The Wesley Foundation on Ou's Campus as a Discourse Community

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The definition of a Discourse Community is a group of people that share a theme, speak the same language, recognize each other, and follow particular rules. Each person is part of a Discourse Community. Whether they call the group the belong to by the same name as people outside of the group does not matter, but the people that are a part of it define what the Discourse Community is, just as I believe a Discourse Community defines the people that are a part of it. Currently, I am a part of the Wesley Foundation on the University of Oklahoma’s campus and in my future, I hope to be a French teacher and a member of the American Association of Teachers of French or the AAFT.

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The Wesley Foundation on OU’s campus is not unique to Norman. There are Wesley Foundations on or near many state-run, non-church affiliated campuses nationwide, and even many overseas. The Wesley Foundation was established almost 100 years ago on October 13, 1913 at the University of Illinois. Named after John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, the Wesley Foundation is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The Wesley Foundation that I attend on OU’s campus is mostly attended by Methodists like myself, but there are students that associate with other Christian denominations as well. The Bible is referred to without fail in every Tuesday night worship, and it does not matter what denomination a student belongs to, if they are not familiar with the exact passage from the Bible being discussed, they are almost definitely familiar with the general messages the Bible teaches.

The mission statement of the Wesley is not to just cater to the needs of OU’s Methodist students, but is simply put on their website as “to be and to make disciples.” At Wesley, they believe that “to make a disciple one must be a disciple. This means we are continually challenging our students to be committed followers of Christ who are continually striving for a closer walk with God.” This mission statement is pursued through a number of ways including small groups during the week, mission work, and weekly worship. The small groups meet almost every day of the week, later in the evening to try and accommodate a busy student’s schedule. The groups vary from specific Bible studies for men, women, and freshmen, as well as groups that simply focus on building relationships through shared interests and fun. The Wesley also makes a large effort to help the community close to home as well as those in different countries. Recently, they’ve been doing a fundraiser to build a well for a small town in Mexico and closer to home, a group has gone to spend time with a church that provides care and attention to underprivileged children in Oklahoma City. One student at Wesley, Kaela Patterson, described how much she enjoyed helping her community through Wesley, “I’m a college student and I don’t have the most money in the world to just give, but when I have spare time, I love to give that to someone who needs it more than I do.” It’s an opinion commonly shared at the Wesley: money is tight as a student, but it feels good to give time when you can. Janey Wilson, Associate Director at the Wesley, described how she feels about the small groups and their purpose for students, “I want my students to feel welcome and loved when they come into the building. I want it to be a home away from home. We try to be a family here and every family has to spend time together.”

Janey Wilson is the Associate Director to Daniel Dennison, an ordained minister appointed by the annual Methodist conference to serve the Wesley Foundation as the campus minister in a similar way to the way he would serve a traditional church. Daniel must bring in funds for the Foundation as well as provide spiritual leadership through leading the weekly worship service with a sermon he writes. Janey is responsible for organizing the small groups and outreach to new members and old. Through her work with outreach, Janey tries to get currents students’ and alumni opinions on the Wesley Foundation. While there is a formal organization of leadership, students have aan important, yet informal role, in the running of the Foundation. Without the students’ approval, the small groups, mission work, and worship would not be nearly as successful.

The atmosphere at Wesley is always relaxed and open. Conversations commonly revolve around sports and fantasy football, classes and teachers, the weather, and simply what’s going on in each other’s day to day lives. While there is no dress code for worship or events, it’s commonly understood to dress decently and overly-revealing clothing is not appropriate. Some people dress up for worship on Tuesday nights, however, this is not required and you’re more likely to see people walking in wearing jeans and t-shirts.

The membership at Wesley is open to anyone and free. There is no cost demanded of you to attend unless you want to donate or go on an out of state mission trip. Similarly, the American Association of Teachers of French say membership is open. However, there are annual dues that members pay and to even be considered a member, one must be over 18 and a teacher of French.

The American Association of Teachers of French is the only professional group that is devoted to French teachers at all levels. Elementary, high school, and secondary level educators can all join in one community revolving around their shared interests: teaching and French. One of the first things visible on the AATA website is their mission statement. The mission statement of AATA reads:

The aim of the Association shall be to represent the French language in North America and to encourage the dissemination, both in the schools and in the general public, of knowledge concerning all aspects of the culture and civilization of France and the French-speaking world. The Association shall by all means at its disposal support projects destined to advance the French language and literature. It encourages reciprocal communication between all levels of the teaching of French in North America.

While speaking with my first French teacher, Madame Martin, at Norman North High School, she described her personal goals as a teacher, “I would like my students to leave my classroom, whether they’re in here to get through the two years required of them or to pursue an interest, more educated and more appreciative of the French culture and well-rounded students.”

When addressing her students, Madame Martin speaks with a tone of authority, and when she’s not speaking in French, she speaks with vocabulary similar to her students. Occasionally, she makes the assumption that, when she’s teaching French sentence structure, her students are extremely familiar with English grammar rules and sentence structure. However, most students require her to backtrack and explain the rules of their own language. The common knowledge that she can confidently depend on her students to know is the difference between nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and question marks, periods, commas, and exclamation points.

Madame Martin is required to dress professionally as a teacher at Norman North High School. Only when there are football games or if it’s Friday is she allowed to wear jeans and a Norman North t-shirt to class. While this is allowed, she never really chooses to participate in the traditions. Madame Martin dresses in business casual and likes to maintain the air of professionalism and authority in her classroom.

While Wesley is a casual atmosphere for students to come share a study space, their faith, and their time, and being a teacher and member of AATF is more formal and professional, both organizations are aimed at bettering the lives of the students they interact with. Being a part of Wesley is very important to me. Although I can get very busy juggling school and work, having a place on campus where I can go and relax with a group of friends with similar values is important to me. I enjoy having a place to grow in my faith where I know I will be supported. When I become a teacher and hopefully, a member of the American Association of Teachers of French, I hope to support students and teach them something they enjoy and want to grow in. I want them to have a respect for world languages and cultures and I want them to feel supported and well-educated after the leave my classroom.

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