Article by Angela Webster
On February 5, 2015, the Wheaton College English Department sponsored a presentation by Dr. Paul Feigenbaum and Dr. Paula Mathieu on the topic of “Writing for Social Change.” Both speakers challenged audience members to use writing to bring about positive changes in their communities.
Feigenbaum is an assistant professor of English at Florida International University. In his lecture, he talked about ways that he teaches civic engagement in his writing classes. Feigenbaum encourages his students to collaborate with one another on class projects and to write for audiences outside of the classroom. For example, one of his classes chose to raise awareness about the lack of adequate street lighting in the community, and they petitioned the local government to make changes. The class’s efforts eventually led to the installation of additional street lamps. Through projects like this one, Feigenbaum teaches his students the value of writing partnerships in bringing about meaningful social change.
Mathieu, the director of the First-Year Writing Program at Boston College, expanded on Feigenbaum’s points by sharing several stories from her time working with StreetWise, an independent street newspaper. Mathieu talked about collaborating with StreetWise writers to create a unique Chicago bus tour, in which homeless writers shared their perspectives with tourists. She described important writing components of the tour such as scriptwriting and website design, emphasizing both the expansive nature of the writing process and the community involvement that is necessary to ensure the success of such projects. Additionally, Dr. Mathieu encouraged students not to view homelessness and other social issues as problems but to choose to engage these issues as projects.
Audience members left the event with a clearer understanding of how to make their writing matter. Shannon Porteous, an English education student, remarked, “I was most impacted by [the speakers’] emphasis on the vital relationship between writing and action….Their advice to ‘not go it alone’ was inspiring.”