If you don’t know Dawn Terrick, Director of ENG100, I’m surprised. If you don’t know Dawn Terrick, you should. She is the Queen Pin of working for students who are here despite the odds. You can’t have a long conversation with Dawn without being drawn in to thinking about students at MWSU. But not the privileged-class students. Not the over-achiever students who come from affluent families with their pristine 4.0 GPA. The struggling students. The students who went to high schools that didn’t prepare them for university work. The students without ACT scores, or scores so low you can’t imagine what happened. The GED students. The students who are here – by hook or by crook – to get out of poverty, to escape traumatic families, to make their first generation immigrant parents proud. These are the students Dawn champions. These are the students she works to help succeed.
Dawn understands that a student will not succeed without being able to read and write well. She understands, also, that students who do not connect with the curriculum, who feel they are “outside” the Ivory Tower, a-sea in a place that does not reflect any part of their day-to-day reality, will not succeed. So she works to make sure those things don’t happen. She has created a writing program that focuses on academic rigor and making students stronger readers and writers. I have always said that if a student makes it through ENG100, they will have the tools to succeed academically at this university.
In addition to the rigor of the program, Dawn also has created a text book for ENG100 filled with the voices and perspectives of African Americans, Latino/a Americans, and other perpetually marginalized voices. It is a tragedy of the dominant culture that we – professors across the curriculum – do not all teach diverse texts, voices of the marginalized. In ENG100, students read the words of James Baldwin, Zora Neal Hurston, Alice Walker, Richard Rodriquez, Fredrick Douglas, Maya Angelou, Amy Tan, among others. Dawn selects these authors intentionally so that the students in ENG100 can hear the voices of people who have struggled as they do; hear the voices of people writing openly about race, gender, and class oppression. How is it that we live in a culture where a young person can make it out of public education and not know who James Baldwin is? Furthermore, if you didn’t take ENG100, you may get out of your college education without knowing.
In the spring of each year, Dawn makes a call to gather the best essays of ENG100 and publishes them in a book. She invites the selected authors and their families to a reception. It is my all time favorite thing to attend. I always weep. I weep because there, in a single room on this campus, there are students who have never been recognized for academic achieve and here they are receiving a university writing award. The room is filled with their voices, telling their stories and they read their own words: abuse, neglect, barriers to learning, the horrors of poverty. Students read and babies and children and aunties and mothers and fathers and grandparents and professors and administrators listen. We all listen to these voices of diversity and struggle that have managed to succeed, to be recognized, to be heard. The room is filled with people who had been told they couldn’t succeed at college. It is filled with people who were told they were not college material. It is filled with older generations in awe of what they thought was impossible: a child, a grandchild, succeeding at university.
The only sure hope people have of escaping poverty is education. Helping this population of students to achieve is the most important social justice work we do on this campus. Dawn Terrick works every day to make sure these students, those seemingly with no preparation and little hope, have a voice, a path, a way. That is why she is a Drum Major for Social Justice.