Op-Ed(ucation): English Professor Megan Poole’s Students on a Fast Track to Publication in Major Newspapers

Op-Ed(ucation): English Professor Megan Poole’s Students on a Fast Track to Publication in Major Newspapers

Spencer Adkins, Interviewed for the Article

By Julie Wrinn

There are few greater satisfactions for both students and their professors than seeing students’ work published, particularly when it addresses serious and meaningful topics of the day. Often this takes years to come to fruition, but for students of English professor Megan Poole, that gratification has been more immediate. In the past two months, seven of Dr. Poole’s students have published opinion pieces, five in the Louisville Courier-Journal and two in the Louisville Cardinal, UofL’s independent student newspaper. One student, Ashley Rutland, had her Courier-Journal essay published nationally in USA Today on Christmas Day, a poignant piece entitled, “Not everyone's holiday is about family. Christmas traditions remind me what I've been missing.” [link: www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2023/12/25/christmas-alone-cope-lonely-holidays-traditions/71971375007/].

Despite a precipitous decline in local journalism in recent decades, Louisville is fortunate to have a Pulitzer-prize-winning local newspaper, the Courier-Journal, with a monthly digital circulation of more than 1.4 million unique visitors. That’s a lot of readers for Dr. Poole’s student writers.

“ENG 310 Public and Professional Writing” is a course that Dr. Poole has been teaching since she arrived at UofL four years ago, but there was something special about this year’s class. “This particular group of students was unique in that they showed a level of vulnerability and bravery in sharing their stories that I’ve never before witnessed,” said Dr. Poole. In the course, students are encouraged to analyze public writing, understand Louisville readers, and be strategic about word choices that connect with city-wide sociocultural conversations. Former students of Poole’s also visited class to share their experiences in getting their work published.

Another guest speaker in the class was Bonnie Feldkamp, Opinion editor at the Courier-Journal, who described what’s distinctive about Opinion writing and how students can identify topics that would resonate with Louisville readers. Dr. Poole explained, “Opinion writing is a unique genre: arguments that derive from lived experiences and that invite readers to help shift conversation around a controversial topic.” Students generate a range of story ideas and are then encouraged to think strategically about connecting those stories to the news cycle, the holiday calendar, and other timely topics. Feldman helps students distinguish between a productive argument vs. a rant.

One of the great challenges of Opinion writing is strict limitations on length, typically no more than 500-800 words. Dr. Poole said that students initially think a short essay is easier to write than a long essay, until they discover that “every. single. word. counts.” That limitation can be very challenging, and students’ published work is often developed through multiple drafts with Dr. Poole’s feedback before being edited again by Ms. Feldman prior to publication. 

Dr. Pool is careful to emphasize that publishing their pieces is entirely optional for the students. But for those who do seek publication, their impact on local journalism is enormous. “I think the inclusion of young voices—diverse young voices—is essential to the future of local journalism in our city. Young voices challenge the status quo, have different ideas for social change, and remind us of how big dreams can be,” said Dr. Poole.

In the following Q&A, one of those students, Spencer Adkins, a senior earning a B.S. in Marketing and a Minor in Public and Professional Writing, shared his thoughts on the experience of writing and publishing his Opinion piece in the Courier-Journal, “U of L was right to protect hateful anti-queer demonstration; free speech is everyone's right.”  


JW: Your Opinion piece was incredibly timely, published in the Courier-Journal on November 30, just five days before the congressional testimony by the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn regarding hate speech on their campuses. The fact that two of those presidents have since resigned shows just how risky it can be to express any viewpoint about freedom of speech on college campuses. Were you worried about backlash from your piece, especially from other people in the LGBTQ+ community?   

SA: Receiving public backlash wasn’t a big worry for me – I was more concerned with what people in the community might say behind my back and any boundaries to future opportunities that might come from those conversations. Some students may not have been happy to hear my views. Still, members of Louisville’s LGBTQ+ community outside of our campus understand how important it is to have the freedom to express our beliefs and identities. I was pleasantly surprised to have received support and encouragement from those people in my community, which I’m very grateful for.


JW: Your position of favoring free speech has so much credibility because, as you say, “I have experienced the receiving end of hateful, homophobic language more often than anyone should.” Was it hard limiting yourself to just one example of that? 

SA: I didn’t have much trouble picking an example – the story I recounted, my first memorable experience with homophobia, was also probably one of my least traumatic. Strangers tend to be kinder than family when it comes to my queerness; therefore, the majority of my stories are more vulnerable by default, so I’m reluctant to share those with a readership as large as the Courier-Journal’s.


JW: You end with a powerful plea for viewing hateful speech as a learning opportunity for those who are its targets:

I know that I will experience homophobia for the rest of my life, so choosing temporary comfort instead of equipping myself with the tools and methods to continue to reclaim my queer identity is self-abandonment in the long run. Dismissing a learning opportunity, despite my discomfort, will only help those who wish to define who I am for me.

Do you think any students who may have been ambivalent about LGBTQ+ matters were strengthened in their support of your community after witnessing the demonstrators’ ugly views up close? 

SA: Seeing how our campus community came together so quickly to drown out the hate was heartening. We have a lot of allies on our campus – I hope that seeing the preachers’ hateful demonstration helped to create more allies!


JW: Did this experience make you want to write more Opinion pieces in the future? 

SA: Absolutely! It made me want to write more, period. This article was the first time I had written something in earnest that wasn’t for school. It’s such an exciting feeling to have my writing published – I feel encouraged!


Other published students from Dr. Poole’s class include a daughter of a Black police officer who feels divided in her loyalties regarding police violence against communities of color; a Louisville native who advocates for Louisville’s best and brightest high school students to attend college at home; a student who experienced a high school shooting and explores the lifelong emotional scars this creates; a premed student advocating for remedies that reduce maternal mortality rates; and a student’s plea for urban renewal in West Louisville.

More of Dr. Poole’s students’ published columns are anticipated in the coming months. Their cumulative impact exemplifies how UofL is a robust contributor to contemporary dialogue on some of the most cutting-edge issues affecting our world today.