SOE faculty support local community with grassroots online writing events

June 26, 2020

Faculty across the SOE have started a series of grassroots community events called “Write Socially, Act Locally,” which offer an opportunity for students and faculty to write in community with others and to support local businesses and community organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each free session starts with a discussion about a writing topic and offers attendees time to write and share. 

In each session, a faculty member hosts an interactive individualized writing session and makes a donation to a local small business or nonprofit. Faculty hosts have chosen to designate their support to York, El Harissa, Literati, 19 Drips, Ozone House, Neutral Zone, Ruth Ellis Center, Alpha House, and Parkridge Community, among other recipients. 

Professor Betsy Davis led sessions in support of York. She has also participated in six sessions as an attendee. “I love to work at York, located on Packard south of Stadium in Ann Arbor,” she said. “It’s right around the corner from my house, and my family has been going there as it has evolved from the Big Ten Party Store to Morgan & York, and now just York. In non-pandemic times, I’m there about once a week, either on a Saturday morning getting a latte and avo toast and catching up on some reading or writing, or on a weekday late afternoon, or on a Friday evening to socialize with friends. One of my favorite things about York in the last year or two has been seeing graduate students there, working on prelims papers or dissertations.”

Davis’s most recent hosted session supported Black Stone Bookstore in Ypsilanti. “We launched the writing series prior to the most recent atrocities, but since that time, I think folks have been more oriented toward wanting to support community organizations and Black-owned small businesses. Black Stone describes itself as an independent African American bookstore. In my family—my husband is an antiquarian bookseller—we try to support independent booksellers as much as possible, because we know it's a challenge in this day and age of Amazon. And, of course, I'm very excited to be able to support a Black-owned business. Black Stone seems like a great recipient of some of our SOE support!”

Davis used her session time to edit papers authored by students (or former students) and to prepare for a synthesis of literature. “It's been fantastic for me. As a faculty member, there are always 9000 things I could be doing. It's been great to have these committed time periods where I'm accountable for sticking with some writing. It's been remarkably productive each time; working ‘together’ in this way has kept me on task,” she said. 

Annemarie Palincsar, Educational Studies chair, used her sessions to work on a project as well: constructing portraits of teachers from interview data that she collected last summer. “During these troubled times, we are all missing a sense of community; furthermore, sustaining attention to challenging intellectual work has become more difficult than usual,” she said. “Meeting virtually helps with both of these challenges. It is wonderful to see familiar faces, get caught up a bit, learn what people are working on, and then have the experience of being together—at least in spirit—as we dive into our work. The collective work contributes to a sense of accountability as well. It is motivating to think about wanting to report back at the end of the session that the session was enabling!” 

In the session that she hosted, she also chose to support a bookstore. She selected Literati because it is a “brave independent bookstore that has been such a boon to the community; they sponsor wonderful events with authors and they encourage and support local writers. It is a very charming spot that smells good; their staff are very knowledgeable about their inventory; they have a wonderful children's collection, and a lot of us miss this location that is still closed to the public because the space is so intimate.”

Professor Vilma Mesa’s session saw students working on papers, grants, and dissertation proposals. Mesa supported 19 Drips because it is a local coffee shop owned by a father and son pair of Yemeni ancestry. “I have enjoyed their coffees and teas and the small cozy place for chatting with friends. I wanted to support a local business that was owned by an immigrant,” she said. 

Mike Bastedo, director of the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, hosted a writing session that benefited Ruth Ellis Center. “I chose the Ruth Ellis Center, which provides crucial support for homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth in Detroit,” he said. “At this time, I can’t imagine a better organization to support, when so much violence has been done to trans* and queer communities of color.” During his session, student attendees worked on qualifying papers and dissertations, while Bastedo worked on a grant application. 

Anne Gere, chair of the Joint Program in English in Education, led a session that also supports people experiencing homelessness. “Alpha House is a shelter for children and their families,” she said. “I regularly volunteer there, except now when I cannot because of COVID-19, so I want to increase my financial support at this time, in the hope that additional funds can be used for the youngsters who, like all school children in Michigan, have missed so many learning opportunities this year.”

These events have garnered almost $1,000 in community-based support so far. The next online sessions will be as follows. The event is free, all are welcome, and dates will be added as more SOE faculty volunteer to host future sessions.

7/15    Wednesday    3–5 p.m.    Vilma Mesa    
7/22    Wednesday    3–5 p.m.    Vilma Mesa    
7/28    Tuesday         9–11 a.m.   Elizabeth Moje    
7/29    Wednesday    3–5 p.m.    Vilma Mesa
8/5      Wednesday    3–5 p.m.    Vilma Mesa 
8/12    Wednesday    3–5 p.m.    Vilma Mesa
8/19    Wednesday    9–11 a.m.   Elizabeth Moje    
8/19    Wednesday    3–5 p.m.    Vilma Mesa

Featured in this Article

Gertrude Buck Collegiate Professor, School of Education; Professor of English Language and Literature, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor; Chair, Joint Program in English and Education
Chair, Educational Studies; Arthur F Thurnau Professor; Jean and Charles R. Walgreen Jr. Professor of Reading and Literacy
Director, Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education; Professor
Professor of Education; Professor of Mathematics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
Professor, The Learning Sciences and Science Education

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