Teaching Advocacy

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I’ve been thinking a lot about advocacy.  In part because the current social and political climate seems to demand it.  In part because I have a long-standing investment in helping students see the FYC course as something relevant and real and not just a requirement to get through so that they can move on to courses which are more important and fun.


I’ve had the good fortune of teaching an upper-division course centered on advocacy a couple of times.  Here’s the course description I used:


This class will focus on advocacy, which we will define as rhetoric that does something.


To start, pick something you believe in—anything you believe in.  It might be a charity or cause that’s important to you (autism awareness, breast cancer, gay marriage) or it might be something you’re just passionate about (a local band, your homemade jam, hummingbirds, surfing).  The goal of this class is to teach you how to advocate for what you believe in through written, oral, and visual communication.


This class will teach you how to create change in the world around you.


The central project of the course was an “advocacy event” which combined written, oral, visual, and research components.  Students practiced these skills using “class-facing” projects intended for consumption by the class—including a design plan and an oral presentation—and “public-facing” projects intended for the world outside the class, including designing an awareness ribbon for their cause but most importantly the advocacy event itself.


I was always encouraged by the range of projects, all of which reflected students’ interests and commitments.  One student worked on bone cancer awareness, having lost her grandmother to the disease.  Another focused on a book drive for a literacy campaign.  And one promoted a friend’s band.  Some students clearly “played along,” choosing something they figured I would expect them to be interested in (you can’t win them all) but at the end of the day it remains one of the best courses I’ve ever taught because I felt like students learned how to use a range of composition skills to make a change in the world.


I’m hoping to teach that course again soon.  I’m also starting conversations with a colleague about a textbook centered on advocacy.  I’ll keep you apprised on both projects, but if you’ve had success with this kind of FYC focus, please let me know.  I’d love to hear how others have managed to get students to engage the world in very real ways.

About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.