The Sweetland Minor in Writing prioritizes community. While those enrolled in the program each pursue distinct projects of their own design, we believe that those highly individuated pursuits improve by virtue of writers sharing the same procedural space. To exchange ideas, run experiments, try out jokes, consider alternatives, mirror audiences: none of these can be done in isolation, even if so much of the writing itself must be. Given that emphasis on community, being forced into remote learning might seem at first like a potentially insurmountable threat to the very operation of the Minor.
I think the fact that remote learning hasn’t compromised the Minor at all can be attributed to two things. The first is that because the program already requires students to design and enact their writing projects as websites, there’s a way in which meeting via Zoom actually better prepares the students for how potential readers will take up their writing than a traditional classroom experience does. The latter, while possessing all the virtues of direct, in-person engagement, does not actually predict the means by which most readers now encounter either writing or writers. For better or worse, the digitally mitigated space is now the commons, and its challenges and opportunities are those shared not just by students who happen to be enrolled in this program but by all those who participate in digital discourse. Working exclusively in and through that medium, as opposed to working outside of it and then importing the results, offers a more accurate experience relative to the writing and reading tasks at hand.
The second element that helped the program thrive in the midst of remote learning is, of course, the students themselves. Their empathy for those experiencing the stress of remote learning was immense; the fact that all felt it in their own ways made them more alert to the experiences of their peers, not less. And I think it was also useful for the students to “see” each in their own environments rather than in the allegedly neutral shared space of the classroom. It was a useful reminder that every writer writes from somewhere – literally occupying both a discrete physical space and a unique point of view. To have the occasion to remember that while still finding ways to collaborate and create something shared just demonstrates the kind of commitment our Minors bring to the program and to each other. We are grateful for them and to them for demonstrating how unwanted burdens and crises can make communities even as they challenge them.
Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing