Who Are the “Chronically Online” and What Can They Teach Us about Public Discourse?

by Avery KnottPhoto of Avery Knott

Avery Knott is a management major with a concentration in marketing from Sturbridge, MA. Avery writes that, “as someone who has grown up with social media as a constant throughout my life, I’ve begun to feel more and more distaste towards the apps and websites that have partially defined my social experience.” She has noticed that “particularly since COVID, interacting with people in person did not reflect the interactions she was having and seeing online.” She enjoyed the freedom that this paper allowed, and shares that “being able to explore a topic in depth that interests me was a freeing opportunity I haven’t had previously.” Avery also enjoys films — her favorite is Apocalypse Now — and has an extensive thrift DVD collection. She is saving money to travel to Europe and New Zealand after graduation — and hopes to delete most of her social media at that point.

On the 21st of October 2022, Daisy Beaton, a beauty company owner, tweeted the following message, “my husband and i wake up every morning and bring our coffee out to our garden and sit and talk for hours. every morning. it never gets old & we never run out of things to talk to. love him so much” (Beaton). What a sweet message from a woman who loves her husband! Right? However, the reaction from her mutuals on Twitter was very different from what you may expect. She received replies such as: “Who has time to sit and talk for hours everyday? Must be nice.” And “I wake up at 6am, shower and go to work for a shift that is a minimum of 10 hours long. This is an unattainable goal for most people” (Williams). Daisy even received comments criticizing her relationship such as, “I’m happy for you but it’s just smug, self satisfied bragging if it’s true. Your partner is most likely embarrassed by the tweet, or at least should be” (Just Interested). And “You haven’t been married long have you?”

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably shocked by the reaction that this innocent Tweet provoked. You’d probably also be shocked to learn that it’s not an isolated event. In a now deleted Tweet, singer/songwriter Mitski said, “I wanted to speak with you about phones at shows. … Sometimes when I see people filming entire songs or whole sets, it makes me feel as though we are not here together” (Gordon) The response was fiery and hateful, with twitter users calling her “elitist” and “ableist,” claiming her comment was “insensitive to people who struggle with disabilities like hearing/vision impairments or memory related disabilities like ADHD and depression, and are filming for that reason” (Gordon) One Twitter user even replied “Bestie that’s great and all, but some of us have mental health issues that cause dissociation & i film to remember the moment. i’m not looking at my phone the entire time just to press record on” (Gordon). The examples go on and on. There was a person who was criticized as insensitive because they posted about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (Braindead Bird App) and certain people have allergies, the woman (i bless the rains down in castamere) who was labeled as misogynistic for making her male neighbor a bowl of chili, the spreadsheet (“Someone”) listing historic and modern authors and citing reasons they were “problematic,” and TikTok creators who were told not to speak Spanish because they were “colonizing it.”

Personally, I felt that during the Covid lockdowns is when I first began to see conversations like these circulating more and more frequently. Now, it seems nearly impossible to avoid these “chronically online” posts, as they are frequently labeled in popular culture. “Chronically online” is the official term used by the internet for individuals who spend an incredible amount of their time online, and are addicted to the internet. Chronically online interactions are characterized by individuals calling out other’s behavior as “problematic” or who treat generally normal behaviors in a nonsensical way (Al-Heeti). Seeing an increasing number of online interactions like this made me extremely concerned. It seems to me that no one can have a normal conversation or interaction anymore. No matter how innocent or unassuming the comment, someone always seems to find a way to claim that the author is a racist, misogynist, ableist, or any other “-ist” you can think of. Why was this happening? How were these types of unintentionally absurdist conversations becoming the norm in online communities? Do the frequencies of these online interactions affect the way we interact in real life? How will these types of behaviors affect impressionable children who spend a large amount of their time online? The more I sat with it, the more I knew that I had to look into this. I needed to find out whether these types of chronically online interactions could seep into our everyday lives. Perhaps they have already. I don’t want to imagine a world where casual water-bubbler chat could easily morph into cries of racism or misogyny. What causes the chronically online to exist, and what threat do these chronically online interactions have on our everyday communication?

Quickly I learned that I was not the only one noticing this trend, and I was not the only one upset by it. In an article about the chronically online titled “Every Chronically Online Conversation is the Same” author Rebecca Jennings describes her own frustrations with these types of interactions. She claims that navigating these interactions has turned into a sport, describing how “it’s become something of a sport to unearth these sorts of replies, the ones where strangers make willfully decontextualized moral judgments on other people’s lives” (Jennings) Jennings also claims that these types of interactions became increasingly popular during Covid because “our collective thirst for gossip and controversy, particularly during and post-lockdown, has trained many to actively seek out content that aggravates us and immediately grasp onto its most extreme interpretation” (Jennings). She goes on to argue that chronically online interactions all are conversations that would never happen in real life. Finally, she concludes by calling for peace and asking people to recognize the absurdism of these behaviors. She even puts blame on the platforms themselves, saying: “People in their regular lives don’t react this way to things. It’s only on platforms where controversy and drama are prioritized for driving engagement where we’re rewarded for despising each other” (Jennings). Jennings calls the chronically online opinions wrong and blames their existence on platforms that prioritize outrage in order to keep people on their applications for longer. But does social media have the power to cause a real-life public discourse shift?

Doug Fodeman would argue that text messaging plays a greater role in any sort of communication shift. In his article “The Impact of Technology on Socialization and Communication Skills,” Fodeman points out an alarming trend he’s noticed in the younger generation: the preference of children and teens to resort to text messaging for important or emotional conversations. He describes interviews he conducted with middle school students that revealed situations such as a 5th grade boy who was too nervous to talk to a girl he was interested in, so he used a chat room and email to communicate with her. There were 7th and 8th graders who used social media to lash out angrily at someone because they didn’t want to risk the conversation in person. And even a 6th grader whose feelings were hurt because she felt excluded from a group and chose to lash out in a group text instead of speaking to the person face-to-face about hurting her feelings. Fodeman argues that this reliance on text is extremely damaging to a child’s development because:

Texting is devoid of so many important aspects of human interaction! It strips away the inflection of our voice, our body language, our facial expressions, and our ability to assess and respond in real-time as a result of these challenging interactions. Engaging in tough life conversations not only builds our communication skills, but arguably, this active participation also serves to help build our self-esteem and self-worth. (Fodeman)

Fodeman believes that the more children learn to rely on text and IM for important conversations, the less prepared they will be for the world around them when they are grown. This trend may be more alarming in our younger generations, but it certainly isn’t confined to them. Older adults are also becoming much more reliant on text or IM for interacting, a dangerous trend that conditions people to rely on these “easier” forms of communication, rather than taking conversations face-to-face and being forced to think and respond in the moment, right in front of one another. The less we talk face-to-face, the less we are able to properly communicate our feelings and thoughts to one another when in a real-life conversation. Just like with playing an instrument or practicing a sport, when we talk to each other less, we fall out of practice.

Between text messaging and social media, the younger and older generations are simply spending too much time online, when they could be engaging in real life conversations. This phenomenon is detailed in S. Adam Seagrave’s article “The 50/50 Problem: How the Internet is Distorting Our Reality” where Seagrave discusses “the 50/50 problem” where “more than 50 percent of Americans spend more than 50 percent of their waking hours living in virtual, artificial worlds rather than the given, created one in which their bodies exist” (Seagrave). The 50/50 point was reached sometime around 2015 and is likely much higher now in a post-pandemic world. Seagrave argues that this 50/50 problem represents a serious societal tipping point, saying, “When most people are living most of their lives in worlds other than the real, common one they share with their fellow citizens, they are rendered unable to find common ground on issues of policy or principle” (Seagrave). He also points to the fact that the 50/50 point was reached right before the now infamous 2016 Presidential election and argues that the increased screen time directly resulted in political radicalization, caused by “a more thorough and profound social dislocation and crisis of information than humans have ever encountered before” (Seagrave). Seagrave also argues that the idea of the “world wide web” is dead and the internet has ceased to be a connecting resource; it has instead grown to separate people more than it brings them together. He concludes the article by calling for the government to address the 50/50 problem and argues for widespread reform.

Rebecca Jennings has proposed that social media platforms are the ones that perpetuate this crisis, and she believes that these chronically online interactions don’t exist face-to-face. Doug Foderman theorized that people’s propensity to shy away from confrontation and rely on text was concerning if not outright dangerous. And Adam Seagrave believes that the 50/50 problem represents a dangerous tipping point that leads to polarization and division. These theories made sense to me, but yet I still felt like I had only scratched the surface of this topic. I still had the feeling that I didn’t fully understand what was causing the chronically online to exist. I wanted to know if there was any data or studies that supported these theories. I needed to know to what extent these issues had the capability to impact the real world, the face-to-face world that we exist in, as well as how we interact with each other. What power do the chronically online have once they have left their online world?

When wondering why time spent online may be correlated to radicalism, something called the “echo chamber effect” may help fill in some cracks. Matteo Cinelli, along with a team of researchers, first proposed this “echo chamber effect” in their paper “The Echo Chamber Effect on Social Media.” They analyzed over 100 million pieces of discourse on four major social media platforms, more specifically controversial political topics and how much reach they were given by the algorithm of each social media platform. They also analyzed how users on each platform react and interact with certain types of content. Ultimately, they concluded that, “the aggregation in homophilic clusters of users dominates online dynamics” (Cinelli 5). Basically, they determined that across all platforms, people collected themselves into groups that agreed with all of the same political opinions that they did. This behavior, they argue, created the echo chamber effect. The echo chamber effect is what they title the tendency of social media users to aggregate in like-minded groups. Cinelli et al. defines social media echo chambers as:

environments in which the opinion, political leaning, or belief of users about a topic gets reinforced due to repeated interactions with peers or sources having similar tendencies and attitudes. Selective exposure and confirmation bias (i.e., the tendency to seek information adhering to pre-existing opinions) may explain the emergence of echo chambers on social media. (1)

Overall, this means people online naturally have the tendency to only communicate with people who believe the exact same things that they do. Because of this, their opinions are never challenged, and they never get an opportunity to hear the other side say their piece. Thus, their own opinions are reinforced and strengthened. This is how radicalism may develop from social media use. The more time people spend on social media, the less time people are exposed to other opinions, and the more they believe their own ideas are 100% right, and everyone else’s ideas are 100% wrong.

I now understand how people may be radicalized by the internet, but how may that affect the way people think and interact with each other in real life? A theory first proposed by philosopher Jean Baudrillard may help explain. In “Power and Politics in Hyperreality: The Critical Project of Jean Baudrillard,” Professor Timothy W. Luke explains and examines Baudrillard’s theory of “hyperreality.” Baudrillard defines hyperreality as “the fabricated system of meaning that limits human participation in the world to the role of consumer or responder, rather than producer or initiator” (qtd. in Luke 347). Essentially, hyperreality is a system or world in which people are forced to do nothing but consume what’s around them (both literally and figuratively), whereas reality is the real world that we exist in, where people are freely able to consume or produce whatever they want. A great example that Baudrillard often gives of hyperreality is Disneyland. Disneyland is a place where visitors quite literally are meant to consume everything around them. They buy Disney toys, tickets for Disney rides, Disney food, Disney everything. The important part of Baudrillard’s hyperreality concept is that not only are visitors physically consuming what’s around them, but they are also mentally consuming it. Disneyland is its own small hyperreality within the greater reality we exist in, because visitors don’t have to ever imagine this desirable fantasy world. They can simply consume the fantastical images and ideas and characters that Disney has created for them, and suddenly they are in that world. When in Disneyland, visitors do not have to produce anything using their imagination, all of the dreams and fantasies they could ever ask for are being spoon-fed to them by Disney via the characters, the landscape, the buildings, all of it. As Luke summarizes, “Baudrillard shows how human needs increasingly have no autonomous basis in an authentic conception of humanity outside of sign-driven commodity exchange. In hyperreality, needs are instead grounded in the prepacked expectations of cultural codes conveyed to individuals as part and parcel of their aestheticized duty to consume” (367).

So, what does this theory have to do with how people interact with the internet? The internet is a perfect hyperreality according to Baudrillard’s theory. People on the internet are free to consume videos, tweets, stories, information, or whatever else they can find. The internet is a free safe haven from reality. On the modern internet, you never have to think or use your imagination at all. One can simply scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll their favorite social media sites and never have to think a single thought of consequence. Baudrillard argues that involving oneself in a hyperreality is a dangerous and worrying rabbit-hole of a way to spend your time. He argues that people can quickly lose sense of what is real and what is hyperreal, and the more time spent within the hyperreal world makes it harder and harder to distinguish reality from fantasy. When you never leave the hyperreal world, who is going to challenge your views on life? If someone was born and raised in Disneyland, and they never leave Disneyland, who is there to tell them that Tinkerbell and Snow White aren’t real? This operates the same way as the internet does. If someone spends all of their time online, who is there to tell them that people don’t interact the same way in person that people do on Twitter? Who is there to explain that these chronically online interactions don’t exist outside of the internet?

You may be wondering, what happens when people do leave their hyperreal world? It’s impossible for them to never be exposed to outside opinions, right? When people do, on rare occasions, exit their niche existence where everyone agrees with the same things they do, arguments happen. The types of arguments and conflicts that began this paper. Online arguments do happen, and when they do, they are often explosive and fiery. “How dare anyone have a different opinion than my own!” is generally the gist of the argument. But why don’t we see arguments like these reflected in the public discourse? Do these online arguments carry into the real world? The answer to this is a resounding no according to “‘Arguments Online, But in School we Always Act Normal’: The Embeddedness of Early Adolescent Negative Peer Interactions Within the Whole of Their Offline and Online Peer Interactions.” Conducted by a team of psychologists from the University of Antwerp, the study followed a large group of preteens and evaluated their interactions with others online, as well as their interactions with their peers at school. The study was able to determine that: “Due to the particular affordances of digital technologies, such as the potential to be anonymous, 24/7 availability, lack of parental supervision, and less non-verbal cues, the way adolescents interact with each other online often differs from their offline interactions. (Pabian, et al. 2) The students interacted very differently online than they did in person. It was determined that online they had:

different or exaggerated online versions of behavior, compared to how they act offline. This phenomenon has been explained by the ‘online disinhibition effect’: When individuals go online, they often behave less restrained than they would in an offline context. In this way, adolescents’ online behavior is governed by other rules and expectations than their offline behavior. (Pabian, et al. 2)

When people are online, all sense of consequence is removed from their actions and words. When you don’t have to look someone in the eyes, and can stay anonymous through a profile picture, it becomes much easier to be nasty or irreverent to those you are interacting with. This “online disinhibition effect,” when combined with the echo chamber effect that causes a radicalization of thought, leads to these chronically online behaviors, which are incredibly disconnected from reality. The study describes that online arguments and fights were rarely carried over to the offline world, noting that:

The lack of continuation of online negative peer interactions in the offline environment was explained by the experienced disconnection between online and offline communication styles. Recurring in the interviews was that when adolescents had conflicts online, the next time they met each other face-to-face, they often acted as if nothing happened. (Pabian, et al. 9)

The fact that the online arguments were rarely carried over into the offline world just proves that these online arguments are ones that do not, (or cannot) exist in the real world. Saying mean things to someone is 100 times harder when you have to look them in the eye while you say it. That, paired with the absurdist topics that these chronically online arguments are often about, leads to a type of interaction that simply does not occur in real life. These concepts are absolutely not exclusive to adolescents. The types of discord that happen on the internet cease to exist when people are face-to-face.

When you take all of the information together, a worrying trend appears. Most of the average person’s waking hours are spent consuming information from an internet that is designed to parrot back one’s own ideas and thoughts, leading to a radicalization of thought that is disconcerting and widespread. Arguments and discord that happen online do not exist in real life. When these ideas are considered along with Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality, we’re left with a population that may not understand how to properly interact with one another in reality. This, taken in tandem with the 50/50 problem, poses a dangerous reality. We know people are spending more than half of their waking time online, but what happens as that percentage increases? What will the world look like when the average person spends 90% of their waking hours online? The less time that our population spends in reality, the harder it will become for the population to distinguish reality from the hyperreality. The “Arguments Online, But in School We Always Act Normal” study shows that at the moment, people tend to snap back to normalcy when they interact in real life. But what will happen to the world when we only spend a small amount of time in the real world? Will people snap back to normal interactions in 20 or 30 years from now, or will the chronically online interactions that are confined to the internet spread into our face-to-face discourse? What kind of future will high levels of internet use lead to?

Curing the chronically online is possible through one avenue: change the incredibly addictive algorithms that are used on social media sites. This would allow people to spend less time online, so they can become reconditioned to interacting with people in real life social situations. In order for that to become a reality, more research needs to be done. While looking into this topic, I found an overabundance of research relating to how social media can cause political polarization and radicalization but struggled to find a single paper on social media’s effects on general discourse. More research is needed to understand exactly how social media has the power to not just create far right and far left leaning individuals, but also how it can create people who are unable to maintain a mundane conversation without bursting into outrage. The exact effects social media has on people’s personalities and neuroticisms needs to be looked into, ignoring any political ramifications. It’s also important to find out the long term effects social media use can have on impressionable children, especially as they grow into adults who have spent no part of their life without the constant entertainment source that the internet provides. It is through further research of this type that we can better understand the discourse that social media has created and understand where our society may be headed if no changes are made.

Works Cited

Al-Heeti, Abrar. “’Chronically Online’: What the Phrase Means, and Some Examples.” CNET, September 9, 2021.

Beaton, Daisey [@lilplantmami]. “my husband and i wake up every morning and bring our coffee out to our garden and sit and talk for hours. every morning. it never gets old & we never run out of things to talk to. love him so much.” Twitter, 21 October 2022.

Braindead Bird App [@tragicbirdapp]. “possibly THE twitter moment.” Twitter, 10 Oct. 2022, 3:22 p.m.

Cinelli, Matteo, et al. “The Echo Chamber Effect on Social Media.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 118, no. 9, 2021, pp. 1-8.

Fodeman, Doug, and Alison Moerland. “The Impact of Technology on Socialization and Communication Skills.” Brookwood School, Brookwood School, 7 Feb. 2022.

Gordon, Eden Arielle. “A Beloved Indie Rocker Asked Fans to Put Their Phones down. Then Things Got Ugly.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 24 Mar. 2022.

I Bless The Rains Down in Castamere [@Chinchillazllla] “several guys moved in next door, students I guess. and I’ve gotten two confused doordash drivers for them in the last week, and their trash can was completely overflowing with pizza boxes. i don’t think they cook. i am feeling such a strange motherly urge to feed these boys.” Twitter, 7 November 2022.

Jennings, Rebecca. “Every ‘Chronically Online’ Conversation Is the Same.” Vox, Vox, 7 Dec. 2022,

Just Interested [@JustInt22415587]. “What is the purpose of this communication? Im happy for you but it’s just smug, self satisfied bragging if it’s true. Your partner is most likely embarrassed by the tweet, or at least should be. That is unless you are flogging something.” Twitter, 23 October 2022.

Luke, Timothy W. “Power and Politics in Hyperreality: The Critical Project of Jean Baudrillard.” The Social Science Journal, vol. 28, no. 3, 1991, pp. 347–367.

Pabian, Sara, et al. “‘Arguments Online, but in School We Always Act Normal’: The Embeddedness of Early Adolescent Negative Peer Interactions within the Whole of Their Offline and Online Peer Interactions.” Children and Youth Services Review, vol. 86, 2018, pp. 1–13.

Seagrave, S. Adam. “The 50/50 Problem: How the Internet Is Distorting Our Reality.” Public Discourse, The Public Discourse, 3 Apr. 2021.

Someone on Twitter made a list of problematic writers.” Reddit, 18 Aug. 2022, 12:31 p.m.,

Williams, James [@jamesyjables]. “I wake up at 6am, shower and go to work for a shift that is a minimum of 10 hours long. This is an unattainable goal for most people.” Twitter, 22 October 2022.

Do You Know Who You Are When You Write?

by Lynn-sarah GeorgesPhoto of Lynn-Sarah Georges

Lynn-sarah Georges is a business management major with a concentration in finance. She is Haitian-American and was raised in Medford, MA. Lynn-sarah says that this essay was important to her “because I had never felt like it was accepted or okay to write in my true voice in an academic setting. I feel passionate about ‘knowing who you are when you write’ because that feels like activism in the classroom.” As a student who speaks English, Haitian Creole, and French, it is important to her that she is “not only writing in my own voice but also being able to use academic techniques to bring attention to a student’s identity in writing.” Lynn-sarah states that “as a woman of color, this essay was not just special to me, it was me. This essay was me, and every other black and colored student in the classroom.” Lynn-sarah is the first of three children, from an immigrant and single-mother household, and she credits her family, and religious beliefs, for her passion to speak up for those around her.

Gettin’ to Know Harris
In my opinion, Joseph Harris makes the best argument for the use of intertextuality in your writing. In simple terms, intertextuality can be defined as the relationship between all texts. His entire project is based on explaining to writers why we “always write in response to the work of others” (1). In other words, every text is a response, in one way or another, to another person’s idea. Harris values intertextuality and believes that we should “move in tandem with or in response to others, as part of a game or dance or performance or conversation” (4). That is, in order to grow as writers, it is vital that everything we say is either in response to or to contribute to what somebody else has said. This is what forms the chain of writing we call: intertextuality. We can capitalize on intertextuality not by restating what they have said, because in the long run if everyone just repeated what was said before, the conversation would go nowhere. Instead, we can explain the other texts’ ideas, and then use our own voice to build on the conversation.

We can build onto the conversation by “coming to terms” with other people’s texts and using our voices to add to the conversation (Harris 14). Harris explains the idea of “coming to terms” with a text as such: to come to terms with a text you have to give the writer credit for their ideas whether or not you agree with them personally. Then, you have to re-explain what you think they were trying to say from “the perspective from which you are reading it” because “each of us comes at what we read through our own experiences and concerns, and so each of us makes a slightly different sense of the texts we encounter” (Harris 16). Harris is very intentional about how he defines “coming to terms” with the different texts we encounter. Many times, in his project he emphasizes that we are only able to do these things, such as “coming to terms” with other texts and contributing to the conversation, because we are all “slightly different” (Harris 16). In writing, Harris describes this as voice.

Burke’s Conversation Theory
I can better explain these concepts of intertextuality and voice through an illustration explained best by Kenneth Burke. Burke presents the idea that writing is like an Unending Conversation. In this case, I will refer to his theory of the Unending Conversation as the “Intellectual Conference.” It goes like this: you are invited to a conference about a very important topic. Intellectuals from all over the world are selected, and you are one of them. As Burke suggests, you walk into the room, but first, you sit and listen to understand what the topic at hand is. Then you begin to listen to understand what other people are saying. After understanding, you prepare to speak (Burke). If we look at this through the lens of Harris, we know that when you do speak, you will add something to the conversation, by saying something a bit different.

But let’s say in this case, before speaking, it has become very clear that everyone has been repeating the same thing. The tall white man in the suit makes a statement. Then the dark lady adorned in jewels and brightly colored fabric repeats the same exact statement. Then the young teenage girl asks to speak and says the same exact thing. This cycle goes on for hours without variation. My question to you is: would you stay in this room? Would you stay and participate in a conversation where everyone seems to be repeating the same thing? This is not an “Intellectual Conference.” I don’t know ‘bout you, but my momma always told me, “your time is precious, don’t waste it”. I would leave, and I bet you would too. This is because, as Harris says, we are all different and have (or should have) something different to add to the conversation while acknowledging that our thoughts came to be because of what others have said.

Harris, that one guy that just be enlightening errybody. I done read his paper, and I know now that your voice is that one thing you got in academic writing that ain’t no other soul got. What you go to say, that ole’ dude ain’t already saying? When you write with your own voice, you get to be you. You ain’t gotta lie ‘bout what you done been through in life because you can use that in your writing. The way you write, and what you be writing should “say a good deal about who you are as a writer, about your own interests and values” (Harris 16). If we go back to the example of the “Intellectual Conference,” we can see that in that room there were a variety of people. People of different races, gender, age, etc. All kinds of people engaging in a conversation. Because of this alone, all of those people have at least one thing to say that is different from what someone else said. What they say and the way they say it according to their experience and their “interests and values” is their voice. Other people value what they say because everyone trusts, based on how they contribute to the conversation, that they are educated on the topic at hand. In writing, this would be defined as an authoritative academic voice. This is slightly different from voice. It’s like voice, but with sprinkles on top. Authoritative academic voice is what qualifies you to speak on a particular topic. It is the one thing that lets everyone in the room know that you are speaking and persuades them to listen.

Code-Switching and Voice are Homies Forreal
I’m pressing you ’bout Harris’s ideas on intertextuality and voice so badly because I want you to see and understand why I believe limiting code-switching in educational institutions is a problem in writing. Aneika Robinson is a Jamaican American student at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Robinson argues that teaching institutions should recognize that code-switching is language blending and not language conversion. Black English is not another language, but instead, another form of English. Therefore, the way we are taught in school should reflect African American history and culture so that Black English is not viewed as less than Standard English but rather a mix of “Standard English and black vernacular” (Robinson). In educational institutions, students should not be looked down upon for code-switching. We ain’t none less than errybody else ‘cause we got enough skill to blend history and language. Black English is not an exception to good writing because it takes skill for a student to “understand, listen, and write in multiple dialects” at the same time (Robinson).

Looking at this through Harris’s lens again, we know that in order for a student to properly understand and interact with other texts in writing they have to be able to come to terms with the text and be able to respond to it in their own way that is unique to their voice, therefore setting up the platform for they own academic authority. Robinson argues that educational institutions are not made in a way that embraces the voice of African American students. This be a problem because it’s a contradiction within itself. How us black folks ‘posed to write in our own voice like Harris suggests we do, but then not use our own voice when we write because it’s improper like the white people at school done taught us? Make it make sense!

We see proof of this through a phenomenon called “code-switching.” Robinson uses Vershawn Ashanti Young to define code-switching as “accommodating two language varieties in one speech act, which in simpler terms is the practice of language blending” (Robinson). In other words, code-switching is not the act of speaking a different language, but instead, the product of history and culture blending into a language ultimately becoming part of the identity of the person using the blending. Educational institutions on the other hand have purposely trained students who use code-switching to abandon this part of their culture and history, also this part of “who they are” when in school. They classify it as “improper” or unprofessional. This poses a problem of voice for students of color. For instance, as a Haitian American student, I know well enough to speak “Proper English” at school, and then “Black English” with my friends or at home. This is so because through educational training I have been taught that, if I want to get a good grade, I need to conform to Standard English. On the surface, this seems to have no effect. Just changing how I speak, right? NO! When you look a bit further, the act of filtering culture and history in the way that writing is taught in educational institutions is causing a fundamental problem of identity in Black American students due to the loss of voice. Who am I when I write? Am I the black Haitian girl? Or am I the not-so-American American? The answer is: I don’t get to choose, ‘cause all my life schools done told me, in they own fancy way of course, black kids like you are only seen, not heard in writing. So instead, they taught me that when I write, I gotta be in the voice of a middle-aged white man, with racks in the bank, multiple estates, a successful business, and maybe some kids.

Harris also says that we need to be able to respond to another text and “come to terms” with it. Specifically, he says when doing this, the readers should be able to see clearly, “who you are as a writer” (16). How can that happen if students aren’t even able to “come to terms” with themselves? Robinson explains that educational institutions need to “teach how language functions within and from various cultural perspectives” by not removing culture, history, and background from the learning of the English language, specifically in writing (Robinson). Even now we can see how detrimental the lack of inclusiveness is to the way students write. This shows up prominently when looking at essays written by students in school. Tyler Tran is a student at UMass Boston who is passionate about uncovering why students do not use their own voice in writing. He claims that intertextuality, the teaching of detachment in school writing, and the teaching of Standard English as proper English all lead to students self-censoring themselves and results in a loss of voice over time. Tran references the words of high school teacher Rebecca Gemmell, who says that oftentimes her students “all sounded the same” (Tran). He blames this on a few factors. Tran claims that “intertextuality is a reason why it may be difficult for students to write using their own voice.” Tran builds on the idea that students have detached themselves from their writing. I agree with him on that point. Students definitely do not write in their own voice, but I disagree with the fact that he says that the “self-censorship” is because of the pressure of intertextuality. I believe it is students doing things the way they have been trained to do so. Teachers have unintentionally, or intentionally, muted students’ voices and taught them to impersonate others through the way writing is being taught in lower levels of education. Educational institutions are limiting the texts provided to one voice: the Standard English voice. Then on top of that, they proceed to teach students that Standard English is the “dominant language” and that their race, culture, history, and overall identity should be ignored. When you take all of these things into consideration, you can see how it would be almost impossible for Black American students to properly take part in the conversation created through intertextually, according to Harris’s terms.

Image of hamburger representing 5-paragraph essay. The outer buns are introduction and conclusion. The inner fillings are first, second, and third point paragraph.
Image from University of Waterloo

A simpler example of this is standardized testing and the five-paragraph essay format. Students are not only told to write a certain way (Standard English). On top of that they are told how to write it. For students who code-switch, there is another layer of limits because they are also told whose voice to narrate it in. For the white student, this is less repressive to their identity than it is to the student who code-switches. This is because the white student gets to still speak the form of English their history and culture resonates with. On the other hand, the students who code-switch have to learn, understand, and then take on the form of the white students’ English in order to be deemed intelligent enough to participate. If not? Well then, in that case, they would fail the standardized test. Why is it fair for the students who code-switch to have to learn and understand a new language code, but the same is not asked of the white students? In short, if students don’t know who they are, they cannot write with an authoritative academic voice because their voice has been forbidden in educational institutions.

To finish off, let’s go back to the illustration of my Intellectual Conference to explain what this feels like for students who code-switch. For students who code-switch, it feels as though we were invited to that conference but only to be told to put bags over our faces and attach mirrors to our bodies to echo only what has already been said. Unlike everyone else, we are given rules on how to speak. Immediately, and before walking into the room, we already understand that if we want to be in that room of intellectuals, we cannot be ourselves. We have to reflect someone else’s ideas, history, culture, voice, and ultimately: identity. But aight, I ain’t gon say too much, just that, the way we taught to speak and write in them white folks school goes beyond a five-paragraph essay, it goes beyond “English class.” It seeps into our identity. How I speak is who I am. And my identity has everything to do with how I write. I shouldn’t be forced to change who I am, whether or not it looks like Standard English because my voice, my culture, and my history have a place in the conversation. Before I let you go, imma ask you one mo’ question: whose voice do you write in? Or in Harris’ words, can readers get a jist of “who you are as a writer” from the voice you write in (16)? Or are you still wearing your paper bag?

Works Cited
Bowles, Bruce. “The Five-Paragraph Theme Teaches ‘Beyond the Test’.” Bad Ideas About Writing, edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe, West Virginia University Libraries Digital Publishing Institute, 2017, pp. 220-225.

Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 1st ed., University of California Press, 1973. JSTOR.

Harris, Joseph. Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts, Second Edition. University Press of Colorado, 2017. JSTOR.

Robinson, Aneika. “The Marginalization of African Americans in Educational Institutions through Race and Language.” Undercurrents: A Journal of Undergraduate Student Composition, 2020.

Tran, Tyler. “It’s Your Voice, Why Not Use It?Undercurrents: A Journal of Undergraduate Student Composition, 2021.

Teachers are Encouraging Bullshit: A Response to Kylie Medieros

by Maxine FredaPhoto of Max Freda

Maxine Freda is a computer science major from Plympton, MA. She states that this essay—a response to Kylie Medeiros’s Undercurrents essay from last year—”was a way for me to air my grievances with the rigidly structured way the school system teaches writing in high school.” Maxine notes that this is the first essay she ever wrote where she cared so strongly about the topic. She shares that this type of writing process was “far more enjoyable and resulted in something I could be proud of.” The freedom to write about “what I want in the way that I want” was one of the main contributors to Maxine’s writing process, and she found that this freedom “completely changed my personal outlook on writing, making it something I now find personally rewarding.” Maxine credits her sister, Izzy, for being a support in this process — and in all that she does.

Bullshit has a bad rap. Chances are you’ve had a teacher in the past who has not only discouraged you from bullshitting an assignment, but also made claims to their ability to sniff it out. Whether or not these claims are actually true is irrelevant, because most of the time this tactic works and students proceed to do the assignment “the right way.” Often, students view bullshit as essential to get an assignment done in the presence of short deadlines, lack of knowledge, or simply just laziness. When done correctly bullshit is a key technique in writing an essay and will go unnoticed by your teacher. This is the case because, in reality, teachers have been actively encouraging students to use bullshit in their work.

It’s essential to understand that there are two differing perspectives on “bullshit” in the classroom. One of them from the teacher’s perspective, and the other from the students. Oftentimes when teachers talk about bullshit, they refer to the rushed, half-finished, poorly planned assignments they are handed that obviously had very little effort put into them. While this is a perfectly valid perspective of traditional bullshit from a teacher, students are more focused on proper bullshit, bullshit that is done with thought and effort behind it in order to assist in their writing, and ultimately undetectable by a teacher.

In her essay on bullshit in the academic setting, Undercurrents author Kylie Meideros describes how, “bullshit is what the author believes the audience wants to hear and the process of writing it is centered around convincing the reader to believe them”, and how it is “a type of falsification in which the author must appear to be more credible than they actually are to form an opinion about something” (Medeiros). In other words, Medeiros gives credibility to proper bullshit as a reliable writing technique, marking an important distinction from what teachers use and a word synonymous with lazy. But Medeiros didn’t come up with this process on her own, nor did any individual student. The truth is that the roots of proper bullshit can be traced back to lessons on writing taught in the classroom.

The most prevalent connection to academic techniques and proper bullshit lies between the falsification of your credibility and the concept of authorial power. English professor Anne Elrod Whitney views authorial power as being able to maintain control over your ideas in essays, even when relying on other people’s ideas to form them. This is important because when students write “they must assert themselves as more qualified, or sensitive, attentive, or otherwise authoritative readers of these texts than the reader of their paper” (186). Essentially students are expected to present themselves as experts on whatever they are writing about, regardless of their credibility. This rhetorical move, inherently in itself, is bullshit and a total lie. Given the nature of being a student, you shouldn’t be as qualified as your teachers, and through the study of experts you should always have more to learn. But by writing this way, you learn that what’s really important is making yourself sound credible. This false confidence can allow you to make your ideas sound right at home alongside ideas coming from much more qualified sources. It doesn’t matter if you actually believe in the strength of your ideas, but rather you make the reader believe in them through the confidence of your language. As long as it holds up in the writing, this use of proper bullshit should be an unnoticed strength to your essay.

The need to present yourself as an expert is addressed by Whitney when she says that “writers must first understand the swirl of existing discourse on their subject” before properly giving an opinion (186). Being able to see multiple sides to an argument and try on different perspectives is a skill that is already encouraged by teachers and is essential to giving your argument a place in the conversation. But where it gets interesting is in this idea’s entanglement in the bullshit process. Of course, the key to have proper bullshitted opinions hold up in an essay is to have it be well articulated and come from at least a basic understanding of what you’re writing about. For this to happen, even more bullshit must ensue.

English professor Joshua Cruz points out how “bullshit is deeply tied to matters of subjectivity” and notes that “Frankfurt (2005) suggests that bullshit, as it occurs in “bull sessions,” provides a way for individuals to try on different identities, to see what it feels like to express oneself in a way not necessarily congruent with how one normally views oneself” (20). In other words, when you bullshit your written views on top of your actual views, you are able to explore ideas that you wouldn’t normally come up with, free of judgment. Oftentimes, students are asked to write their own ideas or opinions on a matter, but sometimes it can be easier to write about something without having your own stake in it. When trying to put into words how you feel about something, it can be hard to find a way to perfectly describe your ideas. This is where bullshitting your perspective is an essential skill. Not only will it remove a mental barrier of feeling like you have to defend yourself, but you will also be able to express your farcical opinion under the guise of subjectivity. For example, if you have to write a self-reflection of your work, it can be easier to take a dramatized overly critical view of your work in order to write the assignment, even if you think it’s already perfect. As long as you give proper reasoning behind these arguments, you can allow it to stand as a fully formed idea, even if there’s nothing truly there.

So far, all these writing techniques have been nothing but beneficial for developing proper bullshit. Understanding the role each classroom-taught technique plays in the process of proper bullshit, has the ability to strengthen your ideas and make you a better writer. However, not all bullshit techniques learned in the classroom are helpful to students. This is especially the case in the standardized yet controversial five-paragraph essay. English professor Bruce Bowles defines the five-paragraph essay as simply an essay with one introductory paragraph outlining your point, three main paragraphs each explaining a detail of that point, and a final conclusion paragraph in order to restate what you’ve already said (220). This writing format is widely used among primary and secondary education teachers due to its application in standardized testing. Chances are, if you’re a student, you’ve written more of these essays than you can count. But whether students or teachers realize it or not, the five-paragraph essay plays a strong role in the cultivation of traditional bullshit in the classroom.

Bowles points out that, “as a result of its rigidity and the manner in which testing companies assess the FPT [Five-Paragraph Theme], it imparts a hollow, formulaic notion of writing to students that emphasizes adherence to generic features rather than focusing on quality of content, informed research practices, effective persuasive techniques, and attention to the specific contexts in which students will compose” (221). Since standardized testing plays such a significant role in the education system, teachers are essentially required to teach students how to meet the criteria laid out by testing companies. This results in teachers imparting this hollow and rigid structure of writing upon students during their formative writing years, and unknowingly encouraging passionless, unprepared writing synonymous with traditional bullshit. Students are being conditioned for years to write this way, and it comes to the point where it’s less about writing and more about filling out generic features. Simply restating what a text says over five paragraphs can hardly be called engaging writing. So, when teachers come to expect more out of their students who never had the opportunity to truly learn how, it’s now wonder that all they see is bullshit.

While Medeiros’s perspective was essential in revealing the process of proper bullshit; she also offers a generalized view of bullshit based off of her research among students, and when comparing the definition with Bowles view on the five-paragraph essay, it reveals striking similarities. Medeiros’s research finds that instructors “tend to believe that bullshit writing is work that is passionless, unrevised, and is likely done with little to no preparation or even before class” (Medeiros). This idea has many similarities to the context and process of a five-paragraph essay and casts no doubt in my mind that the two are intrinsically linked. It is, by no means, a stretch to infer that a large cause as to why students bullshit is because the education system has always been telling them that’s the way to write. So, when teachers place importance on students being able to sit down to read a text and then immediately after writing an essay on the matter, they are placing importance on being able to bullshit.

So why does all this matter? Students will always bullshit their work, and teachers are always going to discourage and try to call them out for it. Perhaps what is more important is for teachers to more blatantly encourage the proper bullshit they already teach. Better yet a more convoluted yet effective solution, would be to properly recognize both the real writing techniques that arise in proper bullshit and also the prevalence of bullshit in writing techniques. By pointing these out not only will students gain a better understanding of how writing works, but it will also improve and make unnoticeable the bullshit students inevitably insert into their work. Truly a win-win for teachers everywhere who seek to discourage bullshit while seeing their students’ work improve.

Works Cited
Bowles, Bruce. “The Five Paragraph Theme Teaches Beyond the Test.” Bad Ideas About Writing, edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe, West Virginia University Libraries Digital Publishing Institute, 2017, pp. 220-225.

Cruz, Joshua. “Understanding Undergraduate Bullshit as a Function of Language and Subject Position.” Researchgate.net, Sept. 2018.

Medeiros, Kylie. “Your Teachers Are Bullshitting You.” Undercurrents: A Journal of Undergraduate Student Composition, 2022.

Whitney, Anne Elrod. “‘I Just Turned in what I Thought’: Authority and Voice in Student Writing.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol 39, no. 2, 2011, pp.184-93.

The Future of AI in the Classroom

by Mahdi AlmosawiPhoto of Mahdi Almosawi

Mahdi Almosawi is a computer science major from Hingham, MA. Mahdi says that “as a person with ADHD, education was a challenge for me at times, and I often used AI to create a learning process for me that worked. I believe that it can help others do the same.” Madhi believes that there is strong resistance to using AI in school because of the limited exposure we have had to it so far, and he “hopes that this essay takes away some of the stigma” associated with it. Mahdi loves to learn new things and hopes to inspire others to embrace change and to see the potential of AI as a tool that can help create personalized and effective learning experiences.

The ideas that led to modern Artificial Intelligence language models were being discussed as early as the 1950s. As data analysts sought to find ways to compute and process immense amounts of data, progress was made gradually until, in the past eight years, four versions of a new language model known as ChatGPT were released, with the third version released in 2022 being the one currently in use today. Ultimately, such models were meant to be used to analyze and understand language, so that one day it could be tasked with working with those languages (Cruz). ChatGPT, however, is not the only one of these models. The Faculty Center of the University of Central Florida states that “there are multiple ‘large language model’ software solutions similar to (and competing with) ChatGPT. Most of the large technology companies have their own. There are related AIs for drawing pictures, and many other domains.”

AI language models, such as ChatGPT, have become an increasingly relevant topic of discussion now more than ever, due to their recent advancements. Author Wael Alharbi notes the transformation from what was once a tool “designed to assist writing teachers in assessing their students’ assignments… to offering extensive support in identifying writing problems and offering suggestions for improving the writing quality” (1). The Faculty Center at UCF warns that ChatGPT is now able to “quickly create coherent, cohesive prose and paragraphs on a seemingly limitless set of topics.” I use the word warn because the fact that AI is able to easily create paragraphs on anything it is asked is an exciting fact that exemplifies the potential of programs like ChatGPT. However, despite the positive implication, it has become a conflict within many discourse communities. It is these exact capabilities that authors, educators, and writers are worried about, fearing it will create issues for their work. The education system in particular has had trouble maneuvering around the sudden surge of AI usage, and it has been met with negative feedback from teachers who believe that it is being used to complete assignments without doing any actual work. However, I believe that it is within education that AI can offer its best support. The negatives AI brings to writing are just a side effect of change, in the sense that since AI is so new it has not been adapted to yet, and when it is properly implemented into schools, it will become a very helpful tool for both teachers and students alike.

In order to understand how AI can be utilized, it is important to first understand how it works, which I will explain in the following paragraphs. I will give a general overview of how ChatGPT works, as well as what it is capable of, as a base representation of how AI language models generally work. ChatGPT “learns” from large samples of human-generated text, fed into an algorithm created to recognize patterns and follow them. After processing enough sentences and paragraphs, it becomes capable of following patterns in order to create similar sentences and paragraphs. When prompted with a question, ChatGPT processes what is being asked of it, then returns what it is programmed to consider the best answer. Usually, this means data and information it derives from the internet is turned into appropriate responses. However, it would be negligent to imagine ChatGPT as a search engine with the ability to speak and respond to you. ChatGPT is capable of understanding questions, amending prompts with additional requirements, and using user-inputted information to base its answers. You can also ask ChatGPT to present its answers in various formats. For example, you can ask it to create a bulleted list, or provide visuals or more in-depth explanations.

However, with all these features and capabilities, there are also weak points and drawbacks. ChatGPT is susceptible to simply creating completely false statements and presenting them as if they were true. This is referred to as “hallucinating” (University of Central Florida) and results from the fact that “ChatGPT… remains to be limited and hinges on the data that it was fed with. And this will never be enough. For one, its current training data was cut off in 2021” (Cruz). More or less, if asked for anything that requires information from after 2021, ChatGPT will simply provide misinformation. One of the repercussions of this is ChatGPT creating sources that sound plausible but are completely made up. I personally have had experience with ChatGPT’s “hallucinations.” Upon asking for a specific guide on how to win a puzzle game step by step, ChatGPT provided me with answers that would sound correct enough to anyone who does not know what the solution actually is (“What is the step-by-step guide”).

Screenshot of an example ChatGPT response
ChatGPT-generated response

In this game, the objective is to fulfill a certain number of challenges and objectives to lead you to the ending cutscene, signifying that you have completed the quest. The first step it lists is correct: you have to construct the “Pack-a-Punch” machine in order to progress any further. However, it fails in every specific part of the explanation. It mentions “parts,” which is something that is involved with these types of quests in this game. It mentions the “Ritual Room,” which is a significant aspect of the specific level it is being asked about. However, the way it is explained is completely wrong and lacks a significant amount of other details and important steps. For the sake of comparison, a more accurate and complete first step would look like the following, human-written version which draws from information on the IGN website (Madrigal et al.):

Step 1: Build the Pack-A-Punch
To begin the easter egg, utilize the various beast statues in each district, starting at spawn, and while in the beast form, power on the gate to the first ritual room, acquire the first artifact, and then complete the first ritual. Once the gateworm is acquired, complete this step for the other districts, waterfront, footlight, and canals. Once all four rituals are completed, and the four gateworms are acquired, open one of the rifts in beast form if you have not already. Enter the rift and place down all four of the gateworms, and then activate the final ritual. Once this ends, pack a punch will be available in that same room.

This human-authored explanation highlights how lacking and incorrect ChatGPT’s guide was. After its original answer, it continues to deviate and begins to become more and more incoherent and incorrect as it goes on in its prompt generation. ChatGPT was able to follow its pattern recognition and provide an answer with its given information, and that’s all it had to do, even though the answer it gave was wrong. ChatGPT is not designed to be a concrete resource that always provides correct answers, and this could be especially harmful if students are not prepared to check and compare the information ChatGPT is providing them to other sources. For teachers to be confident in allowing AI in schools it is important that “hallucinations,” as well as the reason for them, are understood so students do not consume misinformation.

Furthermore, “Language educators and researchers may have reservations about the authenticity of students’ submitted writing,” due to the fact that AI can be used to complete assignments all on its own (Alharbi 2). AI can answer questions, write essays, and perform a multitude of tasks without any work required from the student, enabling academic dishonesty. The aforementioned UCF Faculty Center states that “the potential for abuse in academic integrity is clear, and our students could be using these tools already.” My professors have also voiced concerns about receiving work from students that they believe may have been written by AI. Concerns about AI’s misuse are evident and need to be considered and addressed to build comfortability and familiarity with AI in schools.

Does all of this mean that ultimately ChatGPT causes too many issues and should be avoided and prohibited by teachers? I believe that the opposite is true, and so does the University of Central Florida, which now has a page dedicated to AI and how professors should respond to its sudden surge in usage. Using AI to “overcome writer’s block” and “treat[ing] it like a spellchecker” are just some of the ways they suggest it can be used in the classroom in a manner that is beneficial to the teacher and student. In comparison to tools already made to do such things, such as applications that check the grammar of your paper, ChatGPT is more comparable to an actual person assisting you. If, for example, there was a grammatical error in your paper, and ChatGPT suggested a correction, one could ask ChatGPT why it needs correction, an explanation of that grammatical rule with examples, as well as anything else the student may want to know. A simple spell checker could perhaps provide a general explanation or example to go with the correction, but it could not answer questions as clearly and humanly as ChatGPT could.

Furthermore, for teachers that fear students will use AI to do their work for them, students have always been able to do so to a certain extent. If one wanted, they could pay to have an essay written for them on any topic. Or search for the answers to their school assignments. AI does make this easier, and more readily available; however academic integrity is unavoidable. Enforcing more rules and regulations cannot change this. Another, more in-depth, idea that UCF provides for the usage of AI is an activity that involves the student improving upon their own writing by using it as a revision tool. They propose that students take their writing and learn how to use ChatGPT to revise, fix grammatical errors, and perhaps even restructure certain parts of their paper (University of Central Florida). By learning how to use ChatGPT, they specifically mean more or less learning how it accepts prompts, how you can amend prompts and change them, and how to specifically and effectively communicate what it is that you want ChatGPT to do. The process may seem straightforward, but there are actually many tricks one is able to learn when it comes to utilizing the AI bot, such as giving it instructions prior to the prompt to format its response in a certain manner, or telling it to assume a certain bias or position whilst answering. By learning these skills, students will be more prepared to potentially integrate into a more “AI-rich future workplace” (University of Central Florida). Seeing how AI is predicted to revolutionize multitudes of jobs, from programmers and engineers to writers and authors, it is important to have the skills necessary to be able to enter these fields.

Before moving further into how AI can benefit educators and learners, I would like to provide an example of how I have used AI to my benefit as a Computer Science major studying at UMass Boston. In my class “Data Structures and Algorithms,” I have found several topics to be difficult to understand due to their complexity. Furthermore, my teacher’s method of teaching is not always best suited for the way I learn, which is to be expected in a class that teaches over fifty students at a time; it would be impossible to teach the way everyone would like. As a result, I took to ChatGPT and formed a method to teach myself advanced concepts.

  1. I begin by studying the presentations in class, and the notes I take from them. I try to gain the best understanding I can of the topic.
  2. Then, I try to find videos that explain the topic, preferably ones with visuals. Whilst watching the videos, I take notes and further try to understand the topic at hand. With this specific portion of computer science, you mainly learn concepts from presentations and videos about a topic, but not usually the actual code that goes with them.
  3. After the video, any components that are still unclear to me are given to ChatGPT, where I ask, “Could you explain (x) to me?”
  4. If any parts of the explanation are unclear, I ask more about them, which can look like, “What is the purpose of (x) in this example”, or any other specific questions. I also at times will ask it to add to its response, asking “Could you be more thorough?” or “Could you provide visuals to go with the explanation?”
  5. Then, I move onto working with the actual code, where if I face issues, rather than searching the issue up on Google and receiving a response that is often concise and unrelated to the context of your program, ChatGPT will explain the issue with the code and provide a suggested fix for the issue. It is at this step of using ChatGPT that I find it to be the most usable. I could ask it about the most minute detail about the code, such as the big picture significance of a specific variable, what a certain part of the function is supposed to accomplish, and I can also ask it to present these answers in any format. As a visual learner, I ask it to show line by line what the code does.

I began employing this method during my second semester, whereas in the first semester, I would be forced to look through forums for the answers I needed. The majority of the time, those answers were not much more than answers and did not teach me much about the issue I was having. With this method, it feels to me like a tutor that is readily available at all times. I have learned much more this semester as a result.

Ultimately, I provide this personal example for two reasons. First, I believe that what I do with ChatGPT can be done by anyone studying anything. And with that, I think students could find a lot of help from these tools in studying, learning something difficult, or to accomplish anything that would normally be done by a Google search instead. In-depth step-by-step explanations are not something always readily available for any topic, but now they are, and they are written within any context they need to be written in. While programs exist to ensure it is often available, many students still do not have the privilege of receiving tutoring, and I believe that this could ultimately act as the next best thing going forward. Furthermore, I would like educators to see a specific example of how AI is being employed in a beneficial manner because it seems as though teachers are worried that students are doing nothing more than getting their essays written for them.

Another example of AI being utilized appropriately in schools is the current work being done to help ESL students with AI tools. Cruz mentions how ChatGPT “can understand hundreds of languages, including various dialects and mother tongues.” Across all language classrooms Alharbi states how educators would prefer the use of “language-proofing” AI tools over simply translating (2). There is a want for an alternative to tools like Google Translate, and AI’s multilingualism makes it the perfect candidate. Specific AI tools have taken advantage of AI’s extensive support for other languages, one example of which is AI KAKU (Gayed et al. 5). KAKU is a tool that employs several functions that are meant to assist, but not do the work for students learning English. For example, it can show the reader the English words they are typing translated into their native language to provide feedback that the student is writing what they want to convey (Gayed et al. 5).

The goal is to give ESL students greater confidence in writing in English, without the need to check with translators or incentivize simply translating assignments all together. John Maurice Gayed, a Doctor of Philosophy studying at Waseda University, and co-researchers, are currently working on the project and performed a study assessing its results on ESL students utilizing AI. Their study, as of 2022, had students using AI KAKU for various assignments and activities and reporting how it aided in completing those assignments. Gayed et al. reports that there were not substantial results reporting a significant improvement in the quality of the work complete. However, they do note that “the reaction from the participants about using AI KAKU was largely positive, with 95% of the participants indicating affirmative responses on the 6-point Likert scale” (6). Earlier in the paper, Gayed et al. remind the reader that “writing in a second language (L2) involves considerable cognitive stress,” and anything that could simplify that process is significant in making the lives of ESL learners easier (1). The majority of studies on the topic of AI and ESL students are young, and many researchers did not collect data over a long enough period of time in order to be able to say how such tools could impact ESL students over the course of an entire education. However, from what has been seen so far, it is safe to say that AI will continue to show positive results for ESL students, and that it has a place in schools in general.

To ensure that the negative effects of AI are not allowed to fester within school systems, it is important that schools adapt to use AI to their advantage and reap the benefits it can provide students and teachers. Years ago, schools were hesitant to transition towards smart devices and computers, but now it is necessary for students to utilize them. Non-acceptance of change will only lead to the tools continuing to be misused, and it results in a lot of potential being lost, considering how AI is capable of reforming how students learn for the better.

Works Cited

Alharbi, Wael. “AI in the Foreign Language Classroom: A Pedagogical Overview of Automated Writing Assistance Tools.” Education Research International, vol. 2023, 2023, pp. 1-15.

Cruz, Jace Dela. “CHATGPT Timeline: Evolution and Rise of AI, Impact, Threat, and Opportunities.” Tech Times, 27 Feb. 2023.

Gayed, John Maurice, et al. “Exploring an AI-Based Writing Assistant’s Impact on English Language Learners.” Computers and Education: Artificial Intelligence, vol. 3, 2022.

Madrigal, Hector, et al. “Shadows of Evil – Call of Duty: Black Ops III Wiki Guide.” IGN, 31 Mar. 2016.

University of Central Florida Faculty Center. (n.d.). “Artificial Intelligence.” University of Central Florida.

“What is the step by step guide to complete the Easter Egg in Call of Duty: Black Ops III Zombies Map?” prompt. ChatGPT, April 2023, chat.openai.com/chat.

Who is Getting Left Out?: Breaking Down Language Barriers in Healthcare

by Jackelyne AbranchesPhoto of Jackeylene Abranches

Jackelyne Abranches is an exercise and health sciences major from Everett, MA. She says that this essay was inspired by her firm belief that language should never hinder someone’s access to quality healthcare. Jackelyne’s career goals revolve around “breaking down these language barriers and many others to ensure equal health opportunities for everyone.” As a first-generation American, she grew up observing various health challenges faced by her Brazilian family members. She says that “witnessing their struggles has deeply impacted me, and it is this first-hand experience that fuels my passion for ensuring equitable access to healthcare for all immigrants.” Jackelyne’s passion comes from her family and community who encourage her during her college journey. Her ultimate aim is to reciprocate their support by becoming a physician’s assistant and extending equal care and assistance to underprivileged communities.

Could you really die because you don’t know how to speak English? Alright, maybe “die” is a strong word, but there can be serious consequences to your health by not speaking English. As a first-generation member of my household, I was crowned the unofficial “official translator” of all official documents, school enrollment forms, and most importantly, doctor’s visits. If anyone in my family had a doctor’s appointment, I’d get a pass from school and a lengthy visit to the doctor’s where my tiny brain had to translate English to my Portuguese-speaking family members. It was a fun no school day for me, but not always fun for my family members. For instance, my aunt, who only speaks Portuguese, had to go to the hospital for abdominal pain. Despite having Spanish-speaking staff members present, not having Portuguese-speaking staff members limited the critical information that could be explained to my aunt. As a result of limited communication, my aunt was unable to fully express the severity of her pain and was given a lower dosage of pain medication than needed. So, I was brought to the next doctor’s appointment to help advocate and translate. This time, we discovered my aunt’s condition was more severe than meets the eye, and tests were taken to determine a proper diagnosis. However, not everyone has a niece they can bring to doctor’s appointments when needed, and not every doctor has a medical translator on hand for the required language.

Language barriers have a significant impact on the quality of care a patient receives, particularly in a country where 64.7 million people speak another language other than English. According to the Migration Policy Institute (MIP), as of 2015, only 60% of those living in the United States who speak “a foreign language at home were fully proficient in English” and of these bilingual individuals, “more than 25.9 million people were [classified] LEP” or limited-English proficiency, meaning their primary language is not English and/or they have a limited ability to read, write, speak or understand English (Batalova, J., & Zong, 2016). The prevalence of LEP individuals underscores the need to address language barriers in healthcare settings, where misdiagnoses, readmissions, and other complications can arise due to communication breakdowns between providers and patients. These statistics stress the importance of recognizing the differences and language barriers. But knowing about an issue can only do so much; we must work towards it. In making an act to truly understand and address the issue of language barriers in health and health care, we can provide effective care to the non-English speaking community or LEP, who may otherwise lack confidence or trust in the medical community.

One person who can attest that this is a real issue is Alexander R. Green, M.D and Chijioke Nze. In the article, “Language-Based Inequity in Health Care,” published in the Journal of Ethics. Green and Nze (2017) share their experience with LEP patients as a resident in a U.S. medical school. Green and Nze discuss a patient, Mr. S, a 56-year-old Brazilian construction worker who had recently undergone hip replacement surgery and returned due to nausea, vomiting, and food intolerance post-surgery. Green says the patient’s medical chart had labeled him as a “poor historian” (Green & Nze, 2017, p. 263). Although not explicitly said in Green’s article, a simple Google search explains the term “poor historian” is used by medical professionals to describe a patient who is unable to give a clear account of their illness or symptoms. Green explains that because it was a busy night in the ER, “no one had yet involved a medical interpreter” to help communicate with Mr. S. As a result, the doctors were unable to gain vital information to provide a diagnosis and instead were “frustrated,” doubting extra time to try and communicate with Mr. S would be worthwhile (Green & Nze 2017, p. 263). Despite not speaking the patient’s language, Green took the extra time to try and communicate with Mr. S and found he had been taking the wrong medications post-surgery because he did not understand which medication he was supposed to take. Green’s experience is important because it highlights the dangerous effects of not being able to communicate with patients, while also showcasing the bias healthcare workers may have towards patients who do not speak fluent English. Despite hospital settings being very busy and fast-paced, LEP patients should not be ignored.

It doesn’t take a genius medical student to recognize these disparities. A simple Google search can lead you to articles such as the one on ABC News entitled “The Healthcare System Is Shortchanging Non-English Speakers,” in which Pooja Chandrashekar (2022) argues that we have fallen short when caring for our most vulnerable patients. Most recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Chandrashekar interviewed local health workers in Boston and discovered that lack of materials about the vaccine translated into multiple languages made it difficult for non-English speaking patients to protect themselves (Chandrashekar, 2022). Many state government vaccine finder websites initially only provided information in English. Lack of information in multiple languages led to many misunderstandings, poorer health outcomes in communities with people of color, and higher rates of COVID infections. In fact, even one of my family members believed that the Coronavirus was a result of drinking a few too many Corona beers, refusing to believe it was true until they got infected, proving that a lack of information being conveyed can impact the way non-English speakers understand important aspects of their health.

Another search shows that even when presented with the opportunity to get clarifying information, LEP patients are afraid to ask their providers questions. Edward Chen, of Stat News, writes in 2022: “Language barriers keep parents from asking questions about their children’s care, study finds” (Chen 2022). A survey done in 21 hospitals found that those who are not proficient in English “are less comfortable asking questions about their care” and “less likely to speak up when something does not seem right” (Chen 2022). These patients’ experiences underscore the importance of patient empowerment and the need for LEP individuals to feel comfortable asking questions and speaking up about their care. Without this, they may not fully understand their diagnosis or treatment options, which can lead to poor health outcomes. Additionally, Chen’s (2022) study highlights the need for greater cultural competency among healthcare providers. Providers who are aware of the cultural factors that may influence a patient’s communication style and willingness to speak up can take steps to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment.

However, creating an inclusive environment takes some work. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s happened before in the medical community. Take, for instance, the use of hand sanitizers before entering a patient’s room. Before the 1990s, this was not a common practice, as it is today. Recently, however, hand sanitizers have been made available outside every patient’s room for healthcare workers to use before walking into a room (World Health Organization, 2009). This example shows that change can happen, despite it being rigorous, if the need presents itself. So far, we have recognized the need: language barriers can result in miscommunication, misunderstandings, and medical errors, negatively affecting the quality of care and health outcomes for LEP patients. Yet there is still much to understand about this debate. What accommodations are available for LEP patients? How effective are these methods? And what more can be done to ensure equitable quality care for all? Let’s find out!

One solution already put into practice is the use of professional medical interpreters. Medical interpreters are trained professionals who help bridge the language divide between a patient and the medical provider to facilitate communication between both parties and ensure patients receive the care they need, while providers can understand and properly address patients’ concerns. Dr. Leah S. Karliner et al. (2007), in “Do Professional Interpreters Improve Clinical Care for Patients with Limited English Proficiency?” conducted a study with several non-English speaking patients and many different methods, including in-person untrained interpreters, in-person trained interpreters, and telephonic interpreters. Their findings reveal that the use of in-person “professional interpreters and bilingual staff have been found to improve health care access, satisfaction, and quality for LEP patients” (Karliner et al., 2007, p. 748). Yet even though the majority found an interpreter to be helpful, there were case studies that identified “a worrisomely high error rate (53 percent) for professional interpreters” (Karliner et al., 2007, p. 736 ). In short, professional interpreters can be useful, but that is not always the case. The lack of diverse and multilingual staff can cause a burden for patients. Additionally, medical interpreters are not always available, which is why there were ‘untrained interpreters’ included in Karliner et al.’s case study. The lack of staffing and high error rate indicates that although this may be the best option in some instances, it is not always an available resource, promoting the need to hire more diverse staff.

As mentioned previously, in-person interpreters are not always available. Therefore, healthcare workers must think outside the box. One example of this is the use of visual aids. Just like the 1-10 scale with the smiley faces used in pediatric offices to have a child describe their pain level, visuals can also be used with older adult patients. Karliner et al., in the same article, also researched if visuals were as effective as medical interpreters. Although interpreters were preferred, there is an effectiveness to the visual arts method. Their study aimed to assess the effectiveness of a visual aid tool (a flipchart) in facilitating communication with 205 LEP patients in a primary care setting. The patients were randomized to receive care either with or without the use of the visual aid tool. The results showed “visual aids can be an effective tool in facilitating communication with LEP patients, “improving comprehension of their health condition and treatment plan (Karliner et al., 2007, p. 728 ). Patients in the intervention group reported greater understanding of their medical conditions receiving a higher mean understanding score compared to the control group (4.7 vs. 4.1 on a 5-point scale), better satisfaction with the care they received (4.8 vs. 4.2 on a 5-point scale) and were more likely to adhere to recommended treatments compared to the control group (93% vs. 78%) (Karliner et al., 2007). If no medical interpreter is available, using visual aids to explain things to patients can help them understand information more effectively than if no intervention was used at all. However, visual aids require more time and effort from workers. Sometimes, in a busy setting, visuals may not always be the first option that comes to mind. It certainly was never a form of communication used with my aunt.

So how do we ensure medical professionals pay attention to their patients and make them feel comfortable? The first step is being more culturally mindful. In the beginning of this essay, I shared how the patient included by Green and Nze (2017) had “poor historian” written on his medical chart. However, the term “poor historian” is not an accurate description of that patient. We must ask, is the patient truly unable to give a clear account or are they unable to communicate their account in English? Labeling a patient a “poor historian” infers that they are unable to communicate with medical professionals, but maybe the medical professionals should be trying to understand patients better. By removing the unconscious biases we have towards LEP patients, we can move a step closer to ensuring equitable care despite the language barrier. It is possible that medical workers can change their attitudes about LEP patients and provide more equitable care by participating in cultural competency training. Cultural competency training can help medical workers develop cross-communication skills, including strategies for working with alternative forms of communication and learning to manage language barriers. This is important because by learning about other cultures, medical workers can become more empathetic to LEP patients rather than ridicule them for not knowing English. This practice can help improve the health of LEP patients by giving them a chance to have a patient and understanding provider who will take the time to aid them in understanding the information being given to them.

Furthermore, even with cultural competency training, medical workers may still hold biases and assumptions that can affect their interactions with LEP patients. It is difficult to completely eliminate biases, and medical workers may need ongoing support and education to recognize and address their own biases. Therefore, it is important for medical workers to approach each patient as an individual with unique needs and perspectives, rather than relying solely on cultural competency training as a one-size-fits-all solution. Medical workers should strive to build trusting relationships with LEP patients, communicate clearly and respectfully, and actively involve patients in their own care. These strategies can help to overcome language and cultural barriers and promote equitable care for LEP patients.

Another possible solution that can be implemented is patient-centered care. Although this is a common practice, it is often challenging with LEP patients, but should be enforced to ensure equitable healthcare services. In the research “Validation of a Patient-Centered Culturally Sensitive Health Care Provider Inventory Using a National Sample of Adult Patients,” Tucker et al. explores the idea of patient-centered care, proving that “cultural competence and cultural sensitivity of providers are positively associated with patient satisfaction” (Tucker et al, 2013, p. 344). This correlates to the patient’s satisfaction with various physician behaviors. Tucker et al. shares that:

These psychosocial aspects of healthcare quality primarily are impacted by how providers interact with their patients, which include providers’ interpersonal skills that enable patients to feel comfortable and trusting, and displaying provider behaviors and attitudes that connote sensitivity to and respect for patients. (Tucker et al, 2013, p. 348)

To put it simply, by making LEP patients feel validated and taking the time to slow things down, the health and satisfaction of LEP patients can improve and the readmission rates can be reduced. In addition to this, medical workers could use plain language and avoid medical jargon to ensure that patients understand their health conditions and treatment options. This can look like directly speaking to a patient instead of directing questions at an interpreter or slowing down when speaking English. This positive engagement allows for reinforcement in the information being shared by both parties.

In this research-based inquiry, the challenges faced by limited English proficiency (LEP) patients in accessing and receiving equitable healthcare services have been explored. The review of the literature reveals that language and cultural barriers are significant factors that impede effective communication between LEP patients and healthcare providers, leading to decreased patient satisfaction and poorer health outcomes. This review also highlights the need for a multifaceted approach to addressing the challenges faced by LEP patients in accessing and receiving equitable healthcare services. One important factor that emerged from the analysis is the need for healthcare workers to receive adequate cultural competency training to address the unconscious biases that may affect their interactions with LEP patients. However, it is also recognized that this training alone may not be enough to overcome the challenges that arise when caring for diverse populations with unique needs and perspectives. Strategies such as patient-centered care and the use of visual aids may help healthcare providers to communicate more effectively with LEP patients, but more research is needed to determine their efficacy in various healthcare settings, as well as the impact of other social determinants of health that may affect LEP patients’ ability to access healthcare services.

Looking forward, there are several questions that future research could address. For example, what are the most effective methods for healthcare providers to build trusting relationships with LEP patients, and how can these be adapted to different cultural contexts? How can healthcare organizations best leverage technology to improve access to care for LEP patients, while also ensuring that these technologies do not further exacerbate existing health disparities? Additionally, what role can policymakers and healthcare administrators play in addressing the systemic barriers that LEP patients face in accessing equitable healthcare services? Having these practices may have eliminated the missed school days I needed to help my aunt understand what was going on with her health. Moving forward, further research is needed to identify the most effective approaches for promoting effective communication and improving health outcomes for LEP patients.

Batalova, J., & Zong, J. (2016, November 11). Language Diversity and English Proficiency in the United States. Migration Policy Institute.

Green, A. R., & Nze, C. (2017). Language-Based Inequity in Health Care: Who Is the “Poor Historian”? AMA Journal of Ethics, 19(3), 263–271.

Karliner, L. S., Jacobs, E. A., Chen, A. H., & Mutha, S. (2007). Do professional interpreters improve clinical care for patients with limited English proficiency? A systematic review of the literature. Health Services Research, 42(2), 727–754.

Mendoza, M. (2022, August 29). The Health Care System Is Shortchanging Non-English Speakers. Scientific American.

National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. (2015). Language Diversity and English Proficiency in the United States. Migration Policy Institute.

Skerrett, P. (2023, January 24). It’s time to retire ‘poor historian’ from clinicians’ vocabularies. STAT. Retrieved April 9, 2023.

Thielking, M. (2022, June 13). Language barriers keep parents from asking questions about their children’s care, study finds. STAT. Retrieved April 9, 2023.

Tucker, C. M., Nghiem, K. N., Marsiske, M., & Robinson, A. C. (2013). Validation of a patient-centered culturally sensitive health care provider inventory using a national sample of adult patients. Patient Education and Counseling, 91(3), 344–349.

WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care: First Global Patient Safety Challenge Clean Care Is Safer Care. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 4.

Quinn Gabrielle Cantor’s Reflection

Quinn wrote this reflection to accompany her essay, “Race and Rhetoric: Examining How the Audience’s Race Creates Rhetorical Constraints and Influences Rhetoric,” in her Composition I class in fall 2021.

The writing process of this essay is completely different than all the other essays I’ve ever written. Much of this difference comes from the drafting process that we did, where we had to generate and develop our ideas, and then create an audience-facing draft, and then finally create our revisions vs my highschool writing process where we had to develop a thesis statement first, create an outline, and then write our essay. I think the writing process this time made writing the essay much easier for me, because it made sense. I came up with different ideas during the idea generating part, developed one specific idea further, which is actually what became my essay topic, and then discussed it with my professor during our conference. I think the idea generating and developing really helped me sort of create the framework for my essay; because the main idea was already there, I simply had to develop it further and connect it with the previous texts we read (Halevi, Dirk, Allen).

I think the hardest part of the essay was making the audience-facing draft because at that point it was already more like an essay. I struggled with organizing my thoughts and ideas mainly, since I had a lot of ideas and connections that could work, but I didn’t know how to pick out which ones actually work and which ones don’t. I think what helped with my struggle was when we did the checklist for our essay and assessed what things we did successfully and what things we were still missing. I was able to see which ones I still needed to work, so I added them on my to-do list, and my professor’s comments on my introduction also helped a lot – since I would have missed it otherwise. I also found the peer review very helpful since my partner actually pointed out things that I have to do better on, and it was really helpful even just reading their work as well, since I was able to get some idea of what worked in his essay that I didn’t do so well on on mine. Another person I received feedback from was a classmate during class. Since we had chosen the same text, we mostly talked about our ideas with each other and discussed what our individual topics were about. Just like my peer review, I found reading and learning about other people’s ideas and texts really helpful since it allowed me to assess my own writing as well.

I think my final essay is pretty solid. I cut out a lot of the ideas I had written originally, which I struggled with, but in this process I was able to expand on my ideas deeper. I really like my body paragraph about Villarosa’s use of scientific objectivity, because I was able to directly connect it to two texts: Dirk and Allen, since they respectively talk about genre awareness and scientific writing. I think the most difficult part of my essay was the introduction since I wasn’t sure how to introduce the Rhetorical Situation Model without revealing my entire essay (which is actually what my professor had pointed out). I ended up literally saying what I was going to talk about in my essay, since it directly introduced my topic.

After the entire process of writing this essay, I think my understanding of the rhetorical situation model (RSM) and rhetorical theory grew so much. Even though we read a lot of texts on RSM and we analyzed a bit in class, I didn’t really fully know how to apply it until I had to use it myself in the essay. I really didn’t know how to analyze from a rhetorical perspective because I was so used to writing research essays in high school. However, once I started labeling the elements of the RSM, I think that’s when the ideas started flowing out, which is why I wrote so much in my idea-generating draft. That’s when I realized that it’s true what we discussed in class: writing makes us think deeper and makes us write more. I actually began to appreciate the use of RSM in analyzing texts, because it automatically makes us think deeper than the surface meaning or message of the text, and I know for sure that I will be using it a lot more when encountering new texts.

Karina Silva’s Reflection

Karina wrote this reflection to accompany her essay, “The Brain, the Block, and the Bummed Writer,” in her Composition I class in fall 2021.

The point that I wanted to focus on in this essay was to connect my sources to each other, or rather my theories, to the “understanding of the neuroscience behind writing.” I wanted to focus on connecting my theories together because the purpose of my essay was to assess the theories. I also wanted to show that writer’s block, the exigence of this paper, is complex as it has several “symptoms.” In order to emphasize the purpose and the exigence, I had to demonstrate how my sources overlapped and contrasted. Basically, connecting the “everything is in everything,” “flow,” and the “zone of proximal development” theories was the entirety of my paper.

Tyler Tran, the Undercurrents writer behind “It’s Your Voice, Why Not Use It?” connects two sources that both show how difficult it is for students to break out of writing habits:

Since students are taught to believe that there is only one correct way to write from the beginning as Kinloch mentioned, it is difficult for them to break this habit. When a criminal is released from jail, it takes a certain amount of time for them to adjust to living in the free world. […] Gemmell, who wrote about her students’ own experiences with this, observed that ‘many students resisted this new focus’ (Gemmell 65). It is surprising that these students were not openly joyous about being able to write with their own voice, but it is understandable. (Tran)

Tran connected Rebecca Gemmell’s experience with having their students change their writing with Valerie Felita Kinloch’s observations of student’s use of “standard English.” This connection was Tran’s way of emphasizing how students are conditioned to use “standard English” and how that type of language was preventing them from using their own voice in their writing.

Taking from Tran’s example, connecting two sources together gives one the ability to emphasize certain messages that contribute and lay beneath the purpose of the paper. By focusing on connecting sources, one can also concentrate on discussing the uses and limitations of each source. These uses and limits also help contribute to the purpose of the essay. For example, in my paper I found that the limits of each of my theories either revolved around effectiveness, like the flow and “everything is in everything” theory, or on brain activation, like the” zone of proximal development theory.” By examining the uses of my theories, I was able to elaborate on the purpose of my paper by emphasizing that writer’s block is a complex condition and that there are several aspects to it.

2021 Editor’s Introduction

To slow the spread of COVID-19, UMass Boston opted to operate remotely for the entire 2020-2021 academic year. As instructors quickly adapted to teaching online and via Zoom, students attended class meetings from their bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms. Residing across time zones, some students attended Zoom classes during night hours, while other members of their household slept. Remote learning life brought moments of delight, as we introduced each other to our pets and the quirks of our home spaces, as well as frequent moments of frustration (“You’re on mute!”). For some, operating remotely came to mean putting in the effort to learn despite the increasing weight of isolation, as the months of social distancing stretched from fall to spring. For others, remote learning has meant trying to find time and energy for academic life while coping as an essential worker and/or as the parent of a child learning from home. While the Undercurrents editorial team has been impressed by the large number of high-quality submissions we receive each and every year, which makes the selection process an enormous challenge, we are especially proud of this year’s nine honorees. At the same time, we also celebrate the thousands of students and more than sixty faculty members in our program who, despite the disruptions and setbacks in their own lives, still found ways to connect, write, and reflect.

While the acquisition of new rhetorical knowledge and practice is a central goal of the program, such learning has implications for identity, as new discourses bring new ways of writing and speaking, and therefore new ways of belonging. Hadassa Soussou takes up this tension by raising a concern that the rich language repertoires of multilingual students would be impoverished by the wrong pedagogical approach. Soussou makes the case for incorporating a narrative approach to the multilingual writing classroom, in which students can develop language and literacy proficiencies—including strategies for organization, structure, and audience engagement—while cultivating a sense of confidence as novice members of an American English academic discourse community. Seemingly demonstrating a product of such a pedagogical strategy, John Nobile Carvalho’s literacy narrative captures his own journey as a multilingual student pursuing higher education in a cross-cultural contact zone: “I feel responsible to share the American culture with my friends and family who live in Brazil,” he writes. “Likewise, I am responsible for sharing Brazilian culture with American society.”

But the development of new discourses and cross-cultural contact is not always met with unbridled enthusiasm, since encounters with new discourses can bring clashes with familiar communities, beliefs, and identities. Tyler Tran identifies a writerly strategy of avoiding such clashes: “self-censorship,” or “the act of students replacing their true voice, with a voice that is not entirely their own”—aptly echoing the title of Jacqueline Jones Royster’s now-famous essay on her own experiences with crossing discourse boundaries as a Black rhetorician, “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” In another examination of the impact of language learning on the self, Adia Samba-Quee’s critical engagement with a well-known pedagogical debate between Stanley Fish and Vershawn Young affectingly traces the push-and-pull of entering academic discourses. While Samba-Quee is drawn in by Young’s argument for codemeshing—that is, the strategic blending of discourses, such as Black rhetorical traditions and (White) American academese—Samba-Quee also sees risks inherent to such blending: “I’m not one to believe in gatekeeping, and what I want most of all is to be understood, I am curious to what extent will letting outsiders into our world, a world the product of years of mistreatment and oppression, come back to hurt us.”

Outlining one example of the oppressive systems by which marginalized communities are excluded, Sarah Islam examines the inherent biases of archival holdings and the histories that are generated from them. Since “documentation tools have only been available to . . . those in power,” Islam argues for structural and methodological reform in archival research in order to save the materials that are historically ignored and elevate the stories that have previously been silenced. Navasz Hansotia, too, has questions about exclusionary rhetorical practices, as she responds to an essay by James Warren, who contends that students’ lack of familiarity with the rhetorical situation of college application essays presents an undue challenge to students. Hansotia asserts that the challenge is especially problematic for international student applicants, who may be doubly disadvantaged due to lack of familiarity with the cultural contexts of their application. Exposing the hidden agenda of the application essay, Hansotia extends Warren’s argument to raise a call for change in the ways that application essay prompts are designed.

Taking a somewhat different tact that is no less concerned about questions of access and inclusion in academic contexts, Maggie Buyuk asks an especially timely question: “Can scientific rhetors ease the confusion and frustration that scientific research causes the general public?” As the spread of misinformation about vaccines and the COVID-19 virus seems to expand, Buyuk presents rhetorical strategies for going public with complex (and life-saving) scientific information. Also in favor of techniques for educating through open communication rather than restricted access, Hannah Ortiz casts doubt on the wisdom of censoring discriminatory works of literature—including those expressing overtly racist views, as doing so might “attract interest without context.” Rather, controversial or offensive texts might be put to use as occasions for teachers and students to openly and actively examine the contexts and consequences of those perspectives. Likewise calling for more expansive perspectives on literate activity, Alex Quadros makes the case for increased attention to orality in the composing process; reminding us that the acts of writing are not solely restricted to the inscription of words on a page by human hands, Quadros calls for the recognition of conversation and speech-to-text tools as legitimate resources in the writing process. On behalf of the editorial team, I welcome readers to the pandemic issue of Undercurrents and thank our nine honorees for sharing their outstanding work with the world.

-Lauren M. Bowen, Editor-in-Chief of Undercurrents and Director of the Composition Program

2021 Honorees

The works below were written by first-year students in the Composition Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, selected for publication by Composition Program faculty serving on the Undercurrents editorial board. Please see our Editor’s Introduction to learn more about our 2021 issue, click About the Journal to learn more about Undercurrents, or click the links below to enjoy our 2021 selections.

Photo of Maggie BuyukMaggie Buyuk’s The Battle of Science and the Public: How to Make Scientific Writing Friendly

“Clear language and structure can build a trusting relationship with the public and scientific discourse community, while still adhering to the standard rules and regulations of scientific research writing.”



Photo of John Nobile Carvalho

John Nobile Carvalho’s Becoming Bilingual: An Experience That Changed My Life

“Now this language is not only a source of curiosity; it has practically become the tool that allows me to connect with the world, and in a way even with myself.”



Photo of Navasz Hansotia

Navasz Hansotia’s The Ignored Insights Of An International Student

“Very often, as international applicants do not have the opportunity of their schools explaining to them the implicit nature of the prompt and the counsel’s expectations, they are eliminated at the first level of the ‘game.'”



Photo of Sarah IslamSarah Islam’s Ethics in the Archives

“We must uncover the truths hidden in the archives and make them known to the world. But along with providing the voiceless with a platform, we must strive to fix the system that allowed for the silencing of oppressed communities.”



Photo of Hannah Ortiz

Hannah Ortiz’s The Repurposing of Biased Literature for Moral Development

“With the correct educational intervention, biased or controversial literature can be read and discussed, furthering the moral development of every person in the classroom.”



Photo of Alex Quadros

Alex Quadros’s Paradise Found? Orality in the Composition Process

“Although the majority of research on orality in the composition process does focus on writers with disabilities, I see no logical reason for the role of orality to be reserved for a select few if it could benefit writers en masse.”



Photo of Adia Samba-Quee

Adia Samba-Quee’s Texts in Conflict

“Gee’s writing taught me how to have more critical relationships with the language I use and what it says about the groups I am a part of, but Young’s writing reminded me of the very institutions Gee upholds with his Discourse theory.”



Photo of Hadassa Sossou

Hadassa Sossou’s Using a Narrative Approach to Cater to Multilingual Student Writers

“Encouraging multilingual students to use narrative thus can help them to organize their ideas and take a position that not only explains their claims and conveys their thinking, but is compelling to an audience.”



Photo of Tyler Tran

Tyler Tran’s It’s Your Voice, Why Not Use It?

“Supporting students’ efforts to write with our own voices continues the flow of original ideas, allowing the conversation to thrive and continue, and the positive cycle of writing lives on.”