In the spring of 2018, a group of twelve undergrads extended their usual commute by about 90 miles. They were on a field trip to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve in LaFarge, Wisconsin for their class, “Writing Rivers.”
“Writing Rivers” is an undergraduate course designed and taught by Professor Caroline Gottschalk Druschke. The course is rhetoric-focused and water-based. Students read, discuss, and write on rhetoric, place, and public memory all while learning to advocate for a water-based issue they care about. Professor Gottschalk Druschke has taught the course twice at UW since joining the faculty here in 2017 and will offer it again next fall.
Professor Gottschalk Druschke described the teaching investments that helped to generate this course:
My courses are always public-focused, encouraging students to engage with pressing environmental and social controversies. My philosophy is that coursework offers a safe space to take risks and practice engagement. My hope is that students leave my courses feeling both more and less confident – more confident about using voices in the world, but more prepared to listen to the wealth of knowledge from community members that they still need to learn.
This was certainly in the case for “Writing Rivers.” In the 2018 version of the course, Professor Gottschalk Druschke partnered with Marcy West, the Executive Director of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and secured access to 40 interviews given in the early 2000s with landowners who were moved from their farms for the never-built LaFarge Dam. Students in “Writing Rivers” worked with these interviews and visited the Kickapoo Valley Reserve to create projects about the Dam controversy. Piper Brown-kingsley (front row, three from the left in the photo above) explained the academic and social benefit of the work:
For one of our assignments, each student had to transcribe interviews from the residents in the Kickapoo Valley. While transcribing is time consuming and hard work, I loved the fact that we were given an assignment that went beyond the professor giving us a grade. Our work transcribing interviews helps document the history of the Kickapoo Valley.
Professor Gottschalk Druschke reflects:
Students expressed discomfort with being asked to engage with the arguments about a real place in the world: a place we visited and, through Marcy West and the recorded voices of the Valley’s former residents, came to know. This was uncomfortable for many students! And I’m proud of them for pushing through that discomfort.
As some of her students were preparing to walk across the graduate stage last spring, Professor Gottschalk Druschke came to the ceremony to snap some pictures. She shares that one of her students is now in graduate school for English Education, another is a paramedic in Wisconsin, and another is working on a PhD in Art History.
“Writing Rivers” has inspired many students to take their projects public: