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Developing a Writing Major

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The following material was prepared to complement my remarks at MLA 2018 as part of a panel titled Writing in the English Department: Models for Success.

Please find:

  1. Presentation slides
  2. A downloadable version of the presentation (to access hyperlinks and notes)
  3. Some helpful sources to consult while developing a writing major

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If you’d like to view the above presentation with access to hyperlinks and notes, it’s available for download:
Developing a Writing Major MLA 2018




Step One: Getting started thinking about the writing major

Giberson, Greg A., and Thomas A. Moriarty, editors. What We Are Becoming: Developments in Undergraduate Writing Majors. Utah State U P, 2010.

This edited collection considers a variety of institutional contexts for writing majors and offers models for writing curricula and specific courses. A couple chapters offer cautionary tales, but most offer designs that have worked at particular institutions.

Everett, Justin, and Cristina Hanganu-Bresch, editors. A Minefield of Dreams: Triumphs and Travails of Independent Writing Programs. The WAC Clearinghouse and UP of Colorado, 2016.

This volume focuses on writing programs that are housed outside the English Department, so I just dipped into it here and there, but it might fit others’ situations better.

Lalicker, William B. “The Five Equities: How to Achieve a Progressive Writing Program within a Department of English”.  A Minefield of Dreams: Triumphs and Travails of Independent Writing Programs, edited by Justin Everett and Cristina Hanganu-Bresch, WAC Clearinghouse and UP of Colorado, 2017.  

This chapter (by one of my co-panelists!) is a helpful resource for writing programs  housed in the English department. Offers clear criteria that can be used to guide departmental change and growth, with full explanations that can help literature faculty understand what equity means for writing faculty.

Step Two: Begin assembling career trajectory information that will help you create a rationale for the new major

Step Three: Figure out what a writing major might look like

Balzhiser, Deborah, and Susan H. McLeod. “The Undergraduate Writing Major: What Is It? What Should It Be?” CCC, vol. 61, no. 3, 2010, pp. 415-433.

This analysis of data collected from 68 institutions categorizes writing programs as falling into either a “liberal arts” or a “professional/rhetorical” design. The authors offer details of “model programs” in each category and suggest that an effective major will include a gateway course, a series of disciplinary required courses, a capstone course, and learning outcomes that suit the major requirements (417-18). The authors also offer a chronicle of courses offered in writing majors, an analysis of why there seems to be little coherence to the writing major, and suggestions for a writing major. Specifically, Balzhiser and McLeod offer criteria for a gateway course, a capstone course, and a requirement in history, theory, and research.

Campbell, Lee, and Debra Jacobs. “Toward a Description of Undergraduate Writing Majors.”  What We Are Becoming: Developments in Undergraduate Writing Majors, edited by Greg A. Giberson and Thomas A. Moriarty, Utah State UP, 2010.

This chapter chronicles trends in undergraduate writing majors, using an approach that I mimic to some extent. Campbell and Jacobs note that programs tend to differ along two axes: liberal to technical and general to specific. The authors explain each axis in terms of gradations and examples, and they suggest some ways their categorization of courses might be used. They end with a table of courses they have found in writing majors across institutions (p. 286):

Table of writing courses
from Lee and Jacobs


 If you have questions or comments, please reply to this post or email me at
I’d love to hear from you!



Intention: World peace

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I was with seven women I admire last night, sharing a holiday celebration that included incredible food and drink—

I originally kept writing, but in rereading and remembering the food and drink, I decided I need to say a bit more.

Some people take food and drink to the level of an art form. The processes of adding the pomegranate seeds, massaging the kale, assembling the sweet potato or the cucumber appetizers, shaping the crab cake—each movement bears witness to the care these women bring to the worlds they inhabit.

As we raised our glasses, sampled each offering, passed one dish after another around the table, we were fed in body and spirit. We kept saying how delicious everything was, and as we said it we knew that we couldn’t fully say it because the words sound empty when we use them over and over, but, still, we needed to say them over and over because as we each made our way through our plates of food, we were grateful and needed to speak our enjoyment, even if the words stop working. But the words probably did work after all because they were said with love and they were received with love.

—and our night included a small pile of small gifts we chose for one another, clustered at each place setting.

I don’t want to overpaint the picture as some kind of utopia of utter peace and beauty and joy. I don’t want to make this group of women into people who are perfect as individuals or who are perfect when we are together.

Let me be clear.

We sit at the lovely table with amazing food and a small exchange of gifts and we ask about one another’s families and struggles and successes. We ask about movies and tv shows and books. We forget words and names and entire sentences, and we help each other remember. We laugh. We bring our imperfect human selves to the table.

Sherry’s daughter Kiernan appears to say hello, a young woman who is home for the holidays. I see my friends look at her the way they might look at their own children. They are full of pride and love and hope. They have seen Kiernan grow up. This is what it means to be friends.

We are ordinary.


Janet says she has been reading a book called The Power of Eight by Lynne McTaggart. She says it is amazing. She says a group of eight has tremendous power.

Angela has given each of us a nutcracker she decorated. Each one is different. Angela has transformed each tiny wooden figure into a wild and wonderful woman. They make us smile as we each appreciate our own and then turn to admire the others. On the bottom of each nutcracker, Angela has written:

‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

–Maya Angelou

Today we all exchange emails. These are also gifts. Janet suggests an intention for us. She reminds us that we are powerful. We are a group of eight. Still, perhaps we should start small. She suggests


(those exclamation points are from Janet’s email! I hope they make you smile as they do to me!)

I write back to say I’m on board. I feel something within me shift.

We are on the cusp of 2018. It seems like a good time for intentions. It seems like a good time for ordinary women to experience the powerful gift of a group of eight. It seems like a good time for something to shift.




Easter weekend in Maine

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I posted this poem on 5 April 2015 on Facebook. Something about the recent snow or maybe my parents’ visit to my home in NY made me think of it, and I thought I’d place it here as well, where I can more easily find it.

Easter Weekend in Maine

“I can’t believe how much snow has melted since you arrived,” my mother says.

Three generations smile through windows at sparkling snows and soggy grass,
wonder at bowing trees and belligerent winds,
worry over splintered branches on the shrub by the front door.

It’s all right.

We ask small questions, eat small meals, play Monopoly, take turns insisting on cleaning up. SpongeBob and true crime stories punctuate the silences and conversations.
We move through ordinary days,
measuring time with arrivals and departures and the transformative waters that mark our homes.



taken in Mahopac NY Nov 2016, but it made me think of looking out windows in Maine in April 


more wrinkles, more belly, more perspective

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I was at my 30th high school reunion this past weekend. Here are just a few of the tidbits of wisdom from the night. These are paraphrases, so forgive any errors!


I’ve taken several hiatuses from Facebook to avoid the negativity, but then I hear something from one of my sisters and I realize I miss the way Facebook lets me connect with other people. So I’ve been returning to it, but my attitude is now one of allowance: “I allow you to ….”

Beth went on to laugh at her phrasing and the way it sounded like it was coming from royalty (and I do think she would make a gracious & effective head of state!). I completely appreciate Beth’s ability to approach social media intentionally. As she gives people spaces of their own, she is also creating her own space so she can enjoy the connections without getting sucked into the negatives.


It’s been so good to just be happy and enjoy each other’s company tonight.

I don’t know for certain whether Heather was getting at the political divisiveness in the U.S. right now, but that’s what her late-night observation made me feel and appreciate. We gotta stay in touch with each other. We cannot divide into Us and Them. And we also need times away from political concerns, to whatever degree that’s possible. A 30th reunion with people just hanging out and having fun is a really healthy thing.


I’m sticking with you tonight. You have good words.

This line was spoken to my friend Emily, and it’s true: She does have good words! This recognition of her gift made us all laugh. “Good words” in the right situation can make everything better.


It is so good to be together in person. Social media is great for keeping up with people. But being together in person is better.

Yes, it sure is. I spend too much time online! Maybe I need an early new year’s resolution to spend more time with people and less time with screens.


Psychedelic piglet.

Somehow this was one of our jokes back in 8th grade. Joanne and I recognized each other right away after 30 years and we continued to laugh together. It doesn’t take much to get a kick out of ourselves and the world we live in if we give ourselves half a chance.


I have more wrinkles…


I’ve got a bit more of a belly…


And that just doesn’t matter the way it used to!

More wrinkles and more belly, yes. But also, thankfully, more perspective.


Gynecologists I have loved

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I recently blogged about problematic behavior in a physical therapy group, and now I’m excited to blog about wonderfully positive medical experiences.

At the gynecologist, no less.

The truth is, I’ve appreciated all my gynecologists, and I just visited my fifth one yesterday.

The first one said I didn’t need a pelvic exam when I was 16. That was enough to win my love. She also gave me a prescription for birth control, just in case I needed it. Smart.

The second one I visited several times when I didn’t have insurance. She worked at a clinic designed to serve poor people, which fit me perfectly during my early- to mid- 20s. She also served a lot of teens and visited high schools.

One time she said, “Assume the position.” I loved her for making me laugh with lines like that.

She may have been my first feminist doctor.

The third one delivered both my babies and found my breast cancer through early detection.

I visited him for ten years, during good times and bad. During my first visits, he would shake my hand hello and goodbye. At some point, maybe during or after the first pregnancy, the handshakes switched to brief, gentle hugs.

I gave him a hard time because rather than spend time shopping for his wife, at Christmas he would dress nicely and visit a local department store, where he would look helpless until women working at the store took pity (or spotted a commission) and did his shopping for him.

When he ran into patients in the community, he would say hello if it was a direct encounter, but he would avert his eyes if possible so he wouldn’t cause anyone discomfort. It was a funny kind of sensitivity he had about his work and his patients.

He and the nurses laughed during the first birth because I said things like “Holy cow” and “It still hurts a lot” (the latter when Callie’s head was out and I thought they needed to know that, well, I was still feeling a lot of pain because, well, there was still a whole body in there).

He and the nurses laughed and screamed during the second birth when Jace peed like a fountain all over them.

When I was going through the series of tests that led to my cancer diagnosis, each time I would see Dr. D for the results. He would say, “It’s probably nothing, but we should do this next step just to be sure.” The fact that I was screened at all as young as I was—it was unusual, and it was because he advocated for it.

Late in the breast cancer process, probably post-lumpectomy but pre-radiation, Dr. D stopped and looked at me. He said something about the way I seemed okay through it all.

I said, “It’s like almost getting hit by a car.” I was suddenly fighting back tears.

The gratefulness I feel to that man.

Number four was a religious man, and that colored everything about him. I loved him for it. He had energy and exuberance and a passion for his work.

I visited him for ten or eleven years. He never knew me because I am not religious in the ways that he is, and I probably hold much wilder kinds of values than what he would appreciate, so I was never fully open with him.

But even though he didn’t know much about me, he was good to me, and he was good to all of his patients. It’s the person he is.

He left his practice at about the time that I moved away. He told me medicine was changing, or that it had already changed. He told me that he couldn’t be a doctor the way he wanted to be a doctor. Everything was being driven by money and budgets and numbers. He saw his life’s work being shunted, pushed aside, viewed as old-fashioned and useless.

I’m so glad he was my doctor. I trusted the person who was with me during many vulnerable moments for all those years. I’m sad that he retired in a way that was not fully celebratory. It isn’t right.

And this brings me to yesterday. My first NY gynecologist. And I already love her.

In the waiting room, I felt like I had come home. Feminist material was more visible than Ladies’ Home Journal (though there was a fun selection of magazines, too!). The experience continued when I mentioned my pleasure to the physician’s assistant and she said it was all from Dr. M. She said I should be sure to stop on my way out and look at the photo book Dr. M’s daughter made after the Women’s March. (And you, Reader, should check out the 3 images from the waiting room at the bottom of this post.)

I found myself telling my brand-new gynecologist about my research on slut rhetoric. It’s not the typical first-thing (or ever-thing) I tell a doctor.

And then I talked about breast cancer with both the doc and the assistant, and we discussed the size of my breasts (in a completely normal way, oddly enough! a conversation I don’t think I’ve ever quite had with anyone else!), and I told them about an epiphany I had during my weeks of radiation that I had never told a doctor before, and we all gave an appreciative nod to doctor #3 for advocating for early screening. All in all, we decided, I had really been very lucky.

I have never felt so free to be openly myself in a doctor’s office as I was yesterday.

I imagine a very conservative pro-life person would feel very differently in Dr. M’s office, maybe the way I felt with doctor #4. I think Dr. M’s openness and integrity mean something; even if you’re not in her camp, you know who she is, and you can trust that she is going to advocate for her patients.

For me, who moved to a new state a year ago and still regularly does not feel fully at home, Dr. M and her office gave me a lovely surprise. I am incredibly grateful to have an activist and feminist gynecologist.

I feel cared for in a slightly different way than I ever have before.







DeVos: Finding the baby in the bathwater

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My daughter, Callie Anderson, wrote the following in response to a high school assignment. I read it and found it more thoughtful than any other reaction to DeVos’s recent remarks about rape and sexual assault on college campuses.

Because DeVos’s stance toward sexual assault is offensive, most liberals tended to dismiss all of her remarks. Callie sifts through DeVos’s ideas a bit more carefully, finding something worth respecting while holding DeVos accountable for her shortcomings.

I asked Callie if I could share her writing, and she said yes. I hope you find it worth your time like I did.


“Secretary DeVos Prepared Remarks on Title IX Enforcement.” U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Education, 7 Sept. 2017. Web. 8 Sept. 2017.

“Myths about False Accusation.” MAAN RSS, Stanford University, 2017. Web. 8 Sept. 2017.

Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave a speech on Title IX, specifically about rape and sexual assault on college campuses, on Thursday, September 7, at George Mason University. She highlighted how this Obama-era policy of using the “lowest standard of proof” when dealing with accusations of sexual assault results in a “failed system” where “everyone loses” (“Secretary DeVos”). DeVos cited stories about due process for the accused being violated, often resulting in the accused filing a lawsuit against his or her school because of this violation. This lawsuit process would also mean that the survivor of sexual assault would have to keep reliving his or her experience at multiple trials. DeVos clearly stated that she wants Title IX, the Office for Civil Rights, and schools of higher education to strongly address sexual assault while still maintaining equality to both survivors and people accused of sexual assault. While she has not laid out any specific policy to replace the Obama-era policy, DeVos did announce that the Education Department will have a notice-and-comment process where the public can voice their opinions on Title IX and sexual assault on college campuses (“Secretary DeVos”).

I agree with Secretary DeVos more than I expected to. Overall, sexual assault affects millions of people in the United States, and college campuses must be equipped to deal with such problems when they occur. While sexual assault is something that I take very seriously, I do not think it is acceptable to use lower standards when accusing people of sexual assault because such an accusation can wield life-altering consequences for the accused. And while this is a problem that should be addressed, I think Secretary DeVos missed other important pieces of the sexual assault on college campuses puzzle. With less than half of sexual assaults reported to the police, a more pressing issue would be making the system a friendlier place for survivors (“Myths about False Accusation”). I do not mean to immediately assume an accused person is guilty to deny a person of due process, but to make the process of reporting sexual assault a more comfortable experience. Furthermore, only half of all sexual assault reports are prosecuted (“Myths about False Accusation”). People know how often sexual assault reports get filed away and forgotten about, so many people choose not to even waste their time by going to the police or their college. DeVos focused too much on people falsely accused of sexual assault or who were denied due process because they were accused. Out of six stories DeVos told during her speech, four focused on the accused’s struggles rather than the survivor’s struggles. Again, it is a problem that people are falsely accused of sexual assault or denied due process, but it really is a much bigger and more pressing issue that so few assaults are reported, fewer prosecuted, and even fewer convicted.

Approximately two percent of all rape and sexual assault accusations are false, which is on par with other felonies (“Myths about False Accusation”). While Betsy DeVos had an important message to convey to the American public and the millions of college students, she could have made it more powerful by addressing issues related to sexual assault that are more widespread.



Losing patience / losing patients

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On July 27, my physical therapist M1 (a pseudonym, even though that would be a rockstar name) was massaging my shoulders and neck as part of my rotator cuff treatment when he said,

You are a beautiful woman.

I said, “Thank you.”

He said,


I had immediately tensed up because I don’t want my therapist commenting on my appearance while he’s rubbing my shoulders and neck.

I provide the context because the context matters. If I had just walked into the office and I was dressed up, his comment would have been welcome. If I had been chatting about feeling ugly and he had been responding, his comment would have been welcome. But he was doing professional work while touching my body in an intimate way when he said something about my appearance out of the blue. He was crossing a line.

I asked for advice on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 10.20.05 AM

The responses were excellent and varied. A couple people wondered if I would’ve felt as uncomfortable if the therapist had been female. While that is hard to answer definitively, I think I would’ve felt uncomfortable. Why comment on my appearance out of the blue with your hands rubbing my shoulders and neck? If you’re thinking about what I look like in that situation, I really don’t want to know that no matter what your gender.

Several people said to seek another physical therapist because I shouldn’t be uncomfortable while being treated. Some people said to tell M1 directly (with lots of thoughtful advice about how to have such a conversation), and others said to report him.

My instinct is to tell the person directly, but my friends’ responses made me think twice. Some friends in the medical field pointed out that anyone with training would know better than to make such a comment, and more than one person said my job is to get better, not to fix this therapist’s behavior—that’s a role for his supervisor. I appreciated that because sometimes I do play the martyr role, and that’s both obnoxious and unhealthy.

Lesson 1: When you ask Facebook friends for advice and you happen to know a lot of smart and thoughtful people, you have a good chance of receiving excellent advice.

I decided to call the office and explain the situation, asking that M1 the physical therapist be spoken to, and then I would move on to a new physical therapy office.

What actually happened? I was on vacation for a week and kept intending to call, but I never actually did. So it was Friday 8/5 at 4:30pm, and my next appointment was for Monday 8/7 at 7:40am, and I decided I’d just go to the appointment and deal.

I was a little bit annoyed with myself, but I was also already planning on blogging about how difficult it is to confront issues. It’s so much easier to just go along with things. I don’t think that makes me or anyone else a horrible person; it just makes us human.

Lesson 2: Even when we think of ourselves as feminists and activists, our intentions may be far better than our actions.

Monday arrived and I went to my appointment, and my physical therapist was not there. I overheard someone say that some physical ailment was keeping M1 away from work. Another therapist, M2 (another rockstar pseudonym), ended up working with me, and it all went well.

During my entire time on Monday, I kept thinking about how I might talk to the supervisory person M1 had pointed out to me a couple weeks prior. But she was with a patient behind a curtain for most of my time there. When I was leaving, I thought I’d ask the receptionist if I could talk with the supervisor, but people kept coming in and the phone was ringing, so I still didn’t do anything. I left.

I probably should’ve called Monday afternoon, but the day was busy. Do you see how difficult it is to prioritize a conversation you really don’t want to have? a conversation that I really shouldn’t have to have??

But I finally did it. Yesterday, Tuesday 8/8, I called the office. It turns out the office is closed on Tuesdays, so I left a message cancelling my appointment for this morning, 8/9, and asking that a supervisor or manager call me.

I got a call back this morning. I spoke with M2, the physical therapist I had worked with on Monday, who said he was the appropriate person to talk to about a complaint. I told him about what happened, and I told him how it made me feel, and I asked if he would say something to M1 about the situation. He said he would, and he made two comments in response to me, and he repeated these comments at two different points:

I’m sorry you felt that way.

A response that is a horrible response because it’s not a real apology for M1 being inappropriate at all. Instead, it puts the burden on me and my “feelings.”

And he said:

I’m sure he didn’t intend anything. It was just a compliment.

And that is also a horrible response because he’s excusing away an unprofessional behavior.

An appropriate response would be,

I’m sorry he said that to you, even if he didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I will speak to him so that he understands that certain comments are not appropriate in a professional setting.

So now I’m going to find someone else who supervises that office to talk to. Because M2 gave me an ignorant and unhelpful response. M1 may be the direct and immediate problem, but M2 is also the problem. If you don’t understand that there are times and places when it is inappropriate to comment on a person’s appearance, then you need to wake the fuck up.

I’m not policing all compliments in all settings and situations, for the love of god. I’m saying that if you’re thinking about my appearance while providing me with medical treatment, you ought to be keeping those thoughts to yourself where they won’t affect me. And I don’t care if you don’t completely understand how people can feel uncomfortable with “compliments” in certain circumstances because you’ve never been objectified or sexually assaulted or harassed; behaving appropriately doesn’t require 100% understanding. It just requires a little bit of goddamn respect.

Lesson 3: I don’t have much. I’m mad. I’m losing patience. But if you’re reading this and you are ever in the position of M1 or M2, I hope you behave far better than they did. Because this bullshit is not fun and should not be necessary for me or any patient.

Update: I spoke with an office manager of the larger practice. She understood. She will speak with the men about the situation. I feel much better.