~ By Jefferson Beavers, communications specialist, Department of English
The Fresno State faculty who are teaching in the Rhetoric & Writing Studies program in the Department of English are working to change the conversation about writing on campus, in the community, and beyond. This fall, we will introduce you to these professors and tell you about the ways in which their research, teaching and service to both the university and to the discipline intersect.
In our second installment, meet Dr. Bo Wang, a professor of English who came to Fresno State in 2005.
Question: What is your area of focus within Rhetoric & Writing Studies, and how does that inform your teaching of writing?
Answer: As a rhetorician, I have been working in the intersections of comparative/ethnic rhetoric, feminist/gender studies, and postcolonial and transnational studies. I am particularly interested in how feminist, non-Western and transnational perspectives on rhetoric and writing can be theorized and used to reshape research methods of rhetoric and writing studies.
In my writing classes, I integrate rhetorical theory into the curriculum to help students understand that literacy in its deepest sense means not only the skills of reading and writing, but also the rhetorical knowledge of how to use these skills in the context of one or more communities. Students learn that writing is always a response to a larger academic/or civic conversation and listening to and understanding others are the preconditions for a dialogue. To cultivate analytical habits of mind and facilitate critical thinking, I often focus my comments on the elements of a student’s writing that are underdeveloped so students can learn how to make arguments that are warranted by evidence and thoroughly developed.
Feminist pedagogy has also informed my teaching. I explore ways to teach from a participant’s position and as an experienced learner. I have encouraged first-year writing students to do original research and find out the most recent conversations about critical issues that concern the people in different communities of the Central Valley. When students’ research and writing are both grounded in their experiences and expanding their knowledge, I help them “discover the writer within,” to use a student’s words.
Q: How does your research and work as a teacher/scholar engage the campus, community, and the discipline as a whole, on the conversation about how and why we write?
A: As co-director of the First-Year Writing Program — a program which provides mentoring and supervision for graduate teaching associates and part-time lecturers who teach 190-200 sections of three first-year writing courses to approximately 3,200 to 3,700 first-year students across the university annually — my major responsibilities have two aspects. The first involves first-year student education; the second requires a commitment to quality preparation of graduate teaching associates who teach in the writing program.
In this role, I have had the privilege to work with graduate teaching associates to implement the common curricula of English 5A, 5B and 10 that emphasize writing as inquiry and conversation, and as a means of learning. Our program has a significant impact on undergraduate students across the campus.
Serving on the University Writing Across the Curriculum committee’s advisory council, I have also had opportunities to work with faculty members from different disciplines. Together we discussed and established criteria for writing-intensive general education courses. These collaborative efforts initiated conversations about how to improve the teaching of writing on our campus.
My scholarly work in comparative/cultural rhetoric, feminist rhetoric and historiography, and transnational rhetorical studies has appeared in such journals as Advances in the History of Rhetoric, College Composition and Communication, College English, Rhetoric Review, and Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Currently, I serve on both the executive committee for the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the advisory board for the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition — two national professional organizations in rhetoric and writing studies. I also serve on the editorial board of the rhetorical journal Peitho and as a manuscript reviewer for other leading scholarly journals in the discipline.
In these positions, I bring my research/teaching experience as a transnational scholar to bear on disciplinary conversations about language and literacy education and conditions for learning and teaching writing. I mentor women graduate students and emerging scholars in their research and writing. I work with colleagues from different universities across the nation to envision new directions in the teaching of writing that encourage diverse language and literacy practices and engage various communities across disciplinary, cultural, and geopolitical boundaries.
Q: How do you involve or impact students, both graduate and undergraduate, in your research work and projects?
A: As a scholar/teacher, I strive to integrate my research and scholarship into curriculum development. In undergraduate writing courses and graduate courses in rhetorical traditions, feminist rhetoric, and writing pedagogy, I have seen to it that students learn not only the “what” but also the “how-to.” It is my belief that the knowledge students acquire in the classroom needs to be “knowledge-in-action” so as to allow them to participate in curricular conversations that matter to them.
As a teacher, I see my job as creating opportunities for students to practice what they learned in both the classroom and real professional situations. For that reason, I encouraged graduate students in my classes to propose for national professional conferences in the discipline. I provided feedback to their proposals and presented with them on a panel as a respondent.
In the past few years, two graduate students were invited to present their papers at the Conference on College Composition and Communication — a major national conference in the profession; seven graduate students who took my seminar on women’s rhetoric were invited to present their work at the 2013 Biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference held at Stanford University. Such opportunities have allowed students to take part in and practice scholarly work and learn how to join the on-going conversations that are important in the field they are entering.
Many students I worked with have become scholars and teachers of writing themselves, serving the communities in and beyond California’s Central Valley. Many of them have inspired and taught me to be a better teacher.
Q: What are your other research interests?
A: I hope to return to a project I started earlier but haven’t had time to pursue further. Six years ago, I read the papers of James and Grace Lee Boggs in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs curated in the Ruther Library at the Wayne State University. I was also fortunate to meet the legendary philosopher and social activist Grace Lee Boggs and interview her about her writing and activist work in African American communities in Detroit. The subject of that conversation has become even more important now because the life-long work of Grace and James Lee Boggs can teach us a great deal about reading, writing, teaching, being and living in and across different communities in today’s world.