Category Archives: Colloquium

~from English Department Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub

After a brief hiatus, the English department Colloquium has returned. For those of you who don’t know, colloquium is an event where we gather, with fine appetizers and drinks in hand, to enjoy one another’s company and hear about the work that our colleagues are doing. All department faculty and graduate students are welcome, and the event is typically held at the home of Louann and David Reid.

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As promised, department faculty and graduate students gathered with fine appetizers and drinks in hand.

After a bit of socializing, typically two faculty present their work, with a discussion following each presentation. Stephanie G’Schwind, Director of the Center for Literary Publishing, facilitates the event — everything from helping to make plates of snacks and welcoming people as they arrive, to introducing the speakers and facilitating the discussion. As anyone who has read an issue of the Colorado Review already knows, she’s a master at bringing voices together, engaging an audience, and keeping things organized as well as beautifully presented.

For this most recent colloquium, the presenters were Assistant Professor Doug Cloud and English Instructor Kristina Quynn.

Doug Cloud presented his in-progress work on how speakers conceal animus toward marginalized groups in public discourse. He shared the results from an analysis of recent “bathroom bill” and transgender-rights discourse, to show how speakers are able to make prejudicial claims about transgender people indirectly. He proposes that understanding and revealing these techniques can help us be smarter consumers and producers of public rhetoric.

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Before starting, there was a short lesson from department chair Louann Reid on how to adjust the new leather couch for maximum comfort, which led to an interesting fact you might not know about Doug Cloud — he worked at an IKEA during graduate school. “I used to sell couches and that’s a good couch.”

Once we all got settled, Doug started by saying “I’ll jump right in, like I do with most things — eyes closed, head first.” The title of his talk was, “An Incitement to Essentialism: Recent Conservative and Religious Rhetorics on Transgender Rights and Their Implications.” He said that we often see two sides of an issue as needing to fight each other or remain locked in some sort of opposition until someone “wins,” when actually we could see such engagements as a drug and a bacterial strain or two fencers might approach each other — each on their own “side” but not needing to be at war. Rather they can dance with each other and adapt. “Movements and counter-movements influence one another’s rhetoric.”

Doug considered examples of the rhetoric in petitions written by six different conservative organizations, crafted in response to three events that brought transgender identities into the national spotlight in the past year: HB2 in North Carolina, the bathroom policy at Target, and Obama’s letter to schools about the issue. It was in part a fascinating look at the many ways we try to define gender, and what our definitions reveal about what we value and believe. While Doug admitted, “It’s hard to nail down the effect of any rhetoric or discourse, even tougher to predict what impact it will have,” working with this issue and writing about it is his way of “staying on the bus.” A good discussion followed, and it’s probably safe to say we didn’t answer all the questions involved with this complex issue that night.

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Kristina Quynn talked about the phases of CSU Writes so far: where it started last year, where it currently is, and where she sees it going. She touched on the reasons she started CSU Writes (including her own research agenda), the writing productivity research and models of women’s collectives that guide its vision, and some of the wonderful success stories of graduate students and faculty who have participated in CSU Writes organized retreats, workshops, and writing groups.

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Kristina’s original search was a personal one, “I was looking for a writing group for myself to support my own work.” Her search led to starting CSU Writes, originally funded through a grant awarded to her by The Ripple Effect. Although the writing productivity research and models of women’s collectives guided her vision of the project, she knew it couldn’t just be for women, that it should be open to everyone — all genders, graduate students and faculty, undergraduates and staff. The project began with Writing Groups, Drop In writing sessions (Show Up & Write), and workshops.

Kristina learned some things early on in the project, about what was needed and by whom, and more importantly about who the project might best serve. She realized that the project should focus on purely academic writing, and refocused the program to support the needs of academic writers (Faculty and Graduate Students) writing projects with the goal of either publication or degree completion. Last year, the project worked with 277 writers, fostered 36 writing groups, held 16 workshops on the 4 topic that writers struggle with most (space, time, energy, and style), had 126 Show Up & Write sessions, and invited one guest speaker. Kristina also published an essay in an edited collection, had another accepted for the MLA Approaches to Teaching Series, had 3 conference paper proposals accepted at MSA & MLA, and has recently finished work co-editing a collection on experimental literature and criticism soon to be coming out at Palgrave Press, thus meeting her original personal goal for the project.

CSU Writes had writing retreats for graduate students that were very popular. Almost too popular. There were 30 spots and after the first few days the first retreat was open for registration, there were 65 applications, and Kristina had to contact me to take down the website submission form. Students who attended practiced writing a lot in healthy, sustainable writing sessions as a writing community. One of the most popular aspects of the retreat was Professor (now Emeritus) John Calderazzo’s session on capturing audience through storytelling.

One of the surprises of the retreats, and of the program in general, is that large numbers of international students who are looking for help for their writing as English Language Learners, that there’s a real need there, but CSU Writes offers support primarily for writing productivity, which isn’t exactly the right fit for student seeking ESL/ELL support.

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Kristina describes what she does facilitating writing groups as being the Match.com for academic writers at CSU. She confessed she even used wedding planning software to help her match writers together into workable writing groups. “There’s a lot of romance involved,” she joked. The primary way she matches people is through their schedules, stated interests, and the length of the project they are working on, but admits that whether their writing group will work out over the long-haul or not is another matter — “Chemistry is more of a mystery.”

During the discussion, John Calderazzo asked her, “how do you measure success?” Kristina answered:

  • Are graduate students experiencing speedier time to degree?
  • Can participants see an overall improvement in the writing?
  • Are participating writers feeling more comfortable and content with their writing practice?

She also suggested that measuring success by tying it to grant money is a bad idea.

Kristina talked about what seems to be at the heart of the struggles of academic writers, and what in turn points to the solutions: space for writing, time to write, maintaining momentum and energy. She suggested that accountability to a group and some practical skills, like using the Pomodoro Technique (which Catherine Ratliff introduced at the graduate student writing retreats), and separating drafting from editing, are some of the benefits of CSU Writes. She also asserted that “binge writing is bad” and suggests “writers are putting off large writing projects to the last minute.” She closed with stating, “I suspect that a lot of the crankiness on campus has to do with a lack of writing.”

It was a great event, and a good time was had by all. Stay tuned for information on next semester’s colloquium, and we hope to see you there.

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~by English Department Communications Intern Ashley Alfirevic

Approaching the entrance to department chair Louann Reid’s house, I felt a sense of ease and confidence after noticing the door had been changed from screen to glass for the winter. I could handle this. No door fiascos this time around.

Aside from how to properly open a door, the last colloquium taught me that a 7:00 p.m. start time meant more of an open house style arrival and fashionably late appearances, and I entered into a room already abuzz with warm conversation.
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Compared to the last colloquium, this one had considerably more wires. Before we all settled into our chairs, a few people fussed with the laptop and the projector and the HDMI cords. This time around, the projects our English faculty carried on outside the classroom centered on the world wide web, with new tools and new strategies that either enhance in-person conversations or help bring new forms of knowledge to anyone with an internet connection.

Zach Hutchins presented first, showing us his online database for early American religious sermons. He explained that previously, people interested in religious studies or colonial histories simply had to work with published sermons, which had specific political motivations in order to make their way to print. The real sermons that impacted day-to-day life for Americans, the non-published pulpits from Sunday services, were inaccessible, even if people knew they should be studying them.

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Zach Hutchins, between slides

Enter TEAMS – the searchable online archive of hundreds of early American sermons. Zach is working with faculty members and graduate students all over the country to help transcribe these writings and bring them to the light of a computer screen. Each entry contains a name, religion, transcription, and PDF of the original text (which, once you see the old-timey handwriting, makes you truly appreciative of the actual transcription). Zach showed us the “end is nigh” homily of Catholic priest Ignatius Matthews, who later retracted that homily and admitted that parishioners had more time than he originally thought.

Next Jaime Jordan presented her analytics conducted with different online word tools. She tracks frequently used words and character relationships for class discussions on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The facts and figures don’t answer questions as much they as they raise them. For example, Horatio has the second most character interactions throughout the play, only just behind Hamlet. For a minor player we very rarely study, he certainly affects the play’s dynamics. Setting up such queries by using charts, word clouds, and character webs help students come up with fresh and compelling theories for their essays and class discussions.

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Jaime Jordan

One tool Jaime makes frequent use of – Ngrams from Google – allows you to see how many times a word comes up in books through the centuries. As long as the books are catalogued into Google’s corpus, the program can detect the frequency it appears. Combined with catalogues from roving libraries, Jaime hopes to conduct further research regarding Victorian literature and reading patterns.

Finally, Tim Amidon explained how to use digital visualization tools to plot out data, making such information easier to understand and more visually appealing for students. Different websites can plot the particulars of statistical input, making easy-to-understand graphics out of the most complex of charts. One such demonstration used diamond-like arrangements to plot relationships between actors and directors, reminding me of a graphic designer’s ultimate visualization of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

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Tim Amidon

The tools are useful for far more than parlor games, however. Tim explained how these charts can be used to give sociological perspectives to word usage. For example, firefighters use joking a lot in their work culture, so words relating to such jocular activities would be more prominent in whatever visual was constructed, cluing the viewer into an intimate aspect of workplace relations and improving cultural literacy. These glimpses into word preferences and cultural tendencies extend into the classroom for both professors and students.

Impressed as always by our faculties’ outreach, this colloquium showed that CSU is able to extend its research beyond our campus and beyond the limits of the Fort. The globalized age means we can both access and produce contributions from all over the interwebs. Our interactions are beyond person to person; they’re screen to screen with anyone who’s curious about the world around them.

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Colloquium: a usually academic meeting at which specialists deliver addresses on a topic or on related topics and then answer questions relating to them.

A few times each semester, the English department hosts a colloquium. All department faculty and graduate students are invited. We gather, with fine appetizers and drinks in hand, to enjoy one another’s company and hear about the work that our colleagues are doing. For the first colloquium of this year, there were four presenters, and English Department Communication Intern Ashley Alfirevic attended, took some pictures, and wrote a reflection to share. The presenters were:

  • Ellen Brinks talked about her experience leading students to Livingstone, Zambia, this summer through Colorado State University’s Study Abroad program (and African Impact).
  • Dan Beachy-Quick talked about the Crisis and Creativity Symposium he hosted this summer as part of his Monfort Professorship.
  • Tobi Jacobi and Ed Lessor talked about their work this summer creating pop-up museums around Hudson, New York, for the Prison Public Memory Project.
Presenters Ellen Burns, Dan Beachy-Quick, Tobi Jacobi and Ed Lessor

Presenters Ellen Burns, Dan Beachy-Quick, Tobi Jacobi and Ed Lessor

~by English Department Communications Intern Ashley Alfirevic

Admittedly, I felt a little nervous walking into Department Chair Louann Reid’s house. This open house colloquium would be full of sophisticated grad students and professors, colleagues in an intimate space, and I felt woefully immature in comparison.

“It’ll be fine. This will be great on the blog,” I concluded. When I opened the door to walk in, a little bit of the siding on the screen immediately fell off. “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God, I broke the door to the Department Chair’s house!” I thought. It was a small piece of plastic and Louann insisted it wasn’t important, but I was mortified, convinced it was a bad omen for the rest of the evening.

However, the warmth and the friendliness from both the people I knew and the ones I had just met suppressed my undergraduate-esq panic and quickly gave way to conversations about the documents from the Pop Up Museum that Tobi Jacobi and Ed Lessor set out on the table.

The old documents from the New York State Training School for Girls fascinated all of us milling around the table. A reform school for “delinquent” girls in the twenties and thirties, the documents ranged from formal, typewritten causes of admission – usually “willful misbehavior” – to handwritten letters to mom from homesick teenagers.

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After appetizers and drinks, we sat down to listen to the creative activities faculty were engaging in outside the classroom. Addressing their inspiration to create their programs, the unexpected problems they faced, and the outcomes they didn’t expect, Ellen Brinks, Dan Beachy-Quick, Tobi Jacobi, and Ed Lessor all talked about the summer projects that changed the way they look at teaching.

Ellen began, saying that an independent trip to Zambia made her wonder how CSU students could make a real impact in a leaning environment without fundamentals like textbooks. After quick approval from CSU Education Abroad and some lengthy convincing of parents following the Ebola crisis, Ellen gathered together a group of undergraduates for a life-changing experience. “Sometimes failing is the best thing that can happen,” she said of her students.  When teachers in Zambia didn’t always come to class, the CSU students were left to come up with ideas to teach the energetic kids, inventing sentence relay races. Learning from the collectivist culture of the Zambian children, who often help each other grasp new material with each of their individual talents, the CSU students came together to form a community of support for one another. “Zambia was a flower that continually opened for us,” Ellen reflected, adding that growing from challenges in unfamiliar environments and experiential learning is crucial to the developing student.  Plus there were more picturesque moments, like “a lunar rainbow over a waterfall.”

Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project.

Professor Ellen Brinks with Linda Farm Community children making ecobricks for the CSU compost project during the trip to Zambia this summer.

“Funny you should say that about the lunar rainbow – that’s what inspired my project,” Dan joked.  His Crisis and Creativity Symposium emerged from a desire to bring humanities back into the way science deals with the major crises of our day, bridging the gap between STEM and the liberal arts. “With these crises, you either recover from them or you don’t,” he said, wanting to create a repository for mutual knowledge by gathering together faculty from all different branches of the university. Through the sheer amount of detail and planning that went into the symposium, “I learned about myselves… I mean myself,” he laughed. “Some of myselves definitely divorced during this process, and I don’t think they’ll be talking anytime soon.” While the workshop mostly confirmed things he “had long suspected,” he wanted to help return such workshops to their studio roots and help bring our philosophies back to a state of theater and play.

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A spontaneous poem emerges at the Crisis and Creativity Symposium during a Maker’s Space session led by Michael Swaine, a core member of an artist collective called Futurefarmers, and Del Harrow, a sculptor and Assistant Professor of Art at CSU

 

“Do we have anything about waterfalls for this segue?” Tobi asked Ed. Their project came about through a “Pandora’s box of stuff” found at a garage sale, where a local New York woman purchased the box full of documents from the Training School. Tobi was contacted to work on the project, and she worked in tandem with Ed with his anthropological expertise. The Pop Up Museum itself came about through a series of challenges when trying to find ways to bring the documents to the community. Little quandaries, like worrying someone might eat all the cookies when they had a limited budget for such things, were contrasted with more ethical dilemmas like whether the documents detailing prisoner’s STD test results fell under HIPA. The project emphasized a need to give voice to those former female inmates and to give a voice to those who want to learn about it now, bringing the connections out of academia and into the public.

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At the end of the evening, everyone reiterated how wonderful it was to hear the creative, innovative ways our English Department was making an impact outside of the classroom. It no longer mattered whether I was an undergraduate; the pride in our faculty and our department was unanimous for everyone in the room.

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