Expressive Writing Workshops with Professor Jane Collins: Social Distancing Edition

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Professor Jane Collins will be hosting expressive writing workshops via Zoom at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays. This workshop aims to help students use free writing exercises as a method of stress relief and to help maintain a sense of community at a time when people must be physically distant from one another.

Emily Teixeira, Contributing Writer

Professor Jane Collins will be hosting expressive writing workshops on Fridays at 3:00 p.m. via Zoom to help students release and relieve their stress. Collins defines expressive writing as “using a pen or pencil and paper to get out whatever you have on your mind or in your heart… it’s writing used for wellness.”

At the start of each 45-minute workshop, Collins will set a timer for five minutes and students will use that time to write whatever is on their mind. The experience is meant to be personal, emotional, and cathartic. Traditional writing conventions like spelling, punctuation, and grammar are irrelevant. The only rule is that students keep their pens and pencils moving at all times and ignore their “inner critics.”

“Whenever I do this, something always comes up that I’m not expecting,” Collins said. “I call it the free-writing surprise. You just start writing without judgement, you’re moving your hand, and something always pops out that you didn’t know was in there. It might be an idea, it might be something you were worried about, and you can be like ‘Oh, that’s what’s been bothering me!’ and you didn’t even realize it until you took the time to do that writing.”

After the timer goes off, students will take a break to read and digest what they wrote, and then write for another five minutes. Then, Collins will open the floor to discussion. Students can share how the experience made them feel, and if they want, they can share what they wrote. If they’re not comfortable sharing, they don’t have to. Sessions will be held on a weekly basis until, as Collins joked, “we’re all stress free.”

Collins hosted her first expressive writing workshop prior to Pace’s switch to virtual learning. As an active participant in Res. Life Programming, Collins sought to create a student event that addressed a need of the community. She noticed that college students today seem to carry a lot of stress and decided to design an event that offered them a healthy coping mechanism. Since Collins starts her mornings by engaging in expressive writing as a way of clearing her mind and focusing her day, she thought that it could be a good option for students to explore.

The first expressive writing session took place on a Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. in the Alumni Hall classroom. The event was open to all of the residents of Alumni Hall, but no one attended. Collins says that this surprised her, because she has hosted similar writing workshops as part of the Body and Mind (BAM) FIG’s health and wellness series- events hosted in the BAM lounge every other Monday night covering topics ranging from meditation to healthy eating- and always had a good turnout. She believes that hosting the Alumni-wide workshop in the classroom deterred students because it gave them the sense that the event would feel like extra schoolwork, whereas events hosted in the BAM lounge promise students a comfortable, relaxed environment.

Collins hopes to rework her approach to these workshops so that, when campus reopens, more students attend. She plans on incorporating expressive writing into BAM’s health and wellness events in order to spark interest in students. Once she has established a pool of students who enjoy the expressive writing workshops, she will host them as their own event and continue to run the BAM health and wellness series separately. But for now, Collins is keeping this opportunity alive online.

“The university is really trying to figure out how to maintain our sense of community, how to let students know that we deeply care about them, and that we’re all in this together even though we’re in our own spaces,” Collins said. “We’re trying to still program, connect, and give you all those resources that you would have if you were here in person.”

Students interested in learning more about Collins’ workshops or joining the Zoom sessions should contact her at jcollins@pace.edu.