My composition and rhetoric courses are grounded in the exploration of identity politics and in rhetorical constructions that emerge from the understanding of self in conjunction with gender, race, class, sexuality, and disability. I ask students to think about how writers use their understanding of identity in order to construct savvy arguments that engage particular audiences as a way of affecting change. I then ask students to expand this thinking in order to consider how their understanding of their own identity influences the arguments they want to make as well as the ways they are constructed. This approach asks students to not only consider who they are as writers but what personas they inhabit related to particular audiences. This method is important to students’ exploration of writing in two pivotal ways: 1) by unveiling the way language and arguments expose power dynamics and 2) by making students aware of how their own biases and assumptions related to their experiences of identity influence the construction of their arguments.
In a recent writing intensive upper level course where we discussed how writers position themselves in relation to their conscious and subconscious audiences, my students came up with some perplexing and compelling responses about what they consider their own “default” writing persona. In a class of eight students where one identified as male and the rest female and two identified as students of color and the remaining six as white, all students, including my students of color, imagined themselves as “writing as white.” Only one of those students imagined their gendered writing position as different from what they self-identified. This discussion brought attention to the way lived bodily experiences influence what one writes and why one writes it, highlighting how the body becomes a site of inscription through both language and writing. Most importantly, these students became aware of the split personas minority writers must inhabit when a white, male voice is the writerly norm. Our discussion helped students think critically about the rhetorical choices writers make to subvert norms and forward arguments that reflect their identity politics.
By the end of each semester, my students come to think of language and writing in a new way. Beyond the writing classroom, students can use their newly acquired knowledge about writing and apply it to other classes. I stress that basic argument structure extends across disciplines, even in the sciences where a hypothesis is a type of thesis whose proof requires the collection, analysis, and explanation of data. My emphasis on issues of identity especially makes students consider how outside factors influence the arguments being made and helps students see beyond the text into the broader contexts surrounding the production of writing.
Through the inclusion of diverse voices, I teach the importance of how identity politics affects rhetorical constructions in writing meant to appeal to particular audiences. My approach emphasizes empathy as well as critical thinking in the hopes of making students better global citizens who are aware of the different subject positions a writer might inhabit based on their perceptions of self and of their audience. More importantly, my approach fosters a safe space that pays attention to the needs of students, especially marginalized students, who struggle the most to succeed in the traditional university structure. In an evaluation, a student remarked, “This is the first class where, as a student of color, I didn’t feel like the other. I felt like a student who could ask any question, make any comment, and I would be treated with respect and understanding. I went through my entire high school and almost college career before I finally met a classroom that really felt like it was designed for me.” Through my teaching pedagogy, I do my best to address the systemic inequalities that marginalized students often face in higher education by offering a welcoming space where students can engage in meaningful dialogue.