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Reciprocity, Empowerment and Trust: The Foundation of Student-Faculty Collaboration

Mon Feb 13, 2023 at 07:30 AM

Many of us can identify our start as scholars by the moment our own professors recognized us as future scholars. That belief they put in us ignited more than a career but a lifelong curiosity and passion. How are we providing that same ignition for future scholars? Better yet, how are we creating classes that invite all students to explore their potential as future researchers, practitioners, leaders, and innovators? 

In this teaching tips interview, assistant professor of Writing and Rhetoric Dr. Felicita Arzu-Carmichael shares how she builds into every course the expectation of her students as collaborators, whether in the work of the course or beyond. We explore one such collaboration with her student and collaborator Mena Hannakachl, who was also recently awarded the Keeper of the Dream award.

Watch the 30-minute teaching tip video, or listen to the audio-only version


Welcome to the weekly teaching tip series. My name is Christina Moore from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. Every Monday we published a teaching tip on our website, And this is a very special video addition to the series.

So today I'm talking with Felicita Arzu-Carmichael, Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at Oakland University. And I'm talking with her student and collaborator, Mena Hannakachl, a professional and digital writing major, and the recipient of the prestigious Keeper of the Dream Award recently here at Oakland University. Felicita and I have known each other for a while and while I appreciate many aspects of her research and her teaching work, I think the thing that has always stood out to me the most is that whenever I asked her if she'd be willing to do something or do a presentation, she almost always asks if she can bring her students along and be active participants in that. And that is actually going to be the theme of this teaching tip. Mena and Felicita be talking about a collaboration they're doing together and what advice they give to professors and students on cultivating these collaborations as really rich teaching and learning opportunities. So to start, Dr. Arzu-Carmichael, tell us about how your teaching actively includes students, including collaborating with them on projects.

[Felicita] Yeah, First of all, thank you so much, Christina, for this platform and for the space for me tonight to have this dialogue with you. I really appreciate that. So my students are very active participants in my teaching and wherever possible in my research as well. I think that's because one of the values that I have as a teacher is based on the one-up the pedagogical theorist that I follow, Paulo Freire. And so a lot of Freire’s work, he advocates for a kind of reciprocity between teachers and students. And what this means is there's this reciprocal role where students learn from teachers and they teach teachers just as much as teachers learn and teach their students as well. So it's very reciprocal. And in a lot of the theories that I'm interested in as an instructor, I'm always trying to identify ways that I can take the values and the ideologies that I subscribe to and put them into practice, right. And so what does that reciprocity look like for me as an instructor, my classroom, and in my research as well. And so that's where this all got started for me and why I'm always interested in opportunities to collaborate with my students. So really intentional about making space for that. But one of the other things that I'm really interested in, this kind of started with Judy Ableser’s work on SoTL when she was a director. One of the things I really appreciated about Judy is that she always encouraged faculty to pursue the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Inquiry into student learning.

Obviously, it can happen in a variety of ways, for me, when I invite my students to present with me. What that does is it takes our conversation that started within the classroom space into a different space, right? And so I'm able to inquire a lot more into my student's interests and a lot of inquiry engineering, learning. How they're grappling with the issues and conversations that we're having in class. What that looks like for them outside of the classroom. So in a way, it's my way of also inquiring into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Which also tells me a lot about my pedagogy. So I think this kind of goes back to what I mentioned earlier about this reciprocity. I teach students, but my students also teach me quite a bit.

[Christina] Mena, would you then share your experience and your hearing your professor to talk about this intentional strategy. So what did that actually look like and feel like for you in the classroom?

[Mena] Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks for having us here at Christina. I think from my perspective, I first had Dr. Arzu-Carmichael and writing 2060 back in 2021. And I would say that this collaboration was really ignited from an opportunity of being a discussion leader in the classroom as a part of my grades. And I decided to lead a discussion on article that was written by a scholar of color. And the content of that article was actually very relevant to the issues that were affecting me and really interesting to me. And I decided to bring up the topic of microaggressions. And it was a very productive conversation with my classmates and Dr. Arzu-Carmichael. But 14 weeks they only do so much to cover such intensive topic. So I decided to investigate these issues in the work that I was doing in the classroom. And one, I would say that pivotal moment for me was deciding to write a paper FOR paper titled “writing constructors complicit in white mainstream English.” And speak of collaboration abductors, okay, if I call actually encouraged all of us, they see publication. And that was very new to me because her class was my first, I would say, writing intensive class and the major. And I was really intrigued in opportunity of seeking publication. And I wanted to explore that more with her. So we decided to extend that conversation beyond the classroom. And what happened was we actually, I asked her to help me to pursue publication in regard to that paper. And I would say the rest is history. And we had many conversations outside of the classroom for coffee and a lot of our conversation from the classroom in regards to microaggressions. And even my paper that explored the intersection between race, social justice and writing and how faculty and faculty has a responsibility of being cognizant of that connection in their assessments and teaching. And I would say that the opportunity came back a few months ago, which was presented to me. But once again, I think it's truly full circle to reflect back to that that representation that I found myself in text and do sit here and talk about our work.

[Christina] That reminds me of another professor who spoke very similarly about always having anything he assigned as an opportunity to then share it out. But that was almost an expectation, although not required. I think it came down to the point of, he got to the point of calling his students “scholars”. Very intentionally of saying like you are doing the work of scholarship in this class. If no one, even if no one sees it, although people should. And I just, I haven't thought about that in a while. But that really reminded me of that. I wanted to elaborate on that point because as a teaching tip, we want to bring it, we want to share stories but also help other faculty and students put this into practice. So Felicita, could you say a little bit more about how you encourage all of your students to publish. Whether that's in a very specific scholarly outlets or other media modes and outlets.

[Felicita] Right? Before I answer that question, I love what you just said about referring or the professor that refer to students as student-scholars. I think language is so powerful as a rhetorician study rhetoric, I study language. And so I loved that approach at that Professor takes, wanted to mention that. But yeah, I always encourage my students to publish. And one of the things that I'm always very cognizant of also is being able to practice what I preach. As a writing instructor. We think of writing as a process. There's a lot of processes that are involved in writing. So that idea of inviting students to identify topics that they're interested in pursuing in the class, but then encouraging them to continue to explore those interests beyond the scope of my class, whether that's in one of the classes in their majors or a career that they're interested in, whatever the case may be. That invites me to demonstrate to students that writing really is a process. So the paper that you're writing for this 16-week course, it doesn't just end right there because the class is over. So that's perhaps one of the main reasons why I encourage my students to seek publication, to continue to investigate, to continue to participate in these conversations that they select that are interesting, that are interests of theirs. I think another part of that is I'm one of the associate editors of College English and I worked with some amazing, I get to work with brilliant scholars in my department under the leadership of Lori Ostergaard. And so that idea of just paying attention to the different spaces that exist in our field that are welcoming of emerging scholars or students, scholars, as you mentioned, to support them, to mentor them. That's one of the things that I'm always also having conversations with about my students identifying avenues that might be beautiful homes for their work. Or if they're not interested in publication, maybe it's a local presentation on campus. I know steadily so how these wonderful instructional affairs, it doesn't have to be a huge peer-reviewed journal or a national conference. It can be something vocal that just provides opportunity for them to continue that conversation.

[Christina] I think a lot of professors are enacting something similar, but I think I'll listen to this and it will be an aha sorts. And they'll probably remember that That was when I started to feel like scholars themselves. Was when their professors invited them and said, I think you should continue with this work. What do you think of this avenue? Where do you want to see it go? I think I think that's really the spark for a lot of the work that we do in academia. So let's talk specifics about your current collaboration. What form is taking place if it has a home where you're at in the process or anything else about the specific project.

[Felicita] So the project started back in April 2022. I got an invitation and email invitation from a colleague in the field. I'm someone who I work with on a separate book project. But the scholar was working on an edited collection with some other folks in the field. And this edited collection focuses on questions and lessons about leadership, leadership and support that were revealed or that manifested during the pandemic. This edited collection. They are specifically interested in the perspective of early career faculty. I was very excited about the project and accepted. One of the things that really captured my attention though, was that emphasis on the word support. That's because you can already imagine during the pandemic, there's, there's so much, so many challenges that a lot of early career faculty and students we all face really in a variety of ways. But that's a concept that I had already been thinking of and kind of grappling with. But what was also happening at the time. Amine, I mentioned that she was taking this class with me in fall 2021 and conversations that emerge in that class that we continued through the winter of 2022 semesters. So when I got that invitation, I was I immediately made connections to some of the very, very important conversations mean and I were having about support again, but specifically about microaggressions and the support that might, may or may not connect to those, right? And so I immediately thought, what a wonderful opportunity for Mena and I to continue to have this dialogue in this space through this edited collection. So I reached out to Mena and I asked her if she be interested in collaborating with me on this book chapter, which she agreed to and she had the rest is history. So since May 2022, we've been drafting this book chapter. Lots of drafting, lots of meetings and conversations on making connections between our experiences. And big thanks to Professor Megan Schoen in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric, who has been so gracious with her time giving us feedback on this draft as we're working on. It's still very early into the process. As most publications are. It takes quite a bit of time, but it's been a wonderful process collaborating with me on this.

[Christina] Mena, did you want to add anything to, to anything that your professor said about this process and how it's spelled for you?

[Mena] Yeah, absolutely. I think it's been a very real for me to draw on my experiences having been an ESL students in high school, and having been to one of the few students of color and the major, at least in my meetings and classrooms. And I also was really grateful to be able to take my experiences in my student role at Oakland, being an embedded writing specialist who offers support in first-year writing classes and transform those experiences both positive and negative, and transform them into critical lessons for effecting positive social change. And I think it was, it has been very empowering to not only be able to put language to it, but also make sure that I can actually implement that same framework and implement the same act and empower my own students, you know, having that opportunity of offering my students support. But I think to me and I also really want to acknowledge that although some of it was both positive and negative, I was able to actually by my Keeper of the Dream scholarship award win has definitely contributed in multiple ways and I think this collaboration has tremendously impacted and contributed because I was able to draw scholarship on it. And I was also able to empower my own students. But I think what was interesting to me is I took those same frameworks and same concepts that I learned from class, from having 2060 and 2084, and make sure to apply it in our chapter.

[Felicita] I want to add real quick to that. I love that Mena brought up the concept of empowerment because that's really central to this book chapter. The edited collection is about leadership and support. And through our conversations. We determine that that concept of empowerment both how myself, as a Black faculty, a junior faculty, have empowered myself or have been empowered by others. And Mena, as an undergraduate student, a student of color. And likewise, how she has able to be empowered by others and empower herself through our shared experiences, our conversations and connecting dose through the many exciting scholarship that we've been reading in class and out of class we've been able to, or we are still in progress of working through. Okay, so what does this mean for a sense of empowerment for ourselves? Because we are writing from our perspectives. But then also recognizing that we are trying to prepare or to share lessons for other faculty, for other junior faculty, for students, for program directors, that they might be able to identify ways of empowering and collaborating with students and working toward effecting change.

[Christina] As Mena said, one thing that stuck out to me in your description of this collaboration is that It almost came out of a relationship that you two have been cultivating over time. It's not as if in the class itself. This call came out and you went to your students and said, There's this call, who would anyone like to contribute? Which of course would have been a fine and wonderful opportunity need to. But you have been talking over time about your interests, where you want to go. It hasn't just been about publication, but about growth and empowerment. And then this call came up and you're in a practice of thinking of who, which student can I involve in this? And you thought of Mena, if I understood all of that correctly, I think it speaks to not only this transactional idea of, “Oh, I can tap into students and they can provide this assistance in developing my scholarship.” But you have this rich network of students that you're always connected to. So when the opportunity arises, you're sensing, “Who can I talk to? Who can I bring in? This person would be perfect for this.” So I think that's a really important piece.

With just the last couple of minutes to try and bring this into some first steps for faculty who want to have similar experiences, want to revisit how they bring in students as collaborators. What advice would you give, whether it's to professors or two students or to both, about how to engage in this similar practice and bring students in as collaborators.? [Felicita] So one thing comes to mind in regards to advice that I would give and it relates to.

So I have a strong commitment to OU’s strategic goals, particularly one student's success and will to diversity, equity and inclusion. Much of my teaching, research and service actually center the DEI related issues. So my advice to faculty centers, these two goals, 1 and 4.

I think collaboration happens first by a deep listening. We have to listen intentionally, listen rhetorically, listen deeply to our students. I think the first week of classes, and most faculty probably ask our students to tell us a little bit about yourself: What's your major? What are you interested in? What do you do for hobbies? Whatever the case may be? Over the years, I've been very intentional about even though asking, asking my students those questions early into the semester to come back to those, right? And so there's a lot that our students are comfortable revealing about themselves first early into the semester. And being very mindful of who our students are throughout the course, even though when the semester starts, you know, we're equipped with our course syllabus and course objectives and our major minor projects. But not everything in the course there. Everything in the semester can be planned. For me. I'm listening to who my students are, what they're comfortable revealing about themselves early into this semester and what they reveal about themselves as the semester progresses. And then being very intentional and mindful about. Okay. Are there opportunities that I can identify to support you in what your interests are? Or perhaps a lot of students might also be a little unsure about what their interests might be, what their career goals might be, and that's okay as well. And it's already there taking all these excitement glasses to figure that out. But there's a lot of, there's a lot of mentoring also. I think that needs to happen.

I really appreciate what you mentioned earlier Christina about. So my approach to collaboration that's not seeking ways or opportunities that can benefit from students work. But really, it's a kind of validation of validating my students in the classroom, recognizing who they are. And making sure that even though they're in my class to study and practice writing rhetorically, who they are is also central to the work that they do, right? And I think if we're very mindful about that, it kinda makes collaboration a natural kind of easy thing that can emerge with students.

[Christina] Mena, What advice would you give to professors, students or both?

[Mena] Yeah, absolutely. So one advice I would give to instructors, if the first trust your students and be open to learning from their students and knowing that your students bring a different yet unique perspective to their pedagogy, to their assessments, to their course design. And I have always found that Dr. Arzu-Carmichael has always been actually interested in learning from her students. And I think a lot of instructors, unfortunately, maybe due to the background, kind of infuse that power dynamic of authority, of knowledge and having that authority of knowing, having that knowledge, which is amazing. But I think I would definitely tell them to be interested in learning about what your students are into, their research interests. And if you can't always collaborate with them, how can you connect them to resources on campus or in the field that can help them reach those goals. But I also wanted to say and acknowledge that opportunities like this for students. I guess I wanted to tell instructors that it opens doors for them beyond the classroom, you know, there's this kind of idea that you come into my classroom, I teach you, you get a grade, and you leave. But how can we extend those conversations and reach a broader community and a broader audience. And I think this project is a prime example of doing that.

But my advice to my fellow classmates, colleagues, and other students is to recognize that professors are actually there to hear your ideas and what you're interested in and they're waiting for you to come to them and to be a geek, to talk about your research interests and to share with them the conversation that's sparked interest in that you were thinking about after class.

And also, I would definitely say Do not be afraid of advocating for research that maybe we don't have enough scholarship about. And I remember the conversation about with Dr. Arzu-Carmichael about me being a fierce advocate about linguistic justice. And at the time, I didn't have the language and the scholarship to articulate myself because I was so new in the field. But what was really cool about those conversations is that she was also eager and curious with me to investigate these issues even if we both didn't have the same tool.

And I also would tell my, you know, I guess fellow colleagues is to ask for opportunities even when you feel like an imposter or even when you feel like you are so new to the major. I think at the time, I’m sure, I think I felt like I perhaps didn't have the expertise, but I love the language that you use, Christina, about calling students “scholars.” I know, I know for me when she first told me a scholar, what that did to me is it actually told me. It made me feel like I actually belong in the field and what I have to bring is valid and only valid is it actually can take place. And we can actually, we can actually have it in the field and put it into real action and practice. And I think this is, once again, this project is an example of that for taking it beyond the classroom and sharing it with the field and the world, essentially.

[Felicita] I want to come back to talking about trust and how important that is for faculty to trust their students. Because I think that speaks to that idea of listening to who our students are. One of the things that I really love about bell hooks’ work in Teaching to Transgress, she talks about sharing personal narratives that really enhances our capacity to know is really an important aspect of I'm centering students voices. I know as faculty we talk all the time about how important our students perspectives are, how important their voices are. But I think that's one way that we can really make sure that we're enacting those values, those shared interests that we have.

And I also think back to Mena’s Keeper of the Dream Award and the ceremony this year, the keynote speaker, Hill Harper gave such an amazing talk of powerful talk where he reminded audiences about one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. it's called and I remember having something to do with. Mutual, mutuality, a sense of mutuality and destiny that we're all connected and this neutral network. And I think if we start from that perspective, that we're all already connected by this mutual destiny. That's one of the things I think that can foster collaboration with our students. And that makes this, these opportunities for students success. And then also invite students to investigate important socially just related questions that contribute to our field, but also contribute to those specific to goals that I mentioned earlier. So thank you for bringing that up about trust.

[Christina] Yeah, I shouldn't I shouldn't be surprised at this, but I know that we had this idea of discussing this collaboration and specifically this project and how it came about and how faculty can, can translate that same sort of collaboration. But I just love how this really got at the core of the relationships we have with students. Why we're doing this in the first place so that we're not trying to implement a strategy here, a good practice to do there, but we're really exploring what is at the core of that. So I'm really glad that that's what we're discussing, because that really is the seed of who knows how many collaborations are to come and all the other things around those collaborations to, which is probably the reason why whenever I asked you about a project you're doing, you want to involve your students because you aren't connected and you continue to cultivate those connections and create a community of learners switches. Something we need to continually pay attention to and create that safe and encouraging environment.

[Felicita] Thank you. Thank you so much for saying that. I always tell my students when they enter my classroom, if they leave knowing how to write a really strong paper, I would have failed them as an instructor because that's not that's not my sole purpose at the end of the day and want them to be critical thinkers. I love what you just said about community of learners. Want them to find themselves and community, build community, and really leave our institution better than better than how they came. Phil, thank you so much for that, Christina.

[Christina] Thank you both so much for taking this time to share your experiences, your ideas, and just the wonderful work and achievements you've both enjoyed recently. I know are on top of lots of other ones, so thank you so much for stopping by to see this and more. Please visit the CETL weekly teaching tip series at Thanks everyone. Thanks to both of you. Thank you.

Their interview shared four main recommendations:


Create a culture of reciprocity. 

Citing Paulo Freire and bell hooks’ teaching philosophies, Felicita sees education as an act of reciprocity between teachers and students in which teachers expect to learn from their students and to build understanding and new knowledge together. 

Practice deep listening throughout the semester. 

For Felicita, “collaboration happens first by a deep listening. We have to listen intentionally, listen rhetorically, listen deeply to our students.” Don’t stop at the first week of the semester: ask students to share their stories, their motivations, and their interests and struggles. With this knowledge, connect students to related opportunities.

Built trust to empower students. 

When you show students week after week that you are listening to them and validating their contributions in class, you show students trust and therefore empower them. Students feel they have a real stake in what happens in class and can ask questions and explore ideas without fear of failure. Mena said this was key to her seeing herself as a scholarly with something to contribute to the academic community.

Invite all students to be your collaborators. 

Expect all of your students to contribute to collaborative work within and beyond the classroom. Arrest biases that may make you assume some students are more interested in scholarly work than others. Many students are just learning to navigate the academy and find their role to play within it.

If you feel collaboration on scholarship is not always possible, Mena recommends “you connect them to resources on campus or in the field that can help them reach [their] goals.” 

Explicitly remind students that your office hours are a time to talk with them, that you love it when students drop by to ask a question or share an idea.

References and Resources 

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Contributors

Felicita Arzu-Carmichael [she, her, hers] is an Assistant Professor in the department of Writing and Rhetoric and director of the Embedded Writing Specialist Program. She currently serves as an Associate Editor of College English and president of Oakland’s International Employee Resource Group. Felicita’s teaching and scholarly interests focus on online literacy, race, social justice and inclusion, and first-year writing. When Felicita isn’t teaching or researching, she enjoys cooking Caribbean food and playing tennis. 

Mena Hannakachl [she, her, hers] is an undergraduate student majoring in professional and digital writing in the department of writing and rhetoric at OU. She is committed to research in linguistic justice and passionate about decreasing inequality in classrooms while learning about anti-racist pedagogy. Mena plans to pursue law school after obtaining her bachelor’s degree. Outside of her scholarly work, Mena enjoys tennis, makeup artistry, and keeping up with friends.

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