“This I Believe”: Starring 3 Inspired Young Women

I asked Anna, Marissa, and Catherine what they could take with them into the world from this first year advanced composition class:

It’s important to write about something that I am passionate about and to be confident in my writing.” -Anna Rothstein
I learned how to express myself in this class. I know that I will take that gift out into the real world.” -Marissa Rossi
It is really great to write about current issues in the world and your opinion on them. This motivates me to want to make a change! Critical reading has opened my mind to so many other perspectives.” -Catherine Cassidy

These students remind me that to inspire others, one must first be inspired. I really loved the following  personal narratives written for an essay assignment by these three brave young women. After reading their work, my motivation to help support, guide, and educate students to become responsible global citizens who can positively impact the communities around them was renewed.  I am encouraged that these women dare to dream and continue to foster a challenging, supportive, and safe community of empowered voices.

May we all be so loving, kind, and compassionate with ourselves and others throughout this season and this new year. I can’t wait to see what amazing things these feminists will do next. We should do everything in our power to support and empower our students. Our future depends on them.



This I Believe Official Guidelines: http://thisibelieve.org/guidelines/

This I Believe My Guidelines for Advanced Composition Essay Prompt

Anna Rothstein-This I Believe

Marissa Rossi-My Journey

Catherine Cassidy-The Wisdom of Fear

Cultural Critique & Gender Identity

How do we identify ourselves amidst the incessant negative images and messages perpetrated by our ever-loud media culture? I think about this a lot. I show my advanced composition students the Missrepresentation documentary, and I ask them to write a cultural critique based on an advertisement of their choosing. From a pedagogical standpoint, in a world where sexism is so blatant, I feel responsible for guiding students in their analytical quest to uncover what is overt and implied. Again and again, I come to the construct of gender. I come up against that dreaded statement: “That’s so gay.” As teachers, how do we have these conversations without alienating the students who need to hear this message the most? How do we create a safe, inclusive space for everyone? I believe the conversation must be made personal. Political and social efficacy must come from within. We are the roots of the weed. I believe the unspoken social contracts of acceptability must be defined in order to be broken and freed.

I challenged my students to make it personal. I really loved David Bache’s essay; I wanted to share it with you.

A brief description of the assignment.

Courage Is The First Step Into Nonconformity by David Bache

Every time we gather around our television screen, we are bombarded by advertisements for America’s finest products. Each of these ads has an agenda to not only sell their product but to form societal rules for its viewers. Nearly every commercial that hits the air features beautiful people, in beautiful clothes, living their beautiful lives with the aid of the company’s product, of course. The constant visual assault of what the media deems normal and beautiful has had an extremely negative effect on it’s viewers. One ad campaign in particular, Old Spice, targets men who don’t fit into society’s definition of masculine, by exclusively representing a muscular, womanizing type of man. Old Spice targets these men by assuring them that after the use of their product, they too will be as masculine as “The Old Spice Guy” and, therefore, be rich, famous, have sex with beautiful women and, on occasion, defy the laws of physics. Unfortunately, what Old Spice, and the general population of the United States, do not understand is that being masculine has nothing to do with being a man; a man is quite simply a human being who identifies as male.

Men today are belittled by the media. Every father and son who are subjected to today’s advertisements are being subliminally told that if they do not look, act and talk a certain way they will live a less than satisfying life. Old Spice pitches in on this objectification in the form of promotions for their mens grooming products. In the television commercials, the muscular and ‘manly man’, Isaiah Mustafa, informs the female audience that unless their man uses Old Spice products, he will never be able to live the exciting and adventurous life that a man who does use the products could. Another depicts a young man with little muscle mass, who starts using Old Spice products. The young man is instantly blessed with large biceps and a beard and eventually goes on to “cure all the worlds problems”. This over exaggeration has become extremely detrimental to the vast majority of men in our country.
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Radical Revisions: Impacting our Communities


Breaking Boundaries of Textual Space
Before I returned to academia for my M.F.A., I worked in communications and public relations for two and a half years. Through this experience,  it became exceedingly clear to me that the skills learned in the writing classroom need to be translated into “real-world” writing. I am an advocate for encouraging and assisting students in publishing their own work, because I believe this instills a sense of confidence and accomplishment even in the most inexperienced students. My hope is to help produce informed and capable global citizens. To me, this principal is at the core of feminism. These students have already begun to make a difference in their communities. They are socially aware. I am so proud of their ambition and passion. In the classroom, I strive to foster a type of character culture, because I believe that learning and writing flourish in safe, open environments.  I want to be a teacher who creates a space that inspires individual  creative writing and learning. I also think we should all feel responsible for offering students the necessary tools they will need to survive and succeed in the American academy and beyond.

*Disclaimer: I did not come up with this assignment.  I stole it. It most likely came from some combination of my pedagogy classes, colleagues, and mentors.

The Assignment: Take one of the formal papers you’ve written this semester and turn it into something completely different! In this process you will take apart your writing and reassemble it in a new form. I want you to revise to the point that your revised text is so different from the original that you may think it is near failing. I am encouraging you to push the composing envelope. Systematically stretch your writing to the limit!

Then, you will write a story of what you learned during this revision process. This should be in a narrative essay that will accompany your final presentation to the class of your radical revision project. I believe this assignment teaches writing as a writer experiences it.

You must reach an audience OUTSIDE of this classroom. Consider the following when approaching this assignment: Audience, Meaning, Clarity, Style & Form, Development & Depth, Purpose, Organization, and Context.

Please, take a look at how these incredible students are impacting their communities!

XO Sarah

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Frank O’Hara Inspired Poems

March 9, 2012 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Lesson Plans, Poetry, Post by: Susan W 

In the English Literature course that I teach, I assigned students the following prompt for a brief journal writing assignment based on the writing of Frank O’Hara. After several discussions with my students this semester, I am personally coming to realize the underlying feminist reading of O’Hara’s work, especially from a biographical approach where his own sexuality seems to socially and politically infiltrate his work.

A philosophical and critical idea explored by Aristotle and Plato, mimesis is art imitating life; it is a term to refer to the real world represented through art and literature. While Plato and Aristotle often connected mimesis to an imitation of nature, one can think of how this term may be expanded to urban ways of life.

Prompt: To get in the spirit of O’Hara’s process of writing about everything he sees and experiences in life, as well as his social circle of artists and writers, take a notebook with you during one of your lunch breaks and write down any observations that you have about life going on around you, including any people you interact with, any dialogue that you have, any objects that you see in your environment, etc.

Then, try to formulate these ideas into a poem (doesn’t have to be long, can be about 7-10 lines).

Include your poem in your journal and reflect on this experience of what you observed. What did you chose to keep in writing your poem, and what did you chose to omit? How might some of your observations connect to larger themes in life?

Consider how this might connect to O’Hara’s process of writing. Was it as easy as you thought it would be to write a poem about life?

I was so pleased with the results of this exercise and with the thoughtful poems that my students constructed. In particular, one student, Elizabeth Connolly’s poem and reflection stood out to me as a deep and considerate meditation on a life experience that many others may be able to connect with. Elizabeth has permitted me to reproduce her work here. Read more

Guest post by undergraduate writer Paige Impink

Last semester, while teaching an undergraduate section of Introduction to Creative Writing at George Mason University, I had the pleasure of working with Paige Impink, a very talented young writer. Out of Paige’s many beautiful pieces, I found myself especially struck by the simultaneously humorous and biting feminist themes in this poem, “Digest Cosmopolitan,” which Paige collaged from a newspaper and from Cosmopolitan Magazine.  It’s my honor to share the poem with you here. Read on after the poem to hear Paige’s reflections on her own writing, as well as the feminist readings and ideas that influenced her.



“Digest Cosmopolitan,” by Paige Impink

to write about Africa

…………and the sizzling, sinful things they’re craving right now.

Don’t the critical conditions of democracy

…………look so sexy?


A term was invented for ‘powerless social groups’

…………that no man can resist, and

political attacks misread

…………the 10 things guys wish you knew.


Pragmatism may be a useful way of understanding

…………the colorful smoky eye made easy, but

nuclear power is not the answer for

…………why so many men are suckers for skanks while

a Palestinian peacemaker

…………has pecs of steel.


In any case, France has never undertaken

…………what a lipstick can’t.


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