The Language We Know And The Language We’re Taught

Earlier this year, a group of students from Zanzibar, Tanzania created a video to examine why the language they’re required to speak at school is different from the one they speak at home. This video raises a lot of interesting issues, but for the sake of this blog focus on these two when watching: how some languages are taken as more valid than others and what the politics are of that happening in an academic space. What languages–or rules of language–are more valid at Barnard (or at whatever school you attend) and how are those rules political and/or restrictive?

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On Trigger Warnings and Literature

As I walked into the Diana last week, a few CAP (Collective Advocacy Project) members recruited me to share my thoughts on trigger warnings. What purpose do they serve? What purpose are they supposed to serve? Do they belong in literature? Why is there such a disconnect between our understanding of what they should do and what they actually do in practice? Although I was in a rush to secure a table upstairs for a writing fellows conference and wanted to grab coffee first, the topic was too good to resist. I grabbed an index card and began to write down my thoughts; which are as follows:

I think we should include trigger warnings in our syllabi. No one wants to be caught by surprise when an upsetting issue arises out of the blue in a core text. By including trigger warnings, students can be aware of what they face and prepare accordingly. The danger, however, is when we cease to read texts because they can be triggering.

Literature is meant to trigger a response. Great writers make us think, make us question, and make us peer inside ourselves and confront the uncomfortable facts that lie at the core of human existence. This can be scary and upsetting, I know—but it is not an oppressive act. Discomfort does not equal oppression. Triggering literature does not equal disrespect for difficult individual experiences. I worry that with the growing emphases on trigger warnings, the list of things that we can’t read (and say and bring up in class) will grow longer and longer. What do you guys think? Let’s discuss.

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How Grammar Changes History

Is the passive voice a tool of historical passivity?

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The Collective Advocacy Project Announces: a Dialogue Series at Well Woman!

CAP-poster_imageExplore personal and political expression as self-care with the Barnard Writing and Speaking Fellows at Well Woman! And, of course, there will be snacks. Come hang with us and write to be read, speak to be heard, and be well. 

This semester the Collective Advocacy Project (CAP), a student-organized initiative of the Writing and Speaking Programs, will be hosting a dialogue series at Well Woman. Each peer-directed workshop, organized around a single theme or prompt, will use writing and speaking exercises to encourage peer dialogue about student advocacy in-and-out of the classroom. 

We are kicking off the series Thursday, October 15, 7 pm with the workshop “Considering (In)Visible Identities in the Classroom.” In this inaugural workshop, we’ll be tackling the expectations of both professors and students for participation, discussion, and intellectual disagreement in the classroom, and the ways in which our identities interact with these expectations. Here’s a more in depth explanation of the workshop, from the writers of its curriculum, alums and CAP co-founders Carly Crane (that’s me) and Annelise Finney:

Questions of identity in the classroom are enormous and difficult—they address our entire lives, after all—and they often bring up emotions that disrupt a classroom’s agenda. There can be an unspoken classroom code of conduct that, in order to preserve quietude, demands a “neutral” identity of students, sometimes at the expense of student well-being. Truly, there is no such thing as neutral, and assuming a “neutral” identity is an erasure for whoever attempts it. How are aspects of our identity silenced to serve a “neutral” classroom?  What physical aspects of our identities are not silence-able (in that others observe it about us), yet nonetheless attempted to be silenced, to be “neutralized”? Some related questions we hope to cover: How do you experience trust in classroom discussions and seminars? Considering the (in)visibility of identity, which aspects of your identity do you feel are visible in the classroom? What can a student do with knowledge learned in class that is somehow upsetting? How do we engage critically with our emotions (and those of others) in class without invalidating those emotions?

We’ll be holding three more dialogue workshops over the course of the semester, so don’t worry if you are interested but can’t make it to this one. All sessions held in 119 Reid Hall (Well Woman). Sign up for any or all sessions at

We hope you can make it!

Want to know more about CAP, who’s in it, and what it’s about? Look no further…

Our Mission

The Collective Advocacy Project (CAP) is dedicated to uncovering the intrinsic radical potential of the Writing and Speaking Fellows program; CAP seeks to make Barnard students’ written and spoken voices visible beyond the classroom and in all aspects of life, expanding its parent Programs’ mission of validating students’ voices within the classroom.  We believe that every person’s voice is significant, that this very notion is in and of itself radical, and that the making visible of marginalized, oppressed, or otherwise unheard voices is activism. Writing and speaking pedagogies do not belong only in the classroom, as they both perfect the recurring and spur the revolutionary. We believe that understanding one’s own potential for activism is vital to the formation of Liberal Arts college students, and fundamental in the creation of a more just society. CAP, as a project of the Barnard Writing and Speaking Programs, seeks to enhance the student activism on the Barnard/Columbia campus and the world at large.

Who and what is CAP?

In the fall of 2014, a group of upperclass Fellows—at this point several semesters removed from their Writing and Speaking Fellow “training” courses—wished to revisit the radical communication pedagogical theories that ground their Programs. They met for a theory discussion group, led and organized by Writing Program Director Professor Pam Cobrin. The subject of their conversation was a journal article by Jennifer S. Simpson titled “Communication Activism Pedagogy” (in Teaching Communication Activism, ed. Lawrence R. Frey and David L. Palmer, Hampton Press, 2014). From the very start, our project has been to uncover and expand the intrinsic radical vision of the Writing and Speaking Fellows Programs and more directly apply it to the social justice issues on our campus.

In 2015 CAP became a grant-funded project of the Barnard College Writing and Speaking Programs and consists of a rotating cast of both Writing and Speaking Fellows. The project is student run, but it receives advisory, administrative, and institutional support from Writing Program Director Pam Cobrin and Program Administrator Rebecca Kelliher. For us, CAP stands for the Collective Advocacy Project, but it is also the acronym for the radical communication activism pedagogy.

Our Mission in Practice

We believe that all communication pedagogy has political underpinnings and, as students dedicated to learning for the purpose of creating equality and countering oppression in the world, it is our responsibility to teach advocacy skills as a part of our work within the Barnard College Writing and Speaking Program. Thus, at times, CAP members may also act as communication consultants to fellow students pursuing activist causes. That is, CAP members can and will workshop the writing and speaking of student activists (editing an op-ed for the Spectator or a letter to a fellow activist group, workshopping a speech for a rally or a meeting with an administrator). 

This year (2015-2016) CAP will organize peer-led campus spaces for students, both independently and in collaboration with campus institutions such as Well Woman and the Office of Student Life, to record in writing or through speech their responses to their social experiences on campus and political movementsfor example, #BlackLivesMatterresponses which can be displayed on campus to raise the social presence of student voices. CAP is currently working on an exhibit about student and faculty responses to trigger warnings!

The members of CAP are not committed to any particular strand of activism or activist clause. The aim of CAP is not to either promote or devalue any causes or ideas. The long term goals of CAP are constantly evolving, but they will always include promoting the radical nature of writing and speaking pedagogies and facilitating activism in its many forms.

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Two reading related events were recently brought to my attention: 1. The #rockthosereads movement across Harlem, and 2. Светлана Алексиевич (Svetlana Alexeivich) recently was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature.

The grassroots organization Total Equity Now, founded by Joe Rogers Jr., has declared the first day of every month “Literacy Across Harlem Day,” and on these days, Harlemites are encouraged to carry reading materials outside of their bags, rocking their reads in support of reading and literacy. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter which reads you’re rocking, as long as they’re reads.

Alexeivich is not widely read. She is a Belarusian author who writes Russian non-fiction; an ex-Soviet Union critic turned Putin (President of Russia) and Lukashenko (President of Belarus) critic. She fiercely opposes the Russian government, especially Putin’s annexation of Crimea (2014), which she condemns as imperialist. She writes compelling accounts of peoples’ voices. In a conversation with Anna Lucic she said “The heroes, feelings, and events in my books are all real.” (

Her books are not published in Belarus.

How are the Belarusians supposed to #rockthosereads of their Nobel Prize Laureate? In many places in the world, people rock restricted reads. What is the danger of rocking reads? What is the power?

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Practice Breeds Competence, Competence Breeds Confidence

by Alejandra Figueroa, Speaking Fellow ’16

I wasn’t always as comfortable as I am now with the prospect of public speaking. During my 8thgrade valedictorian speech, I read off my paper the entire time. College student me would have scolded 8th grade me for that ( I would have told myself to use an outline with bullet points).

The point is, no one grows up feeling confident speaking in large crowds. It takes time to develop those skills and that confidence. That’s why I wanted to share this article I recently came across on, which mentions some popular names in the media and the difficulties they had with public speaking.

We may all think of Julia Roberts as a fantastic actress, but little did we know that she had stuttering issues as a child, and received speech therapy. Now she’s speaking at the Guild Awards! Same goes for Warren Buffet, who was so uncomfortable with public speaking when he was younger that he purposefully avoided college classes where he might be required to make presentations. With diligent practice, he overcame this fear. Same goes for Winston Churchill, who was a lisp and would freeze up early in his political career. Again, what got him through it was diligent practice.

What do these individuals have in common? They practiced! That’s the key to mastering public speaking. As the article concludes, practice breeds competence, and competence breeds confidence.

Certain individuals tend to underestimate how much practice can help us in overall improvement of daily interactions. For instance, I practice in trying to reduce the amount of fillers I use in my everyday speech. There are always aspects that we can improve upon.

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Weird English

A reading I had for class: the introduction of a book called “Weird English,” by Evelyn Nien-Ming Ch’ien. 

“In immigrant communities where weird English is exclusively an oral phenomenon, pidgins and misspellings may have meant a lack of education or fluency. But for weird-English writers, the composition of weird English is an active way of takin’ the community back” (Ch’ien, 6). Ch’ien references recent writers who are combining English with another language or languages to write works rich in reminders of multiculturality. (There’s some weird English for you.) Lois Yamanaka, Irvine Welsh, Jonathon Safran Foer, Derek Walcott, Touré… some of the authors leading this new genre of “weird English.”

“1. Weirding deprives English of its dominance and allows other languages to enjoy the same status; 2. Weird English expresses aesthetic adventurousness at the price of sacrificing rules; 3. Weird English is derived from nonnative English; 4. The rhythms and structure of orthodox English alone are not enough to express the diasporic cultures that speak it” (Ch’ien, 11).

But this is hardly a new genre. The best writers in the English language mess with the English language. Whether it’s from another language or slang or n’importe quoi or ничего, it’s all u n o r t h o d o x.

The opening lines from A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess): “What’s it going to be then, eh?” There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim. Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days….

The opening lines of Finnegan’s Wake (James Joyce): riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

So what do rules mean in literature? Are rules reserved for academia? Is the orthodox version of English for those who wish to only use English for communication? In that case though, what are we trying to communicate at places like Barnard/Columbia? If we are trying to learn how to think, shouldn’t our writing be a reflection of the multiplicity of influences that exist in all of our lives? Americans have such a reputation of being unable (or at least unwilling) to learn new languages. But English is such a rich language, if we are willing to push its linguistic barriers. As a language, it is extraordinarily tolerant of foreign words. carpe diem spaghetti pistol au revoir chai gesundheit…

Не знаю. Может быть это ничего ещё раз.




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