Tag Archives: college

The Quadrangle of Discomfort

Flashback one semester

The college I teach at is very small. Think 900ish students. As such, the community is quite insular (not in a negative way).  The nature of the college (a triad of work, service and academics) further strengthens community ties. The students study together, pull weeds on the farm together, play together, dine together, spend weekends on service learning trips.  There are assigned dorms, but few seem to be in the correct room. The intensity with which the lives of the students are entwined is apparent in their essays, their class comments, the way a student hugs another student after a peer review.

Thus, sometimes it may be difficult to assign peer rotation of papers, especially in a nonfiction class.  Especially when the first assignment is a bio, an exercise in self-exploration.

“I’ll call it the quadrangle of discomfort,” says one student.  He has grabbed a dry erase marker and is drawing a diagram on my whiteboard.  Class is dismissed, and I’ve turned on WERS, streaming live from Boston, my old college radio station.  The student stands at the board, creating a geometric pattern as the Foo Fighters blare out over the classroom speakers,

“Do you have any other colored markers?” he asks.

I hand him red and green to add to his blue.

When he is complete it looks like an awkward pentagram, a Venn on steroids.  There are loops and squares. I’m still uncertain what he is drawing.

“Okay, Professor Hunter,” he says.  He is one of the few who insists on calling me simply “Professor Hunter” and not by my first name.  I’ve had this student in two classes already.  I know him well.  It’s fun to see him at the board, mimicking my job.

“What you have done,” he continues, “is assign these personal bios in the worst possible peer rotation.”

This is not the first time an uncomfortable peer rotation has happened.  One of my first years here brought a similar situation.  A student had grabbed a sheet of paper or napkin and detailed how the peers I had assigned had all been very close, but that the relationships were in flux, were currently strained or evolving.  That time it was a trio, and the student had drawn similar lines, but nothing as complex as the diagram now on my whiteboard.

Peer rotation is my nightmare.  When I earned my MFA, apparently, all of my math skills evaporated. In went Hemingway and Lahiri; out went macroeconomics. In went Winesburg Ohio and San Lorenzo; out went fractions. I am faced with creating a rotation for my students so that they do not have the same peer read their work more than once a semester.  I was happy with the foursome that I chose.  It was one of the first days, so I just lumped four students together into a peer group.

My student continues to explain his problem.  “Of these four students, you assigned two who were rooming together but then she dated his friend, and then she moved out and now he is with….” He is pointing to his drawing of overlapping circles and lines. The drama that has unfolded is, apparently, intense.

“Well then,” I say.  “You will certainly be able to have the…”  Here, I struggle with the word.  “Backstory to read one another’s work.”  I smile and add “Have fun with it!”



Write we write (part two)

Having asked my class on the final day of our media class. “why do you write?”

A wide range of thoughtful answers follow. Here are 4 favorites.

1. Such a complicated question.  Creative nonfiction makes me look at my life. Experience goes into me as a human…and then as a writer. It gives life a different purpose.”

2. “Excited about a good fresh story idea and putting something new into this world”

3.. “I write to enlighten.”

And my favorite for the sheer honesty and complexity of the answer is…

4. “I love to touch people. Love to affect people in a positive way….to make them think..but I hate, actually…people, so I have to write.”


I’ve a new piece up on The Smart at Drexel University.

The Smart Set From Drexel University

It is titled “In Defense of Stink”
The tag line/deck is “Is hippie hygiene a serious problem? Not if we can all embrace our natural odors…

I’ve wanted to write this piece for some time.  I find it unusual that our culture tends to not discuss body odor.

You may read it through this link.


The Spiderman Lunchbox Controversy, or the Perils of Being a Writer

Last week we discussed the PERILS of being a writer, not just any writer, but a writer for the media. I am the faculty supervisor for our college newspaper as well as a professor of media, and this question organically arose one day.  One true peril of being a journalist is that our words are out there in the public domain, available for consumption and scrutiny.  I use an example of a “harmless” article written by a staffer at our local paper, the Asheville Citizen Times, over 2 years ago.  The article can be found here and is titled innocuously, “As schools reopen in Asheville area, think outside the lunchbox”


The article’s premise is simple and can be found in the 1st two paragraphs.

“Before you have children, the thought of packing a kid’s lunchbox may seem like a no-brainer. But when you’re trying to feed your child in a healthy way day after day, week after week, year after year, the allure of PB&J quickly diminishes, and the risk of trading for Twinkies increases.With a little creativity and a system of rotating favorite foods so they never get boring, it’s possible to pack the lunchbox or brown bag with nutritious offerings that will keep your child fortified throughout the school day.”

Yet, the comments from this article range from the the commercial: “So now you’re promoting lunchboxes? A lot of parents can’t afford them.”  to the highly political: “A lot of parents can’t afford their children anyways. The kids should be taken away and given to people who can afford them. Mandatory birth control should be given to poor people so they don’t reproduce and create additional problems for those that do provide.”

I dub this “the Spiderman Lunchbox Conspiracy” and it serves a cautionary tale to my undergraduates. Thick skin, I preach…Thick skin.

Oh, and here is a link to some of the more colorful comments.spiderman comments