Earlier this semester during one of our think tank sessions, we brainstormed our associations for the terms “classroom,” “spaces where learning happens,” and “activities for learning.” For “classrooms,” I listed physical objects: desks, windows, whiteboards, static configurations, doors that are hard to open. But for “spaces where learning happens,” my terms shifted to more of a creative, craft-based space: airy, atrium, dirty hands, messiness, music, collaboration, sharing work without judging. My responses for “activities for learning” were in the same vein: sharing, discussing, reading aloud, listening, mapping, staying lost.
As a creative writer, I often return to the strengths of creative writing pedagogy as a resource for possible solutions to the composition issues we discuss in class. For Krista Ratcliffe, the practice of rhetorical listening is comprised of four moves, the first of which is “promoting an understanding of self and other” (26). Ratcliffe cites Alice Rayner’s definition of this type of literacy as “perhaps a borderland more than a boundary between the capacity to hear and the obligation to listen to what one cannot immediately understand or comprehend. And it leads to the learning of community” (30). Creative writing programs, especially those that take place outside the evaluative structures of school, allow students the time and space to learn about themselves and gain empathy for other people, to spend time together in the borderland of hearing and understanding.
One of my colleagues, David Kruger, has recently started a new program in Milwaukee that offers students a community space to write and share their stories. The Milwaukee Queer Writing Project (MQWP) is a program that offers free creative writing workshops to LGBTQ+ youth in the Milwaukee area. I asked David some questions about MQWP’s beginnings and future.
Q: What inspired you to start MQWP?
A: I had just passed my prelims, which was a really solitary and concentrated endeavor, and I wanted to find a way to reconnect with the community around me. I more or less took it as an opportunity to reset and reorient and to embark on new projects.
I don’t know what spurred the initial thought. I queried a handful of other graduate students at the UWM English Dept., and as we began collaborating a lot of things sort of clicked. On the one hand, there are a lot of LGBTQ+-identified creative writing teachers at UWM who were interested when we started. Additionally, I know a good number of LGBTQ+ high school teachers (I bartend at a gay bar).
So, while I am not exactly sure why I thought to do it, as soon as we got a group together and began working through some of the logistics, things began progressing at a fairly steady rate. The puzzle pieces were there in front of us (so to speak), and all we had to do was sit down and begin organizing.
Q: Why do you feel it is important to connect young queer writers with more seasoned writers?
A: Someone asked me once why LGBTQ+ students and why not just students in general? And, I think answering this first might help me better answer your question. Currently, we are interested in working with Gay Straight Alliances (the pilot program we launched this fall is with Riverside High School’s GSA). So, anyone and everyone is welcome to attend. However, I wanted to create a space that is markedly queer and specifically for LGBTQ+ students because writing creatively often requires a degree of emotional vulnerability and honesty. And, in straight and cis spaces, LGBTQ+ people tend to self-censor as a survival mechanism. I think this is incredibly prevalent in the high school setting (at least it was for me and a lot of people I know). So, I didn’t want to make a creative writing program that “made room” for LGBTQ+ students. Rather, I was interested in making a creative writing program that was for LGBTQ+ students to safely express themselves in writing.
So, I think that this is a space that affords LGBTQ+ students opportunities for expression that are plausibly unavailable elsewhere. Speaking directly to your question, one of the qualities of the space MQWP creates is that it enables LGBTQ+ MPS students to interact with LGBTQ+ UWM instructors. I think this goes a long way in modeling the fact that queer kids can grow up to be happy and healthy queer adults. This serves to demystify the process of growing up for LGBTQ+ kids. When I was a kid (granted I grew up in a small town), the lack of queer role models was extremely isolating. I don’t think this is as prevalent today because of mass media’s embrace of the LGBTQ+ community, but this vision of the community is fairly normative.
Two final notes: 1) creative writing (poems/short stories/creative essays) is a really useful tool for discussions of identity. We do bring in examples by published authors, but primarily we are focused on getting the students to generate work. And, affirming student’s work through positive feedback is one way we affirm the validity of that student’s identity, which might be particularly critical if that sort of affirmation isn’t happening elsewhere. And 2) hopefully this program gets high school students thinking about college and gets them excited about the kind of spaces and teachers they might encounter there.
Q: What is your goal for MQWP in the future/ where would you like to see the program a few years down the road?
A: We launched our pilot program with Riverside High School this fall, which we are using as an opportunity to fine-tune some of the logistical and operational facets of MQWP. We are very interested in expanding this organization both in terms of the number of institutions but also the kind of institutions we partner with. We are primarily interested in building more bridges between additional area high schools and UWM (and are currently in contact with a few). Partnerships with other kinds of organizations are also hopefully in our future. Currently, MQWP is formed in partnership with the UWM English deptartment and Woodland Pattern Book Center in Riverwest. Our collaboration with Woodland Pattern has been immensely helpful in terms of their support and getting us off the ground (shout out specifically to Alexa, their education coordinator for her invaluable support). We have contacted a few local organizations (such as the Courage House of Milwaukee and the UWM LGBT+ Studies program) who have expressed interest in working with us, and we are excited about the possibility of these collaborations in the future.
Q: What else would you like to share about the program?
A: If you are reading this and want to know more or if you work at a local high school and are interested in a partnership, please reach out! Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
David Kruger is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee English department. He teaches English literature, creative writing, and LGBT+ studies. He is also a poetry editor for cream city review.
Food. Comida. Nourishment. Fuel. Grub. Sustenance. However we choose to name what we eat, it's undeniable that our daily lives are directly affected by the substances we put into our bodies. Over the last decade, a groundswell of interest has been engendering social consciousness surrounding food systems, sustainability, and nutrition in the city of Milwaukee.
In 2007, Groundwork Milwaukee, began to address the relationship between the natural environment and human well-being, specifically seeking to revitalize natural areas within the city of Milwaukee. Importantly, Groundwork’s mission explicitly incorporates community collaboration as a means to further promote the social wellness of the city. Soon after, other organizations, such as Victory Garden Initiative (VGI) joined Groundwork in their vision for a better Milwaukee. VGI’s mission of empowering communities to grow their own food helped connect the dots of community engagement with socially-just and sustainable food systems. This orientation towards situatedness within local contexts—highlighted by working with and within communities—echoes much of what we’ve been reading and discussing in our class. Beginning with Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children and resurfacing again during our examination of Django Paris and Samy Alim’s Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies as well as Morris Young’s Minor Re/Visions, the contextualization of learning has been a key theme throughout the semester. We’ve discovered that students and communities can find more success when learning environments are constructed with rather than for them. In chapter twelve of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies Amanda Holmes and Norma González assert that this “resource orientation” can be achieved by asking “how, when, by who, and for what purpose community knowledge is alchemized into pedagogical possibilities”. The work of Groundwork and VGI shares this orientation and applies it locally in Milwaukee by seeking to incorporate community collaboration within their projects.
Both Groundwork and VGI helped lay the foundation for the creation of contemporary programs that address the need for improved food literacies amongst low-income and underserved Milwaukee residents. Food literacy is the capacity for individuals to manage and understand how their choices of nourishment impact their health, the economy, and the environment. It’s evident that food literacy plays an integral role in how people manage their bodies as well as how they interact with their communities.
In 2016 I began volunteering regularly at the Fresh Picks Mobile Market , a veritable grocery store on wheels, created in partnership between The Hunger Task Force and Pick n’ Save. The Mobile Market stops at two different locations in Milwaukee almost every weekday of the month; brining fresh produce, meat, and dairy products to neighborhoods considered “food deserts”, providing much needed access to nourishing food choices. All items on the truck are offered at 25% below regular retail prices, helping to further increase food accessibility for all community members. The Mobile Market serves as an in-motion location for individuals who may not always have regular access to healthy choices to maintain and develop healthier food literacies within the context of their home communities. Are you interested in volunteering at the Mobile Market? You can join the effort by completing an online volunteer application.
Building on the idea of developing food literacies within communities, a newer Milwaukee organization has moved this effort into Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Through my work with FoodRight I’ve learned that the organization encourages youth to develop healthy relationships with food. In FoodRight’s Youth Chef Academy, middle schoolers learn to create plant-based meals by actually doing meal preparation in the classroom. Not only do students gain valuable preparation and nutritional insights through this experience, they simultaneously develop core curricular competencies, such as reading and math skills. FoodRight engages youth through the everyday practical activity of food preparation, taking steps to situate the learning environment within the needs and desires of the students. FoodRight’s pedagogical praxis is an example of what Lisa Delpit characterized as “meaningful context” which provides the best means to learn new skills.
The efforts of Groundwork, VGI, the Mobile Market, and FoodRight do not occur in isolation. Each organization notes that a direct connection to the communities they serve or to other community organizations plays a key role in achieving their missions. In particular it seems that by enmeshing the tools of food literacy within communities, FoodRight and The Mobile Market have the capability to allow individuals to manage their own relationships with food. This ownership empowers people to develop food literacy within their home context and in their own personal way. FoodRight and The Mobile Market demonstrate the situational nature of developing food literacies and might serve as exemplars for future programs to support social well-being.
On April 12, 2018 and again on May 8th, 2018, I joined the Education Coordinator from Woodland Pattern Book Center at after school programming at Franklin Pierce Elementary School. Woodland Pattern Book Center is a local bookstore and literary arts nonprofit in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. As is clear from their website, Woodland Pattern focuses on working in the community through poetry readings—often bringing in renowned poets from around the world—and adult and children’s educational programming in the form of poetry camps, workshops, and after school programming. Along with after school programming at Franklin Pierce, Woodland Pattern also regularly does programming at Hopkins Lloyd Elementary School as well.
Franklin Pierce is one of the bilingual schools in the Milwaukee area, and one of a few in the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system. According to their website, “Pierce is a multi-ethnic, Title I school” that “serves approximately 450 bilingual and monolingual students.” A large portion of the bilingual students at Franklin Pierce are bussed in from the south side of Milwaukee, where a large community of Latinx residents reside (more information about that community can be found in the posts “A Walk Through Walker’s Point” and “’Expansive Threads’ at Latino Arts, Inc. and the Busy Nature of the United Community Center”).
Woodland Pattern’s afterschool programming at Franklin Pierce focuses on art and poetry. On the days that I visited, the Woodland Pattern team was working with 4th and 5th grade students on writing haikus and making drums. The students wrote their own haikus and then built hand-sized drums using small pieces of wood and packing tape. In the building stage, students were able to paint their drums using the haiku that they wrote as inspiration. Then, on top of their art work, they wrote the words of their haikus. Finally, once the drum was complete students would practice singing or saying their haiku while also providing a drum beat.
Students at Pierce were often users of either African American Vernacular English or aform of Spanish, so it was refreshing to see the Woodland Pattern staff encourage all students to work and write in their own preferred languages, whatever they may be. It helped to make clear what the work of translingualism has theorized. Of the Spanish-speaking students, many wrote variations of haikus that were entirely in Spanish while others mixed both Spanish and English to create haikus that were uniquely theirs. It was absolutely refreshing to see these children so engaged with work that encouraged the use of their languages, because, as some of the staff explained, the point is not to get them to speak a specific language, but to think about who they are as individuals and how they can contribute to their communities.
Additionally, because some students were still learning English, I was able to see some translanguaging in action. Some of the staff members at Woodland Pattern are familiar with Spanish, but none of them are fluent. As such, I was able to see the ways in which both teachers and students make use of props or drawing or even bodily signs to make clear their meaning when the words that each person has are not the same. Students who were learning the language showed a ramarkable rhetorical adeptness at working through these issues with teachers. It, of course, made me think about reading Rachel Bloom Pojar’s book Translanguaging Outside the Academy: Negotiating Rhetoric and Healthcare in the Spanish Caribbean earlier this semester. My time with these students helped me to see the ways that this work is important beyond the walls and ivory towers of our academic strongholds, and pushed me to think about how we can continue to break down those false oppositions between academia and the larger community.
It was such a privilege to learn with Stephanie Kerschbaum this week. Not only was she UWM’s Vilas Trust guest lecturer, she also joined our classroom community and discussed her book, Toward a New Rhetoric of Difference, and article “Anecdotal Relations” with us.
When we think about differences between people, what is it we’re thinking of? Chances are we think about demographic differences, and that we also conceive of these differences as static or permanent. Instead, Kerschbaum argues that “differences emerge during interactions” (9). The stakes for such an approach are high. As her first chapter, “The Market for Diversity in Higher Education” shows, when we leverage demographics for marked difference, we commodify people. And I hope it goes without saying (though I’m obviously still going to say it) commodifying someone’s identity is grossly unethical.
UWM currently has plans to become a Hispanic Serving Institution. With Stephanie Kerschbaum in our class, one of my colleagues asked how we saw her “Market for Diversity” chapter informing UWM’s new initiative. This is an important question for us to dwell on—we are commodifying “Wisconsin’s fastest growing group of college bound students.” And as Kerschbaum warns us, “In this language, difference is neither dynamic nor flexible: it is individual property that institutions cover” (32).
We already know what it’s like when institutions, largely white (male) ran institutions, consider people as property because of difference.
Additionally, we are never just one facet of our identity. Drawing from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work, Kerschbaum urges “teachers [to] consider their students not in terms of single identifiers but as the embodiment of a complex set of identifications that must be considered together, rather than independently from one another” (10). In this way, we can begin to conceive of how difference functions relationally. To use an example Kerschbaum brought up in class, and that she’s written in her book, “To evoke my deafness as difference, it must be considered relationally: How does my not-hearing (of a particular form) make me different from a specific interlocutor?” (72). Her deafness is not a static marker of difference. Difference(s) must be contextually based, and can only emerge in social interaction.
With that said, Kerschbaum asks us to think about the difference between “Learning about and Learning with Others” (74).
She asked us, in class, “Can you imagine what ‘learning with’ would look like in your class”? One of my classmates answered this question by explaining the games he employs in the beginning of his class period. He argues that by allowing play to set the tone of the room, he learns with his students as they all participate in building confianza.
Bringing up the concept of confianza led to an important part of conversations we should all be having on the teaching of language. Because our language practices are so tied to who we are, to ask students to share their language, with each other and with us, we need to create a classroom community that fosters relationship building. To do this, we must give time for it. Like Kerschbaum argues, we must be able to see our students one on one. And Like Rachel, our professor illustrates in her book Translanguaging Outside the Academy, “Relationships formed, and translanguaging was possible because of these relationships” (115). In between those two examples, we can demonstrate confianza in our classrooms, what Steven Alvarez defines as, “a reciprocal relationship in which individuals feel cared for… built through an ongoing, intentional process that is centered in local communities and involves mutual respect” (4, Community Literacies en Confianza).
Mutual respect cannot be established if our students feel commodified or if we regard their identities as static.
As we near the close of our semester, I think we can all see connections and themes between all of our readings and class discussions. If languages and dialects have to be seen as fluid and flexible (and they do have to), then that must mean we also have to see the identities involved with languages as dynamic and contextually based. Even if they’re not using language in that moment, to quote from Kerschbaum’s lecture, difference(s) “are contextually embodied and deeply rhetorical.”
I want to close by repeating Stephanie Kerschbaum’s question: “Can you imagine what ‘learning with’ would look like in your class?” Does it look like Alvarez’s confianza? Or maybe it looks like “Writing Risky Relationships” wherein we learn how to “mak[e] mistakes and lear[n] from them. It also means listening to conflict, difficulty, and resistance for the sense-making behind others’ acts” (Kerschbaum, 149). And maybe learning with can happen “over humor, songs, and play” because, in the writing classroom we don’t learn “Without taking risks and making mistakes” (Bloom-Pojar, 115).
“Pero cual es esa luz, it the east and Juliet es el sol. Rise up beautiful sun y mata los celos. Solamente los mendigos aguantan their virginity.” During my student teaching experience at Hamilton High School, I witnessed ninth-grade Latino, white, Asian, and African-American students translating an archaic language in to various types of languages. Some students chose Disney, other students chose “ghetto,” and some even chose hillbilly. There was also sports, diva, and superhero. The language that impressed me the most was Spanish telenovela. I thought it was the most difficult translation to accomplish because the students had to understand the scene which contained archaic language, they had to translate it in to standard English, and they had to translate it once again in Spanish. However, they were eager to do it, even though some group members only considered themselves to be native English speakers.
This story made me think about our past and most recent class discussion in our Latinx Rhetorics and Community Writing course. We were thrilled to meet our guest speaker Dr. Steven Alvarez, who is an assistant professor in the English department at St. John’s University. Dr. Alvarez eloquently recited anecdotes about his life and how he became passionate to bring a bilingual library in to a Kentucky town. Dr. Alvarez formulated a pedagogically well-thought course titled “Taco Literacy” to explain much deeper concepts within Latino history. Alvarez spoke highly of his father because of what he went through in his own life with education. Teachers reprimanded his father whenever he spoke Spanish. As a high school teacher, I could never imagine telling a student that they do not have a right to their home language and even punishing them for using it. Thinking of his own father’s personal experiences, Dr. Alvarez advocated for a resource that would allow students to use the spaces to practice their own language and being translingual, which is what most teachers should implement within their own pedagogy.
Translingual pedagogy is a practice where students can move through various languages to develop their reading and writing skills. As an African-American woman, I found it easier to explain novels, poetry, and informational texts using African-American vernacular with my students at Washington High School while combining the language of standard American English. Even if they knew that I was using AAVE or not, they were able to comprehend complex texts and were able to write well-thought essays without worrying about using English “correctly.” Implementing translingual pedagogy does not mean that teachers should eliminate all Standard American English rules. A translingual approach offers a chance for students to retain their identity within their home and community. Students can also think in ways where language is not a barrier for them, but in a way, it helps them understand complex concepts, strategies, etc. When I think about the students who used Spanish to translate Shakespeare, they all showed a sense of passion that their language mattered within the context of Shakespeare’s own language.
Community building is also an important theme that relates to our course, and Dr. Steven Alvarez built a bilingual library to build the community of bilingual or multilingual learners. Unfortunately, community building can become difficult to obtain when the idea of language faces harsh governmental policies such as Proposition 227 and Arizona HB2211 where such bilingual programs are eliminated. These types of policies not only take away that sense of community building, but it takes away students’ identities as well. If policies were adhered in Milwaukee, Hamilton would not be the school that I saw. The neighborhood itself was already not a community for its bilingual students because the school is on the borderline between Milwaukee’s Southside and Greenfield, which is a predominately white neighborhood. Mitchell, Burnham, and Caesar Chavez were neighborhoods the students spoke highly of that represented their culture and their own community spaces. With a segregated city such as Milwaukee, we need those community spaces to allow our students to practice their language across different borders of literacy inside and outside of school. Therefore, this blog post is meant to have people continue a conversation about the translingual approach. What are the ways in which we can support our own pedagogy to help students beyond high school? How can we continue to support them in a college classroom and within their community in Milwaukee?