Introduction: Maia Stephenson

Hello Everyone! My name is Maia Stephenson. I am a rising junior, majoring in Public and Professional Writing and minoring in History. I’ve really enjoyed being a Public and Professional Writing major because it has allowed me to acquire various skills as I work with different writing genres such as critical, blogging, technical, research and creative. I’ve also operated as an intern for the organization DBLAC (Digital Black Lit & Composition), a “network that provides spaces for members to testify to, discuss with, and share support for each other in response to the continued marginalization of Black bodies in academia”. The same professors who are the heads of that organization, Dr. Khirsten Scott and Dr. Louis Maraj, also assisted with expanding my engagement with black rhetoric and helped me conduct research that would have been presented at the 19th Biennial Rhetoric Society of America Conference (cancelled due to Covid-19). The presentation that I would have presented explored the concept of hospitality via “inclusion” programs in relation to reported experiences of black women on predominantly white college campuses. According to Khalilah Annette Shabazz (2015), targeted academic advising, mentoring, availability of a staff or faculty member, can all be considered part of institutional support programs related to inclusion. This research involved interviewing groups of black women in college-prep programs such as RISE and BRIDGES in an effort to understand how these programs work to support community-building for these women in particular. Conducting research on that topic allowed me to gain more knowledge concerning community-building as well as inclusion efforts.

Moreover, in the course, Topics in African American Rhetoric, I participated in a community symposium where I talked about black experiences in white spaces. Specifically, I narrativized my experiences as a black woman growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and then going on to attend a predominantly white university where despite this fact, I found myself ending up in enclaves black spaces. Additionally, during a course I took called Seminar in Composition: Topics in Diversity, my class traveled to the YMCA located in Homewood in order to record a song we created in class. While there, we interacted with a few of the locals who were operating the recording booth. They discussed with us the opportunities young Homewood residents are given in order to interact with this particular form of media. Those who want to express themselves through music are given the opportunity through YMCA programs to learn how to play instruments and others who are interested in learning how to operate the soundboard within the recording studio are given the opportunity to learn as well. In fact, the individual’s who were helping us record took part in that program. These interactions were the first of many I have had and plan to have with the Homewood community via University of Pittsburgh connections. 

This summer I will be conducting research with the community-based program H.Y.PE.  (Homewood Youth-Powered and Engaged) Media. Sociologists have found that the concept of  “neighborhood stigma” is based heavily on people’s perception of race as race is a, “statistical marker that stigmatizes not only individuals but also places in which they are concentrated” (Sampson and Raudenbush, 2005:7). The city of Pittsburgh possesses high levels of racial segregation and due to this reality most people’s perception concerning the Homewood community are not driven by personal experiences but are often conjured up by what they see portrayed in the media. Focusing on the community of Homewood, the question of how can we assist in changing how the neighborhood is perceived in the greater community of Pittsburgh arises. In response, my research mentor, Dr. Khirsten Scott, in partnership with the Homewood Children’s Village, created the program H.Y.P.E. Media with the organization’s main goal being to empower the black youth of the community by giving them tools in order to interject their voices into the narrative. Utilizing tools such as social media and publications not only can they change the perceptions of others, but they can also change their perceptions of themselves and their own capabilities. 

H.Y.P.E. Media presents a dynamic opportunity for me to contribute to the Homewood community, this time with high school youth. H.Y.P.E. Media’s summer sessions present space for me to explore the following research questions: How can black students utilize social media in order to change the narrative of their community?; How can they use social media to communicate their thoughts and ideas about their community in order to facilitate change?; And how can they use social media amongst themselves in order to present individual forms of self-expression in order to change their self-efficacy and community relationships?” In terms of research methodologies  I plan on using traditional means of ethnographic research such as conducting interviews, taking note of observations, and keeping documentation. I will also use “‘collaborative ethnography’ which involves people documenting their own realities (through photography and collection of documents) and a stage of returning people’s words from interviews to them in transcript form and discussing the data we have collected, and our interpretations with them” (Hodges & Jones as cited by Hamilton, 1999).Furthermore, I will utilize teacher-research methodologies by conducting workshops within the program and receiving direct data from the participants themselves.

I plan to pursue a career in law, and I believe several elements of this research opportunity will assist with my future goals. As I will be conducting research, and of course with research, problems do arise, problem-solving is a skill I will be working to cultivate. Furthermore, problem-solving is also a key skill while practicing law. People will usually go out of their way to obtain a lawyer in order to prevent having a problem or in the case that they already do have one, they are looking to rectify the issue. Having great problem-solving skills provides attorneys with the ability to locate solutions in complex situations. Moreover, possessing exceptional problem-solving skills allows lawyer to deduce results that fit the needs of specific clientele.1  

Moreover, another skill I believe this opportunity will allow me to cultivate is symptomatic reading. As an attorney it’s expected that you will do large amounts of reading anytime you take on a new client. This reading could include anything from contracts to witness testimonies. If you only skim through these documents without analyzing for deeper context, the results can be harmful for the client. It takes a great deal of time to analyze information critically with a sufficient amount of apprehension. Overall, providing attorneys with the ability to evaluate case documents and fully comprehend how certain pieces of text develop certain meanings, protects clients from the consequences of documents that have negative intentions. 2 

Furthermore, attorneys spend a great deal of time researching and inspecting material for their clients. They must know how to execute research with efficiency and have trust in the credibility of their source material. If attorneys are unsure of where they should obtain correct/adequate material, their information could be erroneous. Moreover, if they are unable to conduct research with efficiency they might be slowed down and needlessly waste time. They also must possess the ability to interview and conduct investigations concerning important persons within a case. The investigations taking place might involve being able to bypass those who are guarding key sources of material. Being able to write skillfully is an important ability that sets lawyers up for all of the document’s lawyers must write such as arguments and contracts. Moreover, information is primarily shared through different forms of written communication. Material that is written in a clear and concise fashion eliminates ambiguity, making intentions clearly established. Most communication within the court system must conform to specific rules for utmost accuracy. If a lawyer is not able to effectively exchange information through their writing, consequences might result in in miscommunications that will ultimately harm their clients.3 

1,2,3 “Lawyer Core Skills and Values:” Lawyer Skills and Values, 2014, www.lawyeredu.org/lawyer-skills.html

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