On November 30, 2018, President Davies accepted an invitation to the final exam session of ENG 319: Composition Methods at Central Michigan University. The purpose of the visit was to talk about the urgent message he had sent to the university community the morning after a hate crime took place on campus. ENG 319 students, who are all pre-service English teachers, had shared their written feedback regarding the message with the president, and they were eager to hear his remarks. See Part I of “He Said, ‘Yes’” for a full explanation of the background leading up to the visit, and see PQP for a description of the adapted NWP protocol that ENG 319 students used to provide feedback.
Just as ENG 319 students hoped, President Davies began our time together by providing writerly context for his urgent message and a few “behind the scenes” facts that the general public didn’t know: how he first learned of the hate crime (while driving to Midland to meet a university donor), how the writing process began (on his cell phone en route to Midland, with frequent pullovers to ensure safety), and how many drafts the message required (more than ten, in intense consultation with his administrative team). Students also learned that, in crafting the message, President Davies intentionally chose to send a single, unified message to the entire university community, rather than write adapted messages for different campus groups—a noteworthy writerly choice, from my students’ perspective. After all, English majors know that effective writers typically adapt texts to meet the specific needs of audience members. As a result, the president’s standard composing process made concrete this rhetorical value, even as it was rendered more complex and nuanced by his choices for the November 8 message. In addition, President Davies knew the message had to come from him personally, not a designee. He wanted audience members to hear his voice.
President Davies placed special emphasis on the need to create a “concise and to the point” message, which explains why his statement consists of only thirteen sentences. The child of an American history professor, President Davies reminded ENG 319 students that two speeches were delivered at Gettysburg Cemetary on November 19, 1863. In the first speech, now long forgotten, the speaker droned on for literally hours, but the second speech–Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, comprised of only 271 words–will always be remembered. For his November 8 message, President Davies wanted every word to count. His goal was to condemn the hate crime in no uncertain terms, to apologize and reassure the targeted victims and everyone else in the university community affected by the crime, and to make a solemn pledge, that he and CMU will stand up against “racism, misogyny, bigotry, and hatred” in any form. “We must do better. We must lead. We will lead.” President Davies’ characterization of his writing process and product perfectly demonstrated the writerly importance of purpose, audience, and writerly ethos, and feedback from ENG 319 students provides evidence that the message, as a whole, achieved its purpose: Continue reading