Orange Alert

New Writing Courses Concentrate on Issues That Matter to Students

The Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric and Composition premieres a new set of courses around the topics of climate change, social justice, satire and more.

May 6, 2021, by A&S News Staff

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The writing studies department has launched a range of new 100-level courses. These introductory classes offer opportunities for students across Syracuse University to take up issues that matter to them and to use writing to effect change.

While they are available to any student at SU with an interest in writing, each course also counts as humanities credit for the Liberal Arts Core, which is a set of course requirements for all students singly enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) and many who are dually enrolled in A&S and the Newhouse School of Public Communications or School of Education.

For students with an interest in climate and sustainability, WRT 115: Writing, Rhetoric, and the Environment takes up environmental issues and debates in both global and local contexts. Ph.D. candidate David Gall-Maynard, who designed the pilot version of the course, sees WRT 115 as an opportunity for students to grow as critical thinkers, researchers, and writers while developing a more complex understanding of environmental issues that can sometimes feel overwhelming.

The course offers students an “opportunity to look at how rhetoric impacts the very real experiences we have in the world,” says assistant teaching professor Rusty Bartels, who is teaching the course this semester. He urges students to consider the rhetoric of “access” and how argument is present even in texts like maps, revealing the real material impact that language can have. In the Fall of 2021, WRT 115 will be taught by assistant teaching professor Chris Feikes, who invites students to explore climate change and its ecological, economic, and social-justice consequences around the world.

WRT 116: Writing, Rhetoric and Social Action asks students to consider how to use writing and rhetoric to effectively carry out social justice work. Students compose in activist genres—from open letters to social media campaigns—as they work to enact change and persuade others about timely, urgent issues.

According to professor Eileen Schell, “A big part of the course is developing an activist voice—what are the issues and causes about which you are passionate? Who and what are you advocating for, and why?”

Schell, who taught WRT 116 this year, has been engaged in various forms of activism for the last 30 years and says her involvement in that course has allowed her to share what she has learned from that journey. At the same time, she recognizes that many college students are at the forefront of movements to address racial justice, feminism, and other causes.

“There is a lot of work to do to transform unjust situations and we need active, creative people of all ages out there working for change,” she says.

Assistant teaching professor Amy Murphy will be teaching WRT 116 in Fall 2021.

If students want to explore social change through humor, WRT 117: Writing, Rhetoric, and Satire, explores satirical writing across a range of social and political settings. Inspired by her own love of the genre in pop culture (from The Chappelle Show to Borat to The Onion to McSweeney’s), assistant teaching professor Rae Ann Meriwether encourages students to consider the true impact of satirical texts: Do they really do sociopolitical work in the world? Or do they just make me feel good and clever to watch it and ‘be in on the joke?’ Meriwether’s class will help students improve the purposefulness of their writing and see the real-world work that writing can do in political contexts. This course will debut in Spring of 2022.

For those students who are interested in writing and contemplative practices, consider WRT 118: Writing for a Better You, designed by assistant professor Lenny Grant and professional writing instructor Andrea Constable. The course, offered in Spring of 2022, introduces students to expressive writing as a healthful and mindful activity.

Constable, who has integrated contemplative wellness practices into her writing courses for years, is excited about the opportunity to offer a course in which the primary goal is using writing as a form of self-care. Constable explains that the course emerged as a response to students’ struggles with stress, anxiety, loss, depression, and trauma; journaling and other kinds of wellness writing can help students learn to cope and move forward in productive ways.

These courses are offered in addition to WRT 114: Writing Culture, which introduces students to the practices and genres of creative nonfiction. This popular course is taught by multiple instructors every semester and is a favorite among students who enjoy experimenting with style and genre, reading contemporary nonfiction texts, and attending events with visiting writers.

According to Patrick W. Berry, chair and associate professor of writing studies, one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed is that, in challenging times, writing matters more than ever. He says, “We look forward to offering our students new and innovative courses where they will learn how to use writing to make a difference in the world.”

Learn more about the Department of Writing Studies’ offerings.

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A&S News Staff