Category: Social Justice

Sustainability is More Than Science: Exploring Climate Change Education Across Cultures

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The weather report: Today in Louisville it is partly cloudy and 68 degrees. In Manila, Philippines it is 88 with thunderstorms. In Graz, Austria it is cloudy and 60 degrees, in Rustenburg, South Africa it 85 and sunny and in Sydney, Australia it is 63 and raining. If you are teaching a classroom of students about climate change in any of these places, their immediate experience of climate will be the transitory weather they see out the window. Yet, from the perspective of the global climate emergency, things look quite different. In Louisville and in Graz, there have been increases in flooding and heat emergencies in the summers. The Philippines continues to be battered by stronger and more frequent typhoons. The countryside around Sydney still shows scars of the unprecedented wildfires of 2020 and, in Rustenburg, increasing heat and drought conditions mean that sometimes students are sent home from school when there is no water.

Louisville students talk with South African students by video

Climate change is simultaneously global in scope, yet experienced locally in quite different ways. From the perspective of education, it can be a challenge to convey to students how what is happening to the climate is more than the immediate weather out the window, but also not as abstract as an image of a polar bear on an iceberg. Currently I’m involved in a climate change education project focused on thinking of new ways of learning – and writing – about climate change across cultures. This interdisciplinary education project is initially focused on connecting middle-school students from around the world share what they are learning – and experiencing – about how climate change affects their local communities. The researchers and teachers involved in the pilot stage of this Global Climate Change Education Project – from Austria, South Africa, the Philippines, Australia, and the US – will gather here at the University of Louisville next week for a planning conference funded by a Spencer Foundation grant. The goal of the project is to help students learn about climate change not only from the perspective of science, but also how it affects, and is affected by, history, politics, culture, and the media. We hope that making these kinds of human connections across cultures can make climate change seem less abstract and, as a result, can lead to a greater sense of empathy and an increased commitment to the behavioral change and political action required to address the climate emergency.

The project brings together teachers and researchers from the sciences, education, and social sciences, and all have crucial roles to play in our planning. But, from my perspective as a literacy researcher and writing teacher, I also see writing and communication as key parts both of how students learn about climate change, and how they will communicate with people in their communities and with their peers across cultures. Part of what intrigues me about working on this project are the interdisciplinary possibilities. The science part of it is crucial, of course, but issues of sustainability are also about culture and community. And our explorations of culture and community are through science, but also through stories, history, poetry, images, film, and more. If we are to communicate and build relationships across cultures, we need to understand more about place and identity, and how those shape both science and our daily lives. What’s more, there is substantial research that indicates that what persuades people to act on social issues is not only facts and evidence-based reasoning, but also narratives, emotions, and relationships.

So I’ve found myself thinking about how science, art, narrative, oral history, poetry, and more might be brought together in climate change education, both in this project and others. This raises questions that are shaping many of my research and teaching interests right now. How is sustainability more than science? How must we also explore and examine issues of culture, community, history, and relationships in terms of climate change? What experiences and relationships motivate people toward action in a given context? How do we promote agency in students? And how is all of that mediated through interpreting and creating texts – both in print, but also in sound, video, images and other media and modes?

In exploring these, and other questions about location, culture, and sustainability, I am also interested in how we can use digital technologies to create these kinds of texts and opportunities for communication. We’ve already been doing some pilot projects among the students involving writing, video, and other forms of communication. Down the line we may explore other ideas, such as possibly creating a digital repository of student climate change narratives, interviews, podcasts and more, where people can upload video or audio or print and then they are available to others for teaching and research. Sharing this kind of writing would be another way to get students communicating about local knowledge across cultures and, I hope, increasing knowledge and empathy.

We are in the early days of this project, but I am eager for the conversations and work we will engage in next week in the planning conference and to think about how writing and literacy will play a role in climate change education going forward. As a teacher and researcher I have always been interested in the knowledge people have in their daily lives and how we draw on that, and connect it, to issues and ideas in school. I believe that, to engage in kind of broad-based change needed to address the climate emergency we need to explore new perspectives for that are grounded in local knowledge, languages, and cultures. We’re taking what we hope will be a helpful steps next week for learning and action across communities and cultures. Stay tuned.

Indigenous Literatures and Writing Histories

Charlie Ward, Writing Consultant

Land is sacred. It provides us with nourishment and safe keeping: our strongest relationships are born from shared homes, gently rocking us to sleep like a mother and her newborn. We cannot survive without the land; yet, this land has not always been ours.

October 10 is Indigenous Peoples’ Day: an observation and commemoration of Native and Indigenous histories and cultures. This is the second year the United States has officially observed the holiday; however, its creation spans back as far as 1977. The International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas is attributed with first suggesting its observation to combat the revisionist history presented during Colombus Day celebrations.

Fundamental misunderstandings of Indigenous history permeate the cracks of western academia. Many are unable to identify the cultural nuances of the Indigenous peoples, as well as their influence on writing and literature. Consider your knowledge of Indigenous history: what land is Louisville, Kentucky is on? Are you able to name the tribes of the Anishinaabe? Why do some people use Indigenous versus Native American versus American Indian?

Here are the answers:

1.) Louisville, Kentucky is on Adena, Cherokee, Hopewell, Miami, Osage, Seneca-Iroquois, and Shawnee land.

2.) The Anishinaabeg consist of the Algonquin, Mississaugas, Nipissing, Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi peoples.

3.) Various names exist for various reasons. American Indian has been reclaimed by many Native and Indigenous peoples. Native American was coined around the 1960s as a response to anti-Indigenous racism. Indigenous considers the origins and the claim to land that Indigenous peoples hold. First Nations, Aboriginal peoples, and Native Canadians may also appear in works regarding discourse around Indigenous peoples of Canada. You may notice that I switch back and forth between my terminology in this piece, but identity is preferential and personal: always ask before you ascribe a label.

How many of these did you all get right—even partially? Western academia has long withheld Indigenous history from us: we are not the first to be required to learn these things in our own time, and we will not be the last.

What does this all have to do with writing? Well, a lot.

As I mentioned previously, Indigenous culture has influenced writing and literature. The oral traditions of many tribes aided in the development of literature as a shared medium. People gathered to share many fictional narratives, characterized by experiences with the metaphysical world and transformative identities; the indulgent details furthered the performance of storytelling. Indigenous myths and legends explored the role of animals, one’s relationship to the earth, and morality. For example, Ababinili And The Humans is a Chickasaw myth about how humans came to be. The first line mentions the “moon, sun, wind, rainbow, thunder, and fire”—they don’t exist as symbolic figures, but instead as characters that propel the plot.

While it was important for generations to pass down oral traditions, colonization hierarchized written works. Settlers found writing to be indicative of a more enlightened people, i.e., a more western-ized people. I think it’s good to note that Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada experienced colonialism differently; my historical account is simplified, but it’s necessary to understand that tradition was influenced by outside pressures. In addition, settlers imposed barriers to publishing for Indigenous authors—barriers that Indigenous authors broke and continue to combat today.

Looking at the historical development of writing and literature can aid us in our understanding of the current climate. For Indigenous peoples, writing and oral tradition were both a form of resistance. Writing combated settler’s notions of civilization, revealing rich cultural narratives; oral tradition built the foundation of writing, as well as uniting community and family. I think miseducation can prevent us from viewing Indigenous history as something innate to the development of literature—Indigenous cultures have existed longer than we know, therefore it’s right to assume that they have an influence on the way we write.

Colonialism’s desire to view Indigenous culture as anything beyond uncivilized pervades in modern discourses: we turn ourselves away from oral communication and struggle to acknowledge its importance in cultivating ideas and identity. Talking builds communities, unites enemies, and keeps us mentally sound. What’s better than discussing your ideas with a friend before writing them down?

We see imagery from Indigenous literature in contemporary narratives: heroes, villains, and moral quandaries are more popular than ever! Indigenous writing isn’t just mythological tales, but shared discourses. There There by Tommy Orange, The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, and Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson all explore ideas of community and identity; they’re read by audiences world-wide, and well worth a read.

When teaching in the writing center, I think it’s important to keep the historical and cultural identities of our students in mind. The priorities of western academia aren’t always going to be the priorities of writer’s—and that’s fine! We should also be looking at the influences of non-western and non-white people on writing: we owe a lot of respect and recognition.


Bibliography

“Ababinili and the Humans.” Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/Ababinili_And_The_Humans-Chickasaw.html. “Indigenous Writing since 1867: Once Neglected Now Celebrated.” Indigenous Writing since 1867: Once Neglected Now Celebrated – Indigenous Studies – Simon Fraser University.

That’s All She Wrote

Braydon Dungan, Writing Consultant

We write to forge and connect the thoughts we can’t seem to verbalize aloud. We write to shield ourselves from the stinging winds that exists in our minds. We write to thrive in a world different from ours, a world controlled by the fingers that eagerly smack into the different squares on our keyboard. Yet, possibly most importantly, we write to bring attention to issues we view as unjust and unsatisfactory. Political and social engagement isn’t solely attained through protests and marches; in fact, one of the easiest and most impactful ways a concerned citizen can make their voice heard is through a medium with no audible voice at all: writing.

One area of life I am especially interested in is women’s sports, specifically women’s soccer. The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) has consistently been ranked as the number one team in the world for many years now. Not only that, but they’ve also been the winners of the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cup. Compared to their male counterparts, who have never won a World Cup, the women have exceeded expectations year after year to continue their reign as the queens of women’s soccer.

However, despite their continued dominance, the women have been severely underpaid compared to the men. Despite support from millions of Americans, including United States President Joe Biden, U.S. Soccer continually denied the women’s claim to equal pay, and even took the women to federal court in an effort to settle the dispute once and for all

One of the most effective ways the U.S. women garnered worldwide support in their fight, aside from their multitude of impressive performances they displayed, was a public letter to the U.S. Soccer Federation in response to a letter from former U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro. In this response, the USWNT tackled the untrue claims spewed by the federation and publicly announced their support for a new presidential candidate, Cindy Parlow Cone. In this letter, the USWNT utilized language that was firm, confident, and demanding of respect. Although women in our society are expected to be docile, socially submissive, and unaggressive, the letter from the USWNT showed their prowess and their desire to achieve equal pay. By publicly stating their discontent with the U.S. Soccer President, and instead announcing their support for a female candidate, they secured a big boost in morale in the fight for equal pay.

After the votes were tallied for the U.S. Soccer Presidential Election, the results indicated that Cindy Parlow Cone would replace Mr. Cordeiro as the presiding official of soccer in America. Just six months after the letter was released to the public, the USWNT were finally given what they’ve deserved for many years now. After years of mediation and negotiating, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the newly appointed President agreed to sign a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the USWNT to ensure equal pay for both American male and female national team players. After the USWNT’s game against Nigeria on September 6TH, the Federation and the women’s team signed the CBA in front of thousands of fans who cheered and chanted along with the players.

The letter the USWNT wrote to publicly take a stance on the issue of equal pay was a defining moment for women’s sports around the world. In response to the USWNT, many European teams also sent letters to their federations demanding equal pay. Following in line with the U.S., nations such as Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and more demanded in writing that they be paid the same as their male counterparts. Instead of negotiating behind-the-scenes, these women publicly announced their discontent, further gaining support from fans around the world.

By writing these letters in a demanding, assertive tone, the women have been successful in voicing their opinions and forcing responses from their federations. Finally, after many years of fighting, the U.S. Women have finally secured what they’ve deserved since the beginning of the USWNT: equality. The question, now, shifts to something else: why did it take this long to achieve equal pay? We’ve seen the power of writing to force those in power to make important decisions. Writing allows us to take the time to methodically select the words that carry the most power while organizing the structure to best illustrate the issues at hand. Women, specifically, have been expected to remain complacent for centuries; let us all learn from the tenacity of the USWNT and recognize the power behind writing to achieve equality for all.

Morgan, Alex. “USWNT Endorsement of Cindy Parlow Cone.” Twitter, USWNT, 4 Mar. 2022, https://twitter.com/alexmorgan13/status/1499880750224535553.

For The Love of Writing

Michael Benjamin, Assistant Director and Writing Consultant

It’s not lost on me that this is being posted on Valentine’s Day, 2022. So I’m going to try and stick to the day’s theme: love.

Love is hard. Complex. It’s a feeling, sure, but it’s also an action. These days I’ve been conceptualizing love within the framework of care. Caring about ourselves, our dearest ones, our community, our larger world. Care can be shooting a text to a friend you haven’t heard from in a week or two or volunteering at the local community literacy center. Care takes energy but is always worth it even though it usually comes with little to no reward. In an affective economy, care is a currency. Tying love and care together begins to make visible all of the little acts we do. It pushes us to be thoughtful and reflective and, frankly, better people.

I realize this probably feels like it’s going off of the rails, but please bear with me.

I think I can speak for everyone at the writing center. We care about writing at the here because we care about our UofL community. And we know that we have a unique opportunity to spread the joy of a love for writing.

Here’s a quick story: it was my first month of my undergraduate career and I’d gotten a lower grade than desired on an assignment. I went to the writing center, not really knowing what to expect, hoping that I’d come back with a better text to bump my grade up. What I got was an experience that has powered my academic career for the past decade. My consultant smiled at me and told me Play with your writing. Find the joy in it. Keep caring and putting love into it. That experience was so transformative for me that seven months later I was working in that writing center. I’m sure it has something to do with my pedagogical ethos, too. That consultant cared about me, showed a love for her work and writing and the writers she worked with in a way that was so infectious and powerful that I needed to take action, to pass it along.

I write this as a call for all of us to radiate that love and care throughout our worlds. I also write this as a way to urge us to use the written word as a means of care.

Next week, we are hosting an event for International Mother Language Day. I’m excited to see y’all UofL community members show a love for writing through all of these guest blog posts written in your mother tongues. I’m even more excited to fill out these notecards for recent immigrants and refugees. Handwritten letters of simple words of encouragement are an act of care. Taking the time out of your day, in the middle of what has been a brutal semester, to stop and focus writing something for someone you don’t know in your best handwriting won’t show up on your CV or transcript, but it’s a loving act that can have a world of meaning. I’m personally excited for our little writing center community to show love to all of the multilinguists and polyglots amongst us.

I know today is viewed as a day or romantic love. A day you spend with your partner, showing them how much you appreciate them. I implore you to show that care to everyone. What if you jotted a little note of appreciation for the wait staff at the restaurant? Sent a couple coworkers/colleagues/classmates a small compliment? Took 10 minutes to yourself to journal what and who you love and care for? Care for you? What if you went completely old school and snail mailed your folks? Words are powerful and cost nothing. Write them. Share them. Care for and with them.

Our LGBTQ+ Writing Group: Explained and Explored

Liz Soule, Assistant Director for the University Writing Center

The first time I was introduced to a writing group was in the spring of 2016. As a way to welcome more students to the writing center, one of my friends and co-workers proposed the “Creative Writing Jam.” This was a series of creative writing groups held at the writing center, in which writers would come in, and amongst a community of like-minded individuals, get to work drafting their latest piece.

I hung posters advertising the event on the walls of my residence hall. I remember looking at the posters and feeling a mixture of confusion, anxiety and curiosity at the sight of them. Who would want to write in a big group? Wouldn’t that be distracting? Or worse, what if my writing wasn’t like theirs — and they judged me for it? Due to my trepidation, I never attended the Creative Writing Jam.

Now, as the facilitator of the LGBTQ+ writing group, I often wonder if these same questions keep folks from attending our group. This blog post is written for all those who stare at our whiteboard and wonder. In what follows, I’ll explore what our LGBTQ+ writing group is, why we offer it, and offer a window into what a typical group meeting looks like. My hope is that this begins the process of answering some burning questions and alleviating anxieties, and maybe opens our doors to more writers across campus.

What is the LGBTQ+ writing group? Why do you offer it?

The LGBTQ+ writing group is a gathering of writers that meets monthly in the University Writing Center. This group welcomes writers that self-identify as LGBTQ+ or as allies to join together to write in a communal space. Any kind of writing is welcome in this group (professional, personal, creative or course-related). During group meetings, participants have the opportunity to get to know others in the community as they actively write alongside their peers.

The LGBTQ+ writing group, like all of the University Writing Center’s writing groups, exists to promote a culture of writing across campus. An additional reason why we offer the LGBTQ+ writing group is to foster a supportive community of queer writers and their allies. This means that the identities of LGBTQ+ writers are respected (and, when appropriate, celebrated) and their writing is welcomed. By carving out a space for LGBTQ+ writers, the University Writing Center makes it clear that our growth as writers matters, and that we belong.

I would argue that we are working to effectively serve that purpose, too. At a recent meeting, I asked the attendees of the group what their reasons for attending were. One writer said they were looking for a “judgment-free,” or supportive community of writers. Another writer, who often writes queer romances, said they sought a space where the content of their writing would be welcome. For others, it came down to basic math – likeminded queer people to befriend plus writing to share and enjoy. In other words, a supportive community that fosters a culture of writing.

What happens in a typical meeting?

In this next section, I’ll try to illustrate what a typical writing group meeting looks like. While my description might not be as dynamic as the real thing, I hope that it can help reduce any anxieties that come with the unknown.

At the start of each LGBTQ+ writing group, the University Writing Center door is wide open. Everyone signs in, grabs a snack, and finds a seat amidst the circle of tables. Once we’ve all settled in, we share our names, our personal pronouns and the kinds of writing we’re working on.

Then comes the fun part: we write! For the majority of our hour-long meeting, we all actively write. And there is really no wrong way to do this. Some of us complete homework, while others write creatively. Some even complete personal writing, like daily journaling. During this time, some of us chat, others listen to music, and most of us get seconds on snacks.

To wrap our meeting up, we talk about the kind of writing we’ve completed–and what we hope to accomplish in the near future. Some writers like to share recent writing during this time, but no one is ever forced to do so. Those that do receive thoughtful, positive responses. Afterwards, we say our goodbyes and I close the doors of the University Writing Center for the night.

This sums up most of our LGBTQ+ writing group meetings. There are some variations to meetings, but they’re usually small and always optional. For example, next time we meet, I’ll be bringing some prompts for the creative writers in the room to respond to, if they so choose. Also, a couple of our writers are also thinking they might workshop as a pair.

Some final thoughts

If you’ve been on the fence about attending this–or any–writing group, I hope this guides you to our doors. In the event that you have more questions, please, feel free to e-mail us at writing@louisville.edu, and we will happily discuss our groups with you.

More importantly, I hope that you know you are always welcome in our space. I’ll be glad to have you in the LGBTQ+ writing group, and we are excited to have you in the University Writing Center.

Our Commitment to Antiracism

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Black Lives Matter.

The University Writing Center stands with our staff, colleagues, students, and community members who are protesting for social and economic justice and against White supremacy. We condemn systemic racist and violent oppression of Black people both in our community and nationwide. We recognize and pledge to act against historical and ongoing inequitable treatment of Black people.

In our own work at the University Writing Center and in our community partnerships, we reaffirm our commitment to antiracist education. Like the University and the community, our consultants, staff, and the writers with whom we work, come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Some experience the direct effects of racism in their daily lives, while others benefit from systems of white privilege. We recognize that, as an organization, we must do more than simply respect diversity. As we say on our Statement on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, we “commit to critiquing and speaking out against individual and structural oppression in an effort to create a safer, more just university for all students.”

We also see our role as an educational institution as reaffirming our ongoing commitment to antiracist education. As our statement says,

We approach this work by listening to voices that are experiencing racism and oppression and by continuing to work to educate ourselves about systems of power and inequality. We continue to work as a staff to educate ourselves, listen carefully, and reflect on issues of identity, language, and power so that we can respond as allies and advocates for writers in the UofL community. We understand issues of inclusion and diversity require ongoing, daily work that is never finished.

Such work requires listening to and reading the work of those whose voices can educate us on both systems of racism in our culture as well as the pain, injury, and inequality such systems perpetuate. Such work requires honest reflection and ongoing conversation about our roles in institutions shaped by ideologies of White supremacy.  The work is ongoing and we can and must do better.

In an effort to promote and continue antiracist education and activism, I am including links below to a few of the many resources that I hope people will find useful. My thanks to those who have done the work of putting these resources together.

Black Lives Matter Resources including teaching toolkits

Statement and Resources from UofL from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Directors

Prioritizing Antiracism inWriting Tutor Education: How We Teach Writing Tutors

Praxis: Special Issue: Race and the Writing Center

Anti-Racism Resources for Students, Educators, and Citizens

Scaffolded Anti-racism Resources

Black Lives Matter Louisville

Showing Up for Racial Justice

M4BL