Seas – How is a proposal like a virus?

Seas’ text is one I’ve encountered before, in Digital Rhetoric. In the context of digital rhetoric, Seas’ ideas about viral “stickiness” and an “ecology of writing” apply to the spread of messages within the digital sphere (such as with memes or viral videos). In the context of Writing for Change, Seas’ message applies to the systems through which ideas (ideas about changes) spread and are adapted into the discourse of the system (Transylvania), shaping the system itself. In Digital Rhetoric, I asked the question of the class, “How is a meme like a biological virus?” I will now ask the same question of the proposal and presentation that our group will deliver to Dean Bryan on May 16.

Transylvania’s networks and hierarchies of power and administrative organization might be seen as parts of an organismic whole. Living organisms keep growing and changing all the time. Ideas that create this change must work their way through the hierarchy until they’ve “infected” the entire organism. Our proposal is like a virus that we are attempting to spread throughout this organism. Seas offers a plethora of strategies for going about this effectively. For one, it involves making a message memorable: structuring attention (such as in a sit-down meeting) through education and repetition, and giving the audience a chance to participate in the message.

Second, this involves diffusion. Our idea needs to make “the biggest leap… from the early adopters to the early majority, whose acceptance then makes the innovation not only suddenly popular but eventually normative” (57). Rogers suggested we need to frame our innovation “to make it more legitimate to the skeptical early majority” – make it sticky, as Gladwell says (57). This line in the text made me recall Lakoff, whose descriptions of Republican frames in “Don’t Think of an Elephant” opened my eyes to trope-filled worldviews that can repel any idea negating that worldview. Another way Seas explains this is “lowering a person’s threshold” to make them “more susceptible to influence for that particular contagion.” We need to remember that “what spreads is the rhetoric,” not the practice (58).

When our message is conveyed to Dean Bryan, we need to find a way to make it “stick.” I believe our idea on its own would be harder to make stick because we are approaching a single administrator who is not already invested in the idea of recorded meetings. However, what ALL administrators are already invested in is the wellbeing of students and the (perceived) transparency of Old Morrison. The existent “rhetorical frame” within which we can weave our proposed “practice change” is the idea that transparency and a culture of trust are paramount administrative concerns. We must demonstrate that this culture is currently weak or does not exist, which is why our next step is to collect anecdotes and evidence. If we can picque Dean Bryan’s interest by emphasizing her pre-existing participation in that rhetorical frame, and demonstrate how our tangible offered solution fits within that frame, then schwop – it’ll stick.

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Questions for Serenity

  1. Based on your own interactions, what is the current administration’s philosophy on transparency and accountability between them and students?
  2. What do you know about faculty and staff allyship when it comes to confidential meetings and proceedings? Are students encouraged to bring allies with them to meetings with those who are helping to resolve an issue?
  3. If a student came to you to bring up a complaint or issue, personal or otherwise, needing resolution, what would be your course of action? What kinds of people would you refer them to? Would you point them to any resources or forms?
  4. What’s the difference between the student judicial system, the Title IX reporting system, and the red flag reporting system? Are there any other complainant channels you’re aware of?
  5. How can students ensure their voice is listened to at their school?

Questions for Teddy

1. Who are your greatest faculty or staff allies when you want to organize an on-campus activism event? Off-campus?

2. How did you organize the Buzzfeed-spurred protest in alumni plaza a few years ago? Did you face any challenges, and if so, what?

3. Do you believe the university is responsive and supportive of student activism?

4. What were some of the most rewarding moments you’ve had in organizing activism events? What kinds of events are the most satisfying?

5. What role does writing play in your efforts?

6. What changes do you hope to see on campus in the years to come?

Stakeholder Investigation

The stakeholders in our issue are administrators who take part in judiciary and complainant meetings with students. VP of Academic Affairs and Dean of the University Laura Bryan (who also spearheads Title IX) and DPS Chief Greg Muravchick are main stakeholders due to their involvement with student safety and legal implications of student conduct concerns. Dean Covert, Dr. Sheilley, President Carey, and other Vice Presidents are non-priority stakeholders. Hannah Piechowski and the new Residence Life Director might also be considered stakeholders due to their close ties with student conduct.

Dean Bryan operates under President Carey, who operates under the Board of Trustees. As such, she has a great amount of sway in the university’s policy. The other VPs are on the same plane as Dean Bryan, but focus on other branches of concern primarily. The residence life directors work directly under Dr. Sheilley. Chief Muravchick works closely with the student judicial system as the primary contact for enforcing Transylvania’s policy and any outside laws.

I have discussed issues like recording on/off the record with stakeholders through my interactions with Rambler interviews. I am sure all administrators listed understand how important it is that their words are quoted correctly and that no thing said in an interview is taken out of context. In a legal context, issues of confidentiality by law may interfere with the amount of liberty they have to alter policy. However, as a private school, policymakers still maintain some level of control over what information appears and is released where and when. I have encountered this truth via The Rambler as well.

Approaching stakeholders with a proposal to “keep them in check” may be tricky, but if we keep it balanced between student and administrator responsibility, I’m sure we will have respectful conversations at the very least. The worst that can happen is an unchanged problem. I think the only risk in supporting this change and then it not passing, for administrators, is a new hardening of attitude against student efforts to hold them accountable. This already a risk they run in supporting this in the first place, as brand and image are two top concerns of the current administration, leading to less focus on transparency. I am not worried about risk to myself, as I am graduating soon. However, I am worried about putting returning students at risk for possible increased pushback. This can be avoided through kind approaches, lack of targeting, founded evidence, and emphasis on equal responsibility.

Pitch Proposal: Expand Our Historical Preservation Efforts

Perry Gaugh was the brother-in-law of Gideon Shryock, the famous Kentucky architect whose family owned the land on which Transylvania sits now. In 1852, Perry bought a piece of land from his other brother-in-law, Cincinnatus Shryock, to build what we now informally refer to as the International House.

Perry’s final resting place was in the Old Third Street Episcopal Cemetery, across the street from the Lyric Theatre.

This was Perry’s headstone in 2011:

gaugh 2011

And this is Perry’s headstone as of November 2016:

gaugh 2016

This man, the original constructor of a 175-year-old house on our campus, has a headstone decaying and eroding less than half a mile away from the edge of BSC. Not only that, but it’s attached to the London Ferrill Community Garden, an endeavor in which Transy already partners. It disappoints me, and that’s why I want to change it.

In an era of Transy where new dorms shimmer in the sun and 21st-century skills reign in the educational sphere, the preservation and celebration of our long and rich history has flown under the radar and become lost in the discourse around our storied institution. We are the oldest college west of the Allegheny mountains, founded before the Revolutionary War, witnessing over 235 years of American history, and yet I have to dig through library books and Kentucky archives downtown to discover our rich and fascinating history. I propose that we take action to expand effort to preserve and celebrate Transylvania’s history within our research, donation, and community engagement channels.

The administration will be receptive to this idea because it strengthens one of our finest “selling points” to prospective students: how old and tradition-based we are. Students visiting campus will have the opportunity to feel like they are part of a “great story.” It will also increase pride and a “Pioneer first” attitude among current students, because the school’s history is something that ties us all together.

This project will also expand our community consciousness. Volunteerism and research efforts encourage students to go off campus and learn more about the history that surrounds them every day. It will also get students more plugged into the city of Lexington, potentially increasing retention.

This action project could encompass several smaller line items. First, funnelling our volunteer efforts into preserving the historical area around us. This includes:

-assisting in the upkeep of the Episcopalian Cemetery on Third Street and Cove Haven Cemetery (an African Cemetery appended to the Lexington Cemetery)

-assisting in the upkeep of the cottages and BGT houses around campus’ perimeter

-partnering with the Northside Neighborhood Association

Second, commissioning statues that honor historical alums who define what it means to be a Pioneer (first African-American attendee, first female attendee, a world-changing alum, Constantine Rafinesque, Happy Chandler, etc. Research is needed here! Check this out: https://www2.transy.edu/diversity/still_overcoming.htm). Funding for these can be reached through:

-annual senior class gifts

-alumni contributions, similarly to the way Alumni Plaza was funded

Finally, working to expand the body of knowledge about past ages of campus so that these stories aren’t lost to time. This can also be done through several channels:

-Library. Create work study positions or internships with Special Collections that focus on gathering archival material, creating a “Transylvania Timeline,” or archiving past Ramblers (from 1917)

-Student newspaper research. Get The Rambler to expand multimedia projects and coverage to topics that focus on historical stories from our community

-Student research. Partner with history classes, senior seminars, etc to develop projects that will expand knowledge about particular local topics

The beauty of my proposal is that we have enough flexibility to decide what line items are feasible and which are not over time. We can discard the statue idea in favor of simply research expansion, or we could focus on cemetery preservation only.

This project is flexible, feasible, and important in a multitude of ways. I hope you’ll join me in keeping Transy history alive through visibility and preservation.