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Degree inspires students to find their voice for social justice and understanding

by Monica Smith

Dec 07, 2020, 9:00 AM.

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The B.A. in English: Writing and Rhetoric track provides learners with the tools needed to create positive change through a variety of media.

Writing creates change in the world. It opens new possibilities, creates understanding and moves people and organizations to action and compassion.

Some of the greatest writers and speakers of our time like Martin Luther King, Toni Morrison, Angelina Grimke, and Abraham Lincoln have offered thoughts and stories to help society find understanding. The importance of their writings and rhetoric facilitated vital shifts in U.S. culture that still hold their relevance, not least of which include their messaging with regard to diversity and inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion

Along the same lines, the faculty at FIU, who teach courses for the Bachelor of Arts degree in English: Writing and Rhetoric track, help create graduates who can produce and critically consume a wide variety of texts, including digital, networked, public, professional, and educational.

Writing consistently appears on employer lists of most in-demand skills for new college graduates, along with other so-called ‘soft skills’ like collaboration, teamwork, and problem-solving,” says College of Arts Sciences and Education Professor Kimberly Harrison, who stresses that writing and effective communication are vital parts of any movement for social justice.

Online communication and learning

As the writing program director, and director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program for the Department of English, Harrison recognizes that with the rapid growth in online communication, writing is more essential and prevalent than ever before. Therefore, she notes that the writing and rhetoric program, available fully online, helps reach the greatest number of students who are struggling to attend courses on campus, especially right now amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today’s communication is vastly different than just five to 10 years ago because of new technology and platforms. For this reason, the way we communicate will continue to evolve,” states Harrison. “This degree prepares students to be adaptive and responsive communicators.”

Gaming industry

Luke Thominet, assistant professor of English agrees with Harrison and describes how his work for the department centers on video games, where technical writing helps improve the user experience—especially in the developmental phase. He emphasizes that through his class, students are taught to adapt messaging to improve its effectiveness, paying close attention to audiences and their feedback, which make the skills learned transferable to a host of arenas.

Students learn how to adapt their communication to various, diverse audiences. So, whether their future plans include communicating with colleagues, clients, students, parents, or team members, they will be able to effectively do so,” he condenses.

Community outreach

Going further, Christine Martorana, assistant teaching professor for the department discusses audiences, “listening” techniques, research and the power of digital communication whether through zines or social media.

“Much of the recent conversation on social justice has occurred in digital spaces: blogs, webpages, and social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, as well as in print publications such as zines,” Martorana maintains.

Writing expands people’s reach and the recent movements would not have been so successful if the organizers did not know how to use writing to influence their intended audiences and to coordinate action effectively, she mentioned. She also emphasized that community outreach is essential to create opportunities for information flow.

For Martorana’s 2019 rhetorical theory class, students worked with a third-grade class. They created a video about cultural diversity and then had a live video chat where the third graders asked questions about the video and the college student experience, etc.

“Our students have also worked with local high schools to help them launch a writing center and to help tutor writing. Several of our courses specifically prepare students for putting their writing into action for community and social justice. Even those courses that do not directly focus on community writing still prepare students to engage in the community work that is important to them,” Harrison explains.

Businesses, organizations, and communities all rely on communication to carry out their daily work, and breakdowns in communication can cause significant problems. This degree teaches individuals to participate in give-and-take dialogs. Two-way communication skills are valuable to any field of work, any cause, and for the general structure of society—especially now with as polarized as views have become, concludes Harrison.

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