Cultivating and Expanding the Wesleyan Writing Community
Okay, so you’re not Jack Kerouac. But you’re also not from the leagues of whiny teenage MySpace bloggers. Whether you’ve always wanted to write some epic True Blood fan fiction, or profile the woman you always see on your bus route, or even just write a damn good astrology paper, looking into the University’s new Writing Certificate may be worth your while.
Like other certificates at Wesleyan, the Writing Certificate provides students with recognition for taking specific interdisciplinary set of courses and will allow students the opportunity to craft their own writing careers using a set of courses across the University’s academic disciplines.
Comprised of five courses, the Certificate requires students to first complete gateway courses, which, within the Writing Certificate, are designated as entry-level craft or technique courses. Then, students must complete three elective courses, as well as WRCT 350, the Writing Certificate Senior Seminar.
Paula Sharp, who is Writer-in-Residence at the College of Letters and a member of the Writing Certificate faculty committee, believes that the Writing Certificate is special among our peer institutions, since it allows students to engage with such a wide array of writing styles in an academic context, experiences which they can apply to their lives after Wesleyan.
“Such a program is unique to Wesleyan,” Sharp said. “I don’t know of any other top college that offers a minor or certificate allowing students such a broad menu of writing options. Having something on your resume that says you can write is very important. If you happen to know how to put together an elegant paragraph you will be a valuable commodity.”
Sharp also said she is excited by the ways in which the Certificate could include students who either don’t see themselves as writers, or don’t normally taking writing courses.
“I hope the effect of the Certificate is to encourage students in a variety of majors to identify themselves as writers,” Sharp said. “Some of the best writers on campus are taking different kinds of majors, and don’t get official recognition for their writing. For example, the Certificate could better incorporate the community of science fiction writers on campus, groups who don’t historically take writing courses.”
The Certificate offers a variety of electives, which have greatly expanded since this past semester. Besides a variety of diverse English courses, which range from ENGL 318: James Baldwin in Black and White to ENGL 274: Oral Histories and the Portland Brownstone Quarry, the Certificate offers a course on biography writing, screen and play writing, and even translation courses. The certificate has also just added a new course: WRCT 259: Writing About Film for Modern Media.
The Certificate’s recent curriculum expansions are geared towards improving the program’s ability to include students with diverse writing backgrounds, and not just English majors. However, many students feel that there is still work that can be done to better allow access to the program across majors, develop the University’s writing community, and include more disciplines within the Certificate’s curriculum. For example, several introductory writing courses are currently not offered on WesMaps.
Krishna Winston, who is Dean of Humanities and Professor of German Studies as well as the head of the Writing Certificate faculty committee, pointed out the budgetary difficulties involved in establishing such courses, and how, in the short term, such difficulties constrain the range of Writing Certificate courses.
“The current budget situation makes it difficult to establish courses envisioned originally as desirable for inclusion in the certificate offerings,” Winston explained. “I am thinking especially of courses in criticism, such as literature, music, film, dance, science-writing for educated but non-expert audiences, biography, and the like to let them offer.”
Although writing programs are well funded at Wesleyan, budgetary constraints also impact the amount of introductory, crafts-level courses available for students. Since the Writing Certificate requires students to take an introductory course, some students, particularly upperclassmen, have found it difficult to get into techniques courses so that they can fulfill the requirements of the Certificate. Demetria Spinrad ’11, a member of the Writing Certificate senior seminar, is one of those students.
“Classes are really competitive to get into right now, especially the ones that you get into through the registration computer,” Spinrad said. “I actually had to petition to get into the Writing Certificate because I had never been able to get into a technique class even though I started in an advanced course. I had to fight for it, but they eventually let me into the Certificate and the senior seminar.”
Spinrad thought that one potential solution to the limited number of beginning classes would be to allow student forums to count for the certificate.
“Everyone in my capstone class could teach, we all have the technical skill to teach five to ten people the very basics,” Spinrad said.
Winston mentioned several potential modifications in the works for the Writing Certificate that could alleviate some of these issues.
“One thing we will do is go back to the Educational Policy Committee for authorization to allow juniors to take the capstone seminar,” Winston said. “There may be some other modifications, such as eliminating the requirement for an entry-level techniques or craft course for students who have started their writing careers at Wesleyan at a more advanced level.”
Emily Kossow ’11, a student in the Writing Certificate senior seminar, was happy that the faculty committee expanded the curriculum to include translation courses but felt that students could have more of a voice in the decision process.
“A bunch of us wrote a letter last year asking the faculty to tweak certain things that they had proposed at the end of last year, and they did most of what we asked,” Kossow said. “For example, they added translation classes this semester. I think that they could talk to students more about the curriculum, though.”
When asked how the certificate could be modified to potentially be more inclusive, Kossow suggested that the certificate should include more courses from foreign languages and reconsider their policy on the senior capstone experience.
“They should definitely look to the foreign language departments,” Kossow said. “There is great creative writing going on there, and translation courses are just a part of that. They should also maybe revamp their policy on theses, and think really hard on what it means to need a capstone experience because isn’t that what a thesis is?”
Spinrad emphasized that many student writers, particular science-fiction writers, are wary of actually taking writing courses at the University.
“Some of the best writers I have met at Wesleyan were especially reluctant to go into English classes,” Spinrad said. “A lot of them had been told here and in high school that fantasy and science fiction weren’t respectable genres. In time, as more classes are added to the Writing Certificate, I hope that more of that sort of writer will join the certificate.”
Still, Barbara Fenig ’11, another student in the senior seminar, said she was impressd by the writing faculty’s willingness to listen to student suggestions regarding the Certificate.
“As the Writing Certificate forms, the faculty seem to be doing everything right,” Fenig said. “The faculty seems to be genuinely concerned with incorporating students’ suggestions as they continue to shape the Certificate program of study. They are listening to students, so students should be vocal.”
Elizabeth Willis, who is Shapiro-Silverberg Associate Professor of Creative Writing, Associate Professor of English, and member of the faculty committee, echoed Fenig’s sentiment.
“We want to use the resources that we have, and it would be great to learn how students want to expand writing programs both inside and outside the classroom,” Willis said.