Loyola Magazine

Writing matters

A student shares her unexpected path to her major

When I came to Loyola in the fall of 2011, I had no intention of earning my degree in writing.

I knew exactly what where I wanted to end up after graduation—working in a nonprofit that focused on poverty issues.

I’d spent the past four years serving every Thursday night at a soup kitchen in my hometown. I used to joke that I if I could, I would just volunteer for a living. When the college search began, I realized that a career in service was not a fantasy.

But what major allows you to work in a nonprofit? Global Studies? Sociology? Political science? Certainly not writing. I wrote only as a hobby, a personal therapy, where I could record the world of my mind though words that were never intended for anyone else’s eyes.

The linchpin lesson I learned from the writing department is that writing should be a public activity, not a private one.

Dr. Terre Ryan changed my perspective in the Effective Writing class I took during my freshman year. She assigned us to write research and persuasive essays about a social justice issue of our choice. I wrote about homelessness in Baltimore, inspired from my intense introduction to urban poverty through the Center for Community, Service, and Justice and their Student Orientation to Service program.

I obsessed over these papers, thought about them in the shower, during other classes, on the weekends. I remember getting frustrated with the persuasive essay, thinking, “How am I supposed to solve homelessness in ten pages?!” My first instinct for a solution was raising the minimum wage, but after looking into it, minimum wage was not the primary problem. Before you get a higher wage, you have to have a job in the first place.

Unemployment seemed to be the more pressing issue. People on the streets needed jobs, but have you ever heard of someone homeless getting hired? So I argued that employers needed to be open to candidates that do not have an address, summed up with the title “Hire the Homeless.”

The topic of unemployment was a sensitive one for me personally. When I was little, my dad worked as the Director of Social Justice and Peace at a branch of a one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the country. When I was 10 years old, his department (and therefore his position) was eliminated. He was unemployed for about a year and never obtained work in the nonprofit field again.

Bringing my own experience with unemployment made my writing vulnerable, and here’s the thing—we presented our paper to the whole class. This wasn’t just for me or even for my teacher; I had an audience. I felt responsible to use that opportunity to break down stereotypes about the unemployed and the homeless—like that they are lazy, stupid, or did something to deserve their situation. My words had the power to change people’s minds. What a revolutionary discovery.

I decided to minor in writing, and eventually changed it to my major. Writing was a skill I could enjoy personally and also use practically in my field. Nonprofits need writers for all kinds of things, especially for reports and grants. I took several service-learning courses with Dr. Andrea Leary and Dr. Allen Brizee, which gave me invaluable work experience.

Today I am happy to report that I have arrived at my career destination—working in a human services nonprofit organization, GEDCO CARES Career Connection. I assist low-income clients struggling to navigate the job market in today’s computerized age.

I use my writing skills to construct résumés and cover letters for clients (note: in my Technical Writing class with Dr. Brizee, we learned specifically about these two genres.) I recently created a new, more reader-centered cover letter template that volunteers use to help clients apply for jobs, and we have already seen results.

Since I started my position with GEDCO CARES, 12 clients have secured jobs (as opposed to only one client in the previous us month.) I don’t claim credit for this success—the clients worked like it’s their job to job search—but I can see that my presence in the office makes a difference in its productivity.

Looking back on that paper on employment justice, I am amazed at where I am today. Amazed and grateful.

Originally from Saco, Maine, Rachael Christian will graduate in May with a degree in writing.