As Oakland University (OU) continues to grow and look to the future, the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Writing and Rhetoric is taking a step back in time to look at OU’s history. This winter, the department piloted a class project to collect oral histories about the founding of OU and its many noted traditions.
The Rochester Oral History Archive (ROHA), supported by grants from Building the Civic ‘Net and the Knudsen Family Fund, is a community initiative designed to capture and preserve the history of Rochester area residents. ROHA serves as a community outreach component of OU’s Meadow Brook Writing Project and Department of Writing and Rhetoric. Specially trained consultants began interviewing residents at the Older Persons Commission Senior Center in Rochester and created a digital archive of these histories, shared through social media networks like Facebook and YouTube. “This project utilizes the special resources and skills of our WRT faculty and MBWP teacher consultants to create a digital record of our local community and the lived experiences of the community members,” says Marshall Kitchens, director of the Meadow Brook Writing Project and chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric.
MBWP and the Department of Writing and Rhetoric worked together to incorporate OU into this new project and brought it into the WRT 160 classroom. “We wanted to make this project student centered and have our students become more invested in the OU community and its history,” explained Cornelia Pokrzywa, OU alumna (CAS ’94) and Special Lecturer in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric. Pokrzywa received a fellowship from OU’s Office of Academic Service Learning Center that was designed to help faculty create innovative classroom projects and was vital in establishing this project. “We wanted the students to see how OU’s history has impacted OU today and connect with the university on a deeper level.”
The pilot class began this semester with first-year composition students selecting a broad issue that is relevant at any university and researched its impact at OU. Students selected such topics as athletic fan groups and building construction. The students then interview faculty, staff, or alumni to take their oral history about the topic. “This project is giving the students an opportunity to connect with individuals from many areas of the university that they would have never met otherwise,” said Pokrzywa. “They are able to see a side of OU that most students never see.”
“We see innovative projects such as these digital archives as key components to engaging first year students in the university community and encouraging them to develop 21st century practices of literacy in meaningful ways,” said Kitchens.For more information or to share your oral history, visit oakland.edu/roha.