Bartholomae “Inventing the University” Response

Natalie DiPasquale

“Inventing the University” Essay

In David Bartholomae’s article “Inventing the University”, he outlines the difficulties incoming college students face when transitioning from high school writing into undergraduate level material. What is interesting is that, although his points are still relevant and very applicable today, a lot about what is expected and what students like those at the University of Richmond have to adapt to, has altered. The main thing that I have found has shifted since the time that this was written is the competitiveness and cut-throat feeling that comes with being in college. It is an environment where you sink or swim in many cases and it is my personal opinion that writing is no exception within this context.

Just as students finally feel they have mastered their voice and have become comfortable with forming an argument or strong narrative, high school ends and college begins. Suddenly, everything that a writer thought they knew becomes doubted in their minds, so much so that they may not even consider themselves a “writer”. I have always found writing to be a strong suit of mine, however it is obvious that things may go very differently during my time at Richmond. This school, as most schools do, expects students to evolve their abilities to the next level. This would seem like a natural step as a writer continues to progress in their literary pieces, however the sheer nerves and pressure makes this step feel a lot more like a leap into a deep, fiery pit. Perhaps this seems very dramatic and naive, but as someone who is currently writing her first paper, I can say that I certainly do not feel as confident as I did handing in an essay just months ago as a high school senior.

One of the points Bartholomae makes is that the feeling students get of being outsiders is one to try and squelch. Suppressing this can make trusting one’s own abilities much easier. I have found that in today’s society, a lot of our weaknesses stem from self doubt. Even shown in my own experience in the paragraph above, uncertainty in ourselves is a powerful and dangerous thing. It is important to remember in our modern “Inventing the University” that sometimes you have to fake it till’ you make it. This isn’t to say that all good writers and scholars are phonies and not actually accurately portrayed, however many improved by excelling at adapting, even if the adapting was forced at the beginning.

Something Bartholomae states in his article that still remains true today is the importance of being aware of one’s audience when writing and “inventing the university”. He recognizes the importance of being able to, “successfully manipulate an audience.” (Bartholomae 9). However, I think an even more crucial step to make today would be to first become aware of oneself. Before writing, a person must establish who they are in reference to what they are speaking about. If they are a student, they should push to learn more until they have become the teacher. This can transform their writing to being weak with meager input to being enriched with experience and thoughtful understanding. This is a small but vital modification to make to Bartholomae’s argument as it stands today.

“Inventing the University” of 1986 is still very relevant to the “Inventing the University” we can make today. The concepts are still evident, all that has really changed is the context. The pressure is turned up and the obstacles of self-doubt and fear are heightened in the new inviting yet simultaneously threatening environment of college. What was familiar is foreign and what is foreign must be familiar to assimilate to all that is happening, especially in writing. I have noticed if it’s not immediate, that is okay. The most logical and peculiar sense I can make of a modern day “Inventing the University” is that writing at college level is a forced ability that will come naturally.