Raab Writing Fellows Program Inspires Student Voices

By Zach Rosen   |   June 25, 2020

A college education consists of more than just a degree and a major. University time allows a student to discover which issues are meaningful to them and develop the voice that will continue into their career. The Raab Writing Fellows Program within the Writing Program at UC Santa Barbara is helping students find that voice. Funded by UCSB Trustee and esteemed writer and poet Diana Raab, this program offers an opportunity of collaboration and mentorship to a select group of students in a variety of majors. Each student is free to choose their topic of interest and receives one-on-one guidance as they develop their idea over the course of a year. This program culminates in a final project that presents an interdisciplinary body of writing in a variety of mediums including websites, research papers, and zines, among other formats. Twenty-four students participated this year, representing the largest group the program has ever seen. The love and support the students have for each other’s work was apparent as they met this past week on Zoom to present their final projects to a group of professors, mentors, and peers. The teleconference format was a sign of the times but so was the broad range of meaningful topics the students chose to focus on. Topics spanned from gender and sexual identity issues to racial injustices, the harmony of voices represented in these projects reflected the complexity of the conversations currently taking place in the country, with the well researched, data-oriented reasoning one typically finds in academic writing.

Given that the students came from a multitude of majors and were free to choose their own topic, the projects covered various subjects from a variety of angles. While the role of cultural identity, race, and effects of immigration were common topics, the different projects exhibited the intricacy of these conversations. Sheila Tran produced a longform journalism project unearthing the origins and impact of Vietnamese Culture Night, a notable part of the Vietnamese cultural identity. In “Metamorphosis” by Emily Nguyen, the history of Vietnam War immigrants and their experiences in America are explored through a collection of introspective essays that place these topics in both a personal and broader context. Melody Roth focused on the idea of liminality, the ambiguous state of identity, of mixed-race individuals growing up in America. Ebelechukwu Veronica Eseka explored the role of immigrant and international students’ names and how these have affected their experiences here.

Jaymes Johnson crafted a series of poems and essays that weave a personal story of his experiences with life and death, the racial injustices he has witnessed, and his memories of growing up as a gay black man. Many of the projects had this personal or family influence, reflecting the messages that mean the most to their creator. Emma Demorest produced a scripted comedy series about an 80-year-old and recent graduate living as roommates in the Bay Area. This unlikely duo stems from her own experiences of living with an 80-year-old, who has become one of her closest friends. Growing up with a younger sister on the autism spectrum, Jocelyn Lemus-Valle chose to focus her project on support for students on the autism spectrum in higher education, identifying the silent needs of these students in colleges. Her website addressed these topics, examining professor awareness and thoughts on the issue, as well as directing viewers to resources and information.

The program encourages an interdisciplinary approach with students incorporating several art forms and writing styles into their finished work. Hannah Jackson combined data and shared stories in a three-part blend of essays and an accompanying zine that focused on the financial and emotional impact of reproductive health and menstrual hygiene services and the presence of slut-shaming within the campus and its healthcare facilities. Various forms of media were present and the popularity of the podcast format was apparent with several projects using this platform to bring meaningful conversations to a wide range of topics. Kisakye Naiga even wrote a musical, complete with a musical score, titled “More Than This” that details the lives of four young black women as they enter college. Ector Flores-Garcia chose the unique form of a choice-based video game directed towards helping students and young adults with suicidal impulses to garner support and understanding from those around them. Once completed, the video game will be accompanied by artwork and music. The students’ projects remain in varying levels of completion due to the extra layer of complexity the quarantine has brought to everything, however the program website will be updated as their work is completed. One thing is clear, these students are well equipped to meet the challenges the world is currently facing and will bring their own voices and style to the conversation.

Visit raabwritingfellows.com for more information and to see each of these twenty-four impressive projects.


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