Online Forum on the Writing University - An Introduction

Sara Sullivan

Inspired by Iowa’s reputation as a major writing university, The Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies is excited to announce the beginning of an online forum on the everyday practices of writing in the University. The forum will feature experience-based, reflective and useful essays on how we teach and produce writing, from experiences in the classroom and as writing coaches to the composition of academic articles and publishing.

Our first two essays are “Wiggle Room and Writing” by Virginia R. Dominguez and “A University’s Writing Practices from the Inside Perspective of the Writing Center” by Carol Severino and Matthew Gilchrist. Both are engaging and thought provoking practice-based essays that bring to the surface the values and expectations that both explicitly and implicitly shape how writing is taught and produced at the University. Both essays provide insights that can be applied to writing pedagogy and practice, as well as provoke self-reflection about what we do and why.

Virginia R. Dominguez, now Gutgsell Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and formerly of the University of Iowa’s Department of Anthropology, writes from her experiences as a professor, writing coach, and as a shaper of scholarly discourse, especially as editor-in-chief of the American Ethnologist from July 2002 to June 2007. Dominguez’s essay discusses the forms and conventions of writing reproduced in scholarly practice, and her own experiences in both opening the American Ethnologist and reproducing a type of scholarly writing when selecting essays and working with writers in preparing for publication. Dominguez holds the reproduction of the form and “wiggle room” in a productive, and realistic, tension in this essay. Dominguez’s essay offers insight into conventions of scholarly writing, the purposes and values that inform those conventions, as well as reflection on how they get communicated or not, and ethical questions raised by different styles and approaches to scholarly writing.

Carol Severino and Matthew Gilchrist write from their experiences as directors of the Writing Center at the University of Iowa. Using data from the Writing Center’s online tutoring program, they classify the assignments they received from across the University based on the primary goal of the assignments rather than by subject or discipline. Their description of the types of assignments used in classes, along with the expectations and tasks of those assignments and the challenges students face when trying to meet them, provides valuable ways of thinking about and improving how we design writing assignments and communicate them to students.

These pieces mark the beginning of what we hope will become a continuing forum on writing pedagogy and practice at the University. Over time, we would like to present a variety of perspectives from across campus and across disciplines, illuminating the diverse spectrum of writing practice, pedagogy, scholarship, publishing, and collection/conservation throughout the university community. Please contact our editors if you would be interested in participating in this conversation.


Virginia R. Dominguez is Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, immediate past Editor of the American Ethnologist (2002-07), and forthcoming President of the American Anthropological Association (2009-2011). She is also Co-founder and now Consulting Director of the International Forum for U.S. Studies which moved with her from the University of Iowa to the University of Illinois in 2007. Author, coauthor, or editor of 8 books and dozens of articles many of them published outside the United States (including People as Subject, People as Object: Selfhood and Peoplehood in Contemporary Israel; White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana; and From Beijing to Port Moresby: The Politics of National Identity in Cultural Policies), she is best known for theorizing and analyzing cultural politics, public discourse, assertions of sameness and the reproduction of otherness (both in general and with particular attention to Jewishness, Israeli society, and whiteness). She is also the recipient of major fellowships and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the Social Science Research Council, the Mellon Foundation, the Harvard University Society of Fellows, the National Science Foundation, and the Fulbright Program. Her most recent recognition for teaching was the 2006 Outstanding Mentor Award (Social Sciences) presented to her by the University of Iowa Graduate College. Professor Dominguez, a native of Cuba, earned her Ph.D. at Yale University in 1979 in Social Anthropology, and taught at Duke University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, and the University of Iowa prior to moving to UIUC in 2007. Her special interest in Israel and Israeli Jewish society date back to her first visit in December 1979 and, prior to that, her times on the Lebanese-Israeli border in the summers of 1970 and 1971 when her parents lived in Beirut.

Matthew Gilchrist is the assistant director of the Writing Center at the University of Iowa. A graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, Matt was recently admitted into the Language, Literacy, and Culture Ph.D program. He leads the Fiction Writing and Reading Group in the Writing Center and devotes much of his free time to his family and taking care of their historic home.

As Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Director of the Writing Center and Writing Fellows Programs at the University of Iowa, Carol Severino teaches and writes about writing pedagogy, culture, second language issues, and travel. Her articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in various academic and literary journals and collections. She serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Second Language Writing and Learning Assistance Review and recently finished two terms with College Composition and Communication.