One of the most important skills I have learned at Brandeis is how to write concisely and accessibly. Last semester, I took Professor Vijayakumar’s “HIV/AIDS, Society, and Politics,” course. One of my first assignments was to write a 2 to 3 page analysis of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a country of my choice; I chose Brazil. In just 2 to 3 pages, I was expected to include data about Brazil’s HIV incidence, HIV prevalence, the social groups most affected by the epidemic, how the Brazilian epidemic compares to epidemics in the wider geographical region, and what progress Brazil has made in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Along with everyone in the class, I found it challenging to distill all the necessary information down to 3 pages, and my task wasn’t made any easier by the sheer amount of data that exists about Brazil’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The experience of writing the data analysis taught me how to write concisely and accessibly and extract relevant statistics from large data sets. With a maximum word count, there is little room for superfluous data or flowery language. In addition, Professor Vijayakumar emphasized the importance of taking your intended audience into account when writing a data analysis and making sure it’s accessible.
In the first few weeks at United for a Fair Economy, I’ve found that they, like Professor Vijayakumar, stress the importance of making all of your writing accessible to your intended audience. You cannot claim to work for economic justice while simultaneously making your work inaccessible to the people you claim to be helping. UFE works with many people who don’t have any postsecondary education and who don’t speak English, and UFE makes sure everything they produce is accessible to these audiences. They discourage the use of jargon and acronyms; a rule of thumb in the office is that the average tenth-grader should understand all of our communications. In addition, UFE is very conscious of the marginalization of those who don’t speak English and is committed to language justice. All of UFE’s communications are published in both English and Spanish and UFE conducts bilingual (Spanish and English) Training of Trainers for activists and organizers.
Last week, Madeline and I had the opportunity to write a blog post about immigration policy for UFE’s website. This blog post gave me a chance to put UFE’s commitment to language justice into action. We started the blog with a history of US immigration policy, an overview of the multitude of problems with America’s current immigration policy, solutions that have been proposed so far, and UFE’s idea of what a humane solution to the immigration crisis looks like. At nearly 2,000 words, I’m not sure that the blog can be called concise. However, we made sure that it’s free of academic jargon and superfluous information. Our piece assumes that our readers have some knowledge of the US immigration system, but aren’t versed in all of its intricacies. While it currently exists only in English, it will be translated into Spanish before it goes up on the website. In addition, Madeline compiled a list of organizations advocating for immigrants’ rights locally and nationally. It is important to keep in mind that while learning about the roots of America’s current immigration crisis is necessary, such learning is useless if not coupled with action.