I read Accommodation and Resistence On (the Color) Line: Black Writer’s Meet White Artists on the Internet by Teresa Redd of Howard University. She shed light on the dynamics of race in America, but also some realities of write-reader relationship I had not thought about before. The latter part (writer-reader relationship) is the most relevant to our WAC class.
Redd collaborated with a graphics design professor at Montana State University with an interesting idea in mind. Have a class of predominately black students write about the “cause and effect of racism” to a class of predominately white students via e-mail. The white students would take the writers’ essays and turn them into graphic designs. Both writer and artist would give one another feed back about the work–the writer assesses the graphic representation of their essays, and the artists would assess the writer’s work. Based on the suggestions made, both would make revisions.
To make the project more intriguing, these were not just two different races talking to each other; these were students who came from different environments. The black students grew up in a black community while the students in Montana had little interaction with people of color. The professor from MSU, Newman-James, wrote:
A surprisingly large number of my students come from one-room schools or had high school graduating classes of less than 10 people. Montana is the fourth largest land-mass state, and the fourth smallest population-wise. This means that MSU students, 90% of whom are Montana residents are often more familiar with land, horses, and cattle than [with] people. According to the 1990 census, less than 0.3% of Montana's population is black. (On (the Color) Line 1995, 1)
Redd points out in her article that she observed how her students wrote about race without considering the implications of their views and any opposition they might meet. After all, only one person will read the essays: Redd. She grades their work. Would it be different if students wrote to a true audience?
I expected for Redd to explain how her students revised their paper with their audience’s thoughts in mind.
I was wrong.
Some students took the comments to heart, others not so much and defended their views, believing their readers did not have enough authority on academic writing. I’ve never question the authority of the reader. When I wrote blogs or short stories, I have the audience in mind. I want my work to be clear, concise, and respectful to the reader. If a reader disagreed with me, I wouldn’t downplay their authority. I accept their opinions, think about what they said, and objectively admit they are right or wrong, depending on what they say (and how they say it).
More importantly, some students did what Redd calls e-vision: Students would answer their readers’ comment in an e-mail, but that same answer would not appear in the actual essay. So you can have a student that tells their reader, “That’s a good point”. But they won’t say that in the essay.
Redd’s assumptions about how a true audience would help students improve their writing were challenge; my assumptions were challenged, too. I love to get my students together and reach each other’s work, taking to heart the comments they got. But it always doesn’t work the way I want them to. Addressing a true audience–not a professor with grades to hand out–doesn’t always come out the right way.