Viewing the Chasm, Crosing the Divide: Rural Working-Class Students and Memoir in the Composition Classroom

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Fall 2013


The purpose of this study is to examine and review working-class studies, memoir, and literacy as it relates to first-year composition and students' ability to navigate the language barrier between positioning upon entering the academy and positioning upon exiting the first-year freshman composition classroom. Since most working-class students do not speak standard academic language, as many instructors expect their students to speak it, this project will use the lens of working-class studies and the work of Mike Rose, Deborah Hicks, John Russo, Sherry Lee Linkon, and Michael Zweig to formulate ways in which barriers may be breached or bridges built in order to allow all students access to an academic education. In order to understand the need and use of colloquial speech and a need for retention of a connection to working-class roots (even as students may move out of the working-class category into middle-class or above), we may examine the problem through the lens of memoir. This project will use the memoirs of authors like Lubrano, Rodriquez, hooks, and Gates in addition to articles and books by Villanueva, Brown, Bruner, Fass, Gere, and Harris to indicate a way others with varying backgrounds have struggled to find a place within the academy. Each of these authors speaks to the importance of language and the necessity of retaining ownership of self. This project will use the above authors' works to argue that students must first understand themselves, and their own language (as it is brought to the academy), before they are able to enter into a more intense academic conversation. Therefore, in order to move students into an understanding of their known literacies, this project proposes using academic literacy memoir so that students will better understand where they have come from before pursing where they hope to go.


Donna Dunbar-Odom

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature