Public Relations and Production

This category expands upon the CWPA's original discussion of textual production in "Evaluating the Intellectual Work" in order to acknowledge the variety of "texts" produced by contemporary writing programs:

  • In 1998, program-based textual production referred specifically to "the production of written materials" by a WPA: model syllabi, funding proposals, resource materials, evaluations, and so forth.
  • This survey also uncovered a number of cases wherein WPAs implemented outreach initiatives to connect the writing program—and its students—to larger communities.

Most texts produced by WPAs, at least in this sample, are circulated among broader audiences than program members. In such publications, students contribute to the writing program's outreach within the campus community.

Like such texts, program events can serve pedagogical as well as public goals: students craft and share their work with real audiences and so, by extension, does the writing program. Based on these findings, public relations seems an apt description of the work of building and maintaining relationships around and beyond campus as well as the resulting collaborative projects and performances.

Students coauthor program materials

Students author materials for use within and outside the writing program.

In the only case of student collaboration in the actual production of program texts, multilingual students coauthored (with an ESL advisory committee) a guide, "Linguistically Inclusive Strategies for Working with Nonnative English Speakers" (Shuck). Designed for circulation among faculty across campus, the document drew upon "multilingual students' knowledge of the ways in which their second language status affects their learning," as well as pedagogical theory, in order to educate and encourage faculty to better support a diverse student population (75).

Students contribute to program materials

Students' ideas and words may be incorporated in program materials to appeal to different audiences.

In less direct ways, student input enhanced communication with other student audiences: feedback was used to improve directed self-placement materials (Bedore and Rossen-Knill), and quotations from student writers were included in a program guide (Grego and Thompson).

Student input can also enhance program self-representation. One writing program created a multimedia introduction, featuring interviews with peer tutors and student users of the writing center, for the university's VIPs; the response of the visitors and attendant university officials confirmed for Rebecca Moore Howard a key principle: "[P]eople—students, teachers, and administrators—are most interested in and persuaded by students' voices" (16).

Students present their work at campus/community events

Campus conferences and "celebrations" offer opportunities for students to showcase their work.

Howard's principle may help explain a noteworthy trend in writing program outreach: four recent articles within this sample referred to organized campus events in which students present their writing and research projects to different audiences.

At the University of West Florida, M. J. Braun developed an academic conference in which graduate students presented work to composition faculty; based on its success, the event was expanded to include undergraduate students in the first-year writing program. The resulting venue offered students an opportunity to share and discuss their public-oriented projects with more senior members of the writing program community.

In a similar move, Gail Shuck created a Conference on Language for her ESL writing class at Boise State University. This public event was the culmination of the course curriculum in which students presented their work to audiences of fellow students, faculty, staff, and administrators, as well as friends and family members of the presenters. In her discussion, Shuck affirms Howard's emphasis on the power of pathos: "Students speak publicly about their struggles with English or their knowledge of two or more language systems, and the audience listens intently to these formerly silent voices" (72). Such events provide students and their communities opportunities for mutual learning and reflection.

Students represent student writers to local communities

Presenters may influence public (and their own) views on students and their writing.

As Shuck suggests, students' performances can also influence the beliefs and behaviors of audiences from the dean to local community members, and thereby contribute to a WPA's goal of fostering dialogue about important issues.

In a similar PR move, the writing program at Eastern Michigan University instituted a Celebration of Student Writing as part of a revised curricular emphasis on research. The event contributed to a broader reform agenda: "to change the tide of the conversation about student writing" (Adler-Kassner and Estrem 120).

At the end of every semester, students created multimedia displays that showcased their research and discussed that work with circulating audiences made up of members of the campus community (including prospective students and parents), as well as teachers and students from local high schools.

Linda Adler-Kassner and Heidi Estrem declare the event "a sensation"—one with potential to achieve their goal of influencing "public perceptions of students and of student writing" (127). While they admit such broad impact may be difficult to demonstrate, the study provided evidence of resulting shifts in students' perceptions of themselves as writers and of their potential to influence others.

Students represent writing programs to local communities

These showcases also highlight the programs that produced them; the self-congratulatory nature of these events merits critical consideration and careful negotiation.

The testimony offered in these studies suggests the benefits—for students, WPAs, and other program stakeholders—of student participation in such program showcases. However, Mark Mullen's "Students' Rights and the Ethics of Celebration" expresses concerns that "enthusiasm to celebrate the writing (or the student, or the research)" might prevent critical examination of the motivations behind the project (97).

One of those motivations, as indicated above, has been to offer a counterargument to reductive perceptions of writing and writers and, Mullen suggests, of writing instructors, programs, and WPAs:

Equally, celebrations of writing are celebrations of the teaching of writing, a reassertion of agency by practitioners who are routinely denigrated by administrators, other academic disciplines and the culture at large. What happens when these assertions of agency begin to overwhelm the student agency that is supposed to be at the heart of our celebrations? When, for example, students become exhibits to support a particular theory of writing, or arguments for the necessity of institutional support for a writing program? (102)

These questions challenge WPAs to carefully examine the tensions inherent in student participation in WPA work, which is often bound up in what Mullen calls "administrative power games" (110). As a more ethical alternative to public performance, Mullen offers the example of a local, small-scale Research and Writing Conference in which students from previous semesters share writing advice and research strategies with new students. Like the examples above, such a performance would rely on and reinforce students' developing expertise on their writing to educate other program stakeholders.