Writing Beyond Borders was born in response to the growing demand in higher education for writing that reaches beyond specialized audiences. It was funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation in 2011-2012. Thirty two members of the project, faculty from Middlebury, Scripps, Furman, Denison, Vassar and DePauw, met at Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus for a weekend workshop in fall, 2011. They worked in small groups on manuscripts, talked writing and research, and wandered in the woods. During the academic year the small groups followed through on workshop conversations via email or a password protected blog. A subset of participants met again at Bread Loaf in 2012 to discuss not only their own writing projects, but their priorities and concerns as educators. They articulated a desire for higher education to be more flexible, accessible, and attentive to process. This website is an expression of that desire to legitimize risk taking in writing, and to support scholarly conversations that draw on various aspects of being human.
Thirty two members of the project, from Middlebury, Scripps, Furman, Denison, Vassar and DePauw met at Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus in the fall of 2011. They worked in small groups on manuscripts, wandered in the woods and fields, and talked writing, education, and research. They also talked about their lives and some engaged in contemplative practice together. That year most small groups followed through on workshop conversations via email or a password protected project blog. The online schedule proved challenging. Most participants reported difficulty in meeting group deadlines during the academic year. A follow up face to face meeting at Bread Loaf was scheduled to give participants another chance to work in person on their writing. The second meeting, fall of 2012, contained a smaller group of participants who discussed not only their own writing projects, but their desire to make a difference in higher education. Participants articulated a sense of purpose for higher education to be more flexible, accessible, and attentive to process. This website is an expression of the desire to legitimize risk taking in writing, and to support scholarly conversations that draw on multiple aspects of our humanness, including emotional, physical and spiritual.
Below are excerpts of our 2010 grant proposal to the Mellon Foundation, to which we are deeply indebted for this opportunity.
Writing Beyond Borders:
an Inter-Genre Collaborative for Faculty
Participating Institutions: Middlebury College, Vassar College, DePauw University, Denison University, Scripps College, and Furman University.
Co-Directed by Catharine Wright and Susan Burch, Middlebury College
This initiative brings together faculty from diverse disciplines who wish to communicate aspects of their scholarship with audiences beyond their discipline, their division, and/or the academy at large. The project cultivates connections in writing between the critical and the creative and/or the personal and the professional as these pertain to scholarship, teaching, and citizenship.
The project consists of thirty five faculty members from seven campuses who collectively represent eighteen different disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, arts and languages. Participants established individual writing goals and worked within an established timeline to produce first drafts, gather feedback, and revise. Feedback was exchanged within working groups that consisted of three to four participants per group; groups were determined by topics and/or genres. For example, faculty members of diverse disciplines writing about the environment formed one workshop group, while others writing about gender formed another.
All participants received a materials budget and in return agreed to conform to basic project expectations, such as attending the 3-day Bread Loaf Institute in September, 2010. A follow up 2-day workshop was held in September, 2012.
Many faculty find themselves at a point in their lives when they feel called to do more, to be more engaged in public life. Yet they feel constrained not only by academic norms and demands, but by the pressure of habit and the established confines of their own expertise. We live in a time when the culture of specialization is evolving into a culture more integrated and collaborative, a culture that is more sustainable both socially and environmentally. Faculty may feel the pressure to be interdisciplinary, more experiential pedagogically, and find themselves trying new things that challenge them as teachers and scholars. Perhaps they are bringing new technologies into the classroom; venturing into the community through service learning; team-teaching a class with a colleague from another department. These are stimulating, knowledge producing experiences. But contexts in which to reflect on these interdisciplinary or campus-community experiences are hard to find or create time for. And many scholars feel that these initial ventures into the “new” are just that: initial. They seek ways to develop their understanding of these new ideas and experiences; to integrate their areas of specialty with their areas of risk-taking.
Writing provides us with an opportunity to reflect. In pursuing the work, we turn our energies inward, focusing our attention. Writing draws not only upon our rational abilities, but upon our intuition, mobilizing multiple aspects of our intelligence. Communicating with others about our writing, and theirs, provides external stimulation in relation to that inward process. These are opportunities we create for our students, but that we often don’t have time to create for ourselves. I have had the opportunity to engage in three different small writing groups with diverse Middlebury faculty over the last ten years. My colleagues and I feel that these interdisciplinary groups are critical to our professional development as we understand it, but some are hesitant to reveal their inter-genre writing activity to colleagues in their departments. The intimacy of sharing one’s writing engenders layers of trust and collaboration. In this way writing nurtures not only one’s solitude, but ones sense of community, both of which are critical components of a healthy academic community.