‘Writing in the Community’ Course Allows Students to Tell Stories of the Marginalized

Writing in the Community at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, December 6, 2018.
Writing in the Community at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, December 6, 2018.

This semester, 21 students partnered with and wrote the stories of community members on the margins, including elders at assisted living facility Morningside of Belmont, cancer patients and their families at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, refugee youth through The Nations Ministry, and women at risk through Rest Stop Ministries and Thistle Farms. The students presented their final projects at the end of the semester.

A Writing in the Community student hugs her community partners from Thistle Farms—the student created a braided memoir of their stories of healing.

The stories were written as part of a “Writing in the Community” course taught by Dr. Amy Hodges Hamilton, professor of English. The course aims to help students analyze their place within various communities and develop skills as a critical thinker and writer. Hodges Hamilton said, “All 21 students worked in powerful ways across the semester to restore humanity in their own and their community partner’s lives through writing. Social psychologist Judith Herman’s research supports the theory that the final stage in the overall healing or growth process only occurs when the survivor shares the experience with a community and begins to rebuild social ties… This collaborative project establishes community and bridges what might otherwise be viewed as a disconnect between student-writers and community members.”

According to Hodges Hamilton, this oral history project has the power to connect and restore humanity in academic classrooms and beyond. She shared one student’s report of her experience with the class project this semester:

“I wrote the story of my community partner’s life through weekly conversations, crafting her memoir one day at a time. Coming from a past community where her reality was minimized, she was eager to tell me all that had happened to her. I asked her permission to record audio of our time together, and would take it home to construct something I hoped she would be proud of. Her tragic story was difficult to listen to over and over, and she had given me all the details. For weeks, the heaviness of it filled me with compassion for her, and anyone with experiences like hers, and drove me to write her story well.”

Another student shared on Facebook about her time connecting with, and sharing the story, of a woman at Morningside. “As a writer, all I want is for readers and hearers of my words to be deeply moved. I’ve been meeting with Lynn almost every Wednesday morning for the past couple of months in the lobby of her assisted living home and slowly gathering her stories, writing them down with the fragility I only hope can honor them. Today I read the memoir I’ve been writing to my classmates and her husband of 50 years, Bill. It moved and humbled me to be entrusted with such a precious collection of memories.”