Nearly 50 Students Present at Fall Community Writing Symposium

December 3, 2019

Projects by students of Professors Stephenson, Kostelnik, Parks, and Smith.

Community Writing Symposium

On Tuesday, December 3rd, over 45 students presented their writing and research to dozens of visitors at the Community Writing Symposium sponsored by the Writing and Rhetoric Program at UVA. The event showcased projects created in community-focused courses in which students engaged with local and international communities. This innovative approach to learning couples the traditional classroom with real-world experience.

Over half the students were enrolled in Kate Stephenson’s first-year writing course, “Writing about Food Equity,” which explores food insecurity and the ways in which it intersects with other social justice issues, including affordable housing, homelessness, racism, poverty, and health care access. Students pair their classroom learning with weekly work in the community at various locations in Charlottesville, including The Haven, Loaves and Fishes, PVCC Community Garden, and PB&J Fund.  Writing enables students to explore the connections between the classroom and the community in powerful ways, as evidenced by the projects they created with and for these organizations. For example, Waverly Nohr and Rewan Kheraby filmed a short documentary, “Growing from the Ground Up,” about community gardens as sites not only of food production, but also empowerment and comradery.  “Humans of the Haven,” a website that seeks to debunk stereotypes about homelessness, uses photos, interviews, and string art to tell the stories of guests and volunteers at The Haven, a local day shelter in Charlottesville. 

Other courses represented included Kate Kostelnik’s “Tutoring and Writing Across Cultures,” Kevin Smith’s “Writing Charlottesville,” and Steve Parks’s “Democracy and Human Rights.” Kostelnik’s students spent the semester considering what it means to write, communicate, and learn across cultures. Students partnered with multi-lingual learners at Latinx and Migrant Aid or ESOL programs.  Projects reflected their impressive ability to use dialogic engagement to support collaboration and conversation across cultures.  Smith’s course asked students to think critically about local community, its tensions, complexities, and nuances.  The student projects show a wide-range of research interests, as the following titles suggest: “Growing Up with Charlottesville: A Perspective on Charlottesville Through Barrett Early Learning Center” (Mihir Prahlad), “Defining the Ethical Boundaries Around Data Science” (Grace Jones), and “ Art as an Agent for Gentrification: Case Study of Ix Art Park” (Virginia Ruhland-Mauhs).

An international focus on community and collaboration provides a unique learning experience in “Democracy and Human Rights,” a course taught by Steve Parks that partners UVA students with learners in Algeria. Through Skype and other online communications, participants work together to write and edit a book, the galley proofs of which were available for guests to peruse at Tuesday’s event. 

While this is the fourth consecutive Community Writing Symposium, this is the first time that so many classes have participated. It also marks the first time that guests from the Haven, who meet in a weekly writing group, led by Rob White, day shift manager at the Haven, and Professor Stephenson, participated in the event. Their short stories, poems, and visual art added powerfully to the conversation about community and social justice.  Visitors from all the community partners as well as around the university mingled with students and the Haven writers for energetic conversation about writing, community, and activism.

Stephenson expects that upcoming grants will fund more community partnerships, increased partner-driven writing projects, expanded course development, a larger symposium, faculty training, internship opportunities for students, and an annual publication.