In a Tortoiseshell: In the final paper for her Writing Seminar, “Gamification,” Theresa Lim argues that gamified elements of the MyFitnessPal app push users towards the unhealthy end of the eating behavior spectrum. Her cross-disciplinary analysis creatively combines scholarship in psychology, nutrition, and game theory. By carefully defining relevant key terms from these disciplines, and by clearly illustrating how the concepts she defines intersect in the MyFitnessPal app, Theresa arrives at a nuanced argument and makes important contributions to the scholarly conversation. Continue reading
One unexpected perk of quarantine is that I’ve been able to live my alternative career fantasy of cutting hair. It started sometime in October when my bangs grew past my eyes and I decided I was less afraid of trimming them myself than of going to a hair salon in the middle of a pandemic. I studied a series of online how-to articles, picked up the right kind of scissors from CVS, and gingerly set to work over the bathroom sink. A few weeks after the (relative) success of this endeavor, one of my housemates asked if I would cut her hair, too. We set up shop in the kitchen (the plastic bar stool we picked up on the side of the road made an excellent impromptu salon chair!) Thirty minutes of careful cutting later, my housemate had a perfectly acceptable bob.
I’ve always thought that if I were to decide against higher education and take my life in a completely different direction, I would want to be a hairdresser. Maybe it’s the attention to detail that appeals to me, or maybe it’s the idea of getting to share brief but meaningful moments of connection with so many people, and to watch them leave feeling even just a little bit more confident. More than anything, though, I think it’s this idea I have that hairdressers have vision, and that they get to realize that vision on a daily basis.
Of course, my current skills are nothing like this romantic fantasy I have of what haircutting could be— I’m just happy if I manage to get a relatively straight line. But when I imagine how a master stylist gets from before to after, I wonder if it’s similar to the way I get from evidence to argument when writing a paper. Looking at a mountain of evidence with all its tensions and contradictions can be overwhelming, as can looking at a head of hair filled with tangles and split ends. But a good stylist like a good writer can also discern potential within all the messiness.
For anyone who’s ever watched Queer Eye, there’s something distinctly satisfying about watching Jonathan Van Ness come up with the perfect haircut for each episode’s hero. In creating a style for someone, he always takes into consideration their own preferences and comfort, the amount of time they want or are able to spend on grooming, how they want their appearance to help them meet their goals in life (whether that be by boosting their confidence or helping them look professional for job interviews), etc. As a result, it seems that Jonathan manages to find a style that not only looks fantastic, but that genuinely suits and feels authentic to that particular person. Even better than seeing the dramatic difference in their hairstyle is seeing the difference in the way they look at themselves in the mirror. It’s like Jonathan can see something in them that the rest of us can’t— and oftentimes that they can’t even see in themselves— and bring it to light.
I think a strong argument in an academic paper does something quite similar. To write a strong argument, you need to start by carefully examining the source texts, taking the time and care to get to know them and understand what they want to say rather than forcing your own interpretation of what they “should” say. In writing as in haircutting, it’s not about making something up; it’s about seeing something in what’s already there and presenting it in such a way that everyone else can see it too.
— Meigan Clark ’23
In a Tortoiseshell: In this close-reading paper written for the Humanities Sequence, Sandra Chen begins with a detailed analysis of a poem’s text to make larger arguments about its meaning.
In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper, Debby Cheng utilizes her thesis to roadmap her text to explore the nuances surrounding the distribution of blame within the black community during the AIDS epidemic prior to the introduction of an effective treatment. Using enriching and creative sources to provide evidence to her claims, Debby efficiently asks the reader to question, just as she does, the role of the heterosexual black man as the “invisible” force that perpetuated the spread of HIV in the United States during the last two decades of the 20th century.
In my eternal attempt to get in shape, I recently started attending a group fitness class at Dillon Gym called BODYPUMP. Written by the fitness company Les Mills, BODYPUMP is a strength-training class in which you use a barbell and plates to tone specific muscle groups. The workout is choreographed to upbeat music, where each song is paired with a major muscle group in the body. During one track, we might do different kinds of squats to target our glutes, and in another we might do chest presses and push-ups to work our chest muscles. We do hundreds of reps, until our entire bodies are sore and shaky, but stronger.
While doing all those reps, I started thinking about workout classes like BODYPUMP and how they relate to the Lexicon. They are choreographed just like essays are written, so we can analyze them with the same concepts. They have, for example, theses and motives. BODYPUMP’s mission or thesis is to build strength and tone muscles so that attendees become healthier. Workouts can have structure built around the muscles in the body, like BODYPUMP does, or on skills or techniques that are being used, such as karate or boxing. One might think of individual moves—squats, chest presses, push-ups, etc.—as evidence, since these are what must be manipulated for the workout to achieve its goal (or support its thesis). Our reps of these moves are like our analysis, since they are how we enact our moves (or interpret our evidence). Lastly, specific kinds of reps are the key terms of workouts. For example, in BODYPUMP we have a rep which consists of a move done quickly twice in a row followed by the same move done slowly with pulses. We perform this kind of rep with all our moves—squats, deadlifts and rows, chest presses, etc.—and it marks our maximum effort level for each muscle group. Like key terms, it is versatile, gives each of our tracks a focus, and helps the workout feel cohesive.
Next time you are at the gym, think about how you structure your workout to achieve your health goals. Maybe you’ll find that your “evidence” is not varied enough, or that you aren’t doing enough “analysis.” And if you don’t even know where to start, try out a class like BODYPUMP and let them structure your workout for you. I hope to see you there!
— Leina Thurn, ’20