Calling All Barnard Students

Co-Authored by Danielle Owen ’17 and Zoe Ehrenberg ’17

Who are the peer tutors who staff the Barnard College Writing Center? To many students, the Writing Fellows are an elite group of white English majors; they wear wide-rimmed Warby Parkers, snobbishly correct their friends if they dare to confuse “there’s” and “theirs”, and provoke uselessly pedantic debates regarding the Oxford comma.

This misperception of the Writing Center is caused by an unawareness of what Writing Fellows really do, and subsequently, why English majors are certainly not the only ones qualified for the job. Following their acceptance into the program, Writing Fellows take a three-credit training course called “The Writer’s Process”. In this class, we do not spend hours memorizing over-scrupulous grammar rules, nor do we simply dissect essays in search of smooth transitions and captivating topic sentences. Grammar rules are a topic of discussion, but we also consider how they may enable elitism and privilege by discrediting the validity of someone’s thoughts. We think about the relationship between identity and all forms of communication. We begin to understand why it is that writers struggle to say what it is they want to say, and what kinds of questions we should ask in order to help them say it. We learn that we can help students with their First-Year English papers, even if we’ve never personally done a close reading of Paradise Lost—knowing nothing about the subject matter of a student’s paper is an advantage. It allows us to ensure that the writer is clearly articulating her ideas to the reader. There is nothing about what we learn or do that necessitates being an English major.

The Writing Center pedagogy is centered around inclusive, collaborative learning. Accordingly, the Fellows themselves should represent the inclusivity central to our mission. All Barnard students write, regardless of major. The process of selecting new WFITs (Writing Fellows in Training) is currently underway. Any Barnard first-year or sophomore who is passionate about writing—about communicating and creating knowledge—has the potential to be a Fellow, regardless of her stance on the Oxford comma.

Who are the Writing Fellows? We are students who often struggle with writing, just as you do. We are empathic and non-directive and we want to enrich your work—not by pointing out grammatical errors (unless you want us to), but by investing in your ideas and thoughts. Our main priority is helping you figure out what it is you want to say, and how to communicate it clearly. The Writing Center is a resource for the Barnard community, and it is essential that Writing Fellows are reflective of the diversity that exists within our student body.

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Apply to Become a Writing Fellow

Check out the below, inaugural video — “Breaking Down the Writing Center” — made by current Writing Fellows about what it means to be a Writing Fellow.

Writing Fellow applications are due by 5PM tomorrow (Friday, 2/27). Please visit to download the application. We hope all eligible first-years and sophomores will apply!

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Last Week’s Cicero Speech Contest

by Jenny Singer, a Speaking Fellow, ’15

At 6:05pm on Thursday, November 13th, the James Room on the 4th floor of Barnard hall was filled with people milling around in search of unoccupied folding chairs, last-minute sparks of genius, and Insomnia cookies. Every person had arrived to watch Barnard students engage in a sport that requires little special equipment or physical strength: public speaking. Hosted by the Barnard Speaking Fellows, the Cicero Speaking Contest entered its second year with a successful evening of persuasive and impromptu speeches judged by Barnard professors, administrators, alumna, and trustees.

The festivities began with a welcome from the head of the Speaking Program, Professor Daniela Kempf, who challenged the Barnard community to more fully welcome the art of rhetoric into their daily and academic lives. Kempf was followed by Barnard Senior Claire Bouchard, who read remarks from President Spar and welcomed the judges for the persuasive category, including Professor and Vice Provost Patricia Denison, Dean Christina Kuantsu, and Barnard Trustee Jyoti Menon. The six Barnard students who followed these introductions were given the opportunity to speak persuasively for five minutes on topics of their choosing. Each speech was uniquely exceptional and reflective of immense preparation, passion, and eloquence. Nicole Javorsky’s pathos-filled speech drew from personal experience and hard statistics to describe the damage public school health programs inflict on students’ wellbeing. Gabriela Aroca gave a stirring call to action for the change of the Barnard policy on transgendered students. The winners, in first and second place respectively Paymaneh Parhami and Becky Santora spoke about men’s roles in the feminist movement and the human rights crisis in Tibet.

The short intermission that followed this gave participants in the impromptu category time to prepare remarks on the prompt, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” The break found participants and audience members alike posing in the photo booth holding signs finishing the sentence “I speak up for…”, debating Trans equality and Tibet, and of course, eating Insomnia cookies. The fast-paced impromptu competition, judged by Professor and chair of the Physics department Timothy Halpin-Healy, Professor Kristina Milnor, and alumna Zahava Moerdler, featured contestants refuting and challenging traditional standards of femininity. “I am not a lady,” declared Jacey Kinnaird. Rathna Ramanathan, who took first place, compared her subversion of social expectations to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, and second place winner Ade Ajanaku cited Rosa Parks as one woman whose refusal to behave struck a match in the civil rights movement that became a beacon for equality. The evening ended with a raffle drawing which included prizes like President Spar’s book Wonder Woman, signed by Wonder Woman herself. As the room cleared and the final cookies were consumed, a group of students stood in the photo booth holding a sign that said “I raise my voice for…the Speaking Fellows.”

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Introducing the Collective Advocacy Project

The Collective Advocacy Project (CAP) is a Writing and Speaking Fellows initiative to take the Fellows programs at Barnard beyond the the classroom. CAP will provide a space where Fellows can offer what they’ve learned through their training and experience in the Writing and Speaking Centers to student groups on campus. We will host open workshop hours in the coming months that anyone can come to. During these hours, we hope to help students, and student groups, address any and all of their speaking and writing needs as related to their involvement in communities on campus. In general, we hope to use these workshops to bring groups together in exploring the connections between communication, advocacy and community involvement.

Groups and individuals may come to us with a wide range of concerns. For example, an individual may need help writing an op-ed for a student publication, or a group may want to practice a presentation they are giving at a town hall. The concern may be as simple as wanting to hone an elevator pitch, or be as broad as hoping to be a better facilitator in group meetings. We are also happy to help students figure out how to compose catchy fliers, how to prepare for a press interview, and how to communicate with campus bureaucracy. These, though, are just a few examples and we are open to adapting to whatever communication help your need may be.

The first CAP session is this Thursday, 11/20, from 5-7 PM in the Altschul Atrium (aka “the Hive”), located on the first floor of Altschul Hall on Barnard’s Campus. There will be cookies :).

If you have any questions please feel free to contact We hope to see you there!

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Hong Kong Student Protests and the Responsibility of Communication Education

In the last two months, Hong Kong’s student movement protests of China’s control over Hong Kong’s limited democracy has garnered international attention. The movement is lead by university student Joshua Wong, who, at only 17, has stood at the forefront of thousands of protestors in his fight for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

To provide some brief background to issues igniting these protests: In 1997, the British ended 155 years of colonial rule over the Island of Hong Kong, located off the south-east edge of the Chinese Mainland, and returned sovereignty to the Chinese government. Hong Kong, however, still maintained a certain amount of governmental autonomy, and the political relationship between Hong Kong and greater China has been described as “one country, two systems”. However some Hong Kongers, used to political freedoms that British rule had provided them, feel as though the mainland government is slowly beginning to reduce the autonomy of the Island and impose Chinese communism. The student protests currently taking place began in response to a decision to require that candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (similar to the role of a prime minister or president) would have to first be vetted by the central government in Beijing.

Now what does all of this have to do with speaking and writing? In Jennifer S. Simpson’s article Communication Activism Pedagogy: Theoretical Frameworks, Central Concepts, and Challenges, Simpson states that since all knowledge is subjective and thus political, all humanities and especially the study and technique of communication comes with political responsibility. Similar to the common maxim “with great power comes great responsibility,” Simpson’s key argument is that, with learning to speak and write, we, as students, must also learn to advocate for a just world as Joshua Wong is doing in Hong Kong.

At the start of the video above, “The Evolution of Joshua Wong,” the narrator says that, “on the Hong Kong subway [Wong] looks like any other kid,” and yet he has inspired the largest challenge to the Chinese Communist Party control in the last decade. All students, speakers and writers, might appear unassuming in a crowd. The confidence with which Wong speaks during his interview in “The Evolution of Joshua Wong” demonstrates the power of determination paired with strong communication skills that have set him apart.

Our campus this semester has been more fraught with protests and demonstrations than ever before in my three years in Morningside Heights. What responsibilities do we have as speakers and writers to facilitate and even join this activism? Why do we learn communications skills if not to advocate for the world we want to live in?

To find out more about the Hong Kong Student Protest visit:

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by | October 23, 2014 · 9:22 pm

It’s what you make of it

Is this how we should feel about Public Speaking?

I came across this online the other day and couldn’t resist the urge to write about it because I get the sense that this is how people feel about speaking in public. It’s a misconception that I, as a Speaking Fellow, would like to attempt to disprove. What is rhetoric? I like to think of rhetoric as ever-present and all-encompassing because it applies to our interactions on a daily basis. Whether it be speaking to a friend, a professor, a family member, etc., rhetoric is a part of those interactions. Rhetoric doesn’t even have to involve speaking. Both verbal and non-verbal interactions are encompassed by rhetoric (think of body language!)

Public Speaking is FUN– if you are passionate about your topic, or if you work hard to make it fun and interactive. Make use of the fact that you can use your tone, your gestures, your space, your stories, your anecdotes, and visuals! It is as dynamic as you make it and it’s your chance to share a piece of your persona– be humorous, make jokes. These are some of the ways through which we can overcome misconceptions about public speaking.I guarantee that using the elements you have to your advantage will yield noticeable results.

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My Brother’s Keeper

We have all been moved at some point in time by a powerful speech encouraging us to take action. Part of the art of rhetoric is the ability to inform, persuade, move, and rouse people to act, a fact that the Speaking Fellows embrace and continually seek to promote. Rhetoric is deeply embedded into our daily lives.

Political affiliations aside, Barack Obama is a fantastic example of an inspiring and moving speaker. One of the many examples in which he has embodied the power of rhetoric both content and delivery-wise is during his speech regarding the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which seeks to create opportunities for boys and young men of color. If you have not watched this speech, I encourage you to watch it.

The My Brother’s Keeper #NewDayMovement at Columbia University exemplifies the power of spoken word when it comes to inspiring others to take action: “We hope that this video provides insight into our roles as men of color for our university, for its prospective students and for any others who are interested in the educational advancement of a young man. In addition, if our project inspires other students and colleges everywhere, we encourage them to also work to showcase how their men of color are excelling within their own community. Join the #NewDayMovement.” This video showcases the accomplishments of men of color on campus; breaking educational barriers, and going above and beyond their academic commitments and embracing their passions as dancers, tutors, mentors, and volunteers. I encourage you to watch this video and share it.

I hope that these initiatives will serve as a form of encouragement on Barnard’s campus. Women of color are doing great things for the community. Showcasing their talents and their accomplishments via social media outlets would also inspire other women of color across the nation to continue to strive for their goals. Using social media platforms as a way to spread a message, in this case about educational advancement, is just one example of how a speech can create action.

This initiative represents how rhetoric comes to life. I hope that this example serves to inspire those who have at one point been moved and inspired by spoken word to take a form of positive action. Rhetoric is powerful.

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by | May 5, 2014 · 12:22 pm