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Branching Out

Conversations Without Writing

A response to intellectual challenges from quarantine that appreciates spontaneous learning––without worrying about making progress on writing assignments.

Ryan Nazari

Before entering senior year at Santa Clara, I applied to various postgraduate fellowships in preparation for my potential career in either education or law. Application writing can feel daunting as you try to impress an admissions board. But the pandemic made my writing feel more confining than usual. I didn’t have access to resources like the library to supplement my brainstorming (my favorite part of the writing process!).

What allowed my writing to flourish over the summer were weekly Zoom hangouts with two friends, where we updated each other about our summer goals. While these sessions naturally involved our writing projects, they were also spontaneous because our conversations progressed in any and all kinds of directions. One day, I asked for casual advice on a short answer question about an international fellowship. Gradually (for about seven hours!), we discussed favorite travels from over the years (including a show-and-tell with souvenirs) and other topics that were only indirectly related to my original question. 

At the HUB Writing Center where I work as a writing partner, I apply those conversations to sessions to encourage spontaneity within academic spaces. When students visit the HUB feeling stressed with demanding papers, I try to encourage questions that abstract us from the paper’s expectations. One student had questions about their pathway essay, and as we dissected the very unique rubric, we let the conversation become loose. We expressed what we enjoyed most about our pathway classes, shared stories from trying to write the paper, and, ultimately, engaged in conversation over the writing itself. 

It might seem odd to deliberately seek spontaneity––especially during a fast-paced quarter. However, this philosophy has sustained my mental health during the pandemic because it lets me think in a low-stakes environment, where I can ephemerally forget due dates and other assignments. These conversations––like my international fellowship––mean I can be curious for its own sake.

As a first-generation college student, I love these spaces of free thinking since they let me explore––and enjoy––the learning opportunities I’m fortunate to have at college. Being from a low-income family, moreover, I feel I’m invariably worried about finding a well-paying job. While LinkedIn and internships are obviously necessary, they can also encourage us to forget we are human beings with emotions and goals. Resumes can prevent the opportunity to share other parts of ourselves beyond the strict application criteria.

Often, we are so focused on the end goal of the assignment that we forget that the point of learning––I believe––is spontaneity, leisure, and meandering. My conversations from the pandemic have given me the opportunity to think as if we did not have to submit assignments. Perhaps professors can encourage students to branch out into different topics during class discussions on their own accord. Or they can arrange collaborations with offices, like the OML, for study nights or other informal gatherings. My takeaway is to think about how we can create these spaces––where we can reflect for its own sake.


About the Contributor

Ryan Nazari is a senior from nearby Campbell, California. He majors in English and Philosophy, works at the HUB Writing Center and Benson Memorial Center, and is a member of the LEAD Scholars Program for first-generation college students. He loves the San Francisco 49ers, San Jose Earthquakes, and candles.