y Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures :: Academic Memoirs Across Media
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Michigan State University
Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
Academic Memoirs Across Media
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Left to right: Mirabeth Braude, Shewonda Leger, Brooke Chambers, Naomi Sweo, Lauren Brentnell, Jaquetta Shade and Julia Shapiro.

WRAC891: Academic Memoirs

 Hanna Kielar

I was nervous to sit in on a graduate class because I have always thought of grad students as so much older than me. In my head, I’m still approximately 12 - I think I peaked in middle school - and anyone older than me, even remotely, is automatically put on a pedestal. After observing WRA 891, a special topics class on Academic Memoirs Across Media, I realized they’re college students, too -- just with a little more life experience and some serious caffeine addictions. They still get distracted by slinkies and new squishables, and are excited to see what new candy has been added to Bessey 317. We’re all here to learn as much as we can in order to make strides towards a better tomorrow.

The class is taught by Professor Alexandra Hidalgo, an assistant professor whose interest lies in gender and cultural studies and filmmaking  through a feminist lens. It was exciting to see how she incorporated her interest into the class --a group made up of all females. Some of the memoirs I had the privilege of hearing about focused on what it was like to be a woman in today’s society, and how that alters perceptions about very intimate topics like mental health and trauma.

As stated by the course syllabus, the class is designed to be “an exploration of the intersections between the memoir genre and academia.” Students are expected to read and respond to academic memoirs published in rhetoric and composition journals, as well as to have their own academic memoir created when the course is complete. (If you’re puzzled like I was, an academic memoir is a form that combines theory from a given field and applies it to the author’s life experiences.)

The way the class is taught makes everyone seem equal; Hidalgo sat in the same area as the students instead of far away at a desk. She was like one of the students, and that definitely contributed to the positive atmosphere in the classroom. It would be easy for Hidalgo to teach it like an undergraduate class, where she instructs and her students follow; but this hands-on approach does wonders for generating healthy discussion. She has the task of bringing students and ideas from two of WRAC’s PhD programs together in one class - digital rhetoric and cultural rhetoric.

It was like being a fly on the wall at a sorority meeting. Even before class started, they were all sharing how their days were going, offering advice and helpful suggestions to deal with the stresses of balancing work, school, and play. These are ladies who find the courage to share their stories in the safe space Hidalgo and the rest of the group create on Wednesdays from 5-7:50 in Bessey 317. Everyone is friendly and receptive to other ideas and viewpoints; there was no underlying tension when they were discussing a memoir they had watched for that week - except towards the guy who made it, who did not quite set himself up for generous comments from the feminist perspective.

It was interesting to learn how these women were shaping their own memoirs. There was as much focus on the story itself as there was on the medium through which the story was presented. Being able to tell a story through both digital and written media is vital for anyone looking to gain credibility and recognition in today’s rhetorical world. And being able to share that story, not matter how personal or painful, is essential to personal growth and academia alike.

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From left to right: Shewonda Leger, Suban Cooley, Brooke Chambers

Overall, the class evoked an atmosphere that was friendly and open, which could be attributed to Hidalgo’s teaching style in conjunction with such a small group. And, guys are certainly welcome to take this class, too - if it’s offered again, I’m sure a little bit of testosterone would add a whole new layer of depth to the mix.

I’m very thankful that these ladies let me sit in on their class a few weeks ago, and can safely report that graduate students are people, too. They don’t bite.

If you’re interested in learning more about academic memoirs, you should check out the final products at the end of the semester!