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Saying something of consequence: female faculty participate in the OpEd Project

Dec. 7, 2016

What do you know, why does it matter, and how can you use that knowledge to change the world?

Those were the questions posed to 18 female IU faculty members during a two-day workshop led by the OpEd Project in November. 

IU faculty group at OpEd workshop

From back left, participants inlcude: Christina Snyder, Jessica Steinberg, Sarah Knott, Laurel Cornell, Emily Metzgar, Cynthia Bannon, Michelle Moyd and Marissa Moorman. From front left: Brenda Weber, Mary C. Curtis, Vivian Halloran, Eden Medina, Jeannine Bell, Patrícia Amaral, Judy Failer, Ellen Wu, Laura Plumer, Elisabeth Lloyd and Deborah Douglas. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ALEXANDER TESCHMACHER, COLLEGE ARTS AND HUMANITIES INSTITUTE 

The aim of the OpEd Project was to increase the number of women contributing to media outlet commentary pages and to guide those women in developing a strategy for sharing expertise and opinion with the general public. The event was sponsored by Jonathan Elmer, director of the College Arts and Humanities Institute, and Eliza Pavalko, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs.

Elmer said the OpEd Project is a “great way to get our expert and passionate scholars before the eyes of the public.”

To be a thought leader, one’s voice must be both heard and heeded, and the women who gathered in the University Club for two days focused on honing their ideas and their public-scholar voices. 

During the intensive two-day, 14-hour workshop, participants were led through a carefully structured series of discussions, practical writing exercises and peer review sessions. They considered the broad and nuanced answers to such questions as “What are we experts in?” “Why are some people more persuasive than others?” and “How do we make our ideas and experiences count as much as possible?”

They also interacted in small groups and pairs, playing games with titles like “That’s Ridiculous!” and “Pitch Slam” to practice addressing counter-arguments and naysayers and distill their main points into clear, effective statements. 

Having produced a rough draft of an op-ed piece as “homework” after the first day of the workshop, participants met on the second day in small peer-review groups to give and receive feedback.

“It was incredibly productive,” said Ellen Wu, associate professor of history and director of the Asian American Studies Program. “I got a better sense of how to frame short and strong arguments for a general reading audience.” 

Drawn from the schools of law, informatics and computing, global and international studies, and media, as well as seven departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, the OpEd faculty had equally diverse individual goals.

Wu sought suggestions on how to generate timely topics to write about, to formally structure and style op-eds, and to pitch pieces effectively. 

Wu, who has published op-eds in the Los Angeles Times and NPR’s “Code Switch” blog, aimed “to learn how to write in ways that will bring new kinds of history to members of the curious public.”

Emily Metzgar, associate professor of media and an experienced opinion columnist, was looking for guidance and support in writing op-eds for national publications more regularly.

“I see public engagement as an important part of my role as a professor, but too often I think we as academics don’t consider the broader implications of insights to be derived from our research and teaching and just our lives in general,” Metzgar said in a post-workshop survey.

The OpEd Project not only helped participants craft a piece of writing but also gave them access to national journalists, who advised on drafts and placement. Participants agreed that the straightforward template provided by facilitators and accomplished print and multimedia journalists Mary C. Curtis and Deborah Douglas was tremendously useful.  

“Academics are not trained to write editorials, so the process is a bit mysterious,” said Eden Medina, associate professor of informatics and computing. “By the end of the weekend we all had a much better idea of how to have our ideas and expertise reach a much larger audience.”

Faculty participation in the OpEd project workshop aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including celebrating a vibrant community of scholars.

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