Midterm Election Year a Great Time for a Writing Seminar on The Electoral Process

November 4, 2014
Marion Just heads table of students engrossed in discussion

Each month during the academic year we profile one course and the professor who teaches it, to give a sense of the breadth of offerings at Wellesley and the passion of those who teach here. What better course to consider during a heated election season like Fall 2014 than one that closely follows, critiques, and reflects upon some of the tightest races in the nation.  

Professor of Political Science Marion Just is teaching that very course, a new Calderwood Seminar on Public Writing, POL1 319 Campaigns and Elections. Through their reading, discussing, and especially iterative writing, students investigate why campaigns are important and what elections mean for democratic governance in the United States.

This course is a natural fit for Wellesley, where engagement and even activism all across the political spectrum is a yearlong—even lifelong—endeavor, just perhaps most visible in the run-up to an election. The understanding students get from Just's course help them bridge the gap between comprehending complex and arcane aspects of politics and communicating those subtleties to those who may not be making as intense a study of it. Throughout the seminar students have applied various journalism styles including reporting about campaign events, candidates, and relevant political science research; blogging; and commentary. They've dived into mutually supportive criticism and shared their individual projects on competitive Congressional races.

Political science major Brooke Gier '15 says, “I find writing blogs instead of essays extremely refreshing and valuable for post-college work. It forces us to think about the core of the issues we discuss, such as polarization or polling, and write about them in a clear and concise manner that anyone can understand.”  

Gier says she took an electoral politics course at MIT during the last presidential campaign, and while the MIT class focused on reading about the science and quantitative aspects of campaigns, elections, and democracy, she thinks she'll retain more from this class because of all the writing involved. Fellow political science major Francie Hofmann ’15 also praises the structure of the class, saying, “[It] works well. We're very busy every week, but don't feel rushed. We have time to write, edit, discuss and rewrite in response to our classmates' and Professor Just's comments.”

For her part, Just finds the Calderwood seminar a relevant way to share her expertise with students and achieve another goal: “I am teaching in the program,” she says, “because I want to help more women to find and project their voices into the public.” 

Sums up Gier, “Professor Just is wonderful. She offers valuable insight on the issues because of her past research, provides helpful suggestions to improve our writing, and used her connections to give us the opportunity to present blog pitches to the executive producer of PBS NewsHour. Also, she brings cookies to class.”