Roadmap for the Semester

Welcome! The First-Year Writing Seminar offers you the opportunity to develop critical thinking, writing, reading, and research skills that will stand you in good stead both in college and beyond. You’ll be encouraged to stretch your boundaries, cultivate your sense of curiosity, and open yourself to new possibilities so you can learn to read, write, and think about complex texts and ideas with greater clarity, focus, and depth.

People write for different audiences and for various reasons—to learn, to celebrate, to remember, to inform, to educate, to entertain, to persuade, etc. Sometimes people write for themselves, as a way to work out their thoughts, and later revise with an eye to communicating their thoughts with others. While it isn’t necessary to think about why you’re writing and who you’re writing for, a good way to improve a piece of writing is to reflect on your purpose and audience. To give you a chance to practice writing with a sense of purpose and audience, your major assignments this semester will call on you to work with different genres: you’ll write a personal essay, a close reading, an exploratory essay, and a researched argument.

Writing can feel like a solitary activity, and in some respects it is. But it’s also a fundamentally social activity, whether we’re conscious of it or not, in that we write in response to what other people have said or what we believe they think, and in doing so, we participate, implicitly or explicitly, in dialogue with others. The First-Year Writing Seminar will give you a chance to experience the social dimension of writing, since you’ll devote much time to giving and receiving feedback on each other’s essays as well as discussing published writing. In addition, since academic writing, in particular, tends to build on prior scholarship, you’ll practice explicitly connecting your own writing to what others have written so as to add your voice to a broader intellectual conversation.

To write well, you need to have something interesting to say, so much of our work this semester will involve debating ideas, challenging assumptions, testing hypotheses, and figuring out good questions to explore. In particular, we’ll take as our topic this semester the frequently invoked yet nebulous concept of identity. What do people mean when they speak of identity? What shapes our experience of it? How and why does our experience of identity vary from context to context?

Our work this semester will be organized into four units:
  • Unit 1: We’ll begin by exploring some conceptual distinctions scholars use to discuss identity and different theoretical approaches to the study of identity. You’ll write a personal essay that responds to an idea in one of the readings.
  • Unit 2: Next we’ll investigate fictions that tackle issues of identity construction, in particular tensions between individual identity and social identity and ways in which people’s images of themselves are wrapped up in others’ ideas about who they are. The fictions we’ll explore include Stacey Richter’s short story “Twin Study,” the first season of Justin Simien’s TV series, Dear White People (loosely based on his 2014 movie with the same title), and Anthony Asquith and George Bernard Shaw’s 1938 film Pygmalion. You’ll choose one of these sources and write an interpretive essay grounded in close reading of specific passages, scenes, or episodes.
  • Unit 3: In our third unit, we’ll investigate ways in which the digital revolution has impacted our experience of identity. Within this broad topic you’ll choose a specific focus, research what others have written about the topic, and write an exploratory essay synthesizing what you’ve learned.
  • Unit 4: Your final essay will be an interpretive argument about a fiction that grapples with issues involving technology and identity.


Most assigned readings will be posted on the course website. But you’ll need to acquire the following book, which has NOT been ordered at the BC bookstore:
  • Stephen Wilbers, Mastering the Craft of Writing

Recommended Materials:
  • Several two-pocket folders for keeping course readings, in-class writing exercises, handouts, and other work organized.
Course Website:
  • While we’ll sometimes use applications available through our canvas website, we’ll primarily rely on our external website,, where you’ll find information about course policies, the schedule of daily assignments, etc.
  • Daily assignments are grouped under the four units. So you can start by clicking on “Unit 1” to find the homework to do for our next meeting.