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Writing and Critical Inquiry Essay Contest: Falling into the art of writing

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Three confident University at Albany students proved that words alone were powerful enough to reduce an audience into sobs and laughter, each reading a captivating story during the second annual Writing and Critical Inquiry Essay Contest on Apr. 27 at the Campus Center Assembly Hall.

WCI lecturer Amanda Girraca and secretary Kimberly Nava were among those who helped organize the event to recognize students’ writing and congratulate their bravery to share their essays with a crowd mostly comprised of strangers. The contest was also a way to involve students outside the classroom.

“Last year, [I] randomly liked the idea of a writing contest,” said Girraca. “I got a crew of three other professors and together decided on this model of collecting essays and it was a way of celebrating student writing.”

Prior to the event, students who took the WCI class (UUNI 110) had to pen essays and encouraged to voluntarily submit them into the contest. Nine WCI professors read the entries and judged which should go on in terms of writing quality and reader impact. Afterwards, the approved entries were judged by actual WCI students in the spring semester who discussed which should be the finalists and winners for three categories: Personal, Analysis and Argument/Conversation.

The event unexpectedly began on an emotional route as student Ashley May’s story poignantly revolved around her mother’s battle with lupus which caused members of the audience to choke in tears, their weeping barely suppressed. Her essay, “Goodbye Blue Sky,” won the Personal Essay category.

“I hope that she dies knowing how strongly her memory will live on in all that she comes to know,” she concluded her piece, pausing intermittently throughout to compose herself while her family, including her mother, sat in the front row, also touched. “I hope I get a chance to say goodbye, I hope one day she will find peace…I hope she feels loved, she is loved. What a wonderful, beautiful woman and what a tragedy: my mom is dying and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

After a cathartic applause as May’s family embraced, Kendra Baxter came up and read “Modern Day Factories” which won the Analysis category by providing constructive commentary on the American public school system. She wrote about author and former school teacher John Taylor Gatto’s argument that the public education’s rigorous timeline—five days a week, sitting in classrooms for 12 years—is like a “factory employee from the Industrial [Revolution].” Her essay further criticized public schools for being “deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects…and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens.”

Scarlet Brown’s “Obscene Kayaks and Violent Pornography: Censorship in Japan” piece discussed the hypocrisy of censorship standards there, winning the Argument/Conversation category. Her insightful critique concerned a Japanese artist, Megumi Igarashi, who was arrested for “distributing the 3D printer code for how to print a kayak in the form of the artist’s vagina” while in the city of Kawasaki, there is an acclaimed penis festival called “Kanamara Matsuri” which is not subject to censorship.

Despite garnering several chuckles from the crowd, her intriguing essay also brought up issues of sexism, objectification of women, and body image. She also wrote that in modern, capitalist societies, women become insecure with their bodies due to constant exposure to advertisements and commercials that advocate a certain sexualized body image. This makes female viewers buy products to try to “improve their bodies and hating themselves when they can’t meet society’s unrealistic standards.”

The contest encouraged students to write about practically anything, Giracca saying that any story “is not too out there.” She confessed that since writing in itself is subjective, judging which essay should win or be a finalist was challenging. This year had almost 150 essays while last year had under 100 but Giracca credited this year’s increased attendance to positive word of mouth as only about 60 people attended last year.

The third annual essay contest will happen next April and WCI students may submit essays before May 31 and the three winners would receive a $75 gift card for use in the University Bookstore.

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