After writing her class essay on “Blindness,” a novel and accompanying film, senior English secondary education major Rondaya Woodbury was surprised her assignment received attention at all.
Woodbury wrote the essay for an elective class called Feminist Theory. She used a feminist lens for her assignment, appropriate for the women’s studies course, about the significance of the female protagonist in the film, based on the novel by José Saramago. She recalled her surprise after being approached by the course’s professor, Julia Mendenhall.
Mendenhall suggested she further develop her essay and enter the expanded version into a contest for the Writing-Intensive Course Committee Prize, worth $1,500, that is awarded yearly to a student and professor for a class assignment.
“It was a tough year,” Jennifer Follett, a director at Temple’s Writing Center and WICC judge, said. “We had pieces of writing from women’s studies, media and communications and many others that were really good.”
The award is unique in nature, as it is not only bequeathed to the student author, but also their professor – it is meant to honor the revision process as well as the initial creative effort of writing. A judging panel examines the portfolio with particular attention to the professor’s efforts to guide the student using feedback. It aim is to celebrate the interaction between professor and student.
“[Mendenhall] challenged [Woodbury],” Follett said. “[Woodbury] didn’t know much about the course but writing the paper helped her understand.”
Mendenhall noticed Woodbury’s work ethic and was aware of her aspirations to give back to the Philadelphia community by becoming a teacher.
“I’ve taught many writing-intensive courses and saw [Woodbury’s] commitment to writing intensely immediately,” Mendenhall said. “I knew she was going to be a great teacher because she was an active, intense thinker.”
“Blindness” is set in a society that experiences an epidemic of sightlessness, characterized by a sudden inability to see anything but white. Woodbury’s essay focuses on the protagonist, a woman who is the only person unaffected by the mysterious outbreak. Throughout the movie, the woman is challenged with the stereotype that women are weak.
“I never knew about [the WICC award] before,” Woodbury said. “I didn’t expect the nomination. My professor called me out in class about my paper and then I started to attend her office hours. Each time was to improve my paper and we signed up together to enter the contest.”
Woodbury said she and Mendenhall built a friendly relationship during their experiences working together. Woodbury said she valued the learning experience of working so closely with her professor.
“I felt like she respected me as a person and understood me as a fellow educator,” Woodbury said. “She would often ask me about my experience as a teacher and connected it to the process of finalizing my essay.”
Woodbury’s ideas during her revision stages also helped Mendenhall learn new strategies to use while assisting other students.
“When [Woodbury] and I met, she had her laptop and as we talked, she revised her paper, rewriting her sentences on the spot,” Mendenhall said. “I could see that she really understood my feedback and could act on it immediately. I have since incorporated her strategy into all of my classes, so I have her to thank for that.”
Mendenhall said she wants to motivate all of her students to develop in writing, leading and thinking. She said she believes Woodbury met each of these objectives while working on her “Blindness” reflection.
“We have a great relationship,” Mendenhall said. “[Woodbury] listens so intently and then takes action fearlessly. I made it clear to her also that I wanted to support her, because she wants to give back to the Philly community and be a high school English teacher.”
Woodbury said she sees herself teaching English at a Philadelphia high school. She continues to develop her ideas by writing in class as well as helping other students with their writing.
Karlina Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.