I’m still searching for a better research process…this seems like a good one…I’d love to hear thoughts from my academic friends…on this as a process or how do you organize and research big projects?
Tag Archives: Rhetoric Student
As part of Africa Week here at NMMU I attended a lecture last night by UCT Professor Harry Garuba about Textualized Literature. First he spoke about Textual Territories which are areas of the world that have been written about so much that the writing has forever altered our perceptions of the place. He gave the example of Robben Island being inextricably linked to Nelson Mandela that the perception of the island will always be viewed through the “Mandela lense”. Then he made the argument that Africa itself is an over-textualized territory. First, Africa was written about by people who “discovered” various places in Africa. They wrote tales of discovery. There were diaries by missionaries, memos from colonial administrators that wrote back to their home countries of the manners and customs they witnessed. These might be considered amateur ethnographies. Literature of this first type that has reached canonical status are: Heart of Darkness, King Salomon’s Mines, Mister Johnson, Out of Africa, and Tarzan and the Apes. These books participate in othering which is a process where the authors define identity by what they are not. They identify themselves at the norm and everything else is negative or abnormal (white/black; good/evil; Christian/heathen; civilized/primitive or savage). These texts and pieces of literature were published by the colonial powers about the land and people they were occupying in the colonies.
The next wave of literature then writes back to the empire. African writers read the canonical works of literature and answered back with their own form of ethnographic novel. Nobel Prize winning author Chinua Achebe said that he wrote because he didn’t see himself in the books he read for school. As he was growing up he noted that at first he imagine himself as the explorers finding finding his way through the jungle. But then he came to realize that in the book the author would have written him as one of the dark faced cannibals not the explorer. Achebe’s generation of authors wrote deeply contextualized pieces to show themselves through the books illustrating their own rich culture with long-standing traditions. This generation was writing back to the cannon and presenting a unified front.
Following that wave were authors who wrote back from the perspective of further marginalized people. So, homogeneity gives way to heterogeneity and differences within a culture are given room to be exposed. In this wave class and gender are discussed. Some of the books in this category are: So Long a Letter, The Joys of Motherhood, Woman at Point Zero, A Man of the People, The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born.
Then comes the 3rd wave or post-independence writers. They are struggling with the current realities of African life and culture throughout the continent. There is disillusionment with the current situation because the promised life that they were fighting for during apartheid or colonial domination has not come true as it was imagined. These authors are posing what could be called a Marxist challenge to their current governments. Professor Garuba argued that literature from South Africa should be considered interconnected to the literature from other countries on the continent. These new writers are offering plural truths which allow for levity and a new lightness of being. He postulated that the next concern for African cultural literature are authors who are represented as African authors but who no longer live in Africa. It seems simple that this will happen because publishers find it easier to deal with a local author rather than one who is on the continent. However, these authors call into question the authenticity not of their individual voice but their individual voice being held up as representative for a whole people once again.
Everything we discussed in the workshop kept coming back to the NMMU students. Since the context a lecturer can have an immediate impact is the classroom. If the classrooms are empty, who would you teach? Once o the presenters did mention that she’d had a professor who would give the lecture even if no one attended class that day but most people would not do that. The student body and individual students need to be considered when thinking about teaching at NMMU.
When asked about their students the lecturers were able to create a long list of attributes which make NMMU students unique in their diversity. First, multiracial/multicultural, the person who listed this attribute only said multiracial but here you always have to follow with multicultural. There are black South Africans who are Xhosa, Zulu, or one of the other distinct cultures still thriving within the boarders of this country. There was some discussion around the language policy, which states that students have the right to receive instruction in their dominate language. The provided the facilitator to provide resources to the lectures for how they can get support fulfilling this requirement.
Next, they talked about the life experiences students bring to the classroom. Students come to NMMU from rural communities and urban areas. This was one of the aspects of diversity that was talked about during our orientation. We were cautioned against thinking that as international students we were the only ones going through culture shock. Rather to be kind to our South African classmates because they could be going through culture shock as well. I couldn’t help but think of SCSU when we were told about the urban/rural divide because we have students who go through culture shock coming from tiny towns but I’m not sure how the SCSU addresses it.
Another aspect to NMMU students follows the larger context of the South African university system as a whole. When South Africa became a democracy in 1994 and the Apartheid government was officially over, suddenly the majority of students had access to the higher educational system. The transition was overnight, not in the least bit gradual. Universities are still coping or trying to cope with this paradigm shift. According to the Department of Education 70% of South African university students are the first in their families to enroll in higher education. Of the students who enroll in higher education programs 50% of them do not complete their program. Dropout rate for first-year students is 30%, while 20% dropout within year 2 or 3 (it takes 3 years to get your bachelors and a 4th year is called honors). Only 15% of South African university students complete their program of study on-time.
The lecturers said that students come to their first-year classes unprepared to learn, not knowing how to take notes or summarize. The facilitator encouraged the lecturers to take a few minutes and teach the students how to take notes for their class. Alternatively, they could bring in a representative from Academic Resources to hold a workshop. However, I did pipe up at this point and said that a lot of students don’t know how to take notes their freshman year in the States either because taking notes for high school and university is a different skill set. The conversation took a slightly different turn because the facilitator then talked about how jarring it is for students to come from primary school into university where everything is so different. Textbooks transition from only having facts to having theories and arguments. She urged the lecturers to understand the difficulty of just this much of the transition for their students along with everything else their students are dealing with.
In the United States we talk about university students struggling because of their multiple commitments. Many students are juggling work, school, and family commitments. However, in South Africa 1/5 of all children live in orphan headed households. This means that an older sibling is taking care of the younger siblings because their parents have died. So, these students are not struggling to support their own children but rather their brothers and sisters. These children lack a support network from extended family, even if they have a family member who may intermittently check on them. They did not get support from a family structure to develop natural coping skills because they had to take on the responsibility of raising their siblings.
Listing these circumstances off and calling the classroom diverse seems to be a dramatic understatement. The lecturers still have the pressure to research and publish like professors back in the states in order to get promotions and tenure. In the workshop she encouraged the lecturers to set expectations for each term on the first day of class. Structure what they expected from students and what the consequences would be if those expectations were not met. She encouraged the lecturers to be explicit about this procedure and treat the students like adults who were entering into a contract. She also suggested that they could help students learn by sharing their vulnerabilities. If they admit, for example, that they are unsure on how to use a piece of technology then ask for help from the students. She used the example of a calculator and the students were excited to show her how to use it and she was getting that all important buy-in at the same time.
Honestly, I still find it overwhelming. But they are making progress one lecturer at a time.
This was a question I asked myself many times over during my master’s program. I became an English major after discovering the field of rhetoric. Through rhetoric I was finally given the tools I needed to discuss and interpret the world around me. Some of the language came to me through my background in political science and public policy analysis, which is what I majored in for my bachelors. In many regards though I had always been searching for rhetorical analysis and the vocabulary held within the disapline. Beyond finding myself in the field of rhetoric, it has been more of a journey allowing myself to recognize that I have a desire to teach.
Nontraditional student? Yes, I’m coming to my master’s program after a career as a manager with for-profit and non-profit organizations. I thoroughly enjoyed being in management, especially turning around a failing store or organization and getting it on track to fulfill its goals. The toughest and most rewarding part of the job was working with employees. Developing talent, encouraging people to meet their potential, and sometimes, even seeing amazing employees leave because they were able to move onto bigger and better opportunities. However, American companies have moved away from truly letting employees be developed through on the job training and have moved to hiring people for positions below their skill level and then promoting “from within.”
As a manager, I really enjoyed going through the hiring process. Its just down right fun to call someone up and offer them a job! However, my heart would break for some people as I read their resumes and job applications because I knew that their lack of skill with resumes and cover letters was holding them back. I fought back the urge to call them and suggest changes to their resume content, style, and format. So, when I encountered rhetoric and composition studies, I found a way to be able to empower people by helping them gain a necessary knowledge base. I’m passionate when I help give the writing center tours about writing as a skill students will need no matter their chosen career or field of study. I think writing well is even more important now because individuals produce more writing now than in previous eras. For example, businessmen used to dictate letters but now write their own emails to communicate with clients.
That’s only the first portion of my answer…what am I doing here? I wasn’t supposed to be here, this far along in higher education. My first class in the SCSU English Department we were asked to give our literacy narrative orally, to the class. Honestly, I think I made something up because I don’t remember learning to read. I know I learned how before I went to school and it just seemed like a given. But this assignment made me think about my formative educational years for the first time in years. Actually, part of my personal discovery during my master’s program was revisiting these old ghosts. From 1st through 7th grade I went to a very small private school that had multiple grades in the same rooms. Grades 1-4 were taught in the same room and another teacher was across the hall with grades 5-8. I was precocious and loved learning but my foundational years did not endear me to any teachers. Early in first grade my teacher put my desk in the bathroom with the door closed. This was not a large bathroom but rather a small bathroom off the classroom with just a toilet and a sink. It was dark because I was so small and the light was only on the ceiling. By 3rd and 4th grade we had a new teacher and instead of my desk being in the bathroom she created a patrician blocking me off from the rest of the class. Essentially, she just gave me my assignments and I was supposed to just do them. I was cut off from class discussion or interaction with my peers.
However, nothing compared to 5th grade, it was a special kind of hell. Our firth grade teacher was both physically and verbally abusive. I was getting older by this point and tried to not only stand-up for myself but my classmates as well. The teacher would lash out, I would say something, and he would respond by locking me in a closet where the sports equipment was kept. Or he would send me out in the hall and leave me there, for hours. There was more than once when he laid hands on me, once pushing me down and I hit my head on the metal chalktray. There was one occasion when I asked him to explain some instructions over again because I didn’t understand what he wanted us to do on the assignment. Instead of repeating himself, he made me write a confession stating that I had not paid attention in class complete with my signature and date. As I stood next to his desk, which was in front of the classroom. he told me that I would never be anything.
I did not expect to confront these demons as I read rhetorical theory, but they came up. Haunting me as normal graduate school doubt was over taken by my former elementary school teacher again whispering into my psyche. So, what’s the answer…why am I here? Its never that simple, is it? It is not simple because or in-spite of any one person or event. Rather these are all parts of me and so it should not be a surprise that I latch onto Ferreira and embrace his pedagogical philosophy. I do reflect on my actions because I do not want to devalue a student or make them in any way feel marginalized. I am here because after much struggle this is where I fought to be.
I keep saying, “Wow! What a difference 5 years makes.” Then I stopped, thought about it. And damn! If I wasn’t completely right about this one!
Five years ago…
I was still reeling from the effects of 2008. In the short span of those 12 months my mother died, my sister and her family moved out of state, I relocated to Durham, got laid off from my job, went back to university for the last 9 credits of my bachelor’s degree, and graduated.
This time in 2009, I was bracing for my first birthday without my mom. It was the first time that I didn’t feel any joy on that particular day. It felt more empty, her absence amplified. Honestly, I do not even remember doing anything special for my own birthday. I took a trip to visit my sister and helped her celebrate her big day. It was my way to compensate for our mom being gone. She did an amazing job, even as we got older, to make our birthdays feel special. We were lucky to have our birthdays around Easter and almost every year we were all together at some point close to our birthdays.
But 2009 was the start of putting together new traditions with our smaller family. Her birthday was really great! Our dad and step mom came up for the day. My nephew really enjoyed so many of “his people” being at his house for the day. And there was lemon cake (always a win). As 2009 progressed things impoved. I was able to celebrate my nephew’s 3rd birthday with him. In September, I started a new job that I was good at and enjoyed. Double bonus! I got rid of all the notes, articles, and papers from undergad because I had no plans of going back to school! I was d-o-n-e!
Five years later, I not only changed jobs but careers. Moved to Minnesota, I still don’t know if its natural that people live this far north. I went back to school and I’m about to graduate with my master’s and start a PhD program in the fall! What? In 2009, I was still dreaming of Africa and now I’ve not only been here but I’m living here for 6 months.
None of what I’m doing now was on the agenda then. I’m in awe of my life and loving it!
Before going in to hear the speakers we were passed this editorial at the sign in table, SA sees no evil, hears no evil. Then as we filed to our seats “Strange Fruit” sung by Nina Simone played with and editorial drawing (I hate to use cartoon when the topic is this gruesome) depicting the execution by hanging of Ken Saro-Wina and 3 fellow activists (above).
The tone for the evening was definitely set.
Three of our speakers were from the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi and the fourth speaker was the director of the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice at The University of the Free State.
Dr. Andre Keet was the first to speak. Not only is he the director of the institute mentioned above but he was also appointed a member to the Oversight Committee to Transform South African Universities. He spent a good deal of his talk on the role universities played in upholding the Apartheid government and how they can now play a role in ongoing reconciliation for the country. In his role on the Oversight Committee he said that South Africa has not seen a shift in equal opportunity complaints over the past 15 years and this includes the institutions of higher education. He went on to say that the university has been both a key element in changing the government 20 years ago as places of learning and protest but various universities were also complicit in apartheid. Universities still have tenured faculty who were apart of and benefited from the apartheid system, which makes real change difficult. He also posited that the top down order universities use to function helps perpetuate racist attitudes and behaviors, if for no other reason, to hold onto the status quo.
He challenge the audience with this question, “Do we live reconciled lives?”
He posited that South Africa has gone through several stages:
- Age of Human Rights-This was the end of Apartheid and South Africa’s new constitution
- Age of Transitional Justice-This is a constant stage because all justice is transitional. The same idea he argued for the term post-conflict because there are communities (esp poor communities) you encounter that are always moments past conflict
- Age of New Spirit of Capitalism-It is ok to walk over your neighbor, your friends, and strangers to become #1. Everyone is trying to make money for themselves but how do you teach compassion? Can ubuntu survive in this era? Or is it already an empty signifier? This era of consumerism depends on a economic hierarchy but people who live disadvantaged lives should still be able to do so with basic human dignity.
- Age of Identity-He pointed to Uganda as a society that is experiencing this transition now (honestly, this definition lost me…he was going really fast!)
He put forth a term that I have yet to find a clear definition for and that was democracies of proximity. But he said that this idea was more constructive than reconciliation because reconciliation itself is constructed around the language of contention.
The next speaker was Susan Glisson and she gave us historical context for both the William Winter Institute and the University of Mississippi. She explained that the University of Mississippi itself was founded in 1848 to perpetuate the ideology of slavery. The plantation/slave owners in Mississippi at that time did not like the the abolitionist views coming out of the universities in the northeast and so they founded their own university. During the years of the American Civil War the university closed so all of their students could be involved in the war effort. The university buildings became hospitals and the land was a battlefield.
Dr. Glisson then talked about the work she had done in Mississippi prior to the formation of the institiute. She worked with the residents of Neshoba County, Mississippi around the issues of healing and equity (all of the presenters really pushed back against the term reconciliation). As sh is to Mississippi what Mississippi is to the rest of the country. It is first at being last. Neshoba County was the place that 3 civil rights workers were murdered during Freedom Summer as they tried to register black people to vote. This incident was turned into the movie Mississippi Burning. It was with this long history of racial animus that in 2004 she was asked to come into the county and start a dialogue between the residents.
During this time of dialogue the people of Philadelphia and Neshoba County realized that they had opinions about each other which had been formed over time but with no actual conversations taking place. The work she did in the county was over a 6 week period of time where, by the end, the residents called for an investigation to be re-opened for the 1964 murders. The investigation led to an arrest, trial, and finally a conviction 40 years to the day after the murders.
Charles Tucker was the next to speak. He first talked about the song we had listened to at the beginning of the presentation, relaying to us that as an African-American in his early 60’s the song was real, not just haunting lyrics. He grew up in the era when lynchings, cross burnings, and racial intimidation happened. Then he transitioned his talk to the work he does at the William Winter Institute. The Institute likes to draw on the organizing philosophy of Medgar Evers who believed in the wisdom of the community. They don’t want to go into a community and tell them how to fix a problem and then leave, but rather they only go into a community when they are asked. Then they listen because the people who are from there and live there know the needs their community best. When they are called in they provide tools to the community for them to listen to each other. Part of the other they teach the community to listen to are young people. Not just listen but also invest in them. Another way by which the institute facilitates investment in the next generation is through their Summer Institute, which is for rising high school sophomores. It was great to hear some of the success stories from these newly empowered students going back to their communities and making change.
Jennifer Stollman is a historian by training and taught at the college level for 20 years before joining the Institute. Her scholarly area of focus has been on the individual construction of identities and the historical uses of power. She was hired as the academic director of the Institute. She works with the university on orientation programs for both new employees and incoming students. During the orientation program they have an honest conversation about Ole Miss’ history, reputation, and direction the university wants to take going forward as a center for restorative justice. She discussed efforts where they have had success on campus, like after football players heckled actors during a campus production of the Laramie Project. The institute stepped in and helped facilitate a conversation between the football players and the actors. Dr. Stollman then told the audience about an incident of vandalism, which occurred to the James Meredith statue on campus while they were in South Africa. The whole panel agreed that they were impressed with the swift and immediate response from everyone in the community from the university president to all of the fraternities. In a quick investigation, three members of a fraternity were found to be the ones responsible and action was taken. All three individuals agreed that, while big progressive strides have been made, the state and the university both have a long way yet to go.
I was thrilled to be in the audience for this panel discussion! Each panelist gave me a lot to think about in regards to what has happened with reconciliation in the US and South Africa. But also what has been missed and what is still to be accomplished.