English 110: Composition and Ethnography

Steven Alvarez                                                                             ENGL110, Sec 3167 / Spring 2012

Office: Klapper 330                                                   Mon/Weds,8:15-10:05 AM, Room Rathaus 102                                                                  Office Hours: Weds,12:30-2:00 PM

(646) 549-6516 (text please)


Course Description

This course will explore the various guises of “college culture.” We will reflect through our research and writing about college representations in American culture, as well as:


–         the economics of attending college,

–         what we understand and question college to be for,

–         what we expect from our higher educations,

–         what we think the institution expects of us,

–         what it means to learn, what it means to succeed and fail, and

–         how aspirations and work ethic sometimes coincide and sometimes do not.


Based on our qualitative data, we will consider our own academic merits, and by critically engaging in functional and institutional approaches to conceptualizing academic merit, this course will challenge us each to map our educational trajectories based on the institutional and social experiences we have encountered in our 12+ years of schooling.


A Note About Ethnography

Ethnographic research teaches us that we study something because we already know something, and we write about something in order to further study. Our biographies always influence our research. The case with this course is that each individual’s biography and how it links to the macro picture must be personally interpreted in order to understand the significances of the infiltration of the social into the personal. A great part of doing such auto-ethnographic research is to analyze our subject positions in a social world constituted by what seem like innumerable realities. Writing ethnography is a process of piecing together a cultural puzzle. It involves applying critical analyses to various qualitative data, including interviews, observations from memories, and fieldnotes. Drawing from such sources in this course, we will compose ethnographic research, or a localized written examination that frames, conceptualizes, interprets, and critiques the social aspects of our lives. As first-year composition students, you especially benefit from writing about educational and college experiences at such an early point during your studies.


Learning Objectives for students will include:

–To build upon skills of writing observations, fieldnotes, and analysis

–To become familiar with qualitative research methods

–To critique popular representations of college culture

–To gain familiarity with organizing paragraph structure and integrating textual and personal experience

–To become aware of the MLA formatting and style standards and available resources available for reference



All assignments must be posted as blog pages by 1PM the day assigned


a) Essay One: Interview About Education with Parents/Guardians

4 pages minimum (in addition to transcript), DUE: 3/7

This first assignment requires research into the educational histories of your primary caregivers. You will conduct interviews with each of your parents/guardians, and you will write up your findings in a brief profile sketch. It will be up to you to decide what leads to follow in your interviews. You could include the following, for example:


–Educational achievements/hardships growing up

–Language differences or migration

–Going/not going to college

–Their thoughts on raising children

–Educational aspirations

–Private schools/public schools

–Religious/secular education


Be sure to include direct quotes from your sources and to document these as interviews following MLA conventions. The subject-release form is available on the class blog’s documents page. This must be signed by both your subject and you and submitted in paper to me.


b) Essay Two: College Representations and an Ideal QC

5 pages minimum, DUE: due 4/4



Perhaps you may have noticed how the student experience at QueensCollege differs from branded American representations of college life in the video above. For this assignment you are to briefly examine and compare three similar popular representations of college analyzed in relation to your viewpoint as an undergraduate. You need not focus on the fraternity-brother branded model, but additional college stereotype tropes. In addition, you are also to consider what your QueensCollege utopia would look like, and how the reality you experience as a student at QC should or could look like any of the college realities represented in your study.


Your composition should also address what institutional advantages and disadvantages you notice operating in your life. As you have been maintaining your journal, you can draw from the information you have already written, either to jog ideas or to actually use in your more formal writing. From these, you can analyze experiences from your life histories using theory gained from any of the sources we’ve covered thus far in the course.


c) Assignment Three: What About QC?: An Institutional Analysis and Academic Meritocracies

6 pages minimum, DUE: due 4/23

In continuing the line of reasoning begun in the previous assignment, this assignment asks you to critically reconsider your QC utopia vision based on the actual material conditions you experience daily. How much do you know about QC? What aspects of its history are you familiar with? After becoming familiar with CUNY’s Open Admissions policy of the 1970s, you have seen how difficult the process of overcoming inequality can be, and the various challenges “leveling the playing field” can propose.


In this essay you are to


–Analyze and interpret QC through an institutional analysis of social inequality using the models put forward by Clark (Cooling-Out), Bourdieu (dominated/dominant), and one additional source you have found independently on the QC library databases.


–Apply a social theory of conflict and reproduction to personal observations you have made during your attendance at QC.


–Historically connect these observations to what you have learned about QueensCollege and its stated missions. (note the QC Strategic Plan:


Questions and ideas to ask yourself to generate ideas/writing:

What is academic merit? What is academic failure? How do academic merit and academic success align? What are the causes of academic success? What does success mean, and what will it mean later? For this assignment, you will assess how you think academic merit functions in academia. Relate the readings about meritocracy to what you have encountered in terms of competition in your schooling experience. How has meritocracy structured your schooling experiences? How competitive do you find the atmosphere at QueensCollege?  Why?  


d) Essay Four: The Personal Statement

3 pages minimum, DUE: 5/2

You will complete the application process for a Queens College Foundation Scholarship, which includes a personal statement. As a piece of writing, the statement of purposes performs a vital role in demonstrating your merits. The importance of articulating in writing your academic goals and merits for the award will be the focus of rhetorical style for the assignment. Your personal statement should encapsulate all the aspects you may have learned about your academic autobiography through the progression of writing assignments you have completed. As per the genre, you must write in a few double-spaced pages, a “full picture” of yourself so that your intended audience(s) can appreciate you as a student, intellectual, and individual.


You should synthesize your ambitions and goals into a few paragraphs that charm in such a way as to make yourself seem a “naturally” qualified candidate. You should be able to accomplish this do so by shrewdly positioning yourself as good candidates emphasizing and minimizing certain aspects for presentation. At the same time you must also understand the levels of formality necessary for your address. While charming the scholarship committee members so as to seem likeable, you must also maintain a respectable distance. In strategizing your rhetorical production, you should do research into what the scholarship looks for in terms of requirements. With all this, it is plain to see a great deal of critical work goes into writing these “statements,” or short academic, paraprofessional autobios.



All readings may be found online at or at the various websites provided.



We meet twice a week for roughly two hours a session. Some meetings will be broken into two sections with a short break in the middle. There are a few days announced in advance when class may be cancelled, but always noted in advance.


We’ll be seeing a lot of one another. Therefore I hope we will come to respect one another as members of a shared academic community. In order to foster that sense of community, there are a few rules that I expect everyone to follow:


RESPECT: In this class we’ll encounter new ideas and different ways of thinking and reading things, in addition to practicing new and demanding skills. In order for us to be a successful community of scholars, we need to be respectful of each other’s learning. It is imperative that we treat one another with courtesy. Talking over your classmates or myself, sleeping, text messaging, not having the necessary materials, surfing websites you shouldn’t be surfing during class, or not having done the assignment, are all manifestations of disrespect and will be noted (in that catch-all “Participation Points” I record). Turn off cellular phones before you enter the classroom—AND PLEASE NO TEXTING DURING CLASS. And please don’t make dramatic sighs, sigh.


Be aware that grades for participation are not only based on how much you talk in class but also how respectful you are to your classmates, to me, and to your work.


ATTENDANCE: We meet at 8:15 AM—not 8:30, not 8:50, certainly not 9:30. I do not tolerate tardiness, and I find it disrespectful. If you have problems with the time commitment for this course, I suggest finding another section that better suits your schedule.


And by the way: there is no such thing as an excused absence—your lack of physical presence does not excuse you from turning in your work. Therefore, it is your responsibility to miss no more than four classes or accept your grade. You are responsible for all the work we do in class and out of class even if you are not in attendance. Find a classmate from whom you can get any missed information.  My email and telephone number are at the top of the syllabus. Feel free to contact me by text-message as well—in your best standard English please.


LATE WORK: The assignments in this class build upon one another and culminate in your final portfolio-project. It is necessary for you, then, to complete each assignment before the next is begun.  Late or skipped assignments will seriously hinder the process.  I RESERVE THE RIGHT NOT TO ACCEPT TEXTS PUBLISHED LATE. That’s in bold and caps so you get my emphasis, dig?  If you feel that you will not be able to make a deadline, or if you must miss class on the day the essay is due, you must contact me in advance so we can work something out. If your essay is not posted by the time I get to where I ask you to post it online, I will skip you. Don’t take the chance my friends.


PEER REVIEW: You will periodically respond to your classmates’ blog entries about YouTube videos they found that they thought were useful for some aspect we have discussed in class. In addition, on peer-review days, you must bring a PAPER COPY of your essay to class with you.


Evaluation / Grading

This is a portfolio-based class, which means that at the end of the semester you will be required to electronically post an electronic portfolio, which will include your “final” essay of the semester, and copies of your most formal drafts of your previous essays.  The sequence of assignments is laid out in the schedule of assignments, but the major writing assignments will be given as we approach them.  As we near them, we will go over the requirements and expectations for each piece of writing.  All essays must be typed, double-spaced, and in Times New Roman 12-point font. All media that can be embedded, should be, and not hyperlinked.


The break-down of grading is as follows:


In-class Writing:        40 POINTS

(20 x 2 points)


Qwriting Blog 20 POINTS

                        (20×1 points)


Essays:                       28 POINTS

Essay 1                          5 points

Essay 2                          7 points

Essay 3                          8 points

Essay 4                          8 points

Portfolio                        5 POINTS


Participation                 7 POINTS


Total                                     100 POINTS

Queens College Grade Equivalencies:

A         93-100

A-        90-92

B+       87-89

B          83-86

B-        80-82

C+       77-79

C         73-76

C-        70-72

D+       67-69

D         60-66

F          0-59



Plagiarism is the most disrespectful act of an academic citizen and carries the largest reprimand. The English Department policy on plagiarism is as follows: “A student who has plagiarized will automatically fail the paper and possibly fail the class. The student will also be listed on a departmental record that will be maintained for the duration of the student’s enrollment at the College and reported to the Dean of Students who may decide to take further action. A student who plagiarizes the second time will automatically fail the course.  Plagiarists may be subject to further penalties to be determined by the Faculty-Student Disciplinary Committee or the Dean of Students, including notation on the student’s permanent record, suspension, or dismissal from the college.” 




Located in Kiely Hall 229, tutors there are trained to help you revise your writing at various stages. If you believe you need additional help with your writing, or if I ask you to set up a regular meeting with a tutor, you should make an appointment at least one week prior to when an assignment is due. You can also get online help by visiting their website at


I offer one point of extra credit for each documented tutoring session you’ve attended. See me for details if interested.



If you have a learning, sensory, or physical reason for special accommodation in this class, contact the Office of Special Services in 171 Kiely Hall at 718-997-5870 and please inform me.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email