So what was ‘Write to Change the World’ like, Michelle?

Michelle Bata attended our Write to Change the World seminar in NYC in March. The seminar challenged her to think more carefully and expansively about her knowledge and experience, and why it matters:


I spend my days teaching college students how to think of themselves as experts on their own lives, so Saturday’s session was a real gut check for me to think about how I model that for the students with whom I work.

As the inaugural director of Clark University’s Center for Liberal Education and Effective Practice, my job is to prepare students to lead meaningful lives through personal and professional development.

In particular, Saturday’s session made me think about some of the female students I’ve encountered, and the degrees to which they’ve expressed shame, a lack of confidence, or even hesitation about their backgrounds and experiences.  The workshop made me reflect on the ways in which they have held themselves back, self-selected out of opportunities, and committed various acts of self-sabotage all because they couldn’t recognize the value of their own experience, and dare I say the value of their own voice.

And how can I expect that from them if I don’t practice what I preach?

So what I’m taking away from day is that I have an obligation to hone my professional development, share my expertise, and support others as they work towards similar goals.  And, I have an obligation to do so because of my experience, my privilege, and my position as a model to others.

But what I’m really taking away is the inspiration that comes from learning that I can do this.  And that is the most valuable aspect of this seminar of all.

Want to join us next time? We have a Write to Change the World seminar coming up in NYC on May 3. Visit out website for more details.

We are also hosting a writing group for NYC alums on the third Wednesday of every month. For more details, please contact Ruby at 

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Last night’s NYC alum writing group.

Advice from a journalist: How to jump into the conversation

KalinDeb“The goal is to transform data into information and information into insight.” — Carly Fiorina

Still wondering how to get news hooks to work for you? Well, Dr. Kali Gross, a 2015 University of Texas at Austin Public Voices Fellow, offers some insight into using the news as a way to step into the public conversation with relevance and insight.

In her latest piece about Cookie Lyon, the just-released-from-prison mother and ex-wife played by the fierce Taraji Henson on the hit TV show “Empire,” Kali uses timing and temperature (of the public conversation) to make a consistently killer argument about mass incarceration and black women. Here are her “secrets.”

  • She moved fast: Kali wrote this in 24 hours, while people were still talking about the season finale of “Empire.”
  • She finds new points of entry to a recurrent theme: the intersection of black women, violence and mass incarceration of black bodies. “Empire” is just one point of many.
  • She feels valued and at her chosen outlet of choice: The Huffington Post. She’s making the most of this by building a brand identity there by leveraging the heck out of her theme and posting there regularly.
  • Her larger theme — mass incarceration — now has a place in the public imagination thanks to the foundation of other thought-leaders, namely Michelle Alexander of “New Jim Crow” fame, so Kali’s building that out in a big way.

Kali stays true to her thematic foundation, but she also engages the elasticity of time, giving audiences what they crave (more Cookie) — and more by taking something highly entertaining, much talked about and considered fluff to some, spinning it till it’s a matter a life and death. Because it is.

Now, that’s how you enter a public conversation.

Kali Nicole Gross is a Public Voices Fellow and an associate professor and associate chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at The University of Texas at Austin. Deborah Douglas is an OpEd Project senior facilitator with the Public Voices Fellowship there.

So What’s it Like to be a Public Voices Fellow, Megan?

alrutzIn a note to OpEd Project Senior Facilitator Teresa Puente, UT-Austin Public Voices Fellow Megan Alrutz shared her thoughts on the fellowship and its effects on her life and work:

Dear Teresa,

I am so grateful for ALL of your energy over the last few weeks. The OpEd Project, and specifically your mentorship, is changing the way I think about the world, my research, and my role as an ally and a change maker.

My family is now reading my work. I’ve reached more readers in a week than several of my academic articles reach in a year. And I am paying attention to the news and global events with a new lens.

You are helping me get better at many of the things that first brought me into the field of Theatre for Youth, and then into academia.

Feeling lots of gratitude. Thank you for all that and more,


So what was ‘Write To Change The World’ like, Julia?

Julia Burch attended our recent Write To Change The World seminar in New York City on March 7. She explores expertise and self-doubt:


For some years as a stay-at-home-mom, the question I have dreaded the most is “what do you do?”  In response, I have gone for self-deprecation: “I’m a post-academic: my doctorate and $5 will get me a latte grande.” Or worse: “I’m a housewife.”

So the obligatory round of introductions at last Saturday’s Core Seminar made me squirm. But when they upped the ante and asked us to fill in the blanks in the following sentence:  “I am an expert in ______ because ______.” I began to sweat. I fell back on my PhD and declared myself an expert on shipwreck narratives on the strength of my dissertation. By the end of the day, I had a new appreciation for the value of my expertise in that single topic. By the following day, I found myself surprised that I had failed to mention my most recent public and professional  experience as a local education activist and a writing coach, and I had new ways to fill in those blanks.

I read books, news, op-eds, and blogs avidly. I have often read and thought, “I could do that, but……” BUT. I habitually stopped as if at a chasm, miles deep.  That “but” marked an inexplicable self doubt. Some version of that chasm is all too common—even among the remarkable people I joined in Saturday’s seminar.

The OpEd Project invited us to attend to and explore that self-doubt; it revealed that even if there is a chasm, however deep, it is only one or two feet wide in places; and it showed us the way to start walking to cross it.

Writing Winning Headlines

What makes effective headlines?  Deborah Douglas, one of the journalist leaders of our Public Voices Fellowship at UT-Austin, shared her thoughts, in a recent missive to her fellows.

1338301e314ea8b61026d681368344ee_400x400Should you, the writer, supply a headline with your piece? Is it reasonable to expect media outlets to honor your well-crafted headline just as they do with your piece? What’s at stake when we write our own headlines?

The truth is headlines written by writers, both freelance and staff, are just suggestions. However, arresting headlines that make editors do a double-take have a greater chance of (a) getting editors to open your email pitch; (b) showing editors/producers up front you know just what it takes to connect with their audience; (c) actually being printed with the rest of your wonderful words.

Headlines are critical to reflecting the personality and tone of a publication. We’ve talked about adjusting our individual writing tones according to particular publications, well, headlines are the same way. I’ve noticed recently that Slate likes to throw down the gauntlet in many of its headlines: “There’s Only One Way to Defeat ISIS.” Or “Apply to Law School Now.” Really? Now?

upworthylogoclearThose presented by Upworthy are effective at projecting the emotional tone they seek in connecting with their audience. Consider: “Like, OMG. Let’s Go To Africa And Save People!’ Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Be That Person.” Or “I Thought We Banned Cocaine For Health Reasons. Nope. Not Even Close.” I don’t know about you, but I’d want to read those stories.

Lastly, let’s consider “Fleeced: A Look at the Terrible Life of Migrant Workers Everywhere,” the header for fellow Sienna Craig’s piece on Nepalese migrant workers. Pacific Standard Editor Nicholas Jackson used the word “terrible” to infuse the anxiety and anguish so aptly described by Sienna in her op-ed. I see quite a few “terrible” headlines these days, and they always make me want to find out why.

For tips on ‘How to Write an Upworthy Headline’, click here.

Write to Change the World: Chicago February 22, 2015

FullSizeRender (4)Our most recent public program in the Windy City brought together wide-ranging experts from an award-winning human rights journalist, to the founder of an organization that aims to transform the educational experience of students in El Salvador, to professors, research associates and graduates of Northwestern University.

Big thanks to Senior OpEd Project leader Michele Weldon, and to our hosts, The Illinois Humanities Council, for it’s great work “fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities.”

Want to join us next time?  We’ll be back in Chicago on April 11-12, for a back-to-back advanced version of Write to Change the World, where we’ll use the second day to explore timing, cross-pollination, and where good ideas come from.  You can attend the first day, or both days.  Register here.

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So What’s it like to be a Public Voices Fellow, Lynn?

Lynn 2I have to say, this experience has far exceeded my expectations in a number of different ways.

First, it has provided me with some general “life skills” that I was not expecting. Skills around how to present myself publicly, how to wear my credentials and my expertise proudly, and skills around thinking about the bigger message and what is important to get out there. Second, these meetings have truly been convenings. Webster’s dictionary defines ‘convene’ (and this was always my favorite way to start my college application essays!) as ‘to come together in a body’ and that is truly what these meetings have felt like. They feel like they have brought together an extraordinarily talented diverse group of women as a single cohesive body. And I honestly am not sure we would have met had it not been for this program. That is sad to say given that we all likely work within a one mile radius of each other (except for Diana but what a wonderful excuse to be able to see her lovely face every few months!).


This has been such an added benefit of this experience. I have had the opportunity to meet women who work in the Departments of Linguistics and Pathology, from the Law School and Academic Affairs. I have re-connected with friends and colleagues from the Med School that I don’t see often enough and I have (re-) connected with someone who I actually graduated with from high school in Los Angeles (unbeknownst to us–we figured this out at our last convening as we sat next to each other chatting!).

I have had the pleasure to learn from all of you—from sitting in these meetings with you and from reading your words and “hearing” your voices. The leadership from our conveners has been amazing—inspiring, driving, but with humor and kindness. Both the “fellowship” and the learning have been wonderful.

Lynn Fiellin is Associate Professor of Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and a practicing HIV physician and Addiction Medicine Provider. Lynn is pictured above.