William Zinsser wrote, “Writing is thinking on paper.” The corollary is also true, and a recent showcase of projects by UC Santa Barbara students in the Raab Writing Fellows Program offered a compelling look into some of the things that undergraduates are thinking about.
The 21 projects for the 2022 Fellows cover a variety of different kinds of writing, from academic and multimedia to personal and creative writing, with subjects ranging from “The Sound of Queerness in Tap Dance,” to “Lost in Translation: A Look into Multilingualism’s Effect on Personality and Identity,” “Breaking Binaries: A Zine on the Gender Non-Conforming Experience,” and “Unsafe Passage: A Generational Story of Vietnamese ‘Boat People.’”
Funded by Dr. Diana Raab (dianaraab.com), a well-known local author and speaker on the intersection between mental health, wellness, and writing, the year-long program provides opportunities for one-on-one professional mentorship and research to select undergraduates. It also includes stipends — a key element in promoting equity for all students — for conference expenses, materials, and travel, as well as for mentors.
Ljiljana Coklin directs the program and teaches the year-long research seminar. “The projects are student-generated,” she said. “Sometimes the projects build on the assignments done in different classes, but most often, the projects are based on the students’ interests that couldn’t fit easily into any of their classes.”
Personal experiences and interests are clearly at the forefront for many projects. For example, first-generation student Luis Garcia said he focused the bulk of his student interviews and research on other first-generation students to create the “Gaucho Survival Guide to COVID-19.”
For her analysis of a familiar cinematic trope, Grace Wilken made a short called “Days and Nights: An Anti Manic Pixie Dream Girl Film,” which both exposes and subverts the common dream-girl elements and looks at them from the female perspective.
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In presenting his project, “The Kids Aren’t Alright: Depictions of Teenage Depression and Anxiety in Popular Fiction,” Luc Le said, “Stories are incredibly powerful things. They have the power to shape how we think.”
Some of the Fellows’ projects have a direct connection to their career ambitions. For example, Chloe Le, a 2021 Fellow who will begin law school in August, wrote a research article titled “The Injustice in Justice: Discrimination Against Women of Color in the Legal Profession.” “This program allowed me to explore and raise awareness of the systemic barriers to advancement that ethnic-minority female attorneys tend to face throughout their careers,” said Le.
While her writing and research skills did improve, Le said, “the most beneficial part of the program for me was meeting some amazing people who have continued to support me as I embark on my legal career.” Sandy Roxas, one of the attorneys she interviewed, became a mentor. “She reviewed my law school personal statements, helped me obtain scholarships, and constantly reassured me throughout the daunting law school admissions process.”
Another 2021 Fellow, Vivian Walman-Randall, said, “The fellowship pushed me to write my novel and keep my production high during a global tragedy that could’ve easily led to burnout and hopelessness. The experience empowered and strengthened my internal motivation, and nurtured a writing practice that was self-led. … I’m so grateful that I had the experience of being a Raab fellow; it was truly one of the most enriching things I did during my undergrad.”
Now applying for Creative Writing MFA programs, Walman-Randall offered what might be the highest possible praise for a writing program of this type: “Because I undertook the fellowship, I realized that I am not just an aspiring writer, but a writer through and through.”
For more information and to view the 2022 Raab Writing Fellows Program projects, visit raabwritingfellows.com/category/2022.