Q & A about Research Ethics

Some students at the University of Limerick have been kindly engaging God Hates this semester and have asked a number of great questions about research ethics with a hate group. I answer them in a Q & A format below.

How do you gain access to a hate group?

It really depends on the group, so the first step is knowing as much about the group as you can learn without doing person-to-person research. Safety is paramount, and it’s not safe for everyone to do research with hate groups. We’re not trying to pull a BlacKkKlansman here, so you need to know, as far as you can, if they will accept you at all as a researcher. You have to be honest about who you are and what you are going to be doing with the information that you gather. This may mean that you have to avoid gathering information that would endanger your research participants. If you are observing illegal behavior, for example, you don’t want to gather information that would let you identify a participant. This means you have to think a lot (and have to work with your IRB) to decide what you can ethically observe. But respondents have to know that your work isn’t going to endanger them.

I do a lot of work with churches, which, compared to other groups, are relatively open, though, of course, there is secrecy within religious groups, too. I just mean that much of what a church does is done in public. If you are struggling to gain access to a group, you might begin by narrowing your research project to the data you can public gather, such as an analysis of the group’s website (if it one) or speeches from its leaders made in public. After you demonstrate some knowledge about the group, they may be more likely to give you access.

How do you build rapport with members of a hate group?

You listen carefully for what they want to talk about, and then you talk about those things until they are willing to talk about harder things.

In survey research, we often put the most important questions up front since, if people begin their surveys with questions about demographics, they may get bored quickly and not finish when they get to the harder questions. If they’ve already answered the harder questions, they feel invested in the process and are more likely to finish the quicker-to-answer demographic ones.

In contrast, with interviews, you have to ask the easy questions first to help people find their voices. This is especially true if you are recording, which can feel awkward to people. At the same time, many hate group interviewees will not want to share the kind of information that small-talk is likely to reveal. They can’t talk about where they work because they don’t want their employer to know that they are part of a hate group, for example, and they may find questions about their families threatening.

To find what people are willing to talk about, look for cues that they give: the logo on their t-shirt or on a button on their bag, the tattoo on their arm, the dog they brought to the interview. Find something to show interest in. If you are meeting in a coffee shop, let them order first and order the same thing and then comment on how you share a favorite drink.

It can be tempting to prime your respondent to answer by sharing a bit about yourself. It’s fine to share the name of your favorite drink at Starbucks or let your respondent know that you’ve never heard of the band on their t-shirt but that you’ll check them out, but you shouldn’t trade personal information–first, because it may be dangerous and, second, because you don’t want to distract the conversation with personal stories.

Practice interviewing on easy subjects–Trust me: your grandma would LOVE to help you, so give her a call and ask her questions!–before you get to members of hate groups. You’ll want to have a nice balance of questions–mostly open-ended and friendly. You have to ask 20 easy questions (even if they are not getting to the information you most care about) before you can ask a tough one, and that’s okay. Ethnography is a long process.

Finally, remember that companionable silence can also build rapport. Do something together, keeping your body busy until talking becomes easier. If the person or the group is doing something that you can participate in, do it. Go for a run or a walk with them, pitch in making the group’s common meal, clean up the dishes afterwards, etc. While you don’t want to be exploited or do anything that would cast a doubt on your scholarly interest, activities like this can make it easier for people to talk because they aren’t focusing on their words alone but also doing something else.

Would you describe any of your relationships as “friendships”? Is it okay to be friends with the people you study? If not, how do you prevent your relationship from becoming too close?

When working with “unloved” groups, it can be easy to believe that these are people just like you. But that’s not true. They’ve committed a significant part of their life to advocating hate toward other people. No matter how much like you they may be, they’re also different in a really significant way.

Can you be friends, outside of the research setting, with people who advocate hate? I guess it depends on what you consider to be the meaning of friendship. I think you can be friendly with them, in the sense that you can treat them with kindness and even enjoy them in small doses. But, for me, friendship requires some agreement on core values.

That said, I really enjoyed being with members of Westboro Baptist Church, probably more than they suspected. They are smart, engaged, funny. Many of them are kind and generous. I love theology and appreciate other people’s passionate engagement with it, so my talks with church members about theology were always fun. I felt respected by them, and there were times when I felt genuinely cared for because, I think, I was. But all of those things can’t cancel out the fact that they also do damage to other people.

Some of the people I met when I was attending the church regularly for research have since left and I would consider them to be real friends now.

How do you get detailed information in ethnographic research?

Ethnographic work requires a lengthy time investment. Unfortunately, the increasing cost of higher ed in the US and a push to graduate students ever faster may endanger it, which is a shame, because I also think it’s one of the best ways to understand complex phenomena.

Ethnography also requires a sensitivity that can be exhausting. You are trying to notice all things at once, which can be exhausting. One thing that I found helps was having a ritual of some kind that marks the transition between research and non-research. For me, preparing to enter a church service, I’d sit in my car for a few minutes before entering the building and practice some mind-clearing techniques. I’d open to a new page in my notebook and get out a nice pen and a freshly sharpened pencil. Those items–the blankness of the page, the pen full of ink and the pencil with a serious point–reminded me to be open and aware and to write a lot. Other rituals would work just as well, of course, but the point is to have something that reminds you Now I am paying attention. 

You also have to repeat experiences. You have to go back and see the same thing over and over. You can’t catch everything the first time.

How do you stay safe during research?

The physical dangers of work with hate groups are real. During my time research WBC, the church was the target of an arson, and they were stalked by a man who expressed the intention to commit a mass shooting. So, for me, the risks weren’t from within the church but from without it.

In other groups, especially ones where guns and misogyny and homophobia come together, the threat is from within. Researchers need to have a plan for every conceivable situation, formed from the insights of others who have done work with such groups. What if they demand you undergo a pat down when you arrive? What if they take your cell phone upon entry? What if the group engages in weapon play? What if they insist that you get in a vehicle with them and go to a new location? What if they demand that you drink alcohol with them? What if you are in imminent danger? What if you discover that they are planning imminent violence–that is, violence that includes a feasible plan of action against a known target? You need to have those phone numbers in your phone (but not labeled with labels that would indicate that is who they belong to) before you begin field work.

Your IRB team should be able to provide some help here, but I also think it’s a good idea to ask colleagues to review your plan with you. While gangs and criminal enterprises aren’t hate groups, sociologists, criminologists, and anthropologists who do fieldwork with these groups may have some helpful strategies to share aw well.

How do you care for yourself in other ways during research?

Many people have hard jobs working with tough people: prison guards, social workers, nurses, teachers. However, to a certain extent, we understand risk as part of those jobs, and we have done some work to mitigate that risk. Unfortunately, academia hasn’t spent a lot of time training scholars who work with tough topics on how to handle the emotional and mental part of our work. Oh, we learn how to locate and read items in an archive or how to conduct interviews, but we’re not trained to even be aware of, much less address, our own pain when we see a postcard from a lynching, hear a recording of a racist speech, visit a mass grave, or interview a person who has committed a hate crime. That’s something that higher ed needs to do much better, because the risk of PTSD from research is real. 

So much of what I have learned has come from other disciplines, like social work, and how they do this work, and from experience. From the start, you need to know yourself: What kind of things can you absolutely not handle? Be honest about those things and find ways to support the people who do that work while recognizing that it’s not for you. Also, once you begin your work, check in regularly with yourself. Have specific questions written out in advance that will help assess whether you are doing okay. Review those questions to see if there are new ones you need to add. If you aren’t caring for yourself, how will you know? Will it show up in your sleep? A jaw exhausted from clenching it or back pain? Stress eating? Drinking too much? Put those things in a list and check on yourself regularly. Also, put it in a list and share the list with friends. Ask them to ask after you, with a focus on those issues, and ask them to pay attention for you.

A good support team will be like a belaying partner in climbing; if you fall, they will feel it in their line. They’ll catch you, help you find your footing, and ask why you fell so you can figure out how not to do it again. You don’t need a huge support team, but you do need one with members who are committed to monitoring you and checking in with specific questions and who are looking for specific cues that you might not be doing well.

Finally, be aware that part of the work is the not-work. That is, you may have to enter and exit the work slowly, like a scuba diver who has to come up a bit at a time in order to avoid decompression sickness. That may feel like a waste of time, but it’s not. For example, after I left a Westboro Sunday service, I would typically take the next hour or so to type up my notes, which provided me with a chance to see patterns in what I was observing (and also notice if I wasn’t giving attention to something), translate my hurried handwriting into something I’d be able to read later, and also review what I’d observed with a little more distance. I’d do this in a little café near the church, and then I’d follow that by eating lunch while doing some other related reading–basically, stuff I needed to think about and that applied to my work but was a little more distant. Then I’d drive the 30-40 minutes home, putting even further distance between me and my observations.

Likewise, I’ve recently finished a project that involves watching a lot of videos produced by people who advocate for bombing abortion clinics. I had hours and hours and hours of videos to watch and code. You can’t zone out, because coding requires attention to detail–but you also can’t watch too many of these videos in a row. I just had to accept that about an hour a day on this project, from start to finish (which might be just 15 minutes of video watching) was enough. I also found that I had to watch them early in the day, because if I watched them later, closer to my return home in the evening and time with my young children, I struggled more to be present with them. I didn’t follow my own advice above (to have a list of things to pay attention to that would be evidence that I wasn’t doing well), and one night I came home from work, having just watched a bunch of videos that included images of fetal remains, and I started to make quail for dinner. The quail looked so much like dead fetuses (not really, I was able to see later, but my brain wasn’t believing it at the time), and I started vomiting. I’d been carrying the pain of those pictures with me, the pain of pregnant women, the pain of doctors who perform abortions, and the anger of people who bomb clinics, all represented in those images and how clinic bombers deploy them, and I didn’t realize it, but my body did, and it told me to be more careful.

 

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Review of _Biblical Porn_ Now Available

I just had the pleasure of reading Jennifer Johnson’s Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Evangelical Empire for Reading Religion, an online book review endeavor from the American Academy of Religion. You can read the review here.

Biblical Porn

“A King Cyrus President” just published!

I’m pleased to share the news that Humanity & Society has just published my article “A King Cyrus President: How Donald Trump’s Presidency Reasserts Conservative Christians’ Right to Hegemony.” Here is the abstract:

Religious right leaders and voters in the United States supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election for the same reason that all blocs vote as they do: They believed that the candidate offered them the best opportunity to protect and extend their power and create their preferred government. The puzzle of their support, then, is less why they chose Trump and more how they navigated the process of inserting Trump into their story of themselves as a “moral” majority. This self-understanding promotes and exploits feelings of entitlement, fear, resentment, and the desire to dominate to encourage political action. Because Trump’s speeches affirm these feelings, religious right voters were open to writing a plot twist in their story, casting Trump as a King Cyrus figure, as their champion if not a coreligionist. This article analyzes appeals to and expressions of entitlement, fear, resentment, and the desire to dominate from more than 60 sermons, speeches, and books by religious right authors, Donald Trump, and Trump surrogates. Using open coding, it identifies themes in how these emotions are recognized, affirmed, and invoked by speakers, focusing on Trump’s Cyrus effect.

The article was released the same week as the film The Trump Prophecya rightwing Christian film arguing that Trump is God’s candidate.

Ferdinand Baltasars Pain. King Cyrus gives the stolen treasures of the temple of Jerusalem

Above, in this painting by 17th-century Dutch artist Ferdinand Bol, King Cyrus returns the treasures of the Jewish temple to the Jews who have been living in Babylon but who have been authorized to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Conservative Christians view Trump as a King Cyrus–not one of them, but the strong leader who will allow them to reassert their religion with government support. Upon arriving back in Jerusalem, the Jews rebuild the wall around the city, commit to ending pluralism (especially inter-religious marriage), and create a religion that is much more strident than its predecessors. 

The entire issue focuses on the question emotions in backlash politics in the US and Europe. Special guest editors Joel Busher, Philip Giurlando, and Gavin B. Sullivan have brought together a group of outstanding articles could be usefully discussed together in a class or reading group focusing on the current political moment.

Joel Busher, Philip Giurlando, and Gavin B. Sullivan. “Introduction: The Emotional Dynamics of Backlash Politics beyond Anger, Hate, Fear, Pride, and Loss”

Tereza Capelos and Nicolas Demertzis, “Political Action and Resentful Affectivity in Critical Times.”

Catarina Kinnvall, “Ontological Insecurities and Postcolonial Imaginaries: The Emotional Appeal of Populism.”

Mehr Latif, Kathleen Blee, Matthew DeMichele, and Pete Simi. “How Emotional Dynamics Maintain and Destroy White Supremacist Groups.”

Mikko Salmela and Christian von Scheve. “Emotional Dynamics of Right- and Left-wing Political Populism.”

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I want to share a very warm thank you to Joel, Phil, and Gavin for their leadership on this issue. Joel Busher, in particular, provided invaluable editorial guidance on my (many, many, too many) drafts. His intellectual generosity made this a much more insightful piece, and I’m so grateful.

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The article is available from Humanity & Society and will be available within the new few weeks in academic libraries. If you don’t have access to it in either of those ways but would like to read it, please let me know and I can help you locate a copy.

Author of _Bringing the War Home: The Whtie Power Movement and Paramilitary America_ to speak at the Center for Rightwing Studies

America has seen multiple wars in defense of white supremacy, from our bloodiest conflicts (Metacom’s War, the Civil War) to our longest lasting ones (the Apache Wars) to our most far-flung ones (the “Filipino Insurrection,” which is to say that the people of the Philippines did not prefer to be colonized by the US and so fought back). But war doesn’t just express our white nationalism: it also fuels it. The Viet Nam war figures prominently in the minds of white supremacists today, argues historian Katherine Belew.

She’ll be talking about her research at Berkely in October, for those in the area. For those who can’t come, I encourage you to check out Belew’s Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America

Thursday, October 4th
4:00-5:30pm
Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way, Berkeley

Kathleen Belew 
Assistant Professor of U.S. History
and the College, University of Chicago

Sponsored by the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, UC Berkeley

Co-sponsored by the Department of History and the Department of Sociology

From the CRWS promotional materials:

The white power movement in America wants a revolution. It has declared all-out war against the federal government and its agents, and has carried out—with military precision—an escalating campaign of terror against the American public. Its soldiers are not lone wolves but are highly organized cadres motivated by a coherent and deeply troubling worldview of white supremacy, anticommunism, and apocalypse. In this talk, based on her new book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, Kathleen Belew presents a history of the movement that consolidated in the 1970s and 1980s around a potent sense of betrayal in the Vietnam War and made tragic headlines in the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City.

Belew’s disturbing history reveals how, returning to an America ripped apart by a war which, in their view, they were not allowed to win, a small but driven group of veterans, active-duty personnel, and civilian supporters concluded that waging war on their own country was justified. They unified people from a variety of militant groups, including Klansmen, neo-Nazis, skinheads, radical tax protestors, and white separatists. Belew shows how the white power movement operated with discipline and clarity, undertaking assassinations, mercenary soldiering, armed robbery, counterfeiting, and weapons trafficking. Her analysis argues for awareness of the heightened potential for paramilitarism in a present defined by ongoing war.

“Not on Our Campus” training to combat hate on campus

The ADL is doing a training on Sept 12 at USC to help campuses address hate crimes. I’d love to hear from people who are able to attend. And if you want to support this project but can’t go, consider a donation to the ADL to support this important work.

 

Above, white supremacists meet to “unite the right” in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, in 2017. 

Details here.

A Review of _Paranoid Science_ now available

I recently got to review Antony Alumkal’s Paranoid Science: The Christian Right’s War on Reality for Contemporary Sociology. In this book, Alumkal, a professor of the sociology of religion at Iliff School of Theology, identifies patterns of paranoid thinking in conservative Christians’ engagement with four issues: evolution, LGBTQ+ rights, bioethics, and climate change. Readers interested in any of those topics will find that the chapters devoted to them stand alone well, while those of us interested in broader questions about science and religion will find the book an illuminating read about how conservative Christian organizations work.

Above, the cover of Alumkal’s Paranoid Science.

“When it comes to dealing with science,” he writes, “perhaps the key issue is that ease with which these individuals deny reality when they find it undesirable” (p. 193). That statement could be just as accurately applied, I fear, when it comes to history, economics, and politics.

Rebecca

September AGT Writing Challenge Starts on Sunday!

AGT Monthly Writing Challenge

 

typewriter

Whether you are already a fantastic, productive writer who can’t wait to get to your manuscript each day or you are stuck or struggling with half-done manuscripts, a backlog of pieces in your “to-revise” pile, and a feeling of dread when you open your computer each day, you are invited to join the monthly AGT Writing Challenge.

Each month, participants agree to write at least 400 words per day for 5 days each 7 day week, Sunday through Saturday. We start on the FIRST Sunday of every month, and since there are no breaks between monthly challenges, we are usually ending in the following month. If you meet your goals, you will write at least 8,000 words in a month with 4 weeks and 10,000 words in a month with 5 weeks. For September, we begin on Sunday, September 4 and end on Saturday, October 6. 

Here’s how it works:

You buy into the challenge with US $20, payable via PayPal to anygoodthing@outlook.com or, if you prefer, check. (Just email me at anygoodthing@outlook.com to ask where to send it.)

You write 5/7 days each week, at least 400 words. Each day that you write, you send your writing to me at anygoodthing@outlook.com with the word count in the subject line. If you meet your goal for the month, you get your $20 back.

If you miss a day, you lose $3. If you miss 2 days, you lose $6. If you miss more than 2 days, you lose the full $20.

Forfeited funds go into a kitty that funds a small monthly prize, drawn at random from among those who meet their 20-day goal; occasional random drawings among participants for other contests; and administrative costs associated with organizing the AGT Writing Challenge.

 

FAQs

How do I get started?

From the email address you prefer to use in our correspondence, email me with your name, the email address associated with your Facebook profile (so I can add you to our Facebook group), and how you plan on paying (PayPal or check). If you’d like an accountability partner, please let me know in email. Send any other information you think is important and any questions you might have.

While you can email me your intention to join and put in your $20 at any point, each AGT Writing Challenge begins on the first Sunday of every month. You  may join up to two days after the start date but those two missed days will count as your skip days that week, so you’d need to write Tues-Sat of that first week to meet your goal. After the first Tuesday of a month, it’s too late to join for that month, so you’d need to join in the following month. Each challenge runs for four or five weeks–until the next month’s first Sunday.

Who participates?

Participants include professional writers, those writing after a hiatus, and people coming to writing for the first time. Some people are working on professional projects, while others are working on personal ones. Our writers are working on novels, short stories, academic articles, academic books, dissertations, blogs, religious devotionals, memoirs, and more.

What can I write about? Can I work on more than one writing project? 

You can write about anything you like. Some folks work on one project the entire time they participate, while others switch between ongoing projects on a regular basis–sometimes even within the same day.

The AGT Writing Challenge is a good opportunity to work on writing that you might avoid otherwise–a spot in your novel where you are stuck, an academic article that has been languishing, or a short story that you think could be good if you’d just revise it.

Do you read my writing?

No. If you send your writing within the body of an email, I’ll see the first few lines when I open the document, but I don’t read it. If you send your writing as an attachment, I don’t open it except to do a word count if you’ve not included a word count in the subject line.

How does the AGT Writing Challenge support my writing?

In addition to regular email check-ins, you can participate in our secret Facebook group, where writers share inspiration and advice, ask questions, and support each other. If you like seeing your daily writing total add up, you can check in with our Google Sheet, an online spreadsheet where you can self-report (using your real name, initials, or a pseudonym) your daily writing progress and see how your efforts are comparing to others in the group. And you can request to be paired with an accountability partner from the group.

How do accountability partners work?

On the first day of the new Writing Challenge, I’ll use Facebook to ask everyone if they would like a writing accountability partner. Just tell me there or email me, if you prefer. Within the first few days of each month, I match partners mostly at random, after making sure that they don’t already know each other or work in the same field or at the same institution to insure that they might not be working on projects that put them in any competition with each other. You and your partner are matched for the whole month, with new partners reassigned each month. You should figure out how you want to check in with each other (FB Messenger, text message, or something else ), how often (daily, M-F, every other day, etc.), and what you want to do in those check-ins (Sometimes a regular, specific question works well: “Did you write for that grant project you have due soon?” “How many words did you add to your chapter today?”).

What can I expect to get out of this?

If you stick with your goal, you will write at least 8000 words. But while many people join to pump up their output in terms of word count, they often find they experience other benefits like:

  • getting old “revise and resubmit” articles out the door
  • wrapping up lingering writing projects
  • improving relationships with co-authors
  • producing templates for documents that they will use again and again (such as emails, author queries, and letters of recommendation)
  • experimenting with their writing habits (writing early in the morning, trying the Pomodoro technique, or trying new revision strategies)
  • seeing real progress on dissertations, book manuscripts, and other massive projects that are often required but unsupported in academia
  • attempting new genres
  • building a daily or near-daily writing habit that they know they can rely on
  • building confidence that they can accomplish large writing tasks
  • getting their writing done on time or even in advance of deadlines
  • writing faster as they get in the habit of writing daily, so those 400 words come faster and faster as you keep at it–giving you more time to write more words!
  • enjoying writing
  • enjoying not writing without the guilt of an overdue project hanging over their head
  • knowing that if they skip a day of writing, they won’t be behind–because they have already written a few thousand words that week

How does this work?

Some participants have called the AGT Writing Challenge “magical,” and I don’t disagree–but it’s not clear that the magic works the same way for everyone. Some folks are very motivated by the idea of losing their $20. Others see the $20 as a reward and put it toward a prize of their own to reward their hard work. Most people find that they can do 400 words a day–it’s enough to push their writing forward (You can get an idea out, develop an example, or write an important point in 400 words.) without it being too daunting. Watching your project advance is its own kind of motivation. By the time you’ve had your seat in your desk chair long enough to write 400 words, you often find that you have the time and energy to write more. 400 words can be done in lots of different settings and in a short amount of time, so it becomes harder to say “I don’t have time.”

When you overcome a writing obstacle–whether that’s a technical difficulty in writing, a plot point you’ve been struggling with, a piece of data you couldn’t explain, a bad habit (like interrupting yourself to check email), or something else–you become more confident that you can overcome the next difficulty.

And the AGT Writing Challenge is rooted in respect for writing, encouragement (rather than competition, which is, unfortunately, the situation many of us face at work), and the belief that we all lose when good ideas are lost–and when good thinkers don’t get their ideas out there.

What if I’m writing something I can’t share?

If you are working on a large project that can’t be shared due to privacy concerns, it’s probably not a good pick for the AGT Writing Challenge. However, if you must occasionally write a piece you can’t send in (a faculty review, a review for a book proposal, etc.), just send the word count and a note explaining what you worked on.

What do you do with the writing I send in?

I keep it in my dedicated AGT Writing Challenge email account for the duration of the month. Depending on the number of writers, it may take me up to a week to contact everyone to let them know if they met their goal for the month. After that, I usually wait about 3 days, just to make sure that I didn’t get anyone’s individual tally wrong, and then I delete the emails that contain your writing.

How long do people stay in the AGT Writing Challenge?

Some folks participate for just one month. Others pop in for a month, then take a month off, then come back. Some have participated every month since they joined. Stay as long as you like–and come back whenever you need to.

Do I have to be producing new words each day?

Recognizing that everyone needs to revise and edit (and some folks need to produce tables, which have relatively few words but are a necessary and time-consuming part of their work) here are some ways you can count these kinds of work:

  • Figure out about how long it takes you to write 400 words. Use time, not word count, as a measure. If 400 words takes 45 minutes, then 45 minutes of editing  or revising or producing a table can equal 400 words.
  • Consider the larger project. How many pages is it? How soon do you want to have it done? If, say, you are proofing the galleys on a 200 page novel and you want to have it done in 5 days, you’d need to proof 40 pages per day.
  • Find a ratio that you think reflects your efforts. Many people measure revising as 1/2 or 1/3 the “value” of new words–so, for example, you would need to revise 800 words to equal 400 new words.
  • Don’t count revised words. This, obviously, is the strictest measure, and it might be right for you if you are a person who uses revision as a form of procrastination.

If you have other strategies, suggest them! And feel free to experiment with different strategies until you find one that works for your needs.

Do you offer proofreading, editing, coaching, or writing services?

I do, and you can read about them here. And if I’m not available or not a good fit for you, I’m happy to recommend other editors or writing coaches.

I’m a student. Would you write my paper for me?

No, but I will contact your academic dean, your advisor, and the instructor of the class and let them know you asked.

Where did the idea for this Writing Challenge come from?

A few years ago, I applied for IRB approval to do something like this as an experiment in an online course. My university denied it, saying that the project was too much like gambling. The state’s Department of Finance and Administration (which oversees lotteries, bingo, and games of chance) disagreed, and I argued with the decision, citing a body of literature on similar projects on smoking cessation and weight loss, but the IRB committee was adamant–anything remotely like gambling was off limits. (Those in higher ed in Arkansas might see a joke in here: the state’s lotto funds higher ed scholarships.) But I kept thinking about the idea and eventually decided to apply it to one of my other interests: supporting writers.

We often get stuck thinking that the only way to progress is through criticism. I disagree. Personally, I’ve never once improved because someone tore me apart; I’ve only ever really improved when I felt confident and when others saw potential in me. I figured I wasn’t the only one, so a project like this one might work for other people, too. And if it chips away at a culture of humiliation, that’s a bonus! At the heart of this model is the idea that we can all succeed, that there is room enough for everyone’s ideas, and that we are not in competition for scarce resources but that the more of us in the conversation, the more opportunities we have to develop our ideas.

What motivates you to host this event?

Previously, I’ve directed Women and Gender Studies at Arkansas State University and worked as a dissertation and thesis coach at the University of Kansas. In both roles, I saw my work as helping others build their capacities for writing and research. I love that kind of work–encouraging others, supporting them as they move forward. I’m especially passionate about helping those traditionally underserved by higher ed, including women, first generation scholars, and people of color.

Hosting this been a lot of fun for me so far and encouraging in every way. I’ve cleared off lingering projects, moved new ones forward, got to experiment with new forms, learned a lot about myself as a writer, and reminded myself of why I got into academia in the first place (because I love writing! and I love seeing people succeed in their writing!). And, seriously EVERY SINGLE DAY I get to see AGT writers all bringing new ideas into the world!

I have some more questions. 

Contact me at anygoodthing@outlook.com.

5 Easy Ways to Improve Student-Teacher Relations

Right now, you’re high on the smell of new Expo markers and feeling hopeful that your new planner is going to bring a level of peace and productivity that you’ve never experienced. Your students, with fresh haircuts and a commitment to making all their 8 am classes, are feeling the same.

How can you make the honeymoon phase last? Here are 5 ideas:

  • At the end of writing assignments, add the words “I can’t wait to read what you have to say!” Maybe it’s only true for some students, but it will help each of them see themselves as writers with something important to say–which will help them develop as writers and will actually get them to produce better writing.
  • After the second major assignment (second test, second paper, second presentation) of the course, look at your gradebook to see who scored a letter grade or higher on the second assignment compared to the first. Send them an email saying that you are pleased with their improvement. This will take less than 10 minutes of your time, total, but you’ll encourage students who are trying hard and seeing their hard work pay off.
  • After each major assignment, email the highest scoring student in the class and let them know that they earned the highest grade. Tell them that you are impressed with them and are glad they are your class.
  • Every week or two (I set aside time most Fridays), look at your gradebook. Who has missed two assignments in a row? Email them and ask what’s going on. You’re not a counselor, but you can remind them of the services available through the university–like the writing center, tutoring, the counseling center, or the food pantry.
  • Keep a pile of blank notecards and beautiful stamps at your desk. (Bonus points if you buy them the notecards from a local artist, a woman, an artist of color, or an artists with a disability. Double bonus points if the images on the cards speak to the concerns of your course.) When a student writes with a sob story, take it seriously. Their lives are hard. Many of them don’t have much support. Some of them are here against the wishes of their family. They are often emailing you to ask for an extension on work or forgiveness for turning something in late. Handle that in email, but also send a note. Here is the kind of language I use: I start with a simple “Just wanted you to know that I am thinking about you during this difficult time” and then use something like this:
    • for a death in the family: I hope that time spent with your friends and family will bring some comfort as you mourn the loss of and celebrate the life of your grandma. 
    • for a difficult pregnancy, childbirth, or post-partem recovery: I hope that you are getting the support and care you need and that you and baby are doing well. 
    • for just about any personal or family health emergency: I hope that you are getting the care you need from your doctor and the support you need from your community.

Then, a closer like, “Please know that your professors care about your success and are rooting for you.”

Above, Dancers of the Third Age, an image on a notecard from Syracuse Cultural Workers. Check them out for beautiful cards that support important causes. 

What are your strategies for keeping morale up?

 

Need more religion podcasts?

I’ve just started a new stint as a features editor of the Religious Studies Project. I mention this because I think that some of you might like what RSP is about: it’s an international group of collaborators producing podcasts of interviews with scholars of religion about the whole range of topics that fall under “religion.” Recent podcasts address the grief rituals, Japanese Shinto, magic, drone metal mysticism, and Muslim superheroes.

Above, Earth’s 2005 Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method. Want to learn how drone metal can be a spiritual practice? Check out the RSP podcast on the topic.

Anyway,  if this looks interesting, I hope you’ll check it out!

Rebecca

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