Students at North Central College are continually engaged in impactful discussions and civil discourse about controversial topics and social issues. While the Black Student Association, Mosaic and OUTreach encourage students to participate in campus activism, in the classroom students also debate issues and write about them in a respectful way.
The English 315 Advanced Writing is the epitome of the holistic learning experience, where students can bring ideas and opinions to life. They have delved into many complex issues. Alexander Dungan ’18, majoring in psychology, published his class paper titled “This is a Gay That the Lord Has Made” on The Huffington Post blog. His paper was not just an assignment for him, it was a tool for social change.
Jennifer Jackson, associate professor of English, is particularly proud of English 315, students like Dungan and the professors who focus on real engagement in the classroom. “Writing arguments and supporting initiatives that change lives is the focus of most sections,” Jackson says.
The use of English as an academic tool for social change is often overlooked, Jackson explains. “English courses value a range of viewpoints and methods through close reading and persuasive writing.”
English 315 is unique because students in their third year of a discipline or program can apply what they’ve learned and what interests them in assignments and class discussions. Students are asked to write responses to specified issues and learn to use their academic discipline to research and address issues under discussion.
“Using rhetorical strategies and incorporating what [students] learned from readings, they experience the excitement of working together on a real need and realize [they] can all be reflective, informed and eloquent citizens,” Jackson says.
Dungan used his paper to call attention to an issue he cares about deeply.
“During freshman year of high school, I first heard about how the church has hurt LGBT+ people,” he says. “Being a passionate Christian is actually what made me become a passionate advocate even before I had figured out my own sexuality. The whole concept of a hateful Christian was completely foreign to me, which is what made me intrigued as to what would cause people to have this belief. This, along with the fact that I was asexual and didn't fully understand what sexual attraction was, drove me to research homosexuality and heterosexism in relation to biblical studies.”
In his paper, Dungan outlines the moral tension between Christianity and the LGBT+ community and, more specifically, how anti-gay advocates use religion to support their beliefs. Using sound evidence in his paper, Dungan explains why this ends up hurting and excluding people.
“My first goal started when I learned that LGBT+ were justifiably afraid to go to church. I wanted to show the LGBT+ community they don't need to be afraid of Christianity and that there are many ways to feel completely safe in a faith environment. My second goal started when I realized my own sexual orientation and started to experience hateful remarks from other Christians whom I trusted. I wanted to find ways to convince them that the harm they were doing was unjustified and wrong. I feel like this paper worked toward both goals.”
Adjunct professor Megan Paonessa teaches the English 315 course that resulted in Dungan’s essay.
Students had to create an argument around a social issue of their choice, through the lens of their discipline, and enter into the present-day discussion. They had to submit their articles to an academic journal, trade publication or other news-oriented outlet.
“Alexander’s work illustrates how students can use interests and education to join social issue discussions as they are happening,” says Paonessa. “Students taking English 315 are typically juniors and seniors, which means graduation isn’t far off. The ‘real world’ awaits. My class affords a small glimpse into what their field of study could offer, but most importantly, it teaches them to write well, to express their views, and to use writing as a tool for social change.”
“I really enjoyed the opportunity,” says Dungan, “to write a paper for a class where the professor simply said ‘write a persuasive research piece on something current and controversial.’ It gave me the chance to do a full analysis on this topic instead of just little incomplete Facebook rants. Academia is a major tool that social justice warriors have on their side. To not use it would just reduce social justice into a ‘who said it louder’ competition.”
By Upasna Barath ‘19