Meredith Benjamin

First-Year Writing Teaching Statement

My First-Year Writing syllabus often begins with the following epigraph from Audre Lorde, in her now-classic essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”: “Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us…For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it.” Her words here sum up to me the goals of our First-Year Writing course: to critically examine the language in both the texts we’ll study and in our own writing. Instead of writing to demonstrate knowledge, my courses focus on how students can use writing to generate knowledge of their own. 
 
My courses emphasize writing as a process, and I aim to give students a number of tools and practical strategies for all stages of that process, from reading to drafting to revision. As you go through the course, you’ll develop a clearer sense of your own process as a writer and which tools are most useful to you. From there, I hope you’ll be empowered to take those strategies forward to the other writing projects you’ll craft throughout your college career. 
 
Feminism and feminist writing are both the subjects of my own research and formative influences on my teaching. My own current research looks at how U.S. feminist writers in the 1970s and 80s moved from simply recovering the lives and works of women of the past to engaging with them in a way that reconstituted their own sense of the present and the future. This is a paradigm I aspire to in my writing courses—to help students move from simply recovering knowledge to actively engaging with it and thinking critically about how it allows them to reconstitute their own sense of the world. Recently, I’ve been thinking about these ideas in relation to Sara Ahmed’s book Living a Feminist Life, in which she proposes “the necessity of wavering with our convictions,” explaining that “If a feminist tendency is what we work for, that tendency does not give us a stable ground.” My goal is to help my students begin to see themselves as scholars—taking these kinds of intellectual risks and positioning themselves in debates and conversations through critical inquiry. 
 
I began teaching at Barnard in 2015, and have been the Postdoctoral Fellow in First-Year Writing since Fall 2016. That means that in addition to teaching in the program, I also work with faculty and students across the college on what writing looks like in their discipline and how they can draw on the skills students are learning in First-Year Writing. For example, I’m currently working on a project with a faculty member teaching the Introductory Biology course; we’re creating materials that will help students understand the critical thinking skills common to both their essays in FYW and their lab reports in Biology. Accordingly, I’m focused on how the work we do in First-Year Writing will connect to the writing that you’ll do during the rest of your time at Barnard, no matter what fields of study you pursue. 
 
I teach both First-Year Writing and First-Year Writing Workshop, as well as a course called Feminism and the Politics of Anger in the First-Year Seminar program.