The Importance of WR
to Cultural Studies
By Dr. Lateef Pade Badru
In the Spring of 1997, I was selected to attend workshops organized by the University’s WR Program. I didn’t really know what to expect. Initially, I was very skeptical about the WR workshop itself; I assumed that it was going to be another boring seminar on the proper use of the English language, but I was wrong. (As someone whose academic training was largely received in England, I was at least optimistic that the workshop would probably be a venue for me to reconcile my knowledge of English “English” with its American variety.)
As it turned out, the WR workshops were clearly more than I had expected, and in hindsight, I was fortunate to have attended. On the first day of the workshop, it became clear that not only were we going to learn about preparing students to write properly, but preparing students to develop their skills in critical thinking. It was this latter aspect that fascinated me.
I have a joint appointment in Sociology and Pan African Studies, and I clearly saw the relevance of the workshop to the discipline of sociology. Then as the workshops progressed, I also began to see how WR could be used to enhance the academic quality of cultural studies, in this case, Pan African Studies. In the academy, nationwide, Pan African Studies programs are breaking through the barriers of traditional academic disciplines, and like anything new and different, they are often marginalized. The reason for this marginalization may be sheer ignorance, given the Euro-centric bias that dominates many academic disciplines in American universities. Another reason may be the failure of some Afro-centric scholars themselves to thoroughly and clearly emphasize the academic relevance of their programs, as well as their commitment to academic excellence.
It then dawned on me that Pan African Studies, as interdisciplinary scholarship, could expand the boundary of WR to its own advantage. For instance, making core courses WR would not only enhance enrollment potential but also improve the academic content of the various courses offered by the Department.
One major strength of the Pan African Studies program here at UofL is its interdisciplinary orientation. Our program combines several disciplines in the social sciences, including Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, Humanities, Political Science, Gender Studies, and Sociology in an holistic approach. Because of this academic diversity, Pan African Studies exposes our students to different subject matters which they may not otherwise be exposed to in any other single academic unit within the university. Recognition of this fact, coupled with the dedication of several colleagues in the Pan African Studies Department to promoting critical thinking in our students, has led many of our faculty to incorporate WR into their courses.
The WR workshop experience is something that will stay with me for the rest of my academic career. Aside from learning about identifying course objectives and preparing effective course outlines, we learned the value of students preparing portfolios, which may be a vital task when they enter the real world. What I learned in the workshops has helped me to prepare my course materials and assignments, and to grade and comment on students’ papers. The section of the WR workshops dedicated to writing style and mechanics was also enlightening.
I recommend that all faculty attend this workshop, especially those who teach courses that require students to write six to ten page papers. This does not apply only to professors teaching cultural studies, social sciences or humanities courses, but also to those teaching natural and medical sciences. I hope that by taking WR seriously, one may come to understand its usefulness in all disciplines.
The WR workshops also reinforced my belief that writing is one of the best ways to understand others. American society is becoming increasingly diverse, and probably by the year 2007, people of color will constitute the majority of the population. Thus, it is pertinent that all students become aware of other cultures and backgrounds. It is hardly novel or academic to say that it is through understanding each other that we are going to survive the coming millennium.
My colleagues in the Pan African Studies Department have chosen to contribute to this cross-cultural understanding, but making the world a better place is the duty of all of us. I hope that colleagues in other disciplines and academic units will come to understand the crucial role Pan African Studies plays in liberal education, and in turn, encourage their students to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge and skills in our department. As for my role in Pan African Studies, I have dedicated myself to applying what I gained in these important WR workshops to advancing the academic mission and goals of our young department.
Note: Dr. Badru is Assistant
Professor of Pan African Studies and Sociology. He was educated at the
London School of Economics and the State University of New York at Stony
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