Pushing the margin
Students write, edit, and publish academic journals
BY ERIN MERDINGER ’10
“Johnny Burnout tries to look outside, tries to see the stars, but all he can see is his face, ratty black hair shrouding entrenched eyes. Cheeks like he swallowed something sour. He turns and looks at the shape of his girlfriend’s face, asleep, on his shoulder. She moves a little, moaning slightly.”
These lines start the short story “Johnny Burnout,” which author Danny Sullivan Rice ’05 describes as a “punk fable” with a theme of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Rice, one of 14 published writers featured in the 2010 edition of Cal State East Bay’s annual Arroyo Literary Review, read his piece aloud for a literature loving crowd at the second edition’s launch party held in downtown Hayward in April.
Arroyo, started by English graduate students in fall 2008, showcases new and established writers from across the country, including many from the San Francisco Bay Area.
“It gives people a chance to have their work taken seriously,” Rice says.
Although it is the University’s only national literary review, Arroyo is not the first student-led journal to emerge from the Cal State East Bay campus in recent years. The University is also home to East Bay Politica, a student-written journal that focuses on subjects from international to local politics, and Reflections, a journal highlighting CSUEB students’ philosophical works.
The work students perform in producing an academic journal — from soliciting contributions to editing the final product — gives them experience akin to a traditional internship, says Susan Gubernat, associate professor of English and faculty advisor for Arroyo.
“Students are now getting pre-professional experience by working on a journal in all its aspects: editing, designing, producing, marketing, and distribution,” Gubernat says.
That’s the case for students who work on East Bay Politica, a journal that allows students not only to write for a publication but gain firsthand experience with the publishing process.
The idea for East Bay Politica came from associate professor Melissa Michelson after she read an article about a similar journal at California State University, Chico and the benefits it provided students.
“I thought we could do that here,” says Michelson, whose previous experience in journalism proved to be handy in getting the journal started.
The journal, which debuted in 2007, has grown to become popular with political science majors.
Michelson says she handpicked the editors the first year, but now the process has become competitive.
“Students are motivated to participate in this project because it provides them with real hands-on experience in the field of publishing an academic journal,” says Maria Castro ’10, a philosophy major who served as co-editor-in-chief for the 2010 edition.
The Politica team of student editors receive from 15 to 30 articles submitted by students each year. After reviewing submissions, the editors decide what focus the magazine will take and which pieces they will select for publication. The students also are in charge of formatting the final product using a desktop publishing program that allows them to assemble and lay out journal content in an electronic file that will later be sent to the printer.
“The team effort by those in the group to get things done has been extremely fulfilling,” Castro says. “It is great to work with a team of students that are motivated and committed to the project.”
Castro is also a contributing writer to the journal, and says she finds the ever-present nature of politics fascinating.
“It is so broad and encompasses all areas of our lives that there is endless inspiration,” Castro says. “I like to write about things that affect us all, education being one of them.”
The journal is released at the end of each academic year at a graduation party for political science majors, mailed to subscribers nationwide, and sold at the University bookstore.
“The journal does something for everyone involved — readers, editors, authors,” Michelson says. “It says, ‘Look at what your fellow students can do and the quality of writing. Don’t look at your next research paper as something only a professor is going to read but as something that can potentially be read by hundreds of people.’”
Another journal that allows students to gain valuable experience beyond the classroom is CSUEB’s philosophy journal Reflections. The journal features undergraduate and graduate students’ work and is available online through the philosophy department’s Web site, http://www20.csueastbay.edu/class/departments/philosophy/index.html, allowing easy access to readers. Faculty advisor Jennifer Eagan has overseen the electronic version of the publication since she joined the University in 2004.
“The objective is to promote all the good work students are doing in philosophy,” says Eagan, associate professor and department chair of philosophy. “(Faculty) have a drive to really highlight our students’ work.”
One submission Eagan received from a then-philosophy undergrad for the spring 2010 edition particularly impressed her. In the pop philosophy article, author Ryvenna Lewis ’10 examines ethics in fiction. Lewis says pop philosophy, a personal passion for her, discusses philosophical values and ideas as presented in popular books, movies, and television.
Her paper titled “Watchmen and Utilitarianism,” looks at a common approach to ethics called utilitarianism — a theory that suggests action should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people — and criticizes it using examples from the comic-book-turned-movie “Watchmen.”
“It brings philosophical conversations to a level that anyone can understand, using examples and ideas that many people may already be familiar with and interested in,” Lewis says. “It’s also a lot more fun to write!”
In her piece, Lewis writes: “In utilitarianism, we are taught that almost anything can be good as long as it produces more happiness than suffering. Any action taken, despite the motivation behind it, can be good as long as it follows this guideline. But can we live by this kind of principle? I say that we can’t. Utilitarianism is deeply flawed because of three important factors: it ignores motivation/intention, it demands prescience from we who have none, and it can lead to shocking human rights violations.”
Eagan picks a new handful of students each year to serve as editors who help with editing, proofreading, and publishing the journal from start to finish.
Faculty advisors who oversee student-produced journals view the experience as more than another bullet point for students to add to their resumes.
“It enables students to see that writing is not a mere classroom exercise (or) another paper or poem or story on the way to a degree,” Gubernat says. “Rather, publishing a magazine like Arroyo gets students actively engaged in the literary community of our time — one that is diverse, exciting, full of the possibilities of discovering new talent as well as rubbing shoulders with some of the more established writers.”