First Step for Sharing My Research

Even though I finished my main research essay, I am looking forward to completing my public writing portfolio.  This is mainly because I was disappointed with the way my research turned out.  I felt like I had so many topics that I did not get to touch on in order to not stray from my main question.  In my research essay, I mainly analyzed the effects of the non-racist rhetoric in the education system on the local DC community.  My next goal with this research project is to pitch my research to my professor so she will nominate me to present at the University Writing Panel Research and Writing Conference.

To find examples, I honestly just googled, “how to pitch your research for a panel,” because I wondered if Google would work better with a more blunt approach.  The results mainly led me to websites giving advice on how to pitch your book at a writing conference to get it published.  This is in the context of being an author pitching your book to editors with other esteemed authors being the competition.  I am not at that level yet, but most of the advice is applicable to my situation nonetheless.  I could not find specific examples of a pitch, just advice.

The author of a pitch is advertising his or her own writing, trying to convince a higher power to publish it.  In my case, I am trying to “publish” my research for the purpose of presenting to future University Writing students, so I must present a pitch to my professor, the superior.  The scene of the pitch is formal, but you can still use “I”.  My particular situation is less formal.  The advice from the websites I looked at said that the main thing is to “play up your credentials”, which I think I could tie into my pitch by relating how my research would benefit the GW community next semester.  The advice from this website is to write around one page, and no more than two, unless it is “brilliant” and there is “a lot to say”.  There was no specification on paragraph length, but I conclude that as long as the paragraphs are fully developed, any length is reasonable.  I personally, will not use abbreviations because I want to be clear in my writing.  Also, by using “insider” words, I would not be able to establish a genuine connection with the reader.  This website did not say anything about citations, but I read a reflection letter with citations; therefore, to rather be safe than sorry, I will cite in my pitch.  Nothing about pictures was mentioned, but to me it seems unnecessary and irrelevant to add pictures.  The only situation in which I could envision this being acceptable for my pitch is if my audience wants me to use a visual aid during the conference and they want me to show a preview of my visual aid.  Since the advice related to writing style, I do not know much about the writing format, but I will follow up with my professor on that.  Overall, I think the best advice is to know your audience beforehand so you can know how to catch their attention in a more effective manner.

Self-Growth in Writing: I Know Where I am Going

Writing for Social Change has been my all-time favorite class.  As the end draws closer, I am starting to become very sad because I have learned so much, and I do not want to stop that expansion of knowledge.  However, I know that there is always much to learn outside of the classroom; I just have to own up to the challenge of seeking the information for myself.  I would say that this class has helped me become a better writer because it has shown me the empowering side to writing and reading.  Before, all I had known of these skills had been associated with feeling like my creative spirits were trapped in a box.  Through this class, I was told to experiment outside of my comfort zone because if I did not, I would never learn anything from the experience.  If I were not empowered to follow my own writing dynamic, I probably would still be a very stagnant writer.

Visiting my first blog posts from earlier on in the semester brings me back to moments of pure excitement.  For the first time in my life, I had felt genuinely excited to put words down on paper – or in this case, a computer screen.  I always thought very deeply about what I would write down because I wanted my best work to public.  That being said, I do not think I would change the content with which I answered the blog prompts assigned to me through this class.  That may come across as if I think my writing was perfect, but that is not true.  I always included many different perspectives in my blog posts, especially the ones in which I talked about my role in my local DC organization, the LAYC.  Regarding the intellectual content of the class, I am in the same headspace that I was many weeks ago, but I have improved my understanding and employment of the rhetoric.  If I were to change anything, I think it would be to become even more transparent to my audience.  Throughout the duration of the class, I was paranoid that I might have been too blunt at certain points, but I realize now that that pure honesty is something valuable.  Now that I have improved my rhetoric, I could continue to be honest, but still keep it classy and tactful.

Visiting my blogs from when I first wrote about my involvement at the LAYC, I see my spirit start out as a flame, then later get put out and smashed to ashes.  Honestly, volunteering at the LAYC was more stressful than it was helpful I think.  Most people might take this as I was annoyed to travel there – which I was not.  I was just stressful because it led me to question everything.  I guess I could retract my statement of this experience not being helpful, as we can learn something from everything.  This experience forced me to confront my role in perpetuating the White Savior Complex.  Although this may have put a lot of worry into my daily life, I have to take it upon myself to make sure that I continue to educate myself and others about the potential negative consequences of something like this occurring.  I can not be too caught up on feeling guilty; I have to recognize what is happening and do something to change it.  In addition, considering I am not from the racially marginalized community, this stress is nothing I should complain about.

Concerning my research process, I look back and think to myself, “Wow you had such great ideas, Erin, but you could have done so much better.”  One thing that I know about myself is that I am terrible at managing my time.  This is something I have to consciously remind myself of to improve, but, combined with the research project in this class, it gave me insight into how procrastination can debilitate the research and writing process.  I also noticed that I changed my question a lot, so over the summer, I want to initiate my own research project to retouch on the question I initially wanted to research.  If I start disciplining myself this summer, I know that my writing abilities and time management will only improve as well.  Once again, it simply comes down to accountability of self.

What stands out about this Writing for Social Change class to me the most is the way we structured our research.  We used “Frameworks” and “Objects of Study”, which if I were to use those two terms in daily life, I do not know how many people would actually understand the meaning.  I have to admit, these terms left me confused for most of the semester until the day I turned in my research paper.  In that moment, I actually started to get a hang of how to employ each (I might not have done it right, but I still felt like I did).  This strategy was helpful to me because it was an “outside-of-the-box” technique.  Another thing I had to accustom myself to was the fact that I was adding to an educational conversation, not arguing my opinion.  At first I thought this was stupid because I am only 19 years old…how would I gather my own stance in a world where many other scholars already elaborated on what I wanted to say?  I realized that I could add my own flare by talking about the LAYC because I had not come across research from the LAYC concerning “diversity” rhetoric, and now I am much more confident in my researching skills and my ability to formulate an informative document.

For my final project, the Public Writing Portfolio, I want to elaborate on my concern about perpetuating the White Savior Complex.  I feel that in pursuit of a Revolution, and in order to uphold solidarity, this must be addressed.  The white community will only stall the Revolution if it feeds into this notion.  I want to start a dialogue about this notion in a letter to the Nashman Center for Civic Engagement so that they are aware that this is happening.  I am not going to attack them, I just want to work on finding a solution to this detriment.  I would be more than happy to work with the people there on this issue.  Furthermore, I really want to present at the UWP Writing and Research Conference.  I know my essay might not have been the perfect essay, but I know that what I have to say brings to light a new stance and will facilitate a necessary discussion about diversity on GWU’s campus.  Also, if I presented, other students would be able to ask me questions, which would help me to delve further into research and to continue challenging my way of thinking.  Overall, my mission would be to connect my research to my role at the LAYC throughout the semester.

I imagine myself having to create and revise a shorter paper accompanied by a powerpoint, but I want to also include my personal experience at the LAYC.  As of right now, I just want to know how I would be able to present at the next UWP Writing and Research Conference.  I was so inspired by the presentations I saw when I attended, and I honestly want to pass that inspiration along to at least one other student, who could eventually pass it on to more students.

Coming to a Close

The writing process is a journey unique to each individual.  For me, it is unnecessarily complicated in its own way, with this final essay for my University Writing class being no better.  The best analogy I can think of is when your mom looks at you and says, “Your room is so messy.  How do you know where anything is?”  It is so disorganized that it actually is organized because you know where everything is among the chaos.  With my writing, I know what I want to say, and my thought process makes sense to me.  However, achieving a coherent way of conveying my knowledge to others is where I struggle. In my pre-undergraduate academic career, I would avoid writing as much as possible because I felt intimidated by the messiness of the writing process.  The looming approach of the inevitable University Writing class bothered me all first semester because I knew I would have to be pestered with the chaos of the writing process.  As I have finished the writing process for my final draft of this research paper, I can only say one thing: I have to come love and appreciate the writing process, messiness, disorganization, and all.

Before, I never felt inspired to write.  I felt like I would maybe stumble on a different manner of conveying my beliefs.  During this University Writing class, I was exposed to the raw struggle that everyone goes through, even people who have years of experience and have published books.  There is always something comforting in seeing other people struggling with the same things, but this was not the main contributor to my newfound inspiration.  I was actually given the chance to write about something I cared about.  Usually, the prompt is given to me, and I have to make do with what I was given.  This time around, I had everything at the tips of my fingers.  This was relieving at first…but soon after, the never-ending list of potential topics began to overwhelm me.  I had so many areas of interest, how could I narrow it down to one?  My mind went straight to one thing: Diversity.  What could I do with this? Even more endless possibilities.  It was hard to narrow this down, but what helped me was just reading a bunch of different sources and seeing which information grabbed my attention and maintained it.  If I was able to keep paying attention to a certain topic, I knew I would be able to elaborate on that particular conversation.

It was weird being assigned to write in a way that continued a conversation rather than argued a certain perspective.  After becoming accustomed to this new approach, I came up with my question by asking myself a question.  I am a curious person, so I like to acquire random knowledge.  If I could not answer my own question, that implies that there is knowledge out there that I must acquire.  I started thinking about what I never hear regarding diversity.  My first thought was to ask myself, “How did the definition of ‘diversity’ change from the Civil Rights Movement Era to now?” because it already changes so much between different people in just this New Jim Crow Era.  This is relevant for social change because as with any revolution, solidarity is a key component.  There cannot be solidarity if there is no clarity in the meaning of certain words, values, etc.  Because “diversity” is a word that gets taken advantage of by many institutions, I was curious to know how it is employed and/or misconstrued.   To relate it back to my community, I wanted to know if any local DC organizations had different definitions of “diversity”.

This idea seemed to foster so much potential, but as I actually started writing my paper, I realized I based my framework around the educational institutions.  This made sense to me as the writer, but looking from the reader’s perspective, I could see why it strays from the original question.  As I continued my research, I tried to find resources relating to my question more, but I was too interested in the role of the education system to drop that component of the research.  It was either drop it or change my question.  Thus, my new and improved research question was born.  This time is had to do with whether or not the educational institution sets up a misconstruance of the word “diversity” and if so, how community organizations counteract this.  This ignited my revolutionary spirit as I encountered more and more research.  Clarifying the framework was the hardest part, but I always knew my object of study would be the Latin American Youth Center because it was one of the institutions that made me wonder what “diversity” meant to others.  Needless to say, organizing my essay took a while, but that refinement only made it sparkle more.  Honestly, what helped the most was labeling the sections and sub-headers.

The introduction was the part I was excited to write because I was able to introduce my mission.  I love sharing why I care about this topic, but I had to be sure to not get carried away with information that would distract the reader from the main point of the conversation.  For me, at least, it is hard to eliminate certain aspects of my personal anecdote because I see each step as important.  Having two to three other people read this in a writing workshop helped me gain an outside perspective on what was unnecessary.  There was no problem with persuading the intended audience that I have the capacity to add to the discussion…I think I might have written in such a way that could have startled the intended audience as they might not have been used to that amount of vigor coming from an author as young as me.  I learned to find the balance between vigor, passion, and conciseness.

All the other parts I wrote together, but I came back to writing the conclusion separately in order to give myself a few days to reflect.  My intent was to see if I actually reflected, would that show in my conclusion?  I am not sure if that is the typical way of going about this, but it worked for me better.  I normally rush my conclusions so I can be done with the paper, but this allowed me to not feel pressured to just abruptly end everything.

With the revising process, I knew my grammar would be fine.  I have always been very picky with sounding grammatically correct, and I just naturally implement proper grammar structures into my writing.  The main question I had to remind myself of was, “Would this be coherent to an outside reader?”  In the beginning, my framework was jumbled up, but towards the end, I adapted to a more condensed topic, so the coherent aspect followed suit.  “Wordiness” is also something I had to watch out for.  As a university student trying to sound wiser than her years, I tended to overstretch the boundaries on that, but I would catch myself and remind myself that it was highly unnecessary.  Now that I think about it, this could have contributed to any incoherent stream of ideas.

This was the first time I had ever used the APA method of citation.  The citation workshop in class helped me a ton because at first, I saw no difference between MLA and APA.  In retrospect, APA is more detailed than MLA (what I normally use), so I had to go back and double-check that my sources were cited properly, especially with in-text citations.  The in-text citations were very casual at first, so I am glad I fixed them.  I am not looking to plagiarize ever.

~Overall, I am truly grateful for going through this writing process.  It came at a time where I almost gave up on it, but now it is something I actually want to engage in more so I can improve it within myself.  The process of adding to a conversation, especially given the freedom to talk about my passions, has given me a determination to learn more and a humbling feeling of self-growth, which is something I can never take for granted.

Oh no…

I remember this moment as if it were yesterday.  All the students in the guitar class were set up in a circle with their guitars waiting for instructions from the teacher.  The teacher explained what to do, but he then looked at me out of habit to re-explain in Spanish.  I looked around at the students to get a sense of who exactly did not understand so I could speak towards them more.

As I finished translating the instructions, the students just looked at me with blank stares.  They asked me, “Whaaat…?”  I started to revise my translation when, all of a sudden, one of the students does it instead.  I thought to myself, “Well THAT would have been an easy way to put it…wow why didn’t you think of that?”  This was the “Oh no” moment that made the rest of my time at the LAYC confusing and worrysome instead of fun and interactive.  This was the moment I questioned my role at the LAYC.  Why was I there as a translator if another student could just do it?  This was also the moment that I felt like they began to think of me as irrelevant and think, “Why is this gringa here if she can barely even get this message across?”

Of course they never said any of this to me, but I just felt those vibes in the room.  It was after that moment that I really began to isolate myself rather than participate more.  It would seem logical to participate more so I could “redeem myself” or something, but I was just so nervous of messing up more that I started speaking only when necessary.   Every Friday when going to the LAYC, I would just get a spark of nervousness through my body.  I was never excited to go there, always preoccupied with the possibility of messing up and being judged.

Needless to say, my expectations of what my volunteering experience would be like did not get reached by the actual experience.  Nevertheless, I learned in hindsight that I need to not get as pent up anymore.  Obviously people mess up, so I should not let my mistakes affect when I do or don’t participate.  I tried to tell myself that this semester, but I guess it just did not really get through to my own head.

 

 

May I have your attention?

This title probably draws readers in, but how do I make them continue reading instead of just scrolling away?  Usually, I just write whatever flows to my mind, but as I get more serious about writing, I want to employ a true writing style.  To create an effective introduction, I must first analyze its components, from which I will draw on Michelle Alexander’s, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”.  Many people have praised this book for its captivity and ability to engage many readers into a more profound discussion of racist rhetoric, so what better piece of literature to draw on?

Her very first paragraph is an anecdote that is written in choppy sentences.  The anecdote itself showed just how related the Old Jim Crow is to the New Jim Crow.  To me, the choppy sentences symbolize just how simple the concept is to understand…if one chooses to listen.  She goes into more detail for those who don’t quite grasp the concept from the first paragraph, but then she connects it with a personal story.  Alexander describes how she did not even understand the concept when it was presented to her, but how she had to learn and develop her own understanding by working around the system for a bit.  This makes it more relatable for the reader…by “it”, I mean the notion of a continuously evolving system.  Activists tend to reminisce about our “coming to social consciousness” journeys, and because this personal account of Alexander’s “coming to social consciousness” was laid out, we [activists] do not tend to feel as pressured to engage in competition with who became “woke” first.  As this book was made for activists (among other communities) to read, it serves to remind us that social awakening is a process, not a one-stop-shop.

Alexander engages the reader after this by carefully slipping in her thesis: “Mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.”  This is only reached on page four, yet to me, this also signals the urgency of the issue.  It is so forthright that the reader is left yearning for more because we want to see if she can handle and prove such bold accusations.  Also, from the perspective of an activist, I agree with her statement, but before reading her argument, I did not know how to exactly lay out the argument for the opposition.  I am much better prepared to relay the urgency of recognizing this problematic system after reading the facts that support this thesis.  Page thirteen is where Alexander begins her persuasion that the reader has the capacity to address the issue by initiating a conversations around the language of caste.  She compares this framework of language to that of Number 45.  Most of the readers, I assume, can make the connection between the two because we have all been affected by it, and activists have been analyzing how Number 45 actually acquired the most coveted position of power.  This shows the readers our own capacity to fight against the rhetoric of Number 45 by educating those brainwashed by it; if we understand it and can analyze it, we can expose its contradictions to society.

Although she calls into questions some activists’ way of fighting on the front line, what are we doing if we never question ourselves?  Yes, it is imperative to be confident, but if we are too blinded by our confidence to keep ourselves challenged, there would be no such thing as learning.  Without learning, the concept of improvement would have never been conceived.  Some activists may interpret this as Alexander’s way of alienating them, but they could look at it as a way to draw closer to other activists for more support.  To provide a holistic view of the problem without making it seem hard to solve, Alexander writes that the goal is to “cultivate an ethic of genuine care, compassion, and concern for ever human being — of every class, race, and nationality — within our nation’s borders” because if that does not happen, the collapse of mass incarceration will not equate to the death of racial caste in the United States.  Basically, if we do not dismantle the system already in place, we will be stuck feeding it until we die.  We, as activists, just have to find a way to squeeze the lemonade out of those lemons and ignite the revolution.

GWU Diversity Summit 2017

On Wednesday, March 29th, 2017, The George Washington University hosted its second annual Diversity Summit.  The purpose of this was to shed light on the forgotten and silenced communities on the collegiate level and to question whether GWU is just diverse…or is it actually inclusive?  The set-up was a conference starting at 8:00am and going on until 9:00pm, with different workshops all throughout the day.

I consider myself to be an activist, revolutionary, etc., but most of my knowledge extends to racial and gender accounts and theories.  In order to be more inclusive and intersectional, I need to educate myself on other communities such as the LGBTQ+ community.  In order to strengthen my allyship to said community, I planned on attending the “Allyship 2.0: More than ‘Understanding’ the ‘Coming Out’ Process” workshop.  Unfortunately, due to previously arranged commitments, I was unable to attend that specific workshop.  Instead, I went to the “Voices of Muslim Women” panel from 8:00pm – 8:50pm because I wanted to learn more about Western Feminism vs. Eastern Feminism.  {The White community has just now started recognizing that Intersectional Feminism is a ~necessary~ concept, but many have yet to recognize the differences between Western Feminism and Eastern Feminism…according to my observations.}   This is of interest to me because many times I have found myself in situations where I have to combat notions of Muslim women being oppressed by wearing a hijab.  I elaborate on how wearing hijab is not required, it is a choice, misogyny is everywhere, culture is separate from religion, and how the hijab is empowering to those who wear it.   I think to make my argument more effective, I need to understand how it is empowering to the women who unwaveringly show their identity through the hijab.  Who better to ask than a Muslim woman herself?

The two women on the panel were Wardah Khalid and Mona Eldadah.  After the group panel ended, I went up to them to ask my question.  I wanted to get a more personal answer, so I did not want to ask in front of the whole audience.  Upon approaching them and introducing myself, I said, “When I try to defend the dignity of Muslims, I often want to explain to the opposition that the hijab can be empowering.  However, I want more concrete experiences to draw on, so how does the hijab make you two specifically feel empowered?” {In future encounters where I have to rely on this argument, I will let the opposition know that they are not the spokeswomen for all hijabis, instead two personal accounts I have come across.}

Wardah Khalid said what empowers her is that when she enters the room, people know what she is about.  No one has to question her identity or is surprised when they find out that she has certain beliefs concerning religion.  She is so proud to be a Muslim woman, and she wants people to recognize that the hijab is part of her identity, and it is not going to leave her identity.  Mona Eldadah said she grew up just like many girls today: the standard idea of female empowerment is to expose yourself to males for self-gratification.  She wants to be an example of how yes, that can be empowering to some women, but it does not have to be the only way of female empowerment.  She mentioned how many girls feel like they have to wear a two-piece at the beach, and if they don’t they will not feel as attractive as the other females.  From wearing the hijab, she has learned to develop confidence from her modesty, not necessarily from what body parts she shows to the public.  Neither of them condemns women who do not wear hijab – Muslim or non-Muslim.  In fact, they explained to me the intersection between females and “Islamic character”.  They said they have seen females who are Muslim act in ways that make them think, “Girl what are you doing? Why are you representing Islam in this disrespectful way?”; they have also seen non-Muslim females who act in a position of “good character” according to Islam.

Wardah Khalid and Mona Eldadah were so well-spoken, and I hope they stay confident in their Muslim identities.  I also hope that they will be able to speak at more events like this so that more people can be exposed to Muslims, normalizing their identity and character without judgments and generalizations impeding that.

Service at the LAYC, cont.

As mentioned previously, I volunteer at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC.  When I first visited the LAYC, I did not know whether I belonged or not.  I personally did not feel out of place because growing up, most of the people I chose to surround myself with were either Black or Latino; however, I was too worried about whether I was infiltrating a safe space.  Because this community organization aims to support the youth of minority communities, namely young latino youth, I felt like an intruder.  I have had to take a step back and assess the White Savior Complex that I might be perpetuating.  I had to ask myself, “Why would these youth want your help when you come from the community that has kept them contained to social marginalization?”  This has led me to remain in a headspace of, “Speak only when spoken to [or when told to translate]”.

This has led me to remain in a headspace of, “Speak only when spoken to [or when told to translate]”.  I recall from my earlier blog that I thought “time is the best solution” and that after a few weeks go by, the students would hopefully have become more accustomed to my presence.  Honestly, I think these students are accustomed to my presence, but I think they do question my role.  This is where I have become my greatest obstacle:  because I am so worried about not perpetuating the White Savior Complex, I do not interact as much as I should, which in turn leads to the students not being as receptive to me, which then causes everyone to feel a looming presence of awkwardness.  The last session I went to (March 31st, 2017), I did not say anything at all.  Part of me was relieved because I did not have to stress over whether the students would judge my Spanish or not.  (Being completely fluent in a language other than your native one still comes with not being confident at all times because not only do you feel the immense pressure of proving people that you are fluent, but you feel like the native speakers will pick apart every syllable of your spoken word.)  On the other hand, I still felt really useless. Why did I come all the way here to not do anything?  I know I demonstrated my dedication by showing up, but overall, I have just created so much anxiety for myself with my own perception of my “gringa” presence.  After all of this is said and done, I then think to myself, “You speak Spanish fluently with no accent.  Maybe this changes their perception of your character.  Give them and yourself the benefit of the doubt.”  (One can see how I overthink myself into some pretty dragged out situations…)

I still have not asked any of the staff or students how they feel about my “gringa” presence.  Again, this is my fault because I just try to get in and get out.  In these last few weeks of volunteering, I have a goal to ask the staff more about their views on diversity, inclusion, safe space, and how they perceive me.  Maybe I can finally get some clarity and peace within myself for five seconds.