St. John’s University’s Staten Island campus hosted a special community on October 22: a diverse and inclusive writing community that brought together St. John’s faculty members, students, and 30 young women high school students who have organized themselves as “My Sister’s Keepers.” Gathering together in Loretto Library Learning Commons, St. John’s students and young women of “My Sister’s Keepers” used their love of writing to connect with each other and start the process of writing a personal statement for college applications.
“My Sister’s Keeper” is a personal initiative of NYS Department of Education District 31 Superintendent Vincenza Gallassio '87NDC, '89GEd, '01GEd, a St. John’s alumnus. Superintendent Gallassio created the group to bring young women of color together to express and empower their college and career aspirations. Now in its second year, “My Sister’s Keepers” has teacher representatives in every Staten Island public school in District 31 and has begun college campus visits. Their visit to St. John’s was specially designed to help students with writing their Common App essay. “As a graduate of SJU,” Gallasio commented, “it was exciting to bring our young people to visit the SI campus. Our MSK students were given a chance to see the opportunities available to them right here in our own community. The SJU students shared their knowledge and expertise to assist our MSK group to aspire to higher learning. We are truly thankful for the continued collaboration and the SJU community opening their doors in the name of equity and access.”
Dr. Chiara Cillerai, a First-Year Writing professor, created the writing workshop and organized St. John’s students, with the assistance of Leanna Rene, a graduate student in the SJC English M. A. program. The workshop was supported by a grant from Writing Across Communities, a St. John’s program directed by Dr. Anne Geller of the SJC English department that encourages and supports faculty and students who use writing to sustain diverse and inclusive communities across campus and beyond the university. Dr. Cillerai emphasized the importance of the community building this event promoted: “The St. John’s students in the workshop were activity facilitators and mentors who gave students the opportunity to explore their writing skills and gain the confidence to express themselves in the essays they wrote. A writing community provides both the challenges of commentators and the comfort of being among peers who are all working on shared projects. They are getting ready to meet again to continue to collaborate and flourish. “
St. John’s partnership with “My Sister’s Keepers” has helped St. John’s students see the impact of writing in a new light. Maegan Eustaquio, a CCPS undergrad double majoring in Mass Communications and English, participated as an SJU mentor for the event. “It was inspiring to listen to the stories of these young women,” she said. “I could really see the enthusiasm they have for applying to college. These girls are dreamers, and they really strive to pursue their goals.”
The first meeting of this new writing community is just the beginning. St. John’s, the Superintendent’s office, and “My Sister’s Keeper” will be continuing their partnerships and meetings. Good writing, St. John’s students have found, takes a community.