We were invited to do a workshop for the sociology department on “how to respond to culturally insensitive student papers.” The GTA coordinator for the department related how GTAs were unsure how to approach, comment on, and grade student papers that were racist, sexist, or homophobic, rather than focusing objectively on a topic using sociological methodologies.
In response to this concern, we developed a workshop entitled “The Politics of Response.” The basis of this workshop was an article by Richer E. Miller: “Fault Lines in the Contact Zone: Assessing Homophobic Student Writing.” College English 56 (1994): 389-408. In the article Miller discusses a number of instructors’ responses to a student essay that expressed homophobic beliefs as well as violence towards homeless people.
For the workshop, we looked at excerpts from Miller’s article (a summary of the student essay and the writing assignment for that essay) and discussed the following questions:
The Student Paper
The Writing Assignment
In the second half of the workshop, we switched gears to think about sociology specifically. We asked workshop participants to define sociology methodology ( i.e. What makes a good sociology argument good? What counts as research in sociology? What is “good” evidence? What is “bad” evidence?). In defining the methodology that sociologist used, we then discussed how instructors can communicate that to students. We also looked at a sample writing assignment from Sociology 101 and considered:
In our discussion of these questions, participants made connections between the types of assignments they assign and the types of student papers they receive. Many instructors noted that when they wrote more specific assignments, that they often got better papers. Another instructor made a connection between communicating sociology methodology to her students and getting them to write academic papers, rather than personal diatribes on hot button issues. Ultimately, we learned a lot of strategies for preempting those student papers that no instructor wants to receive.