for a meeting of the minds.

How did having an English major affect your career path?

My English major heavily affected my career path. I graduated as a married adult with a 2 year old toddler at home. I was not a traditional student. At the time that I graduated, I was actually going into my 9th year of being an insurance agent. I had known for years that my true love is writing and editing, and that is what I wanted in my life. I wasn’t going to stop until I found it. After multiple freelance gigs, I finally landed my “dream job,” if you will.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

I picked up a lot of useful skills in my major, but I think the most useful was that it really honed my craft as an editor and it allowed me to be more patient than I would have otherwise been. I now have a distinct process when editing, something I could have only learned through my classes as an English major. I now slow down and I perfect my work. I am not naturally patient, but as a writer, I can block out the world and take my time.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

I was in a few classes led by Dr. Rai Peterson (Rai, as most English majors know her) and she definitely had an impact on me. I took two classes with her on campus and one online course. She really boosted my confidence and I’ll never forget the first time she wrote “You’re a writer!” at the top of one of my papers. It was one of the first times in my adult life that I really felt that I was moving in the right direction.

What advice would you give current English majors?

My advice would absolutely be this: hold on to what you love. If you really love Sci-Fi lit, hold onto that. If you really love Vonnegut, keep studying him. If you really love to edit, keep finding ways to do it. I let go of something that I loved to do and I spent 10 years of my life running in place and not living up to my potential. As soon as I found my passion again, I never let myself forget that feeling. That feeling is what drove me and what really helped me land my dream job. Don’t let people tell you English majors “have to be teachers.” Prove them wrong. It’s in you.

Lisa Kemp: Partner Relationship Manager at Ontario Systems

Lisa Kemp is a partner relationship manager at Ontario Systems in Muncie. She graduated from the Ball State English Department in 1990. In this post, she discusses her work and how it connects to her studies in the department.

Lisa Kemp (STSB)

How would you describe your job?

I am currently a partner relationship manager with product management responsibilities at Ontario Systems, LLC in Muncie, IN. My job involves managing the day-to-day partnership activities for more than thirty partners. Most of these partners provide data services to our mutual customers. I also manage the product that provides our customers access to these services.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

My days are far from typical. My most stressful days involve acting as a liaison between our partner and our own support team when one or more of our mutual customers experience issues with a service. Other days I juggle writing user stories (requirements) for software enhancements, managing the product through all aspects of the product development and rollout of new product features and services, communications with partners, influencing our partners to support our annual user conference and facilitating that portion of the event, and much more.

How did your English major affect your career path?

I graduated with a B.S. in English, Secondary Education, but after graduation, I had no firm plans to pursue a teaching career. Now, with Ball State’s immersive learning initiatives and opportunities for students to dive into real-life career simulations early in their degree work, I would have realized sooner that I did not want to teach and would have pursued a different concentration with my English degree. Early in my career, I was a technical writer and later managed that team.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

In every position I have held, I have used my English education. Most positions involve writing skills and communications skills, valuable to anyone in any position. I have gravitated toward opportunities to use those skills. Analytical thinking skills have helped me in projects where I need to analyze financials, industry trends, and data that will help influence decisions. I can scarcely think of any aspect of any position where my English background has not proven useful.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

I had a couple classes that had a great impact on me because of the professors’ passion for the topics. Those included any classes I took with Dr. Koontz including my favorite, Black Literature. I enjoyed a film literature class and a linguistics class with Dr. Sidney Greenbaum. While not in the English department, I enjoyed my folk dance class with Ya’akov Eden. Even though some might balk at general studies courses, they can be very fun and memorable.

What advice would you give current English majors?

I have four major areas of advice for current English majors:

  1. Hone your writing skills so that you can write in any way (not only academic) to any audience (for example, technical, beginner, or child).
  2. Force yourself out of your comfort zone. A lot of English majors like to hunker down with a good book or the keyboard and not speak outside of our friend group. If something makes you feel uncomfortable or gives you butterflies, practice it and put yourself in situations where you do it so that you can overcome your fears (or at least lessen them).
  3. Participate in extracurricular activities. Go to Ball State sporting events (there are hundreds!). Join a club (again, hundreds!). Grow your leadership skills by taking on an office in a club or organization.
  4. Network. Make eye contact. Smile. Shake hands. Learn people’s names. Talk to your classmates and professors. Get to know people. Keep in touch with them after your time at Ball State.

Brittany Ulman on Interning at International Floral Distributors, Inc.

#bsuenglish Senior Brittany Ulman reflects on the valuable experience she gained as the marketing intern at International Floral Distributors, Inc. in Richmond, Indiana this summer. During this time, Brittany created numerous marketing materials, wrote the scripts that would be featured in IFD’s annual Flower Trends Forecast, and served as a guest blogger for Indianaintern.net.

My internship at International Floral Distributors, Inc. was definitely a whirlwind to say the least, but that doesn’t mean it was not worthwhile. Even though I wasn’t completely prepared for the way in which I was propelled into the previously foreign world known as the flower industry, that exact phenomenon is one of the reasons why I enjoyed my time at IFD.

Despite the fact that my internship placed me in an unexplored environment, I enjoyed the challenge. I love the fact that as an intern, I wasn’t simply doing busy work or carrying out small errands for my co-workers. Instead, I was in the middle of nearly every project, voicing my opinion and being one of the main team members.

Due to being an active member of the IFD team, there’s no doubt in my mind that my internship will prove to be an invaluable experience in terms of the knowledge I gained about a new industry, myself, and my future.brittany-ulman

As an intern, my main objective was to boost the efficacy of IFD’s marketing strategies and ensure they were reaching their intended audiences, specifically Millennials. In order to do so, IFD’s Executive Director, Jeff Lanman, assigned me the tasks of writing press releases and video scripts for their Flower Trends Forecast, generating monthly email campaigns, constructing order forms, assisting in a project aimed at enhancing relations between IFD’s members and their vendor distributors, and creating marketing material for an upcoming convention. And these were just a handful of my day-to-day tasks.

The articles in particular required me to create several images to complement the articles’ content and IFD’s goals of extending a certain amount of information to the public. Additionally, I worked on several aspects of IFD’s annual catalog including trend descriptions, a short bio for IFD’s trend forecaster, as well as advertising value pages.

While working on my various projects for IFD, I found myself utilizing many of the skills I have developed during my time at Ball State and previous internships. Because several of my projects involved creating marketing materials, I found myself continually referring to the information I had learned during my professional writing and digital literacies courses. During these classes, my professors taught me about numerous design aesthetics and textual styles to best appeal to general and specific audiences. In particular to this internship, I referred to my English 213 and 231 classes when I created the table cards and handouts for the convention IFD attended in September.

Between the skills I have obtained at Ball State and my internships, I am more aware of what I want out of a career and have a better understanding of the relationships between my courses and my professional life. Prior to this internship, I did not view all of my Ball State classes as pertinent to my specific career goals–only the ones that have a connection to editing and/or marketing. However, during my time at IFD, I was able to utilize many of the skills I acquired in my creative writing classes when working on marketing materials for the business. Furthermore, I used these classes as a basis when I was writing the scripts for the Flower Trends Forecast videos and my guest blogs for Indianaintern.net.

This connection between my academic and professional lives opens even more doors for me when it comes to what I am looking for in a future career. Even if a job does not initially seem to coincide with my initial expectations, my internship at IFD has taught me that Ball State has prepared me for the unexpected aspects of a job.

When my internship finally ended, it was all bittersweet. Yes, I left a team I’d grown accustomed to and will miss, but I left a more confident, strong, and informed young woman ready to take on another semester, graduation, and whatever the future holds for me after Ball State.

 

Jennifer Grouling Recommends "The Stormlight Archive" by Brandon Sanderson

“Expectation. That is the true soul of art. If you can give a man more than he expects, then he will laud you his entire life. If you can create an air of anticipation and feed it properly, you will succeed.” (Sanderson, Words of Radiance, p. 1077)

the-way-of-kings-by-brandon-sanderson

Brandon Sanderson masters the art of expectation in his series The Stormlight Archive. A planned series of ten books, only the first two are out: The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance. Unlike other fantasy series of their length, these 1000 + page books never feel slow. Even when you have a good idea what’s coming, that sense of expectation and excitement never goes away. Sanderson exceeds expectations with engaging characters, witty dialog, creative world-building, and masterful pacing. It’s a fantasy series you’ll find seriously addictive. I’m already craving re-reading it, and I rarely re-read novels!

One of the best things about The Stormlight Archive is the world-building. Sanderson manages to create an amazing and different world without transgressing into the multiple-page descriptions that can bog down fantasy novels. While keeping common fantasy elements such as magic, high courts, and battles, Sanderson’s world is truly unique and creative. The world is plagued by massive storms. The grass retracts into the earth for protection, the animals are often huge crustaceans, and the humans gather money through gems that are recharged when the storms hit. There are also delightful spren, which are a cross between fairies and the daemons from the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Sanderson’s spren are a significant part of the world of Roshar. Some seem to be simple atmospheric elements—windspren dart around in a breeze and flamespren dance around the evening fire pit. Others depict human emotion, such as gloryspren and fearspren. There’s even rumored to be intoxicationspren. However, as the story progresses it becomes apparent that spren have a key role in the story, and two of the best characters are intelligent spren who have bonded with main characters.

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Summer Good News

Summer has been a busy time for Ball State faculty, students, and alumni alike! Read more to find out what these Ball State affiliates have been up to.

Prof. Katy Didden earned a fellowship to attend the prestigious Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Middlebury, VT. She will be co-facilitating a workshop with poet Alan Shapiro, giving a craft lecture on Marianne Moore and the Great Distance Poem, and giving a reading.

Dr. Paul Ranieri published a chapter titled “Standing the Test of Time: Liberal Education in a Jesuit Tradition” in Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies, edited by Cinthia Gannett and John C. Brereton, published early this summer by Fordham University Press.

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Emily Mack on Interning at the Indiana Writers Center

Ball State University junior education major Emily Mack describes her phenomenal summer internship through the Indiana Writers Center where she worked with children to help them sharpen their writing skills.

This summer I had the opportunity to intern for the Indiana Writers Center, helping to teach creative writing to 3 different groups:  a pack of brutally honest, rowdy, affectionate 1st-3rd graders and two classes of funny, guarded, intelligent, bilingual high school students. In a mere seven weeks, almost 300 student writers ages 5-18 from across Indiana produced pages upon pages of funny, thought-provoking, gut-wrenching poems and mini-memoirs.Bryson and Emily

I believe everyone has an innate desire to be known and to connect with others. Storytelling has always been about sharing a connection. In meeting these kids where they are–embracing them as the wiggly, imaginative, funny, vulnerable, intelligent kids they are–we enable them to share their stories and be known by all who will read them.  The best parts of this experience were getting out of my own bubble, being able to put what I’m learning about diversity and teaching into action, and being trusted with these stories.

One day Bryson, a 7-year-old at Saint Florian, walked into class, pointed at me, and said, “I want to write with you today!”  I promised I would and went around the classroom to greet other students and pass out sheets of paper.  He kept staring at me and patting the empty chair beside him until I sat by him.   Continue reading

Why Teach Race?

We’ve launched a new series that we’ve titled “Department Dialogue.” This series offers our professors a platform they can use to discuss English-related topics that are of interest to both faculty and students alike. We continue the series with responses to the question: what is the place of race and racial issues in English Studies?


Eva Grouling Snider, Professional Writing:

I have several different exigencies for addressing race in my classrooms. First, in several of my classes, students conduct primary research and fieldwork. Thinking about diversity (including race, gender, sexuality, and other diversity axes) not only makes them more thoughtful when crafting survey and interview questions, but it also has a positive effect on my students’ participants. For a class that is first and foremost about language usage, thinking about the language we use to represent people and the
social effects of different kinds of language use is a natural fit.

I also teach visual design in several classes, and race is also an issue when it comes to visual design. Visual representations of non-white races are far too infrequent and far too coded with visual signifiers of racial stereotypes. I talk to my stuwocintech.jpgdents about finding and using photography that does more than just nod at being diverse. For instance, #WOCinTech recently released a series of stock photos of women of color working in tech-related fields. I tell my students that they should strive to use these kinds of images not as a novelty but as a default.

In both cases, I tell my students that it’s not about them. Their personal experiences, their positions on different diversity axes: of course they matter, but when you’re talking about communication, it’s the people on the other end that truly matter. I feel that every public communicator has a moral obligation to undercut racial prejudice and make people feel welcome and accepted, and that’s something I try to pass on to my students.

Kathryn Gardiner, Screenwriting:

With my English 310 – Introduction to Screenwriting students, I always take a day to discuss Hollywood’s history of “white washing” characters of color, or leaving them out of movies and television entirely. I start the discussion by taking a few minutes to let Dylan Marron’s “Every Single Word” channel on YouTube play. Marron set out to highlight the industry’s diversity problem by editing down films to only the moments wherein a person of color speaks. The entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, for example, becomes less than 45 seconds long (a few Maori actors played the Orcs). Letting the channel play, we end up seeing about 15 feature-length films in under 10 minutes. When asked what they observe, my students note that all the parts were service roles, either literally servants or servers within the story, or simply a function of the story delivering exposition. 

We also discuss the controversial casting of all white actors in films like “Exodus” and “Stonewall,” as well as the uproar that comes when a Black actor is considered for a historically white role, such as Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, Idris Elba as James Bond, or Donald Glover as Spider-Man. 

While there’s occasionally some discomfort with the seriousness of the topic, the discussions always end up positive and meaningful with students engaging their own acknowledged biases, recognizing a lack of diversity in their favorite media, or positing how things might change. Hearing my students of color share how being invisible or underrepresented in media has impacted their lives and self-esteem has been especially powerful. Once the door is open, I’ve seen a hunger and eagerness to examine the topic. One entire class stayed 15 minutes past their class time to continue the discussion, and more than one student has thanked me after the session was over. 

I admit, I’m anxious every time I set out to teach this lesson plan, but it’s been incredibly rewarding, and I feel it’s a crucial topic to address with aspiring film writers. Movies and television have real-world impact. For better or worse, a fictionalized account of an historic event can supplant the actual event in the minds of the public, so it is terribly harmful when men and women of color are erased from their true heroic roles in those events. That we, as audiences, are rarely asked to empathize with the hopes, dreams, and lives of people of color has a tangible and dangerous effect on our culture. That dragons, magical rings, and wizarding schools are somehow less fantastical than a Black man as James Bond should concern us all.

I’ve not been teaching long, but already I’ve had former students return to tell me about a discussion they got into with friends regarding representation, or to ask me for a link to a video I showed so they can share it with someone else. They’re continuing the conversation, and just as importantly, they’re thinking about it as they write. That feels like a strong step in a good direction.

Angela Jackson-Brown, Creative Writing

Excerpt from “Teaching in a World Filled with Trayvon Martins”:

I try to Conference with all of my students in all of my classes near the beginning of the semester. I want to get to know them on a personal level, if possible. I always tell my Black male students I expect better than their best because they have a generation on their heels that will need their leadership and their counsel. But, don’t get me wrong. I also offer them my Mommy ears. Many of them are away from their Moms for the first time, so I often get treated like the surrogate mom. I don’t mind it. My prayer, always is, if I can’t be there for my sons, please allow there to be some other mama who can step up and offer them some motherly words of wisdom. So when these young men come to me, I listen to their fears, their concerns and their worries, because I know what it is like to be “one of the only Black students” at a predominantly White school. I know what it feels like to wonder, “Am I good enough?” or “Should I really be here?”

To my fellow teachers (regardless of your ethnicity, social and economic level, gender, sexual orientation, etc.): These young men might enter your classroom looking angry, bored, hostile, etc. Don’t buy it. They are only wearing that mask in order to protect themselves. They are afraid you are going to “punk them,” “make fun of them,” and/or “shame them.” So, before you can GET them, they try to GET you. Therefore, I challenge you – reach out to these young men and let them know they can remove their masks in your classroom, because in your classroom, masks are not required.

Visit Angela’s blog to read the rest of this post.

Emily Rutter, Literature:

In America, race is always already shaping the discourse in our classrooms—whether we are confronting it head-on or dancing deftly around it. Our nation, despite claims in recent years of our post-racialness, remains thoroughly racialized. American literature is a particularly valuable entry point for discussing the ways in which we are all raced, for imaginative texts push us beyond our lived experiences and, importantly, our comfort zones. From Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, we learn “the definition of paradox: Black boys with beach houses,” and that being upper-class African American teenagers “could mess with your head sometimes” (71-72). Alternatively, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony tells us, “They blame us, the ones who look different. That way they don’t have to think about what has happened inside themselves” (92). These writers, among scores of others, illuminate the fallacies of race—what my English 491 students and I have been calling the “story” of race—but also the way it functions, granting unearned privilege to some and reinforcing disadvantage for others. Even when writers perpetuate facile assumptions about otherness, they present us with an opportunity to investigate why we find their representations problematic. In the process, we confront our own racial assumptions and, ideally, are able to move away from sweeping generalizations and toward the appreciation of individuals. Of course, we will not solve the racial prejudices and divisions that have plagued this nation for centuries within a single course, but talking about these issues in open, honest, and intentional ways is a necessary first step.

Debbie Mix, Literature:

I value teaching diverse literature because it’s powerful to read work by someone who looks like you and shares your experiences, and it’s important to read about experiences and cultures that are unlike your own.

Molly Ferguson, Literature:

The college classroom is one of the last places where genuine dialogue about race seems possible, and where transformation and self-reflection can happen for all of us. Living in a white, cis-gendered body, my privilege insulates me from bringing race up in the classroom, but my commitment to antiracism means that I need to start these conversations. My area of expertise in postcolonial studies often makes dialogue about race organic, but even when I teach British literature I guide students to listen for the voices that are not typically represented in the canon, and to ask why. For me the study of literature is all about learning empathy, so my students are well positioned to interrogate power relationships and to understand the impact of historical disadvantages. I am constantly evolving and progressing in my own awareness of racism, and my students are always teaching me through their vantage points.

Levi Todd, Undergraduate #bsuenglish Major and Founder of Reacting Out Loud:

As English students, a great deal of us will be entering positions where we initiate conversations, whether via advertising, PR, creative writing, academia, etc. Racial inequality is a topic that gets largely ignored in America, and it’s up to those in positions of power (hopefully our alumni) to amplify marginalized voices, and
be informed about the power dynamics based on race. If we are studying the role of words in our daily lives, it follows that we should study whose words are given more or less importance in our society, and what we can do to balance it.

ABT PosterLyn Jones, English Ed:

In light of these issues, four students in the Department of English studying English Education formed The Alliance of Black Teachers (A.B.T.) Club in 2015. Their mission was to connect students to peers, professionals, organizations, institutions, and resources that support Black students in the field of education and broaden the development, retention, and recruitment of Black teachers, as well as to provide a safe space for students to openly talk and share issues of race.

The A.B.T. encourages ALL students, faculty, and staff (Black and non-Black) to attend and join these club meetings. You can visit our blog post for Spring 2016 meeting info, and join the A.B.T. on Facebook.