Department Dialogue

Levi Todd on Interning at The Poetry Center of Chicago

Ball State student Levi Todd recounts the incredible opportunities he had interning at The Poetry Center of Chicago. Levi worked at The Poetry Center, an office located in downtown Chicago, where he served as Social Media and Programming Intern for this organization. 

Like any college student, I’ve gotten pretty familiar with my career elevator speech that I can pull out when returning home, meeting new people, and for general small talk. It sounds like this: “I want to work for a literacy nonprofit that offers creative writing education to youth.” I’ve also gotten pretty familiar with people’s responses to this. Most often it’s a concealed grimace, like they’re holding back from saying “Oh, you poor thing.” Other times it’s people flat-out asking, “So you’re okay with not making any money?”

I’m not sure who started it, but there seems to be a false notion of working in the nonprofit sector. I think most people’s conception of a nonprofit organization is flickering lights in a church basement, where the staff is foregoing their third paycheck so that the children they serve can receive a library. We consider nonprofit workers to be doing good work, but not “successful” by our traditional definitions.

Whenever I meet these cynics, I want to introduce them to the Chicago Literacy Alliance. The CLA is a collective of 90+ nonprofit organizations devoted to various aspects of literacy. The organizations share resources and information to set up a city-wide alliance with the common goal of bettering Chicago’s literacy. Each organization does something different–Infiniteach creates technology that allows businesses and organizations to make their spaces more accessible to those with autism. Injustice Watch exposes institutional injustice and better equips journalists to write about inequality and social change. The organization I interned for, The Poetry Center of Chicago, gets public school students reading and writing poetry, and creates paid professional opportunities for Chicago poets.

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Department Dialogue: What Does Linguistics Mean to You?

Ball State University professors Mai Kuha, Mary Lou Vercellotti, Megumi Hamada, and Elizabeth M. Riddle share what role linguistics has played in their life and what it has grown to mean to them.

Mai Kuha

Languages have always had a central role in my life. Three languages were used regularly in my family when I was a child. In my teens, I tried to teach myself Arabic, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Old Norse, and Russian. I managed to get my hands on some books on linguistics somehow, even though no one I knew had ever heard of it.

I read about Washoe, the signing chimpanzee, who was about my age, and I came to regard her as a cousin I had never met. I read about the sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” which is obviously very pleasing but was not presented for its aesthetic value, but for the purpose of showing that meaning and structure can be considered separately: the sentence is structurally fine but odd meaningwise. I began to learn that observing the precise details of how people say what they say can allow us to reach startling insights, to shed light on the inner workings of the human mind. Having always been introspective, I found it satisfying and intriguing to see a path towards understanding cognition more deeply, in a rational, systematic, evidence-based way.

For many years, I communicated with no one about most of these ideas. As an undergraduate, I tried to do the responsible thing and got a degree in computer science. Ultimately, I had the courage to come to my senses, and one day found myself in Bloomington, meeting with Dr. Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig to kick off my graduate work in linguistics at Indiana University. I remember nothing of that meeting, except that my gaze kept straying to a hanging on her office wall. There was text on it, a poem. The last line was shockingly familiar: colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

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Advice for Graduating Seniors

In just one short week we’ll be saying goodbye to our graduating seniors, though we hope they’ll come back to visit. In the latest installment of our Department Dialogue series, our faculty offers them advice on starting this new chapter of their lives, and our #bsuenglish seniors share their plans for the future.


Mai Kuha, Linguistics:

Make friends. It’s not easy at any stage in life, but your time as a student offered more opportunities, making you interact frequently with others who were going through similar experiences as you were. Your social network after graduation, in a new community and in a new job, may be one in which planning, initiative, and ongoing effort are required to cultivate connections with others.

Jennifer Grouling, English Ed:

Advice: It’s okay if the future is temporary.

Upon graduating with a B.S. in English Education, I was sure that I would find the ideal teaching position that I’d been dreaming of. Substitute teaching was something I resisted as temporary, and honestly, I thought it was beneath my abilities. But instead of stumbling into that perfect first job, I just stumbled. When fall came and I had no teaching job, I allowed my summer temp work to turn into my first full-time position doing data entry, not what I had dreamed, but it paid the bills. That fall, I left to go to teaching, but not the position I wanted. Rather, I started as a full-time substitute teacher, which led to a long-term maternity leave substitute where I not only taught AP classes but also directed the newspaper. That gave me the experience I needed to land a full-time teaching job. My take-away: don’t avoid temporary work when it has the potential to lead somewhere, but also know when to move on.

Eva Grouling Snider, Professional Writing:

Embrace those tricky conversations about what you do. You know the ones I’m talking about? Those times when a distant relative asks you what you’re doing with your life and you panic? They may be painful, but they’re also productive. Try to really truthfully answer, and listen to yourself answer. Don’t just answer with a few words, either: provide details. I do many things in my job, but when I have to articulate what my job is to other people, that’s when I find myself identifying my true passions, the things that I do because I love them, not because I have to. Knowing those things is the first step toward carving your own path in this crazy, crazy world, and talking it out is one of the best ways to know those things.

Lyn Jones, English Ed:

For our graduating English education students who are about to embark on what I hope is a long and successful career in secondary teaching,

  • Create and design a community, not just a classroom.
  • Engage your students in “tough talk” over topics of social justice; encourage civil disobedience.
  • Teach your students to read the world, not just the word. (Freire)
  • Model being a dreamer, a designer, and a user of the content you teach.
  • Believe in the power of student’s stories; make room for their stories in your classroom.
  • Design and delivery are both equally important when it comes to curriculum and teaching.
  • Discourse is everything. Always be mindful of what you say and how you say it.  Students hang on our every word.
  • Remain a learner… about literature, writing, and the profession.
  • Come back to Ball State… to learn more about your craft, to interact with students, or simply to visit.

Cathy Day, Creative Writing:

Way too many of you think that the path from college to career is a straight line, but English doesn’t map its curriculum to specific career outcomes, like other majors do.

You tend to think this way: 

As an English major, I developed the skill of writing research papers about villains in the plays of Shakespeare and the gothic imagination of Faulkner, which I’m sure will come in handy in this marketing position at Marketing Firm, Inc.

But the path from college to career is NOT a straight line. You have to think about how what we’ve taught you could translate to a variety of jobs.

Think like this:

My final project as an English major was a 25-page research paper on Faulkner, from which I learned how to independently manage large projects, appreciate other cultures, analyze and synthesize information, and form an original idea. I’d like to bring my communication and research skills to Marketing Firm, Inc.’s marketing department.

Rory Lee, Professional Writing:

People have told you, and they will continue to tell you, that the real world is like this or that. And in many ways, it is like this or that. In other words, their advice has value, and it can offer you insight. Advice–what this is–is important; I wouldn’t be writing this tidbit otherwise. But remember that such advice is always a way, not thee way, to see, do, and think about things. Advice comes from people’s accrued experiences. So use it as a means to guide and understand your own but not in a way that precludes you from doing and being you. So, in the spirit of this advice, feel free to completely disregard it. Oh, and have fun, be the change you want to see, be the pontificating third, and all that jazz.


Senior Mary Pat Stemnock will be attending Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.

Senior Lauren Seitz is participating in an exchange program through the Ball State French department and will be moving to Nancy, France for a year to teach in the English department of the Université de Lorraine.

Senior Amory Orchard was accepted to Ball State’s M.A. in Creative Writing program, and will be returning to BSU in the fall. Hurray!

Senior Daniel Brount is applying for editorial assistant positions at publishing houses in NYC.

Senior Evan Andreae will be pursuing any job that can get him experience in design, public relations, or marketing. His goal is to fulfill that “2-3 years experience” requirement he is always seeing on job applications. We wish him luck!

Senior Krista Sanford will be sending her work to literary magazines and publishers.

Senior Adrianna Martin is moving to South Bend and looking for employment or freelance work.

Senior Luke Bell will be applying for writing positions in Indianapolis and getting a cat.

Congrats to all of our graduating seniors! We are proud of you!

Why Teach Race?

We’ve launched a new series that we’ve titled “Department Dialogue.” This series offers our professors a platform they can use to discuss English-related topics that are of interest to both faculty and students alike. We continue the series with responses to the question: what is the place of race and racial issues in English Studies?


Eva Grouling Snider, Professional Writing:

I have several different exigencies for addressing race in my classrooms. First, in several of my classes, students conduct primary research and fieldwork. Thinking about diversity (including race, gender, sexuality, and other diversity axes) not only makes them more thoughtful when crafting survey and interview questions, but it also has a positive effect on my students’ participants. For a class that is first and foremost about language usage, thinking about the language we use to represent people and the
social effects of different kinds of language use is a natural fit.

I also teach visual design in several classes, and race is also an issue when it comes to visual design. Visual representations of non-white races are far too infrequent and far too coded with visual signifiers of racial stereotypes. I talk to my stuwocintech.jpgdents about finding and using photography that does more than just nod at being diverse. For instance, #WOCinTech recently released a series of stock photos of women of color working in tech-related fields. I tell my students that they should strive to use these kinds of images not as a novelty but as a default.

In both cases, I tell my students that it’s not about them. Their personal experiences, their positions on different diversity axes: of course they matter, but when you’re talking about communication, it’s the people on the other end that truly matter. I feel that every public communicator has a moral obligation to undercut racial prejudice and make people feel welcome and accepted, and that’s something I try to pass on to my students.

Kathryn Gardiner, Screenwriting:

With my English 310 – Introduction to Screenwriting students, I always take a day to discuss Hollywood’s history of “white washing” characters of color, or leaving them out of movies and television entirely. I start the discussion by taking a few minutes to let Dylan Marron’s “Every Single Word” channel on YouTube play. Marron set out to highlight the industry’s diversity problem by editing down films to only the moments wherein a person of color speaks. The entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, for example, becomes less than 45 seconds long (a few Maori actors played the Orcs). Letting the channel play, we end up seeing about 15 feature-length films in under 10 minutes. When asked what they observe, my students note that all the parts were service roles, either literally servants or servers within the story, or simply a function of the story delivering exposition. 

We also discuss the controversial casting of all white actors in films like “Exodus” and “Stonewall,” as well as the uproar that comes when a Black actor is considered for a historically white role, such as Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, Idris Elba as James Bond, or Donald Glover as Spider-Man. 

While there’s occasionally some discomfort with the seriousness of the topic, the discussions always end up positive and meaningful with students engaging their own acknowledged biases, recognizing a lack of diversity in their favorite media, or positing how things might change. Hearing my students of color share how being invisible or underrepresented in media has impacted their lives and self-esteem has been especially powerful. Once the door is open, I’ve seen a hunger and eagerness to examine the topic. One entire class stayed 15 minutes past their class time to continue the discussion, and more than one student has thanked me after the session was over. 

I admit, I’m anxious every time I set out to teach this lesson plan, but it’s been incredibly rewarding, and I feel it’s a crucial topic to address with aspiring film writers. Movies and television have real-world impact. For better or worse, a fictionalized account of an historic event can supplant the actual event in the minds of the public, so it is terribly harmful when men and women of color are erased from their true heroic roles in those events. That we, as audiences, are rarely asked to empathize with the hopes, dreams, and lives of people of color has a tangible and dangerous effect on our culture. That dragons, magical rings, and wizarding schools are somehow less fantastical than a Black man as James Bond should concern us all.

I’ve not been teaching long, but already I’ve had former students return to tell me about a discussion they got into with friends regarding representation, or to ask me for a link to a video I showed so they can share it with someone else. They’re continuing the conversation, and just as importantly, they’re thinking about it as they write. That feels like a strong step in a good direction.

Angela Jackson-Brown, Creative Writing

Excerpt from “Teaching in a World Filled with Trayvon Martins”:

I try to Conference with all of my students in all of my classes near the beginning of the semester. I want to get to know them on a personal level, if possible. I always tell my Black male students I expect better than their best because they have a generation on their heels that will need their leadership and their counsel. But, don’t get me wrong. I also offer them my Mommy ears. Many of them are away from their Moms for the first time, so I often get treated like the surrogate mom. I don’t mind it. My prayer, always is, if I can’t be there for my sons, please allow there to be some other mama who can step up and offer them some motherly words of wisdom. So when these young men come to me, I listen to their fears, their concerns and their worries, because I know what it is like to be “one of the only Black students” at a predominantly White school. I know what it feels like to wonder, “Am I good enough?” or “Should I really be here?”

To my fellow teachers (regardless of your ethnicity, social and economic level, gender, sexual orientation, etc.): These young men might enter your classroom looking angry, bored, hostile, etc. Don’t buy it. They are only wearing that mask in order to protect themselves. They are afraid you are going to “punk them,” “make fun of them,” and/or “shame them.” So, before you can GET them, they try to GET you. Therefore, I challenge you – reach out to these young men and let them know they can remove their masks in your classroom, because in your classroom, masks are not required.

Visit Angela’s blog to read the rest of this post.

Emily Rutter, Literature:

In America, race is always already shaping the discourse in our classrooms—whether we are confronting it head-on or dancing deftly around it. Our nation, despite claims in recent years of our post-racialness, remains thoroughly racialized. American literature is a particularly valuable entry point for discussing the ways in which we are all raced, for imaginative texts push us beyond our lived experiences and, importantly, our comfort zones. From Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, we learn “the definition of paradox: Black boys with beach houses,” and that being upper-class African American teenagers “could mess with your head sometimes” (71-72). Alternatively, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony tells us, “They blame us, the ones who look different. That way they don’t have to think about what has happened inside themselves” (92). These writers, among scores of others, illuminate the fallacies of race—what my English 491 students and I have been calling the “story” of race—but also the way it functions, granting unearned privilege to some and reinforcing disadvantage for others. Even when writers perpetuate facile assumptions about otherness, they present us with an opportunity to investigate why we find their representations problematic. In the process, we confront our own racial assumptions and, ideally, are able to move away from sweeping generalizations and toward the appreciation of individuals. Of course, we will not solve the racial prejudices and divisions that have plagued this nation for centuries within a single course, but talking about these issues in open, honest, and intentional ways is a necessary first step.

Debbie Mix, Literature:

I value teaching diverse literature because it’s powerful to read work by someone who looks like you and shares your experiences, and it’s important to read about experiences and cultures that are unlike your own.

Molly Ferguson, Literature:

The college classroom is one of the last places where genuine dialogue about race seems possible, and where transformation and self-reflection can happen for all of us. Living in a white, cis-gendered body, my privilege insulates me from bringing race up in the classroom, but my commitment to antiracism means that I need to start these conversations. My area of expertise in postcolonial studies often makes dialogue about race organic, but even when I teach British literature I guide students to listen for the voices that are not typically represented in the canon, and to ask why. For me the study of literature is all about learning empathy, so my students are well positioned to interrogate power relationships and to understand the impact of historical disadvantages. I am constantly evolving and progressing in my own awareness of racism, and my students are always teaching me through their vantage points.

Levi Todd, Undergraduate #bsuenglish Major and Founder of Reacting Out Loud:

As English students, a great deal of us will be entering positions where we initiate conversations, whether via advertising, PR, creative writing, academia, etc. Racial inequality is a topic that gets largely ignored in America, and it’s up to those in positions of power (hopefully our alumni) to amplify marginalized voices, and
be informed about the power dynamics based on race. If we are studying the role of words in our daily lives, it follows that we should study whose words are given more or less importance in our society, and what we can do to balance it.

ABT PosterLyn Jones, English Ed:

In light of these issues, four students in the Department of English studying English Education formed The Alliance of Black Teachers (A.B.T.) Club in 2015. Their mission was to connect students to peers, professionals, organizations, institutions, and resources that support Black students in the field of education and broaden the development, retention, and recruitment of Black teachers, as well as to provide a safe space for students to openly talk and share issues of race.

The A.B.T. encourages ALL students, faculty, and staff (Black and non-Black) to attend and join these club meetings. You can visit our blog post for Spring 2016 meeting info, and join the A.B.T. on Facebook.