When a Partner Vanishes: The (Counter-Intuitive) Value of Creating Multiple Partner Community Projects

This semester my class is partnering with organizations in Syracuse, NY, as well as with schools in the Middle East/North Africa. Our goal is to foster a discussion on the meaning of human rights, religious freedom, and democracy. Much of this work is taking place in the context of our Middle Eastern student partners being confronted by ISIS on a daily basis. To prepare for these dialogues, my students have been reading, discussing, and considering the history of the region and its political contours. Indeed, this past week, we were just on the cusp of beginning our conversations.

Then one of our Middle Eastern partners vanished.

A scheduled Skype call with my class never materialized. We still have not heard from him. My students feared the worse might have occurred. My sense was less ominous. For the moment, I am thinking that the absence is one of the typical partner issues any project faces. “Time will tell” if I’m being naïve. Still, in the immediate moment, I had to figure out how to move the class forward. It was at this moment that I realized the value of having multiple partners in any community project.

Often, when forming community partnership projects, teachers are advised to keep it simple – work with only one partner. When that partner is unable to keep their commitments, however, the project will often falter, if not actually fail. By itself, this possibility is an argument for creating projects with multiple partners.

Yet the more important reason against the strategy of the “single partner” is that it misrepresents the ways change occurs in a community.  Change is a collaborative coalitional project. To create change within a community is to work within a space where a network of committed organizations share resources toward a common goal, constantly amending plans as organizations encounter difficulties fulfilling their promises. Change is an alliance in constant flux.  If our goal is to show how change occurs then our community-based classroom projects need to demonstrate this fact for our students.

Here are some guiding principles:

1. Your Classroom Should Exist Within a Coalition

When designing a community-based project for my students, I try to think of all the different actors who have a stake in a particular issue. Out of that set of organizations and individuals, I then consider with whom I have an existing partnership and an ongoing effort on a particular issue. Once I have a set of partners willing to join their existing efforts to the possibilities of my class, we develop a plan to distribute required work. (For advice on how to develop “work plans,” see Writing Communities, p. 233.)

2. Each Coalition Member Should Have Unique but Integrated Tasks

The purpose of having multiple partners is to create a set of projects and tasks that are interrelated in that they support a common goal, but are not necessarily dependent on each other. For instance, community projects often find it useful to develop informational sheets on an issue to distribute in a neighborhood; community forums are also considered important, yet one is not dependent on the other. If one partner is unable to follow through on the forum, the other partner’s information sheets can still be produced in alliance with my class. This allows the project (and the class) to keep momentum going despite setbacks.

3. Student Work Should Be Distributed Among Partners

Multiple partners create the possibility of different types of work for students. Rather than just tutoring, for instance, the students might also run workshops with parents about the goals of education; create short videos featuring students reading their work for a local community access station; produce policy papers for use by community organizations focused on school reform. That is, a partnership network allows students to not only experience ways in which collaboration can produce actual change, it also allows them to bring their particular strengths to this collaboration.

4. When One Partner “Vanishes,” Redistribute Work Among Other Partners

If a project exists among many different organizations, when a partner has to drop out (or can’t fulfill its tasks), you can move students to other ongoing projects. This both demonstrates the value of coalitional work when creating change and insures that students have continuous work to do in the class. Such moves are not possible when a class is premised on a single project.

In arguing for our classrooms to be distributed among a network of community partners, I can imagine an argument that this creates more work for the teacher. My experience is that this is just the opposite. Each person’s individual workload shrinks and becomes more focused as collective resources are brought into alliance, and each person can witness greater impact for their efforts when placed within a collective movement. This is a powerful lesson for our students to learn.

As I conclude this post, I continue to hope that soon I will hear from my partner and friend in the Middle East. Yes, partners vanish, but we are all always wishing for their safe return.

From Syracuse to North Africa: Using Writing Prompts to Initiate Dialogue


It is the second week of class. Students’ initial enthusiasm about working with Syrian human rights activists and North African students on confronting ISIS recruitment efforts has turned to apprehension, confusion, and concern. (See my previous post on the teaching challenges of this topic and approach.) The political theory and regional histories have both emphasized the complex reality of the work and seemingly positioned such work as impossible.

As a teacher, it is at these moments that I have often turned to the drafting of writing prompts, which is an important way to shrink the project into a manageable size. The work becomes solely focused on that initial conversation with a community partner.  While initiating a conversation with communities who are in Syracuse and in North Africa might seem particularly difficult, the process of using writing prompts as a tool to explore hidden assumptions remains pretty much the same.  In general, I ask students to develop the prompts through a series of drafts.

1. The Prompt as Summary of Assigned Readings

As students begin to complete the assigned readings that provide a theoretical framework for the class, I ask them to draft a writing prompt that will begin their conversation with one of our community partners. Almost by default, the students tend to draft prompts that echo the terms of assigned readings and, really, are versions of writing assignments they might receive in other classes. We use these prompts to talk about the difference between ways of speaking in an academic community versus “everyday” communities. They are then tasked, in groups, to keep the intellectual framework in class intact but to revise one student’s writing prompt into more ordinary language. I also stress the variety of possible genres – poetry, memoir, photography, etc.

2. The Prompt as Rhetorical Invitation

As the students begin to revise a prompt for an “everyday” audience and share them in class, the language begins to reveal how they imagine their relationship to the community. Students often imagine themselves in the position of providing a service to an “impoverished community.” The prompt questions will ask partners to share hardships – not successes, positioning the community partner’s neighborhood as full of problematic issues – not as possessing attributes of collective insight and actions. Students are then asked to return to drafting the prompt, paying attention to how the community is framed.

3. The Prompt as Equal Invitation

As prompts are being revised into gestures of respect toward the community, the students must also turn their attention to choosing a topic which can begin to open up a dialogue with the community. The goal is to frame a conversation where the full life and school-based experiences of all those involved are seen as valuable to the work at hand. In a university environment premised on “expertise,” finding appropriate language to create this space is a particularly challenging task.

4. The Prompt Completed

Once the language of the prompt is completed, design becomes a key issue. Handing out photocopied sheets full of blank ink shows disrespect for everyone in the project. For that reason, once the writing is done, images need to be found that echo the stance of the prompt. As with all other elements of this process, choosing an image is also an opportunity for students to question their cultural assumptions about the community and their own relationship to it. Images of “urban poverty,” a typical first suggestion, might ultimately be replaced with images of collaboration, collective work, and visions of progress.

5. Community Review

Finally, any completed prompt will be reviewed by the lead community partner – the ally with whom the project was initiated. This might involve the partner attending a class session to point out where the language/images could be unintentionally insulting or misrepresenting the community’s self-image. This is a vital step and, as with all other moments in this process, demonstrates what it means to establish a partnership in terms of equality and respect – where everyone is working together on the issue to be addressed.

There is one final point to make about writing prompts: students should not be the only source. Rather, prior to the first common meeting, each partnering group should develop their own prompts. This ensures that everyone is in the position of “asking questions” and that each group goes through the same process of testing their cultural assumptions about other communities while practicing language that invites full participation by those communities. (As the partners take on such work, I often find it useful to be there as well.) The community’s creation of prompts may not be as time intensive as the students, given they will often have life responsibilities, but it is just as important.


When all the partners finally talk as a collective, one prompt from each group will be used to begin that conversation. This process can be as organized as directly assigning the prompts to specific selected groups. It can be as improvised as allowing individuals to choose a prompt then forming groups according to what prompt was selected. In both cases, the opening session should include individuals reading the results of their work – enacting the moment when community dialogue begins. (If possible, all the writing produced should be collected, as it provides insight into how individuals are imagining their emerging community as well as material for any possible publication.)

As I write this, my class and our community partners are still actively producing their prompts, exploring cultural assumptions, and thinking through that opening moment of conversation. It is difficult work, often frustrating to students. Still, my students also seem to be finding comfort and security knowing that the immensity of the work to come can become as focused as the conversation through which the work will emerge.

Torture, Testimony, and Human Rights: A Semester Long Community Partnership Story


The accounts below are from survivors of torture conducted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s police and military. (Warning: Graphic Testimony/Images of Torture in the links.)

Nothing Else But Non-Violence

A Child and A Bird (video)

These testimonies were collected by Syrians for Truth and Justice, a human rights organization that I have been part of creating over the past several years. In addition to collecting testimonies from survivors of human rights abuses by Assad, ISIS, and proliferating militia, STJ also works with a network of human rights activists based in Syria who document on-going human rights abuses, including a recent report on the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun.

Engaging in such work quickly teaches you that Jalal Nofar’s testimony represents just one of many moments of torture and human rights abuse, just one voice among the many that were told to be quiet but continued to speak. It is a lesson I want my students to also learn.

Over the next several months, then, I will be asking students in Syracuse (university and community-based) to join in the work of STJ as well as support high school students in North Africa attempting to work against ISIS recruitment in their community. As a collective, we will be thinking through how to produce print, digital, and performance-based artifacts that can support this important human rights work – work occurring in local moments across the Middle East and North Africa but with resonance for our own communities in Syracuse. Throughout, they will be working at forming a transnational conversation on their responsibilities and role as human rights activists.

It is, perhaps, one of the most challenging community projects I have ever undertaken.

Already, some of the individuals in our network of international partners have faced government repression and threats. Elements of the project has been hampered by our need to have individuals or messages cross international borders in a time of restrictions and travel bans.  And the imagined promise of a fluid digital culture across space and time now seems a bit naïve. My students are already beginning to recognize how such work has real implications, real effects, in spaces to which they may never travel.

And I have had to recognize that the scholarly  work on community partnership and publication on which this course is premised is primarily situated within a certain understanding of U.S. culture. There is a latent faith in the right of individuals to speak, a latent faith in the safety of engaging in such speech, and, perhaps, an optimism that such actions will produce change. The challenges made by movements such as Black Lives Matter have been important interventions in asking all of us to reconsider how we are situated differently to such a faith. Still, with broad brushstrokes, I would argue much of our scholarship swims in such waters.

How, then, to position community literacy paradigms, skills, and practices within contexts that seem to trouble such beliefs? How to provide students with frameworks that do not romanticize the United States (brushing over the marginalization many populations feel) or present individuals in the Middle East/North Africa as victims to be saved? Tentatively, I intend on taking the following disciplinary/pedagogical steps.

1. Create a Complex Historical Narrative

Given the current political debates around the refugees and conflicts emerging from the Middle East and North Africa, I decided to begin my class not with rhetorical theory, but with historical research. I used academic research, online news sources, and current affair blogs, to situate my students popular culture understandings within a history of collective struggle by activists in this region for democracy and human rights. In doing so, I am also indirectly highlighting how such rights have histories outside the context of the United States.

2. Provide Models of Political Change

Within public discussions of the Middle East/North Africa, there are critiques/concerns expressed about a continual failure to establish democratic states. For this reason, I believe that my students need a model of political change, a theory through which they could test how public discussion was framing the situation in a country such as Syria, but also test the theory against their own work. (Here I am latently making the point that many of us inhabit a model of political change of which we are not always fully cognizant.)

3. Understand the Risks Involved

Speaking out always carries risk. Yet often in community publishing contexts that risk is not fully understood, articulated. Perhaps the university is seen as a guarantor of safety for all those involved. After warning about the graphic nature of STJ’s work, I will ask students to explore the site, taking note of the risks each of these individuals faced in their own lives for their public work. We can then discuss how such risks exist for everyone in the United States, though differently situated depending on individual identity. Here I want them to gain an overt understanding of the real-life context of this work and that while I would step in when necessary, they were entering projects where actual risks are involved.

Only then will we turn to the field’s work of community partnership and publishing.

I recognize that discussions of Syria, the Middle East, and human rights might seem far afield from the typical work of our writing classrooms. Yet what I have learned from this “exceptional” class is that any class which engages in community partnership work needs to create a complex historical context of that community, provide a model of social change to frame the work, and enable students to understand the risks being asked of community members. It needs the insights of other disciplines, such as history and political science. Our community writing classes might be about writing, that is, but more than writing theory is necessary to make our work successful.

Learn about Studies in Writing and Rhetoric – From The Very People Who Make It Run – At C’s in Houston

Studies in Writing and Rhetoric (SWR) has long been an important scholarly series in our field. It’s importance, however, has been made possible by the SWR authors and Editorial Board members. If you want to learn more about SWR (and possibly publish with the series) , what better way to understand its goals and commitments then by listening to the very people who make it run. All their talks at this C’s in Houston 2016 are listed below.

I hope you will take time to visit their sessions. If you have any questions about SWR, please feel free to write me.

Steve Parks, Incoming SWR Editor


Sessions with SWR Authors/Board Members

April 6, 2016

Howard Tinberg, Cindy Selfe. RNF 2016 Research Network Forum at CCCC. 9am-5pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon A/B, Level Two

Donna Strickland, W.01 “Mindful Writing: Taking Action toward a More Balanced Writing Life.” 9am-5pm, Hilton Room 335A, Level Three

Ellen Cushman, W.02 “Leadership in Action: A Workshop for Heads, Directors, WPAs and Future Faculty Leaders.” 9am-5pm, Hilton Room 335B, Level Three

Asao Inoue, MW.04 “Repurposing Assessment: Valuing Student Actions via Course Contracts.” 9am-12:30pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon C, Level Two

Deborah H. Holdstein, MW.06 “Consulting for Writing Programs: Developing Effective Practices.” 9am-12:30pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon B, Level Two

Kyle D. Stedman, MW.14 “Critical Soundplay: An Audio Composing Workshop.” 9:30am-1pm, Hilton Room 336A, Level Three

Steve Parks, AW.04 “Writing Democracy 2016. Documenting Our Place in History: The Political Turn, Part II.” 1:30-5pm, GRB Room 360AD, Level Three

Geneva Smitherman, AW.14 “Language and Lived Experience as Strategies for Writing and Coalition Building within a New Rhetoric of Difference.” 1:30-5pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon D, Level Two

Rhea Estelle Lathan & Jessica Restaino, CWS “Performing Feminist Action: Microworkshops and Mentoring Tables Hosted by the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition.” 6:30-8:30pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon A, Level Two


April 7, 2016

Krista Ratcliffe, A.17 “Beyond Common Ground: Listening Rhetorically as a Framework for Action in a Digital Story Project.” 10:30-11:45am, GRB Room 351A, Level Three

Joe Moxley, A.26 “Taking Action on Intellectual Property with Open Educational Resources.” 10:30-11:45am, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon D, Level Two

Beth Daniell, A.27 “Teaching Writing as Rhetorical Action in Schools and Colleges.” 10:30-11:45am, Hilton Grand Ballroom L, Level Four

Howard Tinberg, B.38 “Response in Action: Negotiating the Intentions of Students, Teachers, and Peer Reviewers.” 12:15-1:30pm. GRB Room 351B, Level Three.

Kelly Ritter, B.05 “Histories of Action: Revisiting Composition’s Past to Understand Composition’s Present.” 12:15-1:40pm, GRB Room 351E, Level Three

Charlotte Hogg, C.01 “Taking Action to Build and Improve Writing Programs.” 1:45-3pm, Hilton Room 327, Level Three

Deborah H. Holdstein & Jacqueline Rhodes, C.26 “The Legacy of Textual Carnivals.” 1:45-3pm, Hilton Grand Ballroom I, Level Four

Krista Ratcliffe, Asao Inoue & Victor Villanueva, D.03 “Antiracist Classroom Practices: Enacting Socially Just Agendas.” 3:15-4:30pm. Hilton Room 335A, Level Three

Jacqueline Rhodes, E.03 “Calling You In: Queer Worldmaking and Rhetorical Action.” 4:45-6pm, Hilton Room 335A, Level Three

Nedra Reynolds, E.30 “ELI Review as Strategic Action.” 4:45-6pm, GRB Room 340B, Level Three

Paula Mathieu, Ellen Cushman & Steve Parks, E.40 “Does It Matter: Assessing Our Role as Agents of Social Change.” 4:45-6pm. Hilton Grand Ballroom L, Level Four

Howard Tinberg, E.36 “Remembering Kent: CCCC Chairs’ Tribute.” 4:45-6pm. Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon C, Level Two


April 8, 2016

Krista Ratcliffe, F.01 “Writing Feminism: Negotiating for Action across Public Spheres.” 8-9:15am, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon D, Level Two

Jessica Restaino, F.06 “Beyond the Workshop: Experiments in Big Comp.” 8-9:15am, Hilton Room 335A, Level Three

Kim Donehower & Beth Daniell, F.16 “Everyday Authors and Acts of Writing.” 8-9:15am, Hilton Room 336A, Level Three

Howard Tinberg, G.01 “The Purposes of Required Writing?” 9:30-10:45am, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon A, Level Two

Cindy Selfe, G.06 “Long-term Research Collaborations: Strategy, Identity, Failure, and Moves Toward Future Action.” 9:30-10:45am, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon E, Level Two

Jay Jordan, G.07 “Action Research, Active Reflection: Interrogating the Threshold Concepts of Teaching First-Year Writing.” 9:30-10:45am, Hilton Room 335B, Level Three

Asao Inoue, G.19 “Uncovering the Hidden: Composition Scholarship as Language Activism.” 9:30-10:45am, GRB Room 351C, Level Three

Anna Plemons, G.23 “Decolonizing Retention: Indigenous Methodologies, SRTOL, and Contrastive Rhetoric in Composition Pedagogy and Program Design.” 9:30-10:45am, GRB Room 351A, Level Three

Ellen Cushman, G.33 “Composing Activist Historiographies.” 9:30-10:45am, Hilton Room 343a, Level Three

Deborah H. Holdstein & Kelly Ritter, H.18 “New Thoughts on Writing and First-Language Teaching.” 11am-12:15pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon B, Level Two

Donna Strickland, H.26 “Breathe, Move, and Write: Embodied Thinking Creates Engaged Writers.” 11am-12:15pm, GRB Room 351C, Level Three

Asao Inoue, I.04 “Resocializing Writing Assessment: Articulating Social Justice Perspectives in Writing Assessment Practice.” 12:30-1:45pm, Hilton Grand Ballroom L, Level Four

Paula Mathieu, I.09 “Do the Right Thing: Ethics as Classroom Action.” 12:30-1:45pm, GRB Room 340B, Level Three

Beth Daniell, I.01 “The Company We Keep: Taking Action with Partners in the Study of Religion and Rhetoric.” 12:30-1:45pm, GRB Room 340A, Level Three

Kim Donehower, I.11 “Re-Reading Appalachia: Literacy, Place, and Cultural Resistance.” 12:30-1:45pm, Hilton Room 336A, Level Three

Vershawn Young, Stephanie Kerschbaum & Victor Villanueva, I.27 “Negotiating Interactions around Difference: Identity and Responsibility in Communities, Workplaces, and Classrooms.” 12:30-1:45pm, Hilton Grand Ballroom I, Level Four

Krista Ratcliffe, I.32 “Feminist Action for Women Writing Program Administrators: Movements for Change in the Academy.” 12:30-1:45pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas, Salon B, Level Two

Frankie Condon, K.21 “Reclaiming Rhetorics of Resistance in the 21st Century.” 3:30-4:45pm, GRB Room 351A, Level Three

Jean-Paul Nadeau & Howard Tinberg, K.35 “Enacting Knowledge Transfer at the Community College: Three Case Studies of Writing Transfer across Disciplines and Programs.” 3:30-4:45pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon A, Level Two

Victor Villanueva, Anna Plemons, Lauren Rosenberg, Stephanie Kerschbaum, Deborah H. Holdstein. SWR BOOK SERIES EVENT: K.06 “Publishing in CCCC’s Studies in Writing and Rhetoric.” 3:30pm-4:45pm, Hilton Room 335C, Level Three

Donna Strickland, FSIG.14 Contemplative Writing Pedagogies Special Interest Group (SIG), 6:30-7:30pm, Hilton Room 337A, Level Three

Rhonda Grego, FSIG.21 Studio PLUS Special Interest Group (SIG), 6:30-7:30pm, Hilton Room 336B, Level Three

Stephanie Kerschbaum, MTG Committee on Disability Issues, 6:30-8:30pm, Hilton Room 326, Level Three

 April 9, 2016

Paul Lynch, L.06 “Redefining and Reimagining the Religious within and beyond the Writing Classroom.” 9:30am-10:45pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon C, Level Two

Rhea Estelle Lathan, L.28 “Growing #digital Communities: The Tools, the Prison, and the Writing Classroom.” 9:30-10:45am, GRB Room 351D, Level Three

Jay Jordan, MTG Committee on Second Language writing. 9:30am-12pm, Hilton Room 331, Level Three

Jay Jordan, M.06 “ReWorking Boundaries of Language and Discipline: Translingual Theory, Second Language Writing, Comparative Rhetorics, and Transnational Research.” 11am-12:15pm, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon B, Level Two

Jonathan Alexander, L.23 “Political literacy in Composition: Critical Pedagogy, Multiple Voices, or Activism?” 9:30-10:45am, GRB Room 361A, Level Three

Krista Ratcliffe, L.24 “Interrogating Digitized Whiteness: Renderings of Whiteness in Mediated Writing Spaces.” 9:30-10:45am, Hilton Ballroom of the Americas Salon D, Level Two

Lauren Rosenberg, M.01 “Fostering ‘Rhetorical Researchers’ and Developing Information Literacy through FYC Instructor/Library Collaboration.” 11am-12:15pm, Hilton Room 332, Level Three


Shameless Plug for My New Textbook

Writing Communities

Steve Parks, Syracuse University

 BBD October 2016

Est. 500 pages, paperback

Make the community your classroom

Writing Communities is an exciting new reader that connects students to neighborhoods and writing courses to communities. Part One introduces students to academic reading and writing skills and prompts them to examine how their communities influence their writing. Part Two then shows students how their academic reading and writing skills can serve as a bridge into working—and producing writing—with the community. The text promotes involvement in and advocacy of social issues such as education, housing, and cultural justice, and assignments provide students with opportunities to put concepts into practice, including setting up community writing groups, public events, and publications. A rich variety of readings ranging from excerpts from educational scholarship to poetry and personal narratives help show students the myriad ways in which writing works in the world.

The collaborative skills students learn from Writing Communities prepares them for any work they may take on—in any community they may be a part of—for the rest of their lives.


Part One: Reading and Writing Communities provides a vocabulary for discussing the relationship between academic reading and writing, prompts students to reflect on their own community values and the values expected of them at college, and discusses how such work relates to community literacy practices.

 Part Two: Collaboration and Publishing demonstrates how the academic concepts discussed in Part One can be built upon to develop both campus and community-based projects and publications. These collaborative skills are meant to be used immediately in the course of a class, but they will be valuable to students outside of academia.

 Engaging, diverse readings provide an opportunity for sustained interaction with texts that move across the academic/community boundaries. Carefully chosen excerpts from leading scholars such as Nedra Reynolds, David Bartholomae, Paula Mathieu, and Gloria Anzaldúa appear alongside personal narratives from publications such as n+1 and Pro(se)letariets, providing both an introduction to literacy theories and real-world insights on how writing can work for public good.

 A variety of writing assignments and sequences facilitates complete engagement with the text:

  • “Checkpoints” throughout the text ask students to reflect on—and write about—how the instruction of the text relates to their own background and community values.
  • End-of-chapter discussion questions ask students to engage with each other to analyze the concepts of the text.
  • Post-reading questions for every selection ask students to relate the selections to the larger discussions of the text.
  • “Writing with Communities” projects at the end of each reading chapter provide ideas and opportunities for larger projects they can undertake outside the classroom—either on their campus or in their larger community.

An appendix of key terms helps students to gain a rich sense of the concepts deployed throughout the book.


Preface for Instructors

A Letter to Students: “The First Assignment”

 Part 1: Reading and Writing Communities

 Chapter 1 Reading Strategies and Intellectual Communities

Writing Prompt: “Strange Angels”

What is An Intellectual?

Becoming an Intellectual

Checkpoint: Changing Communities

How to Read Like an Intellectual

Traditional Reading Strategies

Asking Why the Reading Was Assigned

Reading for Purpose

Reading for Evidence

Reading for Audience

Note-Taking Strategies


Sample Student Annotations

Keeping a Reading Journal

Forming a Reading Group

Organic Reading Strategies

Listening to Everyday Speech

Recognizing Community Theories

Recognizing Community Insights

Recognizing Community Solutions

Making Connections

Double-Entry Journal

Audio Blog

Community Archives

Sample Student Annotations

Rundown: Strategies for Reading

Discussion Questions and Activities

Chapter 2 Academic and Community Discourse

Writing Prompt: “Lessons Learned”

What is Academic Discourse?

Checkpoint: Inventing Discourse

Research Communities



Checkpoint: Identifying Discourse Communities

Joining the Community

Checkpoint: Bringing Voices Together

Writing Like an Intellectual

Establishing a Research Focus

Organizing Research Materials

Understanding Your Research Community

Participating in the Research Community

The Writing Process




Final Editing

Sample Intellectual Strategies

Bridging Academic Communities

Rundown: Strategies for Research and Writing

Discussion Questions and Activities

 Chapter 3 Writing Education: Moving from Home to College Communities

Antonio Gramsci

On Intellectuals

David Bartholomae

From Inventing the University

Andrew Delbanco

College: Who Went? Who Goes? Who Pays?

Various Authors

Excerpts from Pro(se)letariets           

Harry Boyte and Elizabeth Hollander

Wingspread Declaration on the Civic Responsibilities of Research Universities      

Writing with Communities: Projects

Project 1: Evidence of Intellectuals

Project 2: Writing across the Curriculum (and Beyond)

Project 3: What Was (and Is) Your College

Project 4: Performing Community

Project 5: The Students’ Right to Their Own Language

Project 6: The Forgotten Bottom Remembered

 Chapter 4 Writing Classrooms: Discovering Writing within the Classroom Communities

Gerald Graff

The Problem Problem and Other Oddities of Academic Discourse

Carmen Kynard

From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cypher

Chris Wilkey

Engaging Community Literacy through the Rhetorical Work of Education

Writing with Communities: Projects

Project 1: Crossing Boundaries

Project 2: Hush Harbors

Project 3: A Community of Classrooms

Project 4: Community Voices

Project 5: A Community of Intellectuals

Project 6: Activist Scholars


Part 2: Collaboration and Publishing

 Chapter 5 Community Partnerships

Writing Prompt: “Intersections”

Getting Started

Checkpoint: Finding Your Place

Checkpoint: Intruding

Learning about the Community

Researching the Neighborhood

Checkpoint: For Better or Worse

Engaging with Residents

“Story of Self” Workshop

Understanding Your Role in the Community Partnership

Defining Your Role

Limited Involvement

Sustained Involvement

Transformative Involvement

Rundown: Strategies for Community Partnerships

Discussion Questions and Activities

 Chapter 6 Establishing Community Writing Groups

Writing Prompt: “The Writing Machine”

Adams College: A Case Study for Community Writing Groups

Initiating Public School Partnerships

Creating a Tutoring Program in Schools

Using Writing Prompts

Responding to Student Writing

Creating a Multiple-Location Writing Project

Writing Prompts for Classroom Purposes

Checkpoint: Reading and Responding

Connecting to the Community

Fill in the Blank

Video Responses

Community Leaders

Connecting to College Students

Student Organizations as Respondents

Attracting Social Media Responses

Student Leaders

Connecting to College Administrators and Faculty



Conducting Interviews: Frameworks and Strategies

Sponsoring Community Dialogue

The Mechanics of a Community Writing Group

Establishing a Writing Group

Holding an Opening Meeting

Meeting Place

Ground Rules

Reading Work in Groups

Criticism and Feedback

Your Role as a Student

Public Readings

Working for Publication

Rundown: Strategies for Community Writing Groups

Discussion Questions and Activities

 Chapter 7 Community Events and Community Publishing                                          

Writing Prompt: “Coming Home”

Creating a Community Event

Working Closely with Your Community Partner

Setting Goals and Work Plans for the Event

Writing Prompts

Open Mic

Public Readings

Organization Tables

Kids’ Station

Volunteer Table



Checkpoint: Asking for Approval

Creating a Community Publication

Setting Publication Goals

Fundraising to Meet Goals

Generating Writing for the Publication

Permission to Print


Editorial Decision-Making

The Question of Standard English

Print Publishing Considerations

Creating Book Files

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and Barcodes

Print on Demand

Printing Timeframe


Book Launch

A Final Note on Adams College

Rundown: Community Events and Community Publishing

Discussion Questions and Activities

 Chapter 8 Writing Place: Mapping Yourself Onto Local, National, and International Communities

Nedra Reynolds

Reading Landscapes and Walking the Streets and Maps of the Everyday: Habitual Pathways and Contested Places         

Paula Mathieu

Writing in the Streets

Jesus Villicana Lopez

I Left Moroleon at Daybreak, with Great Sadness

Writing with Communities: Projects

Project 1: Listening to the Voice of Experience

Project 2: Becoming Visible

Project 3: Performing Citizenship

Project 4: From Our Eyes: A Community Tourbook

Project 5: Crossing Borders: A Community Publication

Project 6: Building Community

 Chapter 9 Writing Networks: Creating Links On and Off-Line

Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler

The Whole Is Great

James Paul Gee and Elizabeth R. Hayes

New Kinds of People and Relationships

Matt Mason

The Tao of Pirates


About Wikileaks

Writing with Communities: Projects

Project 1: A University Wikileaks

Project 2: A Gaming Classroom

Project 3: Media Networks

Project 4: Networking Action

Project 5: Literate Lives

Project 6: Pirate Radio

 Chapter 10     Writing Identity: Moving in and across Boundaries

Wesley Yang

The Face of Seung-Hui Cho

Stacey Waite

Excerpts from Butch Geography

Gloria Anzaldúa

Tlilli, Tlapalli/The Path of the Red and Black Ink and La Consciencia de le Mestizo/Towards a New Consciousness

Jonathan Alexander

Queer Theory for Straight Students

Writing with Communities: Projects

Project 1: Bodily Encounters

Project 2: The Student Body

Project 3: Beyond Singular Identity Politics

Project 4: A Communal Body

Project 5: “This Is the Body of A…”

Project 6: Coming Together

 Appendix of Key Terms



Support Mark McBeth – Sign On

Please take a moment, read this important letter from Carmen Kynard, and support Mark McBeth.


March 27, 2015

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing this letter to solicit your support of my appeal to President Travis of John Jay College of Criminal Justice who recently denied Mark McBeth’s promotion to full professor. I am using this moment to help the administration understand and take seriously the scholarship of composition-rhetoric studies and hope you will sponsor my narrative. I am submitting a direct letter to President Travis along with this one. At the close of this document, I am listing the names of chairs and exemplars of the Conference of College Composition and Communication (CCCC), CWPA leaders, faculty who have greatly influenced us at CUNY in the Mina Shaughnessy Speaker Series, CUNY leaders, and labor leaders in the field. I hope you will agree to have your name listed here.

Let me now take a moment to give you an overview of McBeth’s impact as a researcher and scholar, all of which (described below) I am also communicating to President Travis.

As a scholar today who is immersed in areas of composition-rhetoric and cultural studies, I connect to McBeth’s scholarship. Given his work on queer theory and mine in race and Africana studies, we share scholarly interests related to the intersections of cultural studies, literacy, education, and pedagogy. Alongside serving as the president of the Queer Caucus, a special interest group at CCCC, since 2010, McBeth has influenced the field’s scholarship and thinking with his book and seven articles/book chapters related specifically to queer theory (these are in addition to WPA publications, addressed later). Scholars who work at the nexus of these disciplines in composition-rhetoric all know and meet McBeth across a broad range of venues: reading his published essays, watching his research presentations, revising their work based on his reviews as an editorial board member in the field’s most prestigious journals, receiving acceptances as McBeth is a conference organizer in many of the field’s national and local research conferences, and networking at the various talks by scholars visiting CUNY campuses that he has helped to organize. In short, if your scholarship crosses with cultural studies, critical theory, and composition-rhetoric, then you know who Mark McBeth is and what he does! The range in which his scholarship makes its mark is even more extensive, however, marking him as an undeniable leader in the field. The impact of Mark McBeth on the scholarly disciplines of Queer Studies, Composition and Rhetoric and Writing Progam Administration is demonstrated by the varied and multiple scholarly intersections I have had with McBeth in my own career.

As a graduate student and Founders Fellow at New York University, I first met McBeth when I was part of the CUNY project linking high school teachers and CUNY faculty, Looking Both Ways (LBW). I met McBeth because he was interested in the writings and projects that I was developing, works that he would refer to in the book project that he developed for the program. My first memory is of him challenging CUNY administration about LBW and the kind of research methodologies that would produce a text that could have impact on the larger field. He was my researcher-practitioner model when I too became a facilitator for the program. He also modeled for me methods for pushing the boundaries of composition research and the best practices to which it is related.

As an assistant professor directing a secondary urban education program at Rutgers University-Newark, I looked from afar as McBeth built a new writing curriculum at John Jay College. Given McBeth’s knowledge of and experiences with literacies and composition studies across secondary and post-secondary research areas, it was only natural for me to stay abreast of the writing curriculum here. As a teacher educator at the time, I was all too clear that designing a curriculum and leading teachers to implement it are hardly the same thing. While it is certainly common knowledge at John Jay College that McBeth initiated our current writing program, planting the seeds for First Year Writing (FYW), Writing Across the Curriculum, and a modernized Writing Center, what might not be as clear is that his colleagues across the country also know him in this capacity.

Next, as an advanced assistant professor at St. John University directing a FYW program in an Institute for Writing Studies, I watched how McBeth was merging research and teaching, the main focus of the Institute in which I worked. When I decided that I wanted to leave administration, return to the classroom, and work at a public institution, John Jay College’s Writing Program was a main attraction because it has managed to accomplish what few other public colleges have done: create an innovative program based on authentic writing and composing for large numbers of young people whose educational histories have rarely empowered them. While there are certainly other institutions in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area that can boast a large working class, culturally diverse student population, including the previous colleges where I have worked, this is the only such public institution that has moved beyond what educational theorists call the Civil Rights issue of this moment in schooling: moving beyond “minimal competency” literacy via basic skills and drills (see and read Gary’s Orfield’s American Educational Research Association/AERA 2013 Brown Lecture in Education Research). That John Jay has managed to do this is no small feat. Given the widespread knowledge of McBeth’s contribution in building the writing curriculum here, it is imperative that we not merely see him as the original administrator and/or designer of the writing program; he is the author of it. That McBeth has authored a program here with such minimal resources, has performed so many leadership roles in the field’s organizations, and has maintained a scholarly presence in journals and conferences is nothing short of amazing.[1] John Jay College has managed to realize, in many ways, the kind of vision that Adam Banks, current chair of the Conference of College Composition and Communication, discusses in relation to the possibilities of contemporary writing programs in his very recent 2015 Chair’s Address.[2]

As a new WPA, I was also reading McBeth’s scholarship about assessment, classrooms, and WPA. His authoring of WPA here at John Jay coincides with his print publications in the field; those publications direct programs across the country, thus, making him an author of WPA not merely at John Jay but at other institutions. His most current CV celebrates more than ten research articles and book chapters about assessment, curriculum development, labor, archival educational histories, diversity, and basic writing. He has consistently presented new research related to WPA, rhetoric, and the teaching of writing for twenty years at Conference of College Composition and Communication. He has presented new work at the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) Conference for the past six years; he has also presented heavily at regional conferences as well as the Conference on Lavender Languages and Linguistics.   This constant presence in the field’s professional organizations and in the field’s composition journals has propelled his leadership with multiple editorial boards and professional executive boards including: Peitho, College Composition and Communication, Council of Writing Program Administrators (which he also co-chaired in 2012), Writing Program Administration, Present Tense, College English, Journal of Basic Writing, Journal of Information Fluency.

Later, as an associate professor of English and a WPA in the tri-state area, I incorporated the Mina Shaughnessy Speaker Series, another project McBeth was connected to, with the graduate courses I was teaching. Similarly, the WPA Metropolitan Affiliate, a consortium which McBeth co-founded, was also a central point of focus in my graduate English courses. Both of these projects, in fact, provided a space for McBeth’s and my own graduate students to meet one another and build collegial relationships. These are central spaces in which current theories and practices related to composition-rhetoric are exchanged in the tri-state area. Thus, McBeth has been instrumental in not only helping to run many of the field’s organizations but also in establishing them.

Alongside my desire to contextualize the nature of my attraction to the writing program here at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I am also contending that McBeth’s WPA work is authored. More than twenty years ago, the Portland Resolution,[3] a position/policy statement accepted at the 1992 meeting of the Conference of College Composition and Communication (CCCC), was designed to help WPAs develop quality writing programs at their institutions and articulate the terrain of their work. Central to that development was the understanding that WPA work is scholarship, especially since WPA now has its own journals, conference, extant literature, and subdivisions within composition studies. It is exactly for these reasons that WPA is marked differently from other administrative assignments that college faculty engage. Connection to the published scholarship and professional organizations of WPA are considered key means for understanding how to run progressive writing programs; implementing such programs is the intellectual work. Thus, for more than twenty years now, the field has demanded and institutions have, in turn, honored processes where the evaluation of WPAs comply with what the 1992 Portland Resolution requests: “consider the important scholarly contributions each WPA makes by virtue of designing, developing, and implementing a writing program.”   Five years prior to the Portland Resolution, the 1987 CCCC position statement, “Scholarship in Composition: Guidelines for Faculty, Deans, and Department Chairs”[4] argued that, in the interest of equity, administrative contributions of WPAs be given significant weight during tenure with outside evaluators who would study the WPA’s administrative service. It seems safe to say that the widespread recognition and acceptance of these terms of WPA work underlies why we are in a position to award writing programs with certificates of excellence today,[5] which our writing program has won. With so many international campuses using the best writing programs in the United States as their example, the international impact of this award is also now obvious. It is also worth noting here that McBeth has also ensured that the writing program’s success today is not solely contingent upon his own charismatic leadership, a central concern in much WPA scholarship. McBeth’s original curriculum and his leadership in faculty searches has resulted in a thriving programmatic culture carried forward by the now tireless WPA work of Tim McCormack and Tara Pauliny. McBeth’s authoring, thus, encompassed long-range purpose and planning.

I have shared McBeth’s profile here as a way to substantiate my request for your support. In this way, I am hoping that you will not view my concerns as my own individualist or personal issues but as part of a larger (and historical) discussion in our discipline.

Thank you for this opportunity to advocate so strongly for such an important colleague and for your support of the writing program and composition-rhetoric studies at John Jay College.


Carmen Kynard, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of English

[1] Tenure track faculty have a 4/3 teaching load at John Jay College with 27 students in a composition class. Lecturers carry a 5/4 load. Though WPAs have a 9-month faculty contract, they work through the summer without a stipend, pay increase, or release time, though outcomes assessment is mandated of them. We have minimal travel funds, no research start-up funds, and no merit pay increases. A little more than 60% of our courses are taught by adjuncts. As a point of comparison, as a first year writing director at St. John’s University where I was previously employed, I received a 10K stipend in addition to my annual salary, an administrative assistant who I shared with only the WAC director (who had the same package as I did), 4K per year in travel funds. My load was 1/1 and my class size was 20. Because the charter of that college included the commitment to always enroll at least 40% of students who have lived below the poverty line and offer them full scholarships (which came with the college’s ranking as the third most diverse college in the country), new labor arrangements for first year writing (FYW) faculty were created as part of a social justice focus. This meant that 75% of our FYW faculty had full-time, tenure track lines and taught three classes per semester, received 2K in travel funds, and 2K for membership fees to professional organizations and journals (there was a commitment on the part of the university to further increase the number of full-time faculty teaching). As should go without saying here, working with faculty who are not overwhelmed with their work lessens the emotional and psychic toll on a WPA. I have taken the time to offer these details to stress that this labor arrangement for the St John’s directors was in no way competitive with what many first year writing directors, for instance, across the country receive today, especially at research universities. What made my previous college distinct was the percentage of full-time faculty teaching FYW courses only. I hope to communicate a sense of weight here: I chose to leave the resources that I have detailed here in order to work at what I saw as the only program in the tri-state area committed to progressive literacy teaching to racially diverse, working class, first-generation college students.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYt3swrnvwU

[3] See http://www.wpacouncil.org/positions/portlandres.html

[4] See http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/scholarshipincomp

[5] http://www.ncte.org/cccc/awards/writingprogramcert

White Leather and the Beginning Writer


In Language Online: Investigating Digital Texts and Practices, by David Barton and Carmen Lee, they write about a research strategy where individuals are asked to write a technology biography. The goal is to help both the writer and the researchers understand how the affordances of technology were introduced and taken up in an individual’s life. Over the past year, I have moved more actively into digital spaces, both in terms of writing and pedagogy, and I have been struck how my initial introduction to technology has shaped my current use. As a way to understand how to navigate those historical influences in a Web 2.0+ landscape, I thought it might be useful to write a series of biographical episodes of the many technologies that I have encountered, used, discarded, and picked up. While no one piece would capture it all, taken collectively it might help frame what values and practices I would want to bring into the world of Web 2.0+ as well as which might be discarded.

Here it is probably important to begin by noting the most prestigious writing platform available in my home as a child was a typewriter that “wrote cursive.” It was stored in a white leather case, often placed on the top shelf of closet safely out of reach. When there was a special report or letter to be written, the typewriter would be taken down and placed on the dining room table. Surrounding the typewriter would be several pieces of lined white paper, written on with ballpoint pens, sometimes with red ink noting places to revise or correct. Perhaps further back would be notecards, in pencil, with quotes or citations. At the greatest distance would be books, borrowed from the library, often slightly dated or completed outdated. Later in life, I would come to understand the real library of intellectual materials was being built by my father, book by book, as he read at night, storing each book upstairs in our attic. With the exception of the lamp shining illuminating the scene, there was not electronic component to this event.

It is cliché to note that in such an environment, the time and labor associated with revision was real – as was the expense of the writing materials. This positioned the writer as someone who had to take material circumstances into account when piecing together the parts of a paper, from the time to get to the library to the time to type (and correct) the final version. These moments also represented a kind of interruption in the family dynamic since parents had to support much of labor needed to get materials into the house, get space in the house to write. My original sense of writing technologies then was wrapped up in the political economy in which I existed – though clearly I would never frame it that was a child. And I think as I move to research, write, and engage in the digital, it is the materiality of the labor which produces the digital, the material resources of time/labor/expense required to get the digital in working class homes, and the interruption such digital technologies bring into the discursive and literacy practices in the home that interests me the most.

For instance, I am currently working on a project studying how an international alliance of working class writers initially used print technology to both articulate a common political vision for their communities and then, as Web 1.0/2.0/2.0+ emerged, struggled to find ways to use that technology for similar goals. Here the question is “Can literacy practices goals premised upon print culture seamlessly translate into new technologies? What affordances does this new technology offer to such work?” Indeed, it was these questions that led to my reading Barton/Lee’s book, mentioned above.

To return to biography for one final moment: It was not until college that I became aware that a cursive typewriter, while seemingly professional within a working-class home, was not actually an appropriate technology for the professional world of the academy. In my first year in college, I was hired to work in the office of New Student Programs, which was charged with organizing Freshman Orientation. Once in a professional office, I discovered that “real” typewriters that had a metallic “ball” that spun as you struck the keys. This “new technology” not only allowed someone to type quicker, it also allowed you to replace the ball, choosing different fonts for different occasions. It also sat on a metal cart, allowing it to be wheeled over to the person who needed to use it. No white leather case, but a plastic cover covered it at night. It was all very utilitarian, speaking of labor, not style; corporate business not personal expression.

Behind the final cubicle, there was also a computer, seemingly small then but would no doubt be considered large today. It was off limits, the person working it keeping to himself. It would be almost a year before I was to have any working relationship to that machine, but in shifting to the new typewriter, I could already see that my sense of writing, of the writer, was going to be profoundly altered.



The Campus, THE General Body, and the Meaning of Democracy

I want to begin by expressing my strong support for the goals of THE General Body. I believe they are advocating for programs and policies that speak to the strongest ideals of a university. I hope the university community will join them in their efforts.
I want to address, however, one specific criticism that has been made against THE General Body. In reading responses to the decision by the students involved to stage a sit-in at Crouse-Hines, I have repeatedly found that their actions are portrayed as immature and outside the norm of civil debate. As such, their actions are somehow insulting to the traditions of Syracuse University.
Clearly one of the goals of a university education is to learn how to effectively engage in civil debate. And when all parties are seen as equal, when there is a deliberative space that allows all concerns to be spoken, civil debate should be the primary engine of social change.  The history of the United States, however, consistently demonstrates that such open deliberative space is not always present. At such moments, uncivil actions are staged to puncture through a seeming consensus to provide an avenue for the excluded to have a platform to be heard. To this end, sit-ins, protests, and boycotts have been used by progressives, conservatives, students, professors, community members, and others to demonstrate how the “civil” is actually “uncivil” to those on the outside of power.
The actions of THE General Body, to me, represent an important blending of these “civil” and “uncivil” ways of speaking, demonstrating lessons learned on campus and within the larger history in which they occur. THE General Body have written letters and petitions stating their beliefs, spoken effectively (and civilly) to campus administrators. They have also protested on campus, sponsored rallies, and now staged a sit-in. And as a result, the university administration, the student body, and the larger Syracuse community are now involved in an engaged discussion of how to respond to legitimate concerns.
To me, their actions are not immature, but part of a historical legacy which speaks to the best values of the university and our larger democratic culture. Many may disagree with THE General Body’s particular goals, their values, but anyone interested in a vibrant democratic culture on campus would do well to study the effectiveness of their actions.