Letter to the Editor: Apathy Lies With Students, Not Faculty

This letter was written in response to the article “Starving Artists: How Seattle U Could Be Failing Its Creative Community.” Dear Editor, As a recent graduate of the program, I’m sure you can imagine my surprise at the “State of the Arts” piece you recently published regarding the Creative Writing program, and Seattle U’s Fine Arts in general. I found the article misguided at best, and fairly irresponsible. Please allow me to shed some light on the issue from the perspective of someone out in the real world with a Creative Writing degree. I consider myself a Creative Writing major, but to be fair, the degree listed on my diploma is “English with Creative Writing.” And why is that? Because the CW program is not a BFA in Writing, but rather a BA in English with an emphasis in writing. This is an amazing and hugely beneficial difference. In terms of versatility and general career opportunities, a BA in English is about as great as you can get. English alum get to boast critical thinking and analytical skills, communication skills, superior writing skills, attention to detail, etc. The résumé practically writes itself! People who major in English with Creative Writing get to brag all this stuff too, only they have the added bonus of studying writing as well. And about that writing… My biggest concern with the article was that the students interviewed groused about the lack of writing assignments. Quantity does not equate quality in almost any situation, but especially in writing and other fine arts. Whitman did not create “Song of Myself” because a professor was looming over him with deadlines, insisting he meet a word count each day. Creative writing, or at least good writing, doesn’t happen because someone is forcing you to spew it out in droves. It happens naturally and comes from within. What the SU program does is nurture the writer from both a literary and creative standpoint, allowing that work to improve. By studying other writers, in detail, we are afforded an opportunity to evaluate and think critically about our own writing style, purpose, thematic content, etc. As you mentioned in the article, and as it is often said in good ol’ Casey 500, good readers make good writers. This is absolutely true. But justifying or explaining the purpose and merits of the department isn’t going to help, is it? Because students seem to have already made up their minds about the program. As one person interviewed said, fine arts majors “like to complain.” Despite loads of opportunities (i.e. writing clubs, the Search for Meaning festival, guest lectures, etc.), students seem to feel they’re being neglected. Apathy is certainly an issue, but not one that lies with the faculty. The PEP Talk series, for example, is called “a failure” because no students came. The PEP Talks (Profession, Education, Publication) were created at the behest of these same students being quoted. The department funded them, gave them connections to the writing community to bring in authors, and even lined up the space. They weren’t a complete failure—thirty people on average came to the first two. The key factor, however, is that these talks are supposed to be student-led. Creative Writing majors cannot refuse to get involved, show no interest in these opportunities, and then complain that they are being slighted. The heart of the problem here is that students are failing to take responsibility for themselves and their own work. Writing can only be taught to a certain extent. Like painting or playing the guitar, lessons can

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only take a person so far, and the rest must be a combination of natural ability, hard work, and self-motivation. Between the literature classes (studying others) and the writing classes (studying others to focus on ourselves), CW majors have been given everything we need. On that note, here is my advice to current Creative Writing majors: If you are a writer, write. If you want to write well, stop whining about quantity and focus on the quality of what you’re being shown. It’s that simple. I produced some of my best work while studying American Literature and Poetry with Dr. Cumberland and Dr. Roberts, and not once did we have a ‘creative’ assignment. Seattle U is just about as good as it gets in terms of overall opportunity and quality of education, and I’ve never experienced a school where professors have such an open-door policy. Take advantage of it, ask questions, seek advice, and use what you are being offered. I spent an hour and a half in visiting professor Rebecca Brown’s office while she told me my fiction was “absurd.” Then I spent an hour in Dr. Cumberland’s office crying over my wounded ego and asking for advice. In the end, both sessions helped improve my writing. My point being, the offices in Casey 500 exist for a reason. Use them. If a student has graduated with less writing than he or she would like, it’s because that student didn’t work at it enough independently. No one can make you produce something phenomenal. What the CW program provides is the tools and knowledge to do that on your own, because after graduation that’s what you’ll have to do. I’m a Creative Writing student from Seattle U. I work in a law firm where my analytical and communication skills are essential. I also move to Ireland this August to study in a Masters of Writing program. (I got an early offer to NUI-Galway, and offers from Trinity are sent in May.) The crazy thing? I was accepted based on a writing sample that did not come from an in-class exercise or assignment. I used lessons from my SU education to write a story that was organic and the best example of what I can do. The stories I had published in Fragments (SU’s Literary and Visual Arts Magazine—another opportunity for CW majors) also did not originate from an assignment. Again I say, if you are a writer, write. And frankly, if you want a BFA, go to an art school and get one. But I assure you, an English with Creative Writing degree will get you further in the long run. At the very least, it isn’t going to hinder what writing you should already be doing. On a related note, no degree from Seattle U (or any university for that matter) is a “waste of money” unless the graduate fails to make the best of their education and put it to work. No one, not your professors or your department heads or your parents or your provost, can make your education “worth it.” Only you can do that. Your education is exactly as valuable as you make it. As someone who has made the rounds at state schools, compared programs, and put my SU degree to use in the ever-feared “real world,” my sincerest wish is to provide a fresh perspective for current and perspective students of the Creative Writing program. The SU students pretty much have it made, if only they would recognize it and take advantage of what lies before them. Thank you for your time and careful consideration, and please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. With regard, Mary Ballingham, SU Alumna