October 25, 2023

Write Around Portland Offers Writing Workshops for First-Years

To foster a greater sense of belonging among first-year students, L&C’s Center for Community and Global Health is partnering with Write Around Portland to offer a series of writing workshops.

Brown journal with the words respect. writing. community in a green circle on the cover. The Write Around Portland workshop fostered a sense of belonging for first-year students.
Credit: Tara Elsa BA ’26

by Gabe Korer BA ’23

At colleges and universities across the country, many first-year students struggle with developing a sense of belonging. Lewis & Clark is ready to help students meet this challenge head-on. This fall, the Center for Community and Global Health, in partnership with the nonprofit Write Around Portland, is offering several writing workshops to first-year students with the goal of fostering a sense of community.

Community Engagement Coordinator Alexis Rehrmann, Center for Community and Global Health Community Engagement Coordinator Alexis Rehrmann, Center for Community and Global HealthThe workshops were made possible with funds from a Mellon Foundation grant, which was awarded to L&C in 2020. During its four-year duration, the Mellon grant is funding a series of partnerships between the college and the greater Portland area, allowing students and faculty to apply the study of the humanities and arts in general, and the use of narrative in particular, to promote healing in the broader community.

“The grant called ‘Healing Social Suffering Through Narrative,’ allows us as a liberal arts institution to take a broad, inclusive view of what healing might entail,” says Alexis Rehrmann, community engagement coordinator in the Center for Community and Global Health.

Workshop Origins

The origins of the Lewis & Clark workshops date back to fall 2021, when Write Around Portland piloted the program with students in a first-year general education course.

According to Write Around Portland’s Program Director Sarah Weller, the intention behind bringing their workshop model to L&C was to see if it would resonate for college students.

“Write Around Portland believes that everyone can benefit from opportunities to write creatively in community,” Weller says. “We’ve been holding workshops in the community for almost 25 years, largely focused in spaces where people might not traditionally have access or see themselves as writers. We work to reduce barriers and build supportive space. We were interested to see if a similar format might also unlock something meaningful for folks in educational settings or during periods of transition in their lives.”

Based on positive feedback from the initial group of students, the Center for Community and Global Health decided to open the workshop invitation to all first-year students.

Creating a Sense of Belonging

This fall, Write Around Portland facilitated four workshops with first-year students at Lewis & Clark. Each workshop is designed for a small group of 12 to 18 participants.

“Our workshops use a generative writing model. Our trained facilitators bring prompts and ideas to help folks get started, and then we encourage participants to ‘keep their pen moving’ for a set amount of time, usually 5 to 10 minutes,” Weller says. “Participants are then invited to share their writing right away for positive, specific feedback. We work to establish group agreements at the beginning to help ensure the space feels supportive and comfortable, and sharing is always optional. Most workshops are two hours long and include writing, sharing, feedback, and looking at other published works for inspiration.”

Rehrmann notes how navigating college life for the first time can be rather intimidating, so the Write Around workshops centered around creating a space where students could express themselves freely.

“We’re interested in offering these facilitated conversations and writing reflections to help first-year students find their people and feel at home,” Rehrmann says. “People walk away feeling connected, and there’s the opportunity to know and be known in that space.”

Davis Berry BA ’27, a fall workshop participant, decided to sign up due to their enjoyment of creative writing and their desire to connect with other students.

“It felt very relaxed and nonjudgmental,” Davis says. “I usually tend not to share my writing, but in a space where everyone was doing the same, there was a lot less pressure to have something ‘good.’ It was just about listening and enjoying everyone’s creative perspectives.”

Community Partnership

In providing these experiences to first-year students, L&C’s partnership with Write Around Portland was essential. Beyond reflecting the Mellon grant’s stated purpose of promoting healing through community partnerships, the workshops gave Write Around the opportunity to further their reach within higher education.

“We’ve learned a bit about the parts of our workshops that felt most meaningful for students, and gained ideas for other ways our workshops could support community building and belonging for students,” Weller says. “This is the final year for our initial partnership, so we are still gathering feedback and discerning where and how we might continue to write with students at Lewis & Clark. We’re excited to see what might be next!”

Center for Community and Global Health Write Around Portland