~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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.