Arts and activism class offered next semester

Written By Shannon Hartnett

Staff and students alike are getting ready to make their course schedules, as the second half of the semester approaches. For many this includes searching the course catalogue to see what the university has to offer for the next semester. One course that is going to be offered is ENGL 255: Arts & Activism & Publishing. 

“ENGL 255 is a course we offer every semester. This particular version of it, because every version is a little different, will focus on art, activism, and publishing,” Dr. Sarah Perrier, Chair of the department of Literary Arts and Social Justice said. 

“Dr. Barrow is planning to look at literary works from a wide variety of historical periods that ask the question: What does it mean to be an activist in literature or in art and how have writers and audiences turned particular pieces of writing into activists texts whether that was their intended purpose or not?” Dr. Perrier said. “So there’s going to be a reading angle to it, but then the most exciting part for me is the project based learning that will be done throughout the semester where students will actually create a magazine that features students work about art, literature and activism.”

Dr. Barbara Barrow, professor of the class, said, “I’m still thinking about the reading list, but we will focus on literary works that have sought to transform society and/or overturn unjust social institutions. This might include forms and genres such as protest poetry, autobiographical slave narratives, and exposés. I’m also open to suggestions from students.”

“I hope the class is able to see lots of examples from outside of PPU. Books, poems, short stories, novels, different authors, I think it would be cool to see all these different pieces in the class,” Kate Regulbuto, a senior literary arts major, said.

The class theme was chosen after the 2020 Symposium was cancelled due to the pandemic shutdown in March. The Symposium had the same theme, arts and activism, which was chosen by students. 

“We kept looking for ways to bring it back so that we could celebrate the work our students have already done and to invite more students to explore the subject because it continues to be relevant,” Dr. Perrier said. 

“It’s such a relevant skill for students in English and communications, and SAEM, and in other majors where marketing and communications are important to develop: To be able to set text and lay it out and proofread it and edit it and pair it with images.”

“I am both happy and sad to hear that it is going to be a class. I would like to take it, but for seniors such as myself the ENGL 255 classes are limiting,” Regulbuto said. “Past a certain point it is hard for seniors to take lower level classes like that. However, it does open the floor for freshmen or sophomores to take the class. 

“The English major has a lot of electives and it is also counted in the major. So I do hope that some of the upper level majors will choose to take it. My past experience with 255 classes is that they work best when there is a mix of students in the room,” Dr. Perrier said. “I’ve always found that the classes are enriched by having students outside of the English major so I hope that people will see this as a great opportunity to try something new. To sort of think about professional skills but also see that literature isn’t an endeavor separate from a professional life. There is a professional life that includes literature.”

“There will be a new call for submissions and new deadlines, which will be announced as soon as we can figure out our class and production timeline,” Dr. Perrier said. “We have been very open to a variety of things. So for instance we have poems, we have short stories, analytical essays and at one point we were asking the question whether someone could submit a powerpoint presentation.”

“I also hope for a tangible publication of some sort. Whether it is a newsletter or a virtual session I just want something set in stone,” Regulbulto said. 

“In some ways it depends on budget and length,” Dr. Perrier said. “Putting together a pdf document and asking someone on the university’s website to host it is very affordable, but printing off a certain amount of copies gets more and more expensive. It will depend on how long the publication is and the amount of copies we get and it will also depend on the form that Dr. Barrow chooses.” 

As students begin to choose their classes there is also the question of remote, in-person, and hybrid learning. Thankfully the staff has already thought about this aspect of the class. 

“I think it is particularly well suited to something that is more of a hybrid approach because of the project based learning in it,” Dr. Perrier said. “I almost imagine whether it’s meeting remotely or on-ground that one day a week would be a literary discussion and one be a hands on project. And whether students were doing that in a remote setting individually or coordinating their work in teams secessions or going to a computer lab and working together would depend on what the group was working on and what kind of materials they needed.”

“I think it will still succeed, but we may need to hold synchronous sessions. The class will be really collaborative, so it will be important for us to meet regularly to discuss and work on the project,” Dr. Barrow said. “The class is in the early stages, but I would welcome input and participation from other departments, and will be reaching out to colleagues soon.” 

Due to the pandemic, the university is decreasing the number of classes that are running in the Spring. 

Perrier said, “The university has said no class will go forward unless seven students have enrolled in them. But they will also look and say you have seven in this 255 and eight in this 255 you have to merge them because the cap is 15 students. The closer we get to 15 the more likely the class will go. My dream for this class is that I have to ask Barbara to teach two sections.”

“Anyone who enrolled in the class will be asked to be enthusiastic about the subject. There are other classes you can take to fill the requirement so if it doesn’t sound like an interesting class it is probably not the subject for you,” Perrier said.

“I have had conversations with different people on campus about possibly finding a new way to keep art and activism alive as a sort of content container on our campus. Whether that was a podcast through CMI or as an annual publication co-sponsored by multiple departments is hard to say,” Dr. Perrier said. “When we first talked about it, the budget crisis was not as it is currently so I don’t know how to find a new home for it yet. My hope is that it will have a sustained life after this semester but it may not be as a course.”

Dr. Barrow said, “I hope that the class and the literary magazine can be a way to celebrate student work in this unusual time of crisis, even though we won’t be able to hold the big in-person event like we usually do.”

Remember registration for online classes begins Oct. 29 for the respective groups at 8:30 am. and will continue until January 2021.