Writing Across Communities

Left to right: Kailyn Giaccone, Dr. Tamara Issak, Cristina Artis, Jade Colon, Justin Melendez, Cheyenne Ross, Sarah Glessner, Ajifanta Marenah, Christian Merchan, Frank Coniglio

Mission

Writing Across Communities at St. John’s University encourages and supports faculty and students who strive to use writing to sustain diverse academic, cultural, civic, and professional communities across and beyond the university.

As a program we are committed to these Writing Across Communities principles:

"First, the WACommunities approach regards language and literacy as human processes integral to building and maintaining human communities (cultural rhetorical ecologies). Second, it recognizes language diversity as a reflection of rich cultural connections locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. Third, it adopts the notion that the acquisition of academic literacy (and of standardized edited American English) should enhance students’ communicative resources, not erase them. Finally, it advocates culturally responsive approaches to literacy education across and beyond the curriculum" (Kells 2018).

As the program continues to develop over the 2019-2020 academic year, watch this space and our Twitter (@SJUWACommuniti1) for more ways to be involved.

"Where We Write" Map

This map is a visual collection of all the places SJU students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community write. We encourage you to contribute to our map here

Contact Us

Email Writing Across Communities at [email protected]

Undergraduate Writing Coordinators

Cristina Artis
Jade Colon
Frank Coniglio
Ajifanta Marenah
Justin Melendez
Christian Merchan
Cheyenne Ross

Graduate Assistant Directors

Kailyn Giaccone 
Sarah Glessner

Faculty-In-Residence

Tamara Issak

Professor, English and Director, Writing Across Communities

Anne Ellen Geller
[email protected]

About Us

Cristina Artis, UWC

Cristina Artis

Undergraduate Writing Coordinator

I rememberthe first time I felt the power of words. Words, that lept off the page and to a six-year old, transformed her mind and understanding of what a book can do to one’s imagination. While years have passed, I never lose that same feeling of getting lost in a book, getting lost in my own imagination. Writing and developing my own short stories, plays, and poems, allow me to take a piece of myself and put it in a place where others can experience that same emotion for themselves. That is the beauty of impact, you never know where it may hit one and miss another. 

I am in the process of learning how to use my words and my voice for the purpose of uplifting communities to which I belong; as well as those who long for their own voices to be heard as well. Coming to college, I not only learned how to develop this voice both on the page and off, but it has helped me shift my career choice to incorporate both my desire to help others in a medical setting, as well as to inspire the dreams of others in the place where I once grew up. 

St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Major, Biology

Jade Colon, UWC

Jade Colon

Undergraduate Writing Coordinator

It took me some time to recognize my deepest passion. Growing up, I constantly acted as a voice, advocating for both myself and others amid what I considered injustices. It was not easy having the unpopular opinion, I must say.  

"What do you want to be when you grow up?” This was the question I was asked often and disliked so vehemently. Years ago, I truly did not know. “Well, follow your passion.” I knew that both writing and expressing my inner voice were my strong points, but how can this possibly turn into a career? I can recall one night, when I was deep in my thoughts (as most juniors in high school are, right?) and I basically had an epiphany. I realized that I can remain the voice for the voiceless, orally and through my writing, as an attorney. The branch of law that I prefer to focus on shifts on occasion, but I know that is where my passion resides.

The Leslie H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, St. John’s University: Major, Legal Studies

Frank Coniglio, UWC

Frank Coniglio

Undergraduate Writing Coordinator

I am a new transfer student here at St. John’s University majoring in accounting. Being born and raised in Fresh Meadows, Queens, attending St. John’s has always been a dream of mine. Over the past year or so, I have attended a few CUNY schools to try to find what I am passionate about. Whilst discovering that accounting was what I would be majoring in, I found that I had a passion for writing. Writing has helped me to push through the setbacks and hardships I faced on my journey to get to St. John’s. Writing has been an escape for me, and has allowed me to be creative in ways I thought impossible. Through writing, I have learned how to express my ideas and thoughts more clearly, which has been crucial in strengthening my communication skills. A goal of mine that I have being a part of Writing Across Communities is to help others with writing in the ways in which it has helped me. I am a huge hockey and baseball fan, and I enjoy playing the guitar and listening to music. Being a part of Writing Across Communities is an honor, and I look forward to the forthcoming possibilities and opportunities I will encounter. 

Tobin College of Business, St John’s University, Major: Accounting

AjiFanta Marenah, UWC

Ajifanta Marenah

Undergraduate Writing Coordinator

I was born in The Gambia and lived through the consequences of a government that violated its own constitution, international human rights laws and the basic tenets of morality.  Writing has always been a way for me to both express and escape the traumas of the injustices that come with being a member of multiple marginalized communities (Black, woman, Muslim and immigrant). Through creative writing, I gained a voice to advocate for the rights of individuals from my communities and share with the world those experiences that molded me into the resilient writer I am today. Whether it is delivering spoken word pieces at Barnes and Noble that explored topics of gender, colorism, xenophobia, racism, and genocides; writing investigative pieces focused on social justice for The New York Times, or contributing a piece to the Torch Newspaper, I always find platforms with diverse audiences that will engage with my writing.

Through my many research assignments as a government and politics student, I started noticing the lack of diversity in the academic research field. Narratives are dictated through the perspective of outsiders and the voices of the subjects are rarely included. Moving forward as an Undergraduate Writing Coordinator, I plan to be intentional in participating in and creating initiatives that will incorporate different forms of languages and voices into the academic field.

St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Major, Government and Politics; Minor, French

Christian Merchan, UWC

Christian Merchan

Undergraduate Writing Coordinator

Ever since high school, I have used writing to escape from the stresses of life and to express the ideas in my head that I could not articulate into words. Since my enrollment in St. John’s I have been exposed to a variety of ethnic backgrounds and I finally feel free to create what I want. The English classes I’ve experienced throughout the semesters have taught me the importance of inspiring others. Through my poetry and writings, I aim to encourage other individuals to indulge in their creativity. I want to inspire others to cast aside their doubts and the labels placed upon them so that they can bring their unique personalities. I hope to bring my experiences through Writing Across Communities with me on my journey to graduate school and to continue inspiring others to become writers.

Regarding interests, I enjoy watching movies, trying new foods, sketching in my pad, building computers, and collecting figures.

I believe that writing is one of the most powerful tools that everyone possesses and should be utilized to its fullest potential. We are all writers, despite what we may tell ourselves and we all have the potential to create greatness.   

The Leslie H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, St. John’s University: Major, Criminal Justice; Minor, English    

Justin Melendez, UWC

Justin Melendez

Undergraduate Writing Coordinator

I'm in my 5th year at SJU, now as an English major. I spent my first 3 years as a Chemistry major and the switch has been both exciting and tough. Prior to my switch, my writing was mostly consumed by schoolwork (which I rarely enjoyed), with a few moments of personal creative writing. While the driving forces behind my writing haven’t changed much, I’ve been enjoying my experiences with writing in academia now more than ever and using my time to learn about what I wish to pursue with my career. So far I’m really interested in Critical Race Theory, Counter-Narratives and Performance Studies and how these tools help me better define my own identity. I’ve also discovered a relatively new field called Heavy Metal Music Studies, which is really exciting! Besides that, I am big fan of the pop-punk/metalcore music scene, e-sports, and adventuring with food.

St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Major, English

Cheyenne Ross, UWC

Cheyenne Ross

Undergraduate Writing Coordinator

In high school, I vividly recall despising classes where I was asked to express myself (English and art) and loving the classes where I could only be right or wrong (trigonometry and biology). As I look back, my distaste wasn’t merely personal choice, but of a lack of agency, and maybe even fear, birthed from spaces of unbelonging. My passion for writing didn’t develop until my freshman year of college when I discovered that writing could be used as a mechanism to learn more about myself within my different communities: Christian, African-American, woman, college student, young adult. Writing has taught me the power of language--of listening to others and remembering to speak up for oneself; this understanding has informed my classroom, student leadership, and even personal experiences. My time as a UWC this past year has taught me what it means to, but more importantly feels like, to work in a community and find a space where I belong. I have found this acceptance within the comforts of student organizations--EDEN and Sinai, but almost never in the classroom. Because of the support I found in student organizations and the discomfort I have felt in the classroom, I hope to contribute to the disruption of structures that maintain institutional complacency and force student leaders to take on those burdens. 

St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Major, English

Kailyn Giaccone, Graduate Assistant Director

Kailyn Giaccone

Doctoral Fellow and Graduate Assistant Director, Writing Across Communities

As a lifelong voracious reader, it came as a surprise to me that writing didn’t come as naturally as I believed it should. When I became an undergraduate English major at Binghamton University, its tiny department and the SJU English department were able to cultivate a young writer’s insecurities and turn them into her own opinions and voice. I haven’t looked back since. I’ve since come to cherish my writing skills as a gift that I worked hard to possess, working through countless hours of second-guessing and a lack of belief in what I had to say.

Now, after serving hundreds of students in higher education classrooms and writing centers, I am a firm believer that writing is a skill that everyone has inside them, and it takes a village to bring it out. It is here that our mission at Writing Across Communities comes in. Students having a voice in the curriculum is essential to becoming confident, necessary members of society as well as to the continued development of faculty members. 

My focus has been on community college students and institutions as sites where the foundation is laid for the higher education experience. I hope to instill the values of this program wherever I work and, as a doctoral fellow for this program, I am continuously committed to the education and growth of undergraduate writers while learning as much as I can from them in the process. 

St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Ph.D. candidate, English

Sarah Glessner, Graduate Assistant Director

Sarah Glessner

Doctoral Fellow and Graduate Assistant Director, Writing Across Communities

Growing up in New York, having lived in four out of five of the City's boroughs (Queens, I'll get to you one day!), and beginning my higher education career in a diverse array of the City's universities have all shaped my identity and my professional practice in telling ways. I've worked with students in big public universities as well as small private colleges and, in each of these settings, have witnessed the power of writing in guiding students to discover, embrace and shape their identities and to engage in thoughtful dialogue with each other and the world around them. We are lucky to be living, working, and writing in a city as diverse, complex, and intense as New York.

At the heart of the work I have done -- both as a higher education administrator and instructor -- is a focus on the individual student's experiences. I believe that getting to know students, guiding them to an understanding of and ability to nurture their own strengths, and using writing to carve out an individual space in a seemingly oversaturated place and time is of great importance to educators and to the mission of Writing Across Communities.

Writing can happen anywhere -- in a classroom in midtown, on a southbound 1 train, on a park bench, beneath a desk lamp at 2:00am -- and any number of these writing practices are valuable and can contribute to a widening network of writers, learners, and citizens both in the academy and community.

St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Ph.D. candidate, English

Anne Ellen Geller

Director, Writing Across Communities

As a scholar, my research considers what students and faculty write, how they write, and sometimes even turns attention to where they write and with whom. But at the heart of all of my research -- and all of my teaching -- is my desire to affect the institutionalized forces that can support students and faculty as they write or can keep them from writing.

I strive to meet learners and writers -- whether they are faculty or students -- where they are and hope most of all to develop and support communities of learning. I believe learners must actively do work together to build trust and confidence in one another so the classes I teach and workshops I lead are active, engaged spaces that use talk and writing toward relationship building, exchange of ideas, and development of knowledge and expertise. I do most of the thinking for my own writing when I’m away from the keyboard -- cooking or walking my dog or running -- and I think for a long time before any words are ever on the page. Beyond St. John’s I mentor writers through Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital’s Visible Ink program.

St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Professor, English

Tamara Issak, Faculty-In-Residence

Tamara Issak 

Faculty-in-Residence

As a first-generation college graduate and the daughter of immigrants from Jordan and Syria, I experienced many challenges trying to navigate the unfamiliar territory of college and graduate school. Therefore, in my work as a teacher, I strive to make all the confusing things about higher education less confusing; my priority is to make processes and structures as transparent as possible to students. In my experience, the professors who took the time to explain things, mentor me, and encourage me to write my heart out were the ones who made all the difference in my life.  

The culture of schools and universities often make students, especially students from underrepresented communities, feel insecure and unsafe. I believe in the potential of Writing Across Communities to create safe and welcoming spaces for students, faculty, and the community, at large, to engage with one another and write together. Under Anne Gellar’s leadership, I have seen first-hand how Writing Across Communities at St. John’s makes space for students to lead, organize, and teach—work that they are highly capable of doing—but that is often not easy to step into because of the hierarchical structure and largely white composition of higher ed. I feel privileged to be able to work with such bright and motivated students at SJU and to continue working with Writing Across Communities to address the change we want to see on campus and beyond. I am excited for the year ahead! 

St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Institute for Core Studies: Assistant Professor, First-Year Writing

Writing Across Communities began in 2007 as Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and was housed within St. John's Institute for Writing Studies. For eleven years, WAC has supported St. John's faculty from across the disciplines using writing for learning and teaching. 

Summer Faculty Writing Institutes

In addition to ongoing workshops and consultations with faculty and departments, WAC facilitated three week-long WAC Summer Faculty Writing Institutes (SFWI). The SFWIs were a combination of faculty writing retreat and writing across the curriculum teaching workshop, and were held at the St. John’s Rome (2007 and 2008) and Paris (2011) campuses. For the first SFWI, the Director of the Institute for Writing Studies invited a group of faculty. For 2008 and 2011, faculty applied to the SFWI and were selected by a committee that included former SFWI participants. The 2008 and 2011 SFWIs each had 20 participating faculty. “When in Rome” (Geller) describes the 2008 SFWI. 

Many St. John’s faculty from these Summer Faculty Writing Institutes presented on and published research related to their inquiries into learning and teaching with writing. For example, Dr. Jeff Nevid (SFWI, 2008), Amy Pastva, and Nate McClelland published “Writing-to-Learn Assignments in Introductory Psychology: Is There a Learning Benefit?” in Teaching of Psychology, Dr. Natalie Byfield (SFWI, 2011) was awarded a 2011 American Sociological Association, Carla Howery Teaching Enhancement Grant to study the impact of using memoir-writing as a tool for developing students’ sociological lenses. Dr. Frank Cantelmo (SFWI, 2007) and Dr. Anne Geller published “Workshopping to Practice Scientific Terms” in Teaching with Student Texts. 

Faculty Fellows and Writing Fellows            

In 2009, WAC founded the Faculty Fellows and Writing Fellows program in partnership with the University Writing Center. For six years faculty from across colleges and disciplines were paired with experienced undergraduate writing center consultants. In these collaborative partnerships, the Faculty Fellow and the Writing Fellow worked together on a course of the faculty member’s choosing and developed the syllabus to integrate more writing into the course and thus more ways for students in the course to learn through writing. Each cohort of faculty fellows also met as a group, read and discussed research on the teaching of writing (including literature from their disciplines) and reflected on their pedagogy in order to develop ways to utilize writing for learning and engagement in their courses. In the cohort, they shared resources and reflected on their identities as writers/scholars to further enhance their writing pedagogy.

A number of the undergraduate Writing Fellows presented at regional and national conferences and some Writing Fellows presented on campus and at conferences with their Faculty Fellows. To learn about one of these partnerships, read Alejandro Quintana and Morgan Zajkowski’s published article: “Students as Teachers Transforming a History Course

Faculty Writing Initiative

Since 2009, WAC has collaborated with the Center for Teaching and Learning to lead the Faculty Writing Initiative (FWI). The FWI hosts six Faculty Writing Retreats each year and organizes ongoing to support writing community and help faculty, staff and graduate students meet their own writing and publishing goals. All Faculty Writing Initiative events are open to all St. John’s full and part-time faculty, staff and graduate students.

CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence

The St. John’s WAC program was awarded a 2013-2014 CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence.

Recent WAC Initiatives

During the 2017-2018 academic year, WAC collaborated with the St. John’s College Dean’s Office to facilitate two semester-long faculty learning communities. Through Improving Mid-Career Undergraduate Writing, ten faculty members from across the St. John’s College disciplines were able to read, think together and consider learning and assessment through writing in upper-level courses from across the disciplines.

On July 1, 2018, WAC changed its name to Writing Across Communities. Faculty who have been involved with WAC over the past eleven years have been integral to imagining the future of the program. WAC at St. John’s has long been involved with Writing Across Communities initiatives through a national consortium and by working with these principles through our many faculty development programs. In the summer of 2012, Nancy Alvarez, an Institute for Writing Studies Fellow, attended the National Consortium of Writing Across Communities to represent St. John’s. In fall 2016, we had one of the foremost Writing Across Communities scholars, Dr. Juan Guerra, on campus for two days.