May 6, 2019

DEMASSA & DELGADO | Sun Columnists’ Reflections

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We’ve written about making dining halls safer for those with allergies, discarding iClickers, discrimination at an alumni conference and lofty student election campaign promises. After eight columns, a slew of emails — both accordant and contentious — and letters to the editor, we now see writing in a whole new light. Those that Facebook has nominated as The Sun’s “Top Fans keep us on our toes.

As columnists, we read other columns religiously, follow campus politics and the latest with President Martha Pollack, and stay up to date with the manifold events that have unfolded on campus this year: the introduction of American Sign Language, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the 50th anniversary of the Willard Straight Takeover and various movements for climate justice, housing and mental health reform.

It was not until we became columnists that we realized why student organizing matters in addressing the intersection of campus interests and identities. Writing columns has allowed for conversations on inequity and injustices to be forced into the public sphere for debate. Our job is not done well if it elicits responses from only those in complete agreement or complete disagreement. Rather, we’ve strived to start a back-and-forth conversation emerge between the two, sometimes deeply divided, sides in any argument.

From writing our columns we’ve garnered a sense of who our audience is and an awareness of the diverse experiences and opinions that people hold on campus. Gradually, as with all writing processes, this sense of our audience has become more and more internalized to us. Now, as we write columns like this one, we actively try to imagine how our readers will respond, their questions and their objections. This allows us to better account for where our opinions rely on assumptions or faulty logic. All the more, it enables us to see our ideas in conversation with those around us rather than in seclusion.

Through sharing our ideas and hearing others’ responses to our writing, we have learned to stick to our convictions, but not so steadfastly as to preclude the ideas and perspectives of others. Sometimes, we find common ground with a contrasting point of view, or reconciliation with a seemingly opposing idea. Sometimes not, but that’s okay.

Ultimately, through writing our columns and unleashing them to the callous social media commons, we have found our own voice and creativity — a confidence in ourselves as writers and active participants on campus. It was no smooth sailing at first. We had many long hours spent brainstorming ultimately fruitless ideas, writing, and re-writing and writing more. The first letter to the editor scathing our column wasn’t without its growing pains. We’ve learned not to rush our column, but to give it the time it needs to be written. We’ve learned to look to the students around us to look for novel column ideas. Most of all, we’ve learned to take criticism in stride and be open to opposing views.

Writing as joint columnists has been equally rewarding. Through collaborating, our understanding of writing has shifted. English Prof. Andrea Lunsford at Stanford University sums it up best: “This shift involves a move from viewing knowledge and reality as things exterior or outside of us, as immediately accessible, individually knowable, measurable and shareable — to viewing knowledge and reality as mediated by or constructed through language in social use, as socially constructed, contextualized, as, in short, the product of collaboration.”

Given that we are writing for a student newspaper — its raison d’être to open and encourage discourse on our campus — we felt it was important to emulate the dialectic process within the production of our column itself. We’ve learned how to weigh differing opinions, question our assumptions and defend our beliefs. At the end of the day, our “double take” is representative of the two of us, bridging the gap between our own experiences.

In our future semesters at Cornell, we hope to tap into unheard stories on campus and to include a wider range of student voices within our columns. We hope to dive deeper into each issue that we tackle, perhaps through incorporating more student interviews or running an in-depth column series that focuses upon the many sides of a single issue.

So, yes, we have just spent 704 words talking about our own experience as columnists, and yes, we hear your voices echoing in our heads: “What does this matter to me?” Here’s our point: As columnists publishing for a campus-wide audience of administrators, students, alumni and other groups, we have become all the more appreciative of our medium — writing. There is a value in writing that we often see written-off by college students, dismissing their freshman writing seminars or general flippancy about essay writing. Our final words this semester are to invite our readers to invest in their own writing, whether personal, for a publication or for a course.

Over time, writing turns our voices from hesitant, reluctant and doubting to bold and provocative. In putting your ideas on paper, reflecting, revising and inviting the responses of others, a more thoughtful, more aware version of ourselves emerges. We become attuned to heterogeneity over homogeneity, diversity over monotony.  We cook up a new sense of confidence. All in all, those who write more become better writers. Better writers become better thinkers and better speakers. Writing and speaking go hand in hand as we learn to articulate ourselves and organize our flustered thoughts. So, handle each assigned essay with pride, seek out opportunities to write (application essays and personal statements will do), visit one of our six writing centers or even write a guest column for The Sun. At the end of the day, a community of writers is a better, stronger, conversant collective.

Laura DeMassa and Canaan Delgado are sophomores at Cornell University. They can be reached at [email protected]. Double Take appears every other Tuesday.