Writing Across Communities Partners with SJU’s Staten Island Campus for Inclusive Writing Community Initiative

My Sister's Keeper
November 21, 2019

On October 22nd, Writing Across Communities traveled to the Staten Island campus to help facilitate My Sister’s Keeper, an initiative which aims to form inclusive writing communities for young women of color. Alongside Chiara Cillerai, first-year writing faculty on the St. John’s Staten Island campus, Undergraduate Writing Coordinators Jade Colon, AjiFanta Marenah, and Cheyenne Ross worked with 30 high school students as they drafted and revised college application materials. Below, Jade, AjiFanta, Cheyenne, and Professor Cillerai reflect on their experience working with these young women writers:


This was such a rewarding experience for me. The young girls were extremely ambitious and eager to write about themselves. They learned that there are different ways to express themselves on paper in a way that will set them apart from other students who are in the same position. The girls that I had the opportunity to work with felt unsure of what exactly they should write about. I assured them that even their most intimate experiences have value and importance, especially those where positivity has risen out of adversity. The lessons learned from those experiences are always worth sharing. They left feeling encouraged and ready to distinguish themselves as college-bound students.     


During our meeting with the young women from My Sister’s Keeper, I felt extremely inspired and motivated. The conversations I had with the students in my small group proved to me the significance of creating a space where young women of color can engage in writing about their personal experiences. Most of the work I did with my small group was brainstorming content and assisting them to organize their thoughts in a more coherent and creative way. The best part of the program was actually listening to them and seeing how in just 30 minutes they had the blank pages provided to them filled with traumatic experiences that became the grounds for their strengths, resilience, and goals in life. 


I was excited to work with the Staten Island campus and with My Sister’s Keeper because of my personal passion for mentorship and college access and success. This collaboration gave me the chance to have a role in the planning process for the workshop and implement the different experiences I have gained with WAC and my high school mentorship position. Most importantly, we were able to connect with the larger St. John’s Community, as well as the larger NYC community—which was very important to us as our mission extends across communities and isn’t limited to the Queens campus. During our first meeting with the Staten Island undergraduate students, I was happy to see how our different experiences, whether work or education, came together to help us think about how to create a meaningful workshop for MSK. Some of us had student leadership experience, while others are enrolled in the School of Education, which helped us think of ways to make the workshop engaging. The atmosphere was also very open to the point where I felt comfortable enough to voice my honest opinions and suggestions for improvement. Although I was not fortunate enough to make it to the program with MSK, I believe that the time spent planning it and preparing for their presence was very beneficial for all of our communities—SJU Queens, SJU Staten Island, and the young women of color. 

Prof. Chiara Cillerai:

I had envisioned the workshop as a collaboration among students who test and improve their ideas and skills in an environment that is intellectually engaging and comfortable at the same time. What happened in October was more than that. The meeting between St. John’s University students and the young women from the “My Sister’s Keeper” program proved the truth behind the saying that writing happens in the sea of conversation. A lively conversation among the two groups of students who sat together in the Staten Island Loretto Library Common Learning space ended with a draft of the high school students’ common application essays, and confirmed my belief that collaboration is essential to encourage and produce writing. The writers who participated in the workshop are now at sea working on the words that emerged in the conversation they had while on our campus and getting ready to meet again to continue to collaborate and flourish. I couldn’t be more proud of all of them. 

Writing Across Communities hopes to work with My Sister’s Keeper again in the future. Read more about MSK here, in a post written by our Staten Island partners.