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Violence, healing, justice

Queenie Sukhadia

The course I taught at Hunter College is a required composition course for students. While it does function as a prerequisite for other English courses, it is most importantly one of two options available to undergraduates for satisfying the writing requirement at Hunter. As a result, only a handful of students enrolled in the course are interested in the formal study of literature. Moreover, many students come to the course averse to reading and writing.  I provide this context here because reflecting on where my course fit into students’ educational trajectories and how my students conceived of the work they were being asked to do in it influenced how I designed the Documenting Communities project.

As part of this project, I asked my students to create a video documenting how a community of their choosing (real or virtual) uses literature to heal from violence or promote justice, as per the themes of the course.

The learning outcomes I intended to achieve through this assignment were three-fold:

I hoped to instill an appreciation of literature as a political artifact in my students. I sought for my students to conceive of literature not as a leisure object to be passively consumed, but as a living, breathing entity entangled with worldly issues.

      • I hoped to instill an appreciation of literature as a political artifact in my students. I sought for my students to conceive of literature not as a leisure object to be passively consumed, but as a living, breathing entity entangled with worldly issues.
      • The course requirements compelled me to slot the texts I taught into the boxes—artificial as they are—of fiction, poetry, and drama. I used this assignment to further explode the notions of both ‘literature’ and ‘genre’ for my students. In the assignment prompt, I explicitly asked students to denaturalize and play with the idea of literature. What makes a text ‘literary’, I asked them, and then encouraged them to define, in the project proposal they submitted, why the texts their chosen community uses may be read as ‘literature’. On one hand, this reinforced the close-reading skills the course is supposed to teach; on the other, it encouraged my students to think about literature and genre as categories constituted by literary moves that operate in verb fashion—always doing something (producing effects on readers, nuancing sociopolitical questions, framing things in certain ways, and so on and so forth).
      • The course focused heavily focused on teaching students close-reading skills. However, as I discuss above, I was cognizant of the fact that a majority of my students were not going to take on advanced literary study and worried that this may risk translating into a disinterested grade-oriented attitude rather than a learning-oriented one. I designed this assignment to combat this questioning of the course’s utility. I sought to encourage my students to take a broad-view perspective on the skills they would walk away from the course with. Close-reading is a skill that is not confined to literary analysis; it is a skill that can be effectively deployed to parse the rhetorical import of any public artifact. In this assignment, by coaxing my students into thinking about the features of texts and the work they do, rather than adhering strictly to what is typically considered literature, I sought to cultivate in them an analytical orientation toward any and every text they encounter beyond the literature classroom.

Research Paper: Assignment Sheet – accessible here

Final Projects & Students reflections – accessible here