Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

McClure, Lisa


First Year Composition (FYC) is one of the most important courses for any incoming college student. This course (often designated as English 101) provides students the rhetorical tools to fully engage in critical thinking and writing on the college level. One of the most common methods of organizing FYC is to use a topic as the center of all the reading and writing prompts. The use of outside subject matter to teach FYC is a common practice that is rarely interrogated for its effectiveness. However, the Hairston debate in the early 1990s opened up a public discussion of how FYC should be taught. I am arguing that this debate was never fully resolved. Instead of using this historical moment in our field to discuss how topics impact FYC instruction, the use of topics has continued to be normalized during the last twenty years with little attention given to interrogating what actually happens in a FYC course that focuses on a topic. This dissertation study examines what happens when a controversial theme like race is used as the primary organizing principle of both a day and night FYC course in a metro-St Louis area community college. Using discourse analysis, I analyze student writing to determine how the students' writing is impacting by the subject matter of the course.




This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.