Stretching Beyond the Semester: Undergraduate Research, Ethnography of the University, and Proposals for Local Change, PURM 3.2

Beth Godbee, Marquette University, US
Jessica Bazan, St. John’s University, US, Marquette ‘14
Megan Glise, Marquette University Law School, US, Marquette ’14
Ariel Gonzalez, Simmons College, US, Marquette ‘15
Katelyn Quigley, University of Wisconsin Law School, US, Marquette ‘15
Brittany White, Marquette University, US, ‘15

At our institution, Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, “Ethnography of the University” is a writing-intensive English course in which students conduct semester-long, original, mixed-method research projects about some aspect of their undergraduate experience. Students move from asking questions of interest and importance to the campus community through stages of data collection and analysis and toward final reporting through multiple means: (1) article-length papers, (2) in-class presentations, and (3) research posters. Students present their final projects with concrete proposals for change at a campus-wide research poster fair, which students “run” each semester by bringing food, arranging the room, and publicizing the event. When students seek publication and act on their proposed changes, their projects also stretch beyond a single semester: though they begin in the course, projects often develop into extracurricular pursuits, independent studies, or advocacy work. Our article describes how this happens with examples of student projects at the center of the piece and advocates for the course framework of Ethnography of the University with an argument for ethnographic writing research as part of undergraduate curricula across the disciplines.

Together, the six of us, five undergraduates and one faculty instructor/mentor, share Ethnography of the University as a model for engaging undergraduates in meaningful and ambitious research about the student experience and the issues that matter deeply to all of us in higher education. We discuss how the course model can lead to projects that expand well beyond the traditional semester when motivated by students’ commitments, scaffolded through mentoring, and designed for both local and professional impact. For the co-authors of this article, as projects have grown beyond course assignments, opportunities for ongoing collaboration connected to presentations and publication have also arisen. As examples, several of us have presented at the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English annual convention; others have presented locally at a retirement community (through our department’s alumni/ae association); and still others have pursued publication through scholarly and trade publications. These are just a few examples of how a credit-bearing course can motivate beyond-the-course undergraduate research with wide-reaching dissemination and impact.

As readers might imagine, this process requires quite a bit of mentoring from different university members: from the instructor (outside the classroom, one-with-one and in small group), from colleagues (especially through ongoing peer reviews and co-mentoring), and from staff and faculty across the university (including program directors, administrators, and other faculty). As university representatives are brought into the research initially as participants and interview respondents, they also become connected with students’ unique projects and are often positioned to advise the implementation of students’ proposals. The significance of multiple mentoring relationships arises within and is very much infused throughout the undergraduate research experience gained through Ethnography of the University. We turn next to discussing this course model through the instructor’s point of view and then describe our institutional context before highlighting portraits of students’ research projects.

Beth (Instructor): Why This Course Model?
The course model of Ethnography of the University appeals to me, as a writing teacher, for a number of reasons. In line with current thinking about the teaching of writing (as represented, for example, in the 2004 “NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing” and the 2011 “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing”) and much ongoing research in the discipline of composition and rhetoric (e.g., Lu & Horner, 2013; Lunsford, Fishman, & Liew, 2013; Bean, 2011; Balzhiser and McLeod, 2010; Grobman & Kinkead, 2010), I want to teach that writing has real agency and purpose in the world. My goals include showing the links between writing and research; engaging students in ongoing revision and rhetorical re-purposing; and providing an audience and meaningful context beyond the course so that students aren’t just writing for the teacher or to meet course requirements. This course model helps me achieve these goals, and, perhaps more importantly, helps students to take ownership over their work and to see themselves as writers and researchers—identifications associated with power and status and, therefore, often not as students readily self-identify.

Though at Marquette I implemented Ethnography of the University as an upper-division composition course, my learning goals are not unique to this context or even to the teaching of writing. In fact, I initially learned about the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)’s Ethnography of the University Initiative in 2006 when developing a first-year writing course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison titled “The First-Year Experience” in collaboration with the university’s Center for the First-Year Experience. When workshopping my draft syllabus, several other instructors responded, “This looks like UIUC’s program. Have you heard of ‘Ethnography of the University’?” That question led me to learn about how this high-impact learning practice could be offered for students in their first year and scaled to reach students across a large university. If UIUC’s course could engage and speak to students across majors and colleges, as first-year composition courses need to do, then it could also be taken up and shaped within disciplinary contexts, as I do when teaching the course as part of Marquette’s Writing-Intensive English major.

In fact, the value of asking students to question, research, and write about university life translates to many disciplinary contexts, especially in the social sciences and humanities: from sociology to communication studies, from history to public health, from theology to social work. Ethnography of the University can be taken up in research methods courses that many disciplines offer (e.g., Hunter, 2011; Meacham, 2013), as well as in writing-intensive or communication-focused courses such as this one under discussion. We know the course can introduce first-year students to their universities, as it does at UIUC, or engage students more deeply in their campus communities, as we do at Marquette. But it can just as easily be used as a capstone experience to help students translate what they’ve learned during college into their professions and future workplaces.

Ethnography of the University has such cross-disciplinary appeal and potential because it accomplishes what can be difficult in more traditional courses: sequencing and scaffolding assignments so that they complexity. Students know going into the class that they will produce writing in multiple forms, for multiple audiences. Other versions of Ethnography of the University ask for just one of our three final products. At UIUC, for example, first-year students write papers that they contribute to an institutional archive so that their work is read and cited by other students. At Marquette, we address genre knowledge across the forms of paper, presentation, and poster toward teaching rhetorical flexibility. Specifically, as students transfer their knowledge across genres, they develop rhetorical vocabulary, audience awareness, an eye for design, and experience with multimodal composition. They learn to do the difficult work of translating text and ideas from an article to an oral presentation to a poster and back again.

They also continue researching and acting on their projects through student-sponsored initiatives (e.g., continuing research on one’s own time or through institutional structures such as an independent study or research grant) as well as through opportunities I arrange for students to create poster exhibits[1] in the English Department hallways and to submit final projects for publication in Marquette’s Institutional Repository, or e-Publication. When searching for literature on “Ethnography of the University,” what little we found primarily discusses collaboration between these courses and libraries (Davis-Kahl, 2012; Furlough, 2009; Hunter et al., 2008). This is likely because digital collections provide a clear outlet for students to share their work publicly and beyond the semester. It is also likely because library staff are often some of the strongest supporters of undergraduate research. Publication in our campus e-pub has been a significant and motivating factor in encouraging students to revise final papers and to keep writing after final due dates.[2] And local publication goes a far way (though we continue to think about how to do more) toward showcasing undergraduate research and bringing attention to students’ proposals for change.

The Role of Mentoring
Accomplishing these varied goals and making publication possible involves frequent one-with-one conferences and intensive mentoring throughout the semester, beginning with initial brainstorming sessions the first week of class and concluding with exit interviews during finals week to encourage continued research and advocacy. As a writing teacher, I am fortunate to have small classes so that regular (five or more) conferences during the semester are possible. Often instructors worry about the time-intensive nature of undergraduate research, and these worries are quite fairly born out of overwork (e.g., heavy course loads or responsibility for large lectures).

Yet, many instructors also spend hour upon hour with teaching-related work at home reading papers and writing comments on drafts, and this time can be shifted to real-time conferences that involve students in reading their drafts aloud and taking their own notes about what is working well, what needs development, and what can be rethought or revised. When student-teacher conferences are approached like writing center conferences (in other words: meetings focused on conceptualizing, conducting research, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing), the time-intensive nature of this work can be shifted from at-home to in-person work, which I find to be the most enjoyable part of my teaching life.[3]

In addition to these conferences, mentoring emerges through in-class writing workshops and peer reviews, as well as written feedback on midterm and final portfolios (compilations of the work across assignments). Some students choose to co-author their semester-long projects, and they are intimately involved in peer mentoring through the collaborative writing process. Others receive and provide peer mentoring with their writing group members. Frequently, students in this class become friends and meet out of class to work on their projects and to give each other feedback. I teach the use of Google Docs, Google Hangouts, and other collaborative software to make out-of-class collaboration easier, and these emergent mentoring channels are significant to providing just-in-time knowledge and collegial support.

These mentoring structures additionally include professional networks students develop as they conduct ethnographic research and as they reach out to people who have stakes in and insights into their projects. When students need to understand how a program works, for instance, they contact the program director and meet in-person; later this same director might attend the research poster fair and agree to help implement proposed changes or even to supervise the next phase of research. In this way, the semester-long projects grow beyond the semester as students find others who support their research. I feel certain that these extended and new mentoring networks are enabled by the practice students gain in conferences speaking regularly with a faculty member (me) and as they share these passions with others, including colleagues, faculty, and administrators, who endorse the value of and need for their work.

Student Agency
This range of mentoring is important, too, for students to engage in the ethnographic practice of “studying up,” or studying people, organizations, or structures with greater institutional power (anthropologist Laura Nader called for ethnographers to “study up” as a way to counter the tradition of social science fieldwork conducted “on” disenfranchised peoples). Because Ethnography of the University asks students not only to research and write about pressing matters in higher education but also to propose and help implement local changes, the course links writing with agency and with understandings of power. Anthropologist Gina Hunter (2011) argues, for instance, what I also have found true: “By providing opportunities for students to share their original research with [local] audiences, we teach students about the real stakes of authorship and scholarship” (p. 20).

I’d add that Ethnography of the University additionally teaches students to see themselves as powerful and agentive within structures that can be especially dis-empowering to undergraduates. Some students especially struggle to see themselves as having a voice or a right to “study up” and “speak up” within our university, and so the mentoring networks provide something crucial: when people institutionally positioned with power sponsor or encourage these projects, they entitle students to become researchers and change-agents in ways that, as a course instructor, I can advocate in only limited ways.

In the discipline of composition and rhetoric, we are concerned about how writers become empowered to speak and write strongly (e.g., Lu & Horner, 2013; Heller, 1997; Cushman, 1996; Bartholomae, 1985), and I am finding through Ethnography of the University that the greater the mentoring networks, the more likelihood students will truly come to see themselves as writers with the ability and even responsibility to write for action in the world. Shifting students’ visions of themselves to agents responsible for researching, writing, and acting is absolutely essential for facilitating projects that stretch beyond the semester. Only when students feel ownership over self-sponsored research will it continue beyond the course, as we will see in the next section.

Our Institutional Context
Institutional context undoubtedly matters when considering a course like Ethnography of the University, which engages undergraduates in institutional research and change. Our institutional context at Marquette University is shaped by the Catholic, Jesuit identity and the mission statement, which describes “the search for truth, the discovery and sharing of knowledge, the fostering of personal and professional excellence, the promotion of a life of faith, and the development of leadership expressed in service to others” (Marquette University). Marquette is a predominantly white university in Milwaukee, one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in the nation. Marquette’s student population contrasts with the structure and demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods, which are predominantly African American and Latina/o.

The city—and Marquette as part of the city—continues to suffer from the well-established precedent of racial segregation and larger systemic racism. The need exists, therefore, for all members of Marquette—faculty, staff, and students alike—to explore and intervene into the circumstances of campus and community. As faculty engage students in real investigations into these circumstances, we all, faculty and students, gain a deeper understanding of our role not only in fulfilling the Jesuit mission but also in intervening into everyday and systemic inequities, which student projects seek to address in various ways.

Portraits of Student Projects
In what follows, we share some of the undergraduate research projects that emerged from the course and that continue to have real impact locally at Marquette. Five of us—Ariel, Katelyn, Brittany, Jessie, and Megan—share representations of our research posters and then discuss our individual research projects, proposals for change, and work beyond the semester. By sharing these projects, we hope to show the range of work undertaken through the Ethnography of the University model, the need for this type of undergraduate research, and the publications and proposals made possible through mentoring.

We also describe various types of mentoring, which provided guidance toward questions worthy of exploration, shaped the direction of the projects, and helped establish the project’s significance for our campus community and for others exploring similar questions. We believe, therefore, it is important for mentoring to occur throughout the process—from coming to a research question to seeing that question taken up to seeking and receiving feedback on drafts along the way to having additional encouragement for continuing the research even when presenting findings. Further, we hope readers notice the cross-disciplinary and communication-intensive nature of these projects and imagine how Ethnography of the University might be adapted to their own disciplinary and institutional contexts. Specifically, these projects illustrate how students can speak from special positions within universities—from a vantage point beneficial to number of disciplines.[4]

Ariel: Be the Difference, Just Don’t Be Different: Investigating Racial Diversity at Marquette
As a Latina woman, my interest in racial diversity stems from pride for my Mexican culture and awareness and interest in other cultural backgrounds. As a Marquette student, I have become extremely aware of the lack of racial diversity at the university. Every day, whether in class or walking around campus, I see lines of separation among students. The division between white students and students of color is visible and noticed campus-wide by students and teachers alike. I began to wonder about the reasons behind the noticeable divisions and why, seemingly, no one has brought the issue to light or made much-needed change. This initial curiosity led to my decision to explore the issue of racial diversity on campus and how it is accepted and integrated into the community.

Gonzalez poster

To investigate racial diversity, I interviewed students and faculty, recorded my observations of campus life, and read widely on matters of race and racial segregation in higher education. I found that racial divisions are acknowledged by all the students I interviewed, yet the next step—working against racial segregation—does not seem to be a pressing matter for the majority, for students gravitate to where they are comfortable and choose not venture outside of their comfort zones. Though the enrollment of students of color has increased annually, our presence is still only a small portion of the Marquette student population.

Working with Beth provided me with a professor’s perspective and guidance about the types of questions that needed to be asked to address the lack of racial diversity and integration. Throughout the semester, we met several times as I gathered and reported my findings. Face-to-face interactions were especially beneficial when I was undecided about how to use the data I collected. Beth’s insight supported many of the issues discussed in interviews, and I felt comfortable enough to express concerns and ask for her assistance. The conferences were valuable for more than just writing my final paper; they were also helpful when I was presented with questions at the end-of-semester poster fair. The conversations that I had engaged in previously, either with Beth or with peers during class time, had prepared me to explain my findings and to say what can be done to bring change to the university.

My working relationship with Beth has continued to thrive long after the semester ended. She has helped to influence future projects that follow the same line of questioning and has guided me to various resources as I have continued in my work. Further, my project opened the issue to a wider audience. I have found that others who have read or talked about my research have expressed interest in continuing the discussion, which needs to happen to promote change.

Though the semester’s research has ended, my work has not. I have taken my project into the campus writing center, where I have begun interviewing faculty and staff at Marquette to compare and contrast their viewpoints with students’. Specifically, in fall 2014, I did an independent study focusing on the role and influence of race in the Norman H. Ott Memorial Writing Center. To date, I have been published through Marquette’s e-Publications and presented my poster at Marquette’s first-ever undergraduate humanities conference in spring 2014. Going forward, as I continue collecting and analyzing data, I also plan to submit my work to an undergraduate research journal that reaches beyond Marquette, such as Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, with the hope of influencing change beyond Marquette’s campus.

Katelyn: Marquette: Be the Difference (But Read the Fine Print)
My project examines the Jesuit value of an urban education and the way in which the university contradicts itself in sending messages, both directly and indirectly, to students that are in opposition to this value. As my research progressed throughout the course of a semester, the project expanded to include an exploration of the role of race and racism in the formation of the “Marquette Bubble,” an invisible yet powerful construct on campus that creates a distinct disconnect between the Marquette campus and the surrounding city of Milwaukee. To explore this construct, I took field notes of observations around campus and interviewed fellow students. I also compared Marquette with other urban Jesuit institutions around the country in regards to students’ perception of “safety,” citing a study about these perceptions and online comments made by students at different universities.

Quigley posterThe writing and research processes were intensive, continually developing and evolving throughout the semester. A capped class enrollment made it possible to establish collaborative relationships with peers and a mentoring relationship with Beth, both of which were greatly beneficial. Such relationships allowed for continual discussion of projects, for the resolution of questions and obstacles to research, and for the generation of new ideas. For example, working with intentionally structured peer mentoring groups allowed for time and space to discuss research topics and findings extensively. With the advantage of working alongside peers who were pursuing similar or related research endeavors, I could ask questions, raise challenges, and make revisions. In addition, meeting on an individual basis with Beth took these in-class discussions even further, as she challenged us to continually and critically examine our work and to consider perspectives different from our own that strengthened our work. This classroom environment and teacher-student mentorship gave my project depth and enabled the overall research process to happen smoothly and successfully.

At the conclusion of the course, I felt that there were several aspects of my project that remained to be explored. First, I cannot help but notice the glaring difference in perceived safety between Marquette and similar Jesuit universities throughout the country. Marquette students report a lower sense of perceived safety on campus than students from comparable universities, and so I want to dig deeper to find what accounts for this and what makes Marquette unique in this regard. Second, upon review of student interviews and feedback, I have become curious about how Marquette students receive their primary information regarding the university, the city of Milwaukee, and overall safety. I want to explore if the existing approach could be altered to give a more accurate and equitable report. Third and finally, after seeing race arise as an additional topic of research throughout the semester, I want to explore a daunting question, along the lines of Ariel’s: what can be done toward removing racial barriers existing both on campus and in the city?

These additional research questions remain to be answered, as I am in a transitional phase between completing the course requirements and continuing my research beyond the classroom. I am pursuing both an IRB protocol and a project partnership with fellow Marquette student and co-author Brittany White. Our respective projects respond to similar problems, and we are hoping to collaborate in order to further explore campus-city relations.

Brittany: We Are Marquette. Are We Milwaukee? An Ethnographic Examination of the Relationship between Marquette and Milwaukee
My investigation into the relationship between Marquette University and the neighboring Milwaukee community began as an academic requirement of this course, but because of my community service experiences, I was highly motivated to engage in this research endeavor. I had numerous questions and wanted to gain a deeper understanding of why so many students appear to be so resistant to becoming involved in the city of Milwaukee. When I entered this course, I neither expected to engage in an ethnographic examination of the life, behaviors, attitudes, and rhetoric of those at Marquette, nor did I imagine the incredible interest and passion I would develop for research. These unexpected but beneficial outcomes stem from the collaborative, supportive assistance and mentoring I received while a student in Ethnography of the University and as I transitioned out of this class-guided undergraduate research to increasingly independent investigation and analysis.

White posterMy initial paper and research project provide insight into how student attitudes and dialogue as well as university actions and rhetoric directly influence the manner in which Milwaukee residents perceive Marquette, its campus environment, and its concern for educating students regarding real issues facing the city. Through a process of obtaining and analyzing data from observation field notes and in-depth interviews, I contrasted student and administrator perspectives with community members’. This research led me to identify problematic language and actions in Marquette’s presentation of the city to students and other stakeholders. In contrast, I also gained a deeper understanding of strategic plans to modify this problematic language, to strengthen Marquette’s relationship with the community, and to encourage students to develop a more comprehensive understanding of what Milwaukee has to offer. My initial proposal for change centered on a shift away from a service-learning model and toward a community-based learning model, which reflects a mutual relationship between students and community members.

Beth’s guidance and mentoring were essential as I worked to develop my research question. I began the semester hoping to investigate how the university’s discourse around community service impacted students’ attitudes. Beth encouraged me to consider a number of theories and practices as I shaped my primary research question to read: What is the nature of the relationship between Marquette University and the city of Milwaukee? Extending this question, I asked: If we call ourselves Marquette and identify—even equate ourselves—with its Jesuit values and ideals and also call ourselves Milwaukee and claim to identify with the Milwaukee community, then how and why do we estrange ourselves from our neighbors and community partners? How can we expect students to identify with Milwaukee if we, as an institution, recognize neither the possibility for partnership nor the manner in which we inhibit this relationship?

Throughout the semester, I worked with Beth to establish an active IRB protocol for obtaining interview data and recording field notes. Through a process of one-with-one conferencing, Beth became a mentor in my development as a writer in a unique way—one which would not have developed to the same extent without the research project as the impetus. We formed a unique relationship around the writing itself; that is, during conferences, Beth relied on practices such as encouraging me to read my writing aloud so that we could examine not only the content of the writing, but also the syntax, grammar, and structure.

Further, she continually encouraged me to seek a deeper connection between the content of my writing and its significance for the university as a whole. As a double major in Writing-Intensive English and Social Welfare and Justice, I am constantly striving to synthesize coursework for myself, while revealing the interconnected relationship of these disciplines to faculty, administrators, and advisors across departments. This project has allowed me to merge my areas of study, to invest in relationships with faculty across disciplines, and to continue this line of inquiry.

My understanding of the importance of a faculty mentor increased dramatically, as my research also shifted direction last fall from a purely ethnographic study to a statistically-based analysis of survey responses through my “Methods of Social Research” class. That is, additional coursework in research methods increased my understanding of the development of research questions, the use of instruments, and the various techniques of data analysis, enabling me to make continued progress toward publication of my research findings. With that goal, I am now writing for an academic journal related to community-based learning. In the coming months, because I have collected a significant amount of qualitative data, I will begin anew the process of “writing up” my study. Finally, with my new understanding of the importance of collaborative work and co-authoring in the professional world, modeled by faculty mentors), I will explore the possibility of co-authoring with Katelyn Quigley, who is also interested in campus-community relations and how Marquette students are insulated within the “Marquette Bubble.” Together, we continue to explore ways to burst this bubble.

Jessie: Marketing the Mass: Engaging Marquette Students in the Liturgy
Throughout my undergraduate education, I have worked for Campus Ministry and have noticed a lack of observable participation at Sunday Masses, so I used this class project to begin an investigation into how Campus Ministry can better the liturgical experience (i.e., the feelings and observations encountered during Catholic workshop service) for students. My research focused on establishing the general importance of liturgy, defining liturgical engagement, and documenting past and present student liturgical engagement at Marquette. I combined naturalistic observations with a number of in-depth interviews, particularly with campus ministers and students, and I read widely on matters related to liturgical experiences and public relations.

Bazan posterMy initial findings suggested there is a rich liturgical history at Marquette and potential to cultivate an engaged liturgical community at present, but in order to do so, Campus Ministry must be intentional about its hospitality efforts and relational networks. After talking with Beth, I realized early on that this research would reach beyond the four-month course, as there were too many important areas to explore. Through her mentorship, Beth helped me develop an action plan to continue this research during my remaining three semesters at Marquette. She first suggested approaching College of Communication faculty to ask if they would support an independent study and/or internship program for my research. Beth and I then worked together to compile a list of magazines and theology trade journals, such as the DePauw National Undergraduate Conference Journal and St. John’s University School of Theology Obsculta, to which I could submit my findings.

In the semester immediately following “Ethnography of the University,” I created an independent study entitled “Communication and Liturgical Engagement.” With substantial background research already conducted, I created an action plan to actually get students engaged in campus liturgies. Researching college culture trends and communication theories helped me to better understand why students have stopped coming to Mass and to investigate effective ways to invite them back. As a result of this independent study, three ways for college campus ministries to strengthen their liturgical communities became evident: use consistent Mass promotion, offer regular faith formation, and emphasize hospitality. I submitted a paper with my findings to an academic journal and presented my findings to Campus Ministry. Although Beth was no longer my official advisor for this project, she continued to offer support and writing feedback.

My work has also continued beyond this first academic year, as I am now completing a year-long internship in Campus Ministry to implement my liturgical engagement plan. I took an active role in creating and updating social media accounts to help promote campus liturgies. For the formation piece, I helped create a new weekend retreat for Catholic students, holding the role of student director for the February 2014 “Salt and Light” retreat. In order to cultivate a more welcoming and invitational experience, the campus liturgy team worked to make hospitality our liturgical goal and focus for the year. Survey and observational data from fall semester Masses indicate that students feel the sense of community is an important factor when determining which Mass to attend. We shared this insight with our presiders, ministers, and congregations. Finally, I submitted an article to U.S. Catholic magazine as a way to share this research with a national audience. The editors accepted my article, and it appeared in the September 2014 issue. My research on liturgical engagement, all of which stemmed from “Ethnography of the University,” was an integral part of my undergraduate academic career and a formative start to my professional writing and ministerial career.

Megan: Contesting Sexual Assault on Marquette’s Campus: A Look into Student Misconceptions, Its Implications, and Possible Solutions
The project I initially produced and published addressed the following question: How can the Marquette community raise awareness of the prevalence and seriousness of sexual assault on college campuses? After analyzing observations from social settings and reading widely on sexual assault and prevention programs, I proposed possible solutions toward increasing student awareness of the seriousness and prevalence of sexual assault on campus. Through personal reflection, formal observation, student interviews, expert interviews, and scholarly research, I identified recurring themes that appear to influence student perceptions and thus behaviors conducive to sexual assault.

Glise posterWhile many universities, Marquette included, have policies regarding sexual assault, it is not the policies alone that need to be reformed. Instead, it is students’ behaviors and perceptions of sexual assault that must be addressed. Education and awareness are key to changing student perspectives, and for this reason, I proposed a three-pronged plan focusing on education, resources, and communication. In terms of education, I recommended a mandatory class for all first-year students that would provide information regarding sexual assault, administer a rape myth attitudes evaluation, and include bystander intervention training. As to resources, I suggested providing brochures and other tools in a highly frequented place, such as the bathroom, to ensure that information is easily accessible, so that students know where to find this information if they or someone they know has been sexually assaulted. Ultimately, however, the most effective way to raise awareness of sexual assault is through ongoing communication. Encouraging communication among students, faculty, and staff can be impactful, as people can discuss their own experiences, values, and ways to bring about change.

Since completing my project and proposing these changes over two years ago, Marquette University has since implemented various sexual assault policies and programs. Changes include sexual assault educational programs for all first-year students, bystander intervention training, and self-defense training. Similarly, the University has encouraged students and faculty to discuss sexual assault through the implementation of an annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week. For me personally, my continued interest in sexual assault has shifted from an ethnographic study to a quantitative, statistical-based study focusing on the prevalence and characteristics of sexual assault in Milwaukee County. The guidance and knowledge I received in Ethnography of the University as well as the knowledge I gained in several Criminology and Law Studies courses have led me to become involved in this larger collaborative study.

In completing my personal research as well as merging this research with a larger collaborative study, I have developed significant relationships with criminology, sociology, and composition and rhetoric professors who have all acted as my advisors in completing such research. As my research requires extensive drafting, I have met with these professors on an individual basis more frequently than I have met with professors of non-research-based courses. Ultimately, such frequency of meetings (6+ times per semester) not only helped me develop my talents as a researcher and writer, but also led to personal friendships. Mentoring, as a key component to “Ethnography of the University,” opened the door to the development of such relationships, and ultimately these relationships as well as my interest in sexual assault resulted in my involvement in research that stretches far beyond the semester. Looking forward, I plan to continue my research in the coming years, likely focusing on legal aspects of sexual assault as I work towards the completion of my Juris Doctorate.

Learning Across and Beyond Disciplinary Contexts
These five projects provide evidence for and suggest the importance of course projects that stretch beyond the semester, that invite students to become researchers of their own experiences, and that bring attention to the need for advocacy and ongoing research by undergraduates. Hunter (2011) argues that this course model succeeds in engaging students with learning that lasts well beyond any assignment and instead inspires ways of thinking and acting that become lifelong habits:

Teaching students to investigate and think critically about the university is one way faculty can prepare them to be engaged and critical stakeholders in the institutions that will organize their lives long after they leave campus. Universities, likewise, can become more responsive and responsible organizations by listening carefully to their own students’ inquiries and insights. (p. 41).

In our case, we see evidence that Marquette’s university community has immediately benefited from this research. From engaging students in the campus faith community to promoting racial diversity to strengthening campus-community relations to developing stronger sexual assault programming, our projects suggest the importance of student-researchers acting on what they value and helping to bring about real institutional change. Moreover, we are hopeful that the questions asked, the habits learned, the advocacy practiced through this undergraduate research experience stay with students long after graduation and as we continue to act in the world.

Through Ethnography of the University, students discover that their words have importance, their research has an audience, and their ideas, when acted upon, have consequence. This course works, therefore, to inspire meaningful research for social change. Across disciplines and academic departments, this course model has promise for inspiring leadership, informed action, strong communication, methodological grounding, social awareness, and committed living. Projects aren’t limited to courses or semester calendars, as work for equity and justice is similarly ongoing and ever-needed. We hope that more universities, more departments, more instructors take up this course model, as the undergraduate researchers here attest to the need for their voices, the power of their research, and the value of deep mentoring relationships with faculty and community.

[1] Hunter (2011) argues that, among its many benefits, Ethnography of the University can “harness students’ unique knowledge of and special position within the university while, at the same time, helping them question the often taken-for-granted aspects of their university experience” (p. 20). While Hunter sees this benefit from the disciplinary perspective of anthropology—and what students have to gain by conducting fieldwork where they are located—we similarly see this benefit for writing studies, as students are developing ways of seeing their world and themselves within it that allow them to write strongly.

[2] As professionalizing experiences, the research poster fair and subsequent hallway exhibit help students practice talking with stakeholders, advocate for their proposals, and advertise their written work. As sponsoring or initiating events, the fair and exhibit do more than any instructor or single reader ever could do to encourage students to continue their research: when others show genuine enthusiasm for the work, students are far more likely to see the importance of what they’re doing. For instance, the research poster fair often marks a turning event when students decide to pursue independent studies, to seek other publication venues, and to act on their proposals for change. And the hallway exhibit extends this momentum over the course of several semesters, as students bring their friends and family members into the department to tour their work.

[3] Publication provides the added benefit of encouraging subsequent students to read previous projects, to cite other undergraduate researchers, and to continue in the same vein of research, thereby advancing important areas of inquiry (e.g., about campus-community relations and the transfer student experience). In many cases, this local publication provides students with their first publication opportunities, sparking the excitement of writing for a real audience and of contributing to wider scholarly conversations.

[4] Of note in this discussion of conferencing, students regularly report in feedback forms, in-class discussions, and end-of-semester evaluations that these conferences (read: face-time with a faculty member) are significant for learning about research, for feeling they can achieve what’s perceived as unachievable, and even for building a sense of belonging within the department and university. Though five conferences are required, many students elect to schedule additional ones, signaling the value of these meetings. In some cases, we meet weekly or bi-weekly throughout the semester. In the case of Ethnography of the University, these one-with-one conferences provide an infrastructure for ongoing and intentional faculty-student mentoring to support sequenced and scaffolded assignments.

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Hunter, Gina, Nancy Abelmann, Timothy Cain, Timothy Reese, Tim McDonough, & Catherine Prendergast. (2008). Interrogating the university, one archival entry at a time. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 40(5), 40-45.

Hunter, Gina. (2011). Students study up the university: Perspectives gained in student research on the university as institution. Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, 12(1), 19-43.

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Lunsford, Andrea A., Jenn Fishman, & Warren M. Liew. (2013). College writing, identification, and the production of intellectual property: Voices from the Stanford Study of Writing. College English, 75(5), 470-492.

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Meacham, Sarah. (2013). Redesigning undergraduate education as ethnographic project. Anthropology News.

Nader, Laura. (1972). Up the anthropologist—Perspectives gained from studying up. In Dell H. Hymes (Ed.), Reinventing anthropology (284-311). New York: Pantheon Books.

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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. (2013). Ethnography of the University Initiative.


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