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Linda Stelzer and Jared Poplawski partner in CU Boulder’s  “Intergenerational Writing” class in December 2019. (Courtesy photo)
Linda Stelzer and Jared Poplawski partner in CU Boulder’s “Intergenerational Writing” class in December 2019. (Courtesy photo)

A University of Colorado Boulder writing class that aims to bridge the gap of understanding between generations is being faced with the challenge of upholding its objective in the fall in the face of physical distancing due to the coronavirus.

However, CU Boulder faculty and senior community leaders remain hopeful that intergenerational connection will persist and possibly be even furthered through the use of technology.

CU Boulder Senior Instructor Eric Klinger teaches “Intergenerational Writing: Exploring the American Dream” an idea which Jack Williamson, a community member volunteer, initially proposed to the university.

For Williamson, creating a class which included college students and people aged 60 and older would be a good start in relieving polarization among generations in society.

“Pairing a CU student with an older community member, who celebrate birthdays often 50 years apart, is the norm in this class,” Williamson said. “In addition to becoming better writers, although they enter the class as strangers, they almost always leave as friends—young and old alike.”

The class is about what Williamson calls mutual mentorship.

“If the community members are more interested in learning about this new generation, then they become mutual mentors and they learn equally about each other, in different ways,” Williamson said.

Over the last five years, the class has evolved in the way in which it examines how generations interact and is now taught through the lens of “the American dream.”

“With my particular class we focus on the American Dream and try to interrogate what some of the assumptions are behind it and how those assumptions either have or have not changed over generations,” Klinger said.

Due to coronavirus regulations, the class will be a hybrid of in-person and virtual meetings in the fall. While students will largely be expected to attend class in-person, the community members will be attending virtually, via Zoom.

CU’s Program for Writing and Rhetoric donated 19 tablets and keyboards to the class last month, which will allow the community members to join safely from their homes.

Technological necessity is not new to this class. Since it began, there’s been a critical technical component because the community members are not enrolled at CU and do not have access to Canvas, the online platform used by CU for students to view the syllabus, access course materials, submit assignments, and receive grades and communication from instructors.

Frank Kogen, a CU grad student who has been assisting with the class as a community volunteer since its pilot five years ago, designed a website to serve as an interface between the campus online system and the general population. With this website, community members and students alike can access the same materials and resources.

With his extensive background in technology, Kogen will be spearheading the efforts next semester to ensure that the integrity of the class objective is fully maintained while using Zoom as the platform for connection.

“We think that this could be the best year yet,” Kogen said. “In the past we’ve had seniors who fall ill or maybe were really enthusiastic at the outset but found that coming to campus twice a week was a bigger commitment than they expected it to be. So, we think a lot of those little hurdles will be solved by this and that we may have stumbled into a unique situation which will actually broaden the reach of the class into the senior community.”

In the face of isolation brought on by the pandemic, Klinger believes that this class is important now more than ever.

“What’s really sad is that it has exacerbated this generational divide,” Klinger said. “I’m sure you’ve seen some of these stories where people are offering to sacrifice anyone over 65 to the pandemic so that we can jumpstart our economy, but I think those ideas exist because it’s so easy to dehumanize an entire generation when you have no opportunity for connection with them. I see conversation as an antidote to dehumanization.”

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