By Katie Ebel

Northwestern High School students from Tim Ghazzawi’s ninth grade English class and students from this university presented “Fear: The Final Frontier” as part of their semester-long project in Ulrich Hall April 28. Presentations ranged in final products from skits, poems, slam poetry and dramatic readings. While this is the fifth year of the program, this is the first year Danielle Griffin, a Ph.D. candidate in English, taught the class at this university.

Students from this university enrolled in the Writing for Change ENGL388c class mentored the high school “buddies” on rhetorical literacy throughout the semester. Often times overlooked, rhetorical literacy allows people to use writing in order to advocate for themselves and others, discuss social change and persuade. Each year features a new theme for both college buddies and high school buddies to discuss and research. This year’s theme was overcoming fear.

“The performances this year have been deeply affected by the political climate,” Griffin said. “Whereas previous years focused on broad themes like bullying or body image, many performances this year addressed specific policies and rhetoric advanced during the 2016 election, especially those relating to immigration.”

Although immigration was one of the main topics discussed, other topics included fearing abusive relationships, fear of being yourself and the fear of being judged based on how you look.

Some of the performances tapped into ethos while others used comedy as a way to gain the audience’s attention. Stories the students shared often resulted in death or somebody’s life being forever changed for the worse.

“I relearned the idea of patience,” junior journalism major Tristen Madden said. “I went in expecting things to be easy, but teaching takes time. You have to slow down and adjust your teaching style to your individual students. I also learned how political 14-year-olds can be. They’re engaged with politics in a way I simply was not in the ninth grade.”

Seemingly a common theme among the college buddies, the state of the country’s current government and legislation is more prevalent than it was five years ago. As many of the high school buddies are students of color or immigrated from another country, current legislation is more likely to affect them and their families.

“I hope the high school students feel empowered and more confident about their ability to use their voice and to make arguments about issues that affect them,” Griffin said. “I hope they continue their writing and literacy education to continue to learn about how to do so even more effectively.”

Griffin went on to say she hopes the program will encourage students and those in academia to continue to use writing to advocate social change, equity and knowledge in their local communities. She also said she hopes the high school buddies will be more likely to consider going to college after participating in this program.

“[The students] also gain experience working with college students and get to perform on a university campus, so hopefully they gain familiarity with and see themselves as college students,” she said.

While the high school buddies learn about, explore and discuss politics and using their voice, the college buddies learned something entirely different.

“I would recommend the class. It teaches you humility,” Madden said. “You’ll likely learn more than you’ll teach. It is a fantastic lesson in empathy. You’ll have new found respect for your teachers and professors.”

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Carly Finkelstein.

Katie Ebel is a junior English major and can be reached at

One response to “How Writing for Change Can Spark Social Change”

  1. […] write about high school students in a creative writing class at this university who produce verse and prose pieces on how to overcome fear—because who among […]

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