If there’s one thing that WRAC emphasizes, it’s stories. And Ph.D. candidate Sarah Prielipp and Dr. Carol Quinn know the power of stories and their meaning to students. In their first-year writing classrooms last year, Sarah and Carol collaborated on and integrated The Facing Project, “a community storytelling project . . . that connects people through stories to strengthen community,” as a way for students to practice research methods, understand privilege, and consider ethics. Before starting The Facing Project, Sarah and Carol applied for a grant with Michigan Campus Compact, were selected for grant funding, and attended a training session for the project. The Facing Project hopes to tell and teach stories about an issue as a way to start a conversation toward a resolution.
Last spring, Carol taught two sections and Sarah taught three sections of WRA 101 Writing as Inquiry. Both Carol and Sarah had the FYW students interview other MSU students about the social issues in attending college, which often led to discussions about the different challenges first-generation versus legacy students face, financial obligations and decisions, and access, just to name a few. Sarah even offers her own story of how she was a first-generation student who, when in first starting college, didn’t know that she could drop a class.
Students then wrote first-person narratives about interviewing other MSU students and hearing their stories, and then made short videos. In making these videos, FYW students reflected upon various rhetorical moves to ethically represent their fellow Spartans’ stories. Students often had to go back and talk with the storyteller again in order to clarify how the storyteller would want their story told through a visual medium. And, of course, students had to stay true to the storyteller’s story; FYW students learned that they can’t just change a story because they think it’s uninteresting or have a different vision for the storyteller. At the annual spring FYW conference that WRAC organizes, FYW students showed their videos and talked with conference attendees about the interview process.
Sarah had several intentions with using The Facing Project in first-year writing, but she says one in particular could relate to all students: the fact that “everyone has a story and how it affect the ways they do college and school.” But students learned a lot more, according to Sarah, such as accessibility (check out “Facing College as a Visually Impaired Student through my eyes”), student athletes (What’s the purpose of the institution?: to serve students or serve athletes), and several others. Overall, FYW students became more aware of themselves as students, the help they can provide to others to get the education they need, their privilege to go to college, and the various ways community engagement can happen internally within MSU.
Sarah would love to see other teachers taking on The Facing Project. This year, she is focusing the project in her class on the culture of a discipline, which works well with one of the FYW curriculum’s major assignments, “Disciplinary Literacy.” The assignment enables students to learn about the literacy practices of a discipline or profession and invites students to ask questions that they’ll carry throughout their college career: What am I doing here? What resources do I bring to the project of my education? What do I need, and how do I achieve my goals?
Sarah hopes to get the The Facing Project stories and overall project circulated more widely to have a greater community impact. Many of the stories are important to a variety of people and could be relatable to many others, as Sarah says this project “reaches students where they are.” However, one of the most valuable questions Sarah asks with the project is: What stories do we want to be told about MSU students? Through storytelling and working with stories, The Facing Project in FYW courses is a small slice of the diversity at MSU.
Students’ work with The Facing Project can be found here: http://msu.facingproject.com/blog/