Welcoming Students: The Syllabus as Hospitable Practice

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Daniel Hengel / Northeast Modern Language Association

I know many of us hope that we create welcoming, hospitable environments for our students. That we, in some small way, encourage a space for community building and critical citizenship. Yet, we begin our semesters with the “reading” of an often woefully inhospitable and prescriptive document written in vaguely performative “legalese”—THE SYLLABUS. The syllabus is more than a mere delineation of our classes’ rules, regulations, policies, and procedures—though, these elements of the syllabus are important, to be sure. The syllabus is our students’ first experience of us as educators. This document represents us as educators nearly as much as the texts we chose to assign, the assessment portfolios we design, and the selves we share with our students. Nevertheless, we too often ignore the language we chose to employ and the rhetorical performance of our prose when composing our syllabus.

This Roundtable hopes to bring together educators who upend the syllabus-as-prohibition paradigm in an effort to rewrite the beginning of our semesters out of the doldrums of staid, unwelcoming language and into the sweetness and light of enthusiastic hospitality. In our conversation, I hope we discuss the different techniques we employ in our syllabi to encourage community building in the classroom, to decenter heretofore dominant categories of the “elect” in our choices of texts, to attend to different types of learners, and to discuss our expectations of our course without relying on overly “policing” and prescriptive language.