The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Colloquium Archive

Tom McNamara

Name: Tom McNamara, English Department

Presentation Title: "'Burning Dollars': Chinese Undergraduates and Investment in the US Writing Classroom"

Date: November 19, 2015


Since 2005, the number of Chinese international students attending US universities has increased 339 percent, raising concerns about how institutions and writing programs can serve this new cohort. In this presentation, I draw on a qualitative study of Chinese undergraduates' experiences in first-year writing classrooms at Illinois, which currently enrolls more Chinese students than any other US institution. Through case studies of two focal participants--one of whom memorably used the phrase "burning dollars" to describe his faltering investment in the US university--I argue that writing classrooms often deny the returns these students hope to secure by studying in the US. Perhaps most importantly, I describe how classroom approaches thought to destigmatize language difference--like collaborative and rhetorical pedagogies--can marginalize these students along familiar racial lines. Given the size and impact of writing programs, I conclude by calling writing program administrators and instructors to consider how they can foster these students' educational goals while also challenging the widespread reduction of higher education to an investment.