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When Student Writing Could be a Red Flag



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Jobs News and Views for All of Higher Education Inside 1 of 2 http www insidehighered com layout set print news 2007 Advertisement Sept 5 When Student Writing Could be a Red Flag As creative writing instructors have discussed how to respond to disturbing or strangely violent student writing in the months since the Virginia Tech shooter s bloody paper trail came to light many have pointed to the value of professional judgment But how does a new teaching assistant distinguish a legitimate artistic exploration of a violent or dark subject from a sign that a writer may be a danger and then if need be respond effectively Virginia Tech s creative writing faculty have formulated written guidelines for responding to disturbing creative writing which while applicable to all creative writing faculty were written with graduate teaching assistants in mind It may well be that the traditional way of dealing with disturbing writing relying on the sensitivity and intelligence of the creative writing instructor to respond to a troubled student is best says Ed Falco director of creative writing at Virginia Tech where professors had identified disturbing trends in senior Seung Hui Cho s creative writing and behavior before he killed 32 students and faculty in April At Virginia Tech however we have just come through a difficult time and the creative writing committee felt that under these circumstances it would be wise to offer advice to instructors especially young instructors on how to deal with the complicated issues raised by disturbing student writing Anecdotal evidence suggests that few creative writing departments have written guidelines dealing specifically with disturbing student creative writing although the protocol for responding seems fairly consistent across colleges albeit in a more informal guise The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill s approach for instance seems fairly typical F aculty members are in constant communication with each other about all manner of student needs and concerns certainly about individual as well as collective student health and safety the director of the entirely undergraduate creative writing program Bland Simpson wrote in an e mail We are all always on the lookout for disturbing or strangely violent student writing indeed anything that might merit involving the university s student affairs office and or counseling services in a given case though we have not gone the route of written guidelines on this subject Falco in fact says that Virginia Tech s guide largely outlines procedures that were already informally in place prior to the April massacre The document which Falco stresses is meant only to provide guidelines and is open for revision offers suggestions regarding when and how faculty members should speak with the student directly and when to involve department leadership the counseling center dean s office or university wide justice system The document also reflects the tightrope its drafters were walking



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