from ENGL 110: Writing a Good Life, General section themed around wellness, Jessica Jones
“For many instructors, to see race is to reinforce a racist social system that has historically marginalized people of color and given unfair advantages to White European Americans (WEAs) in our society. In their attempt to give every student equal footing in the writing classroom, many instructors posit that they do not see race, claiming, ‘it does not matter if my students are Black, orange, or polka-dotted, they are simply students.’ Even though colorblindness advocates for a merit-based system, it rarely works to the advantages of people of color. As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and others have shown, the colorblind ideology is false. Moreover, adopting a colorblind perspective in the writing classroom does not mean that all differences are insignificant. Rather, a colorblind perspective usually translates into classroom practices that build upon and bestow neutral WEA students’ cultural, linguistic, and racial knowledge…despite its meritocratic intentions, the colorblind logic inconspicuously reinscribes the status quo” (Octavio Pimentel, Charise Pimentel, and John Dean ,”The Myth of the Colorblind Writing Classroom: White Instructors Confront White Privilege in Their Classrooms,” 109)
How I can recognize that my classroom is not a level playing field, acknowledging the ways that various forms of diversity in my classroom might impact the ability of my students to access and engage materials in the course? To give students room to articulate their needs without reifying them into identity categories and making assumptions about these needs for them, as Stephanie Kerschbaum warns against in Toward a New Rhetoric of Difference (2014), I ask that students fill out the following access survey at the beginning of any class I teach. I designed this survey in response to the pandemic, when issues of access became more easily visible in terms of navigating the logistics of connecting to class resources, but I will continue to use it when we return to face-to-face teaching. In response to this survey I have not only been able to help make certain adjustments to the course – such as more flexible deadlines for students struggling with mental health issues, or students who say they are working multiple jobs while also going to school – but I have also become aware of technology issues students have due to financial limitations, and have been able to connect them to UD’s free tech resources, including loaner laptops: https://sites.udel.edu/techatud/. Finally, based on the effusive responses I often get in relation to this survey, I find that the survey helps students feel seen as whole beings in the class; in my experience, this opens up a doorway for them to feel comfortable to reach out as issues arise. One thing I will say is that, because in my experience students do tend to share a lot of information in this survey, I do take some time not just to collect this information, but to respond individually to each student, and be prepared to make concrete adjustments in light of any access issues. This initial step I think also helps students feel seen in the course.
Access Survey (given as a individual CANVAS prompt)
Please take at least ten minutes to answer the following questions. You do not need to worry about answering in complete sentences. Your answers will help me work to make sure the course is accessible to you as a student. Thank you! Professor J (PS: I have also placed my own answers below, so you have some sense of my own access issues)
- What is the mental and emotional bandwidth you think you will have for this course, compared with other school semesters (same, more, less, you have no idea…)?
- Where are you accessing the course from? (UD campus, off campus apartment, family home, etc.)?
- What time zone are you in now and for the foreseeable future? If you are not in the Eastern Time Zone, this is especially important for me to know.
- Do you have unlimited access to a computer–either laptop or desktop–with an Internet connection, or is your access limited in some way?
- Do you have a camera and microphone on your computer or device you will be using to access our course?
- Do you have any worries, fears or challenges you face in terms of online learning that you want me to know about?
- Would you be interested in getting extra writing or homework help for this class by working in a small group led by our writing fellow, Eileen? If so, how often would you like the group to meet? (a) Weekly, to help with homework and minor writing assignments in addition to the major essays in the course, b) less frequently and timed to get help, feedback, or have structured writing time in relation to the major writing projects of the course (Essay One and Essay Two) c) some other option)
- Is there anything else that you think is important for me to know about you as a learner or student which can impact your ability to access all the materials in our course?
Due: by Friday September 3 at midnight Eastern Standard Time (EST)
This will be graded as a Class Activity post: 1 points for completed, .5 points for hurried, incomplete or wildly off the mark, 0 points for missing
Professor Jones’s answers:
1) I feel it’s about the same. I have a lot of energy for the course as I really enjoy teaching it. I am going to work on trying to balance and boundaries work time and home time this semester, since there is a tendency for them to bleed into one another when working from home.
2) I am accessing the course from my home in Philadelphia. I share it with my husband and also our small dog, Astro. You will probably hear him barking from time to time!
3) I’m in Eastern Standard Time
4) I do have my own computer, but our internet is not always great. Sometimes it cuts out and is slow.
5) I do have a camera and mic. I have gone back and forth as a teacher on requiring students to have their cameras on for full participation points, but I’ve decided to go with it this semester because, from a pedagogical standpoint, the online space is difficult, and I think we need to do everything we can to make it work. In that spirit, I do feel it is important to have our cameras on so we can “see” each other (see question 6). Students have also reported to me that having it on helps them keep on task. One thing I hated about the camera when I first started using it was how I could see myself when I spoke. One breakthrough I had in relation to this was: I can turn off my own image by right-clicking in the corner and choosing to “hide self view.” Happy to chat about any of this more.
6) I am really invested in humanizing the classroom space as an instructor. This means I want the classroom to be a warm and unalienating space in which thought can occur and you as students and me the professor are treated as people first, and students and a professor second, if that makes sense? I think I have found some ways to do this in the online format, but it has its challenges.
7) I would love to work with Eileen on my writing! In fact, if such a group forms I might just drop by from time to time!
8) Looking at the screen for too long was giving me headaches (ocular migraines!), and I still get a bit disoriented sometimes if I’ve been looking at the screen for too long. So I have to take breaks. But last semester I discovered blue light glasses (!) which you will see my using. They have the advantage not only of making me look “more like a professor” (ha, what does a professor even look like?) but they also seem to have helped with the headaches!