Ryan Richards is being recognized for sophisticated synthesis and creativity in an essay incorporating three very different texts: her personal experience, one short story, and a self-selected article from The New York Times. This piece was written in response to a challenging assignment based on UM’s book selection for the Common Reading Experience in the Fall of 2016, Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians. Richards’ is a sharp, inventive essay featuring a nuanced, original central claim.
Reflecting on the Common Reading Experience, Richards writes,
I expected the Common Reading assignment to be a book report; thankfully, it was anything but. The assignment asked students to analyze three sources, one being our personal experiences. I expected to have a ton of difficulty making a book, a New York Times article, and my own developmental process into one cohesive theme, so I broke down the sources into each subject’s environment before change occurred, how the change was accomplished, and the subsequent result. Rather than in high school, where paragraphs in multiple source papers were often each dedicated to a source, Ms. Hitch told us to craft body paragraphs with different common themes and elaborate on how they applied to each source. While this assignment deviated from the norm I’d grown used to in high school, it acquainted me with the greater effort and analytical thinking college requires and set my expectations for future assignments to be both more challenging and interesting than I was used to.
Read an excerpt from “Not So Little Women”:
Fundamental change is, if not absolutely necessary, a crucially important part of being successful in professional and personal life. As individuals and as a country, we make great strides toward the future, especially in social dilemmas. In high school and college, strides have been made in my personal life to dismiss my defense mechanisms and react to rejection as my authentic self. This is an ongoing process, but the periodic achievements I’ve made have sculpted my personality significantly. Whether shown by the Civil War soon after America’s founding or the national legalization of gay marriage last summer, our country is always striving for better. There are bumps along the way, but the conflicts themselves accelerate change by making an issue popular enough to be debated and decided on a national scale. Recently, the country’s reaction to sexual harassment cases has pivoted, exemplified in The New York Times article, “Sexual Harassment Training,” with Roger Ailes. Because of women like Gretchen Carlson coming forward about their assaults, America is transitioning past a patriarchal society with little respect for the treatment of women that occurs behind closed doors and motioning for equality and mutual respect regardless of gender. The urgency of this change mirrors that which occurs in “Can I Get a Witness,” the third of nine short stories in Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians. The story glimpses a turning point in the life of a Spokane Indian woman who takes advantage of the chaos surrounding a detonated bomb to free herself from a toxic identity. Although they share fewer external similarities than the characters of Ten Little Indians, three not-so-little women exact big change through the courage to take control of a negative situation, whether in their personal lives or the nation’s methods of justice.