Opinion

A writing tip for Hamilton College: there’s room for improvement

By Marcos Sotelo ’15

February 28, 2013

Hamilton College prides itself on being a writing school. The College goes as far to claim on its website that it is “a national leader in teaching students to write effectively.” Others seem to agree. Recently, USA TODAY College placed Hamilton College second in its “Best 10 American colleges for writers” list. If such emphasis is placed on writing, then where is it? The writing on campus exists, but is not emphasized. Academic writing, in the form of argumentative essays, is prevalent in most classes at Hamilton College. There is no doubt that Hamilton College teaches students to write analytically, but the problem lies in the lack of diversity in the writing that is taught. Where is the scientific writing, journalism or even workshops for screenwriting? If Hamilton College truly were a writing oriented school, then the focus on writing would not only be stronger, but more well rounded as well. To further establish Hamilton College as a writing oriented institution, change must occur by restructuring writing intensive courses, establishing courses promoting other kinds of writing and placing further emphasis on the English departments.

There is a general consensus among the student population that, with the exception of a few courses, most of the other writing intensive courses do not focus on writing at all. Instead, the professors in these courses assign about four papers throughout the semester, the extent of their writing instruction. Marie Murray ’15 “think[s] it depends on which professor you have. Most of them baby you while others make it writing intensive.”  The quantity of papers being assigned is not the issue. Rather, the problem is that the writing is not emphasized. By this I mean there is neither instruction in writing analytically, nor any focus on the improvement of one’s writing.

Furthermore, the writing intensive courses, and even the writing in general, are not diverse enough to allow students to develop their writing in the field they are interested in. According to Linnea Hattery ’15, a geoscience major, “[science majors] may write a lot of lab reports, but I don’t think the sciences encourage writing or work to improve writing at all.”

As a writing oriented school, why don’t the science departments place such emphasis on teaching students how to write as scientists? Merely writing lab reports does not improve one’s writing. If the professor is focusing on the numbers rather than the written text itself, then the students’ writing is not even taken into consideration.

The majors and courses that Hamilton College does not offer further exemplify this inadequate diversity. One example of this deficiency is the lack of opportunities for journalists. We have publications ranging from The Spectator to The Duel Observer, yet Hamilton College fails to provide either a journalism major or journalism courses. Journalism is a popular method of writing, yet it is not even taught here.

Rightfully so, the Creative Writing Department provides a wide range of writing, from playwriting to non-fiction. A large portion of the humanities incorporates a wide range of writing into their classrooms regularly. Yet, one can see the lack of emphasis placed on writing even by the buildings on campus. The newly renovated Science Center caters to the natural sciences while KJ houses the social sciences. All the while the humanities, almost treated as an afterthought, have little buildings scattered throughout campus. These buildings, albeit aesthetically pleasing due to their colonial architecture, do not provide the same equipment that the Science Center provides.

The study of the humanities might not need Bunsen burners, but a laboratory designated for these studies is not an esoteric thought, as is exemplified by Stanford University’s Literary Lab. Stanford, according to their website “discusses, designs, and pursues literary research. [They] engage in a variety of projects, ranging from dissertation chapters to individual and group publications.” Adding a similar literature laboratory to Hamilton College would provide exceptional opportunities to improve one’s writing skills and allow students’ work to be showcased, very similar to how summer research projects are displayed on large posters in the Science Center.

There is a clear bias shown on this campus toward certain concentrations, which is slowly being leveled by the building of The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art and the upcoming studio arts and theatre building. Still, since Hamilton College is a writing school, one cannot help but ask: when can we expect this same funding for the humanities?

In the essay “From Work to Text,” Roland Barthes writes, “what the (secondary) School prides itself on is teaching to read (well) and no longer to write.” Barthes then goes on to explain that professors, conscious of the deficiency in writing, attempt to fix this repression by their misunderstanding of what it means to teach students how to write. Let’s not make the mistake Barthes is warning against. To lead Hamilton College in the right direction, changes must be made.

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