Science Writing and OER

Following is the seventh of a series of posts by participants in the Spring 2021 Open Pedagogy Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight into the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences in the Fellowship.

Andréa Stella (she/her) is a third-year Ph.D. student in the English Department focusing on Composition and Rhetoric at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her research looks at access, disability, and abolition in the STS writing composition classroom. Andréa is queer, disabled, and mother to two young children.

Open Pedagogy (OP)/Open Access (OA) is a thread in an abolitionist/liberatory praxis1 and pedagogy: a praxis and pedagogy that looks at how we receive information and knowledge. OP/OA also represents a site of access: “institutional barriers for sick and disabled faculty and students replicate into barriers for poor, working-class, non-native English speaking, Black and/or Indigenous students of color (BIPOC), and trans and queer students and faculty” (Rice-Evans) with many of my students emboding one or more of these intersecting identities2. The OP/OA methodology aligns with the liberatory models of Black femme scholars including Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Carmen Kynard, Katherine McKittrick, Sylvia Wynter, Ruha Benjamin, Mariame Kuba, and Bettina Love.

I teach Writing for Engineering at the City College of New York (CCNY) and thought that my zero-cost course was Open Access before this fellowship. As a disabled scholar and professor, I frequently use scrappy and subversive tactics to survive within the educational industrial complex3. I incorporate these tactics into my classes as a way to support my students. One method of academic survival has been to find ways to freely access resources and share that information with my working class students. I thought accessing paywalled journal articles and posting them on my course site was an acceptable way around some of the institutional barriers. The fellowship provided me with a better option: Open Access databases to support the process of “imagin[ing] and craft[ing] the worlds you cannot live without, just as you dismantle the ones you cannot live within” (Benjamin).

My course is a writing course, but the students are Science and Technology Studies (STS) students who regularly access scientific journals for their other classes. This semester I taught a database research lecture that centered around finding peer-reviewed work on arXiv instead of using our library’s paywalled database. The students and I were able to have a candid discussion about the differences between paywalled sources and OA content. We talked about how “our present system of knowledge, a biocentric form of knowledge upheld by capitalist financing, is a self-referential system that profits from recursive normalization” (McKittrick 43) and how this creates a siloed perspective of the scientific information we have access to. This also allowed us to consider that we can learn “to read and notice the conditions through which self-replicating knowledge systems are breached and liberation is made possible” (McKittrick 43), which goes far beyond a conversation about logging into the library’s website with a CCNY email account. 

The author’s course site.

We had a discussion about how scientific facts may be seen as products of scientists’ socially conditioned investigations rather than as objective representations of nature4 and how “the works cited, what we tell each other about what we know and how to know, contain how to refuse practices of dehumanization. The works [referenced] disentangle systems of oppression and talk about resisting racist violence” (McKittrick 28) so by being deliberate with how we select our sources, we start to think in an abolitionist framework. This disentanglement is aided by OA sources that are community driven, reviewed, and supported. While OA content is not guaranteed to be anti-racist or better than paywalled, the practice of OA publishing aligns closer with the conditions of abolition, conditions that focus on “building and nurturing life affirming institutions” (Capehart) instead of recreating the carceral reality we are taught we need. Using OA sources also opens up the opportunity for the students to bring a critical eye to the expectations outlined for them in other courses. Many of my STS students take classes that require paying for assignments, exams, and quizzes. Having these discussions around OA allows them to think about who profits from their education, and maybe think of ways to shift the current model so that it is more equitable (even though the labor shouldn’t be on them).

Finally, I have decided to set up my course as an asynchronous course, hopefully one that will still have an element of human connection. I am working from a framework created by Alexis Pauline Gumbs to use short videos and lesson prompts as a way to engage with my students that feels less cold than a text-heavy website. The course site is still a work in progress because even with the fellowship, it has taken me a lot of time to set up. My goal is that by combining the asynchronous site and a course Slack account, we will find a way to have connection without the need for in-person classes. The pandemic has shifted significantly from a year ago, but the reality remains that in-person classes are ultimately inaccessible for a majority of my students and I think we need to keep these systems of access in place to achieve any chance at equity. 


1. Ellison, Estelle. “In Defense of Praxis.” June 25, 2021

2. Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stan. L. Rev. 43 (1990): 1241.

3. Love, Bettina L. We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Beacon Press, 2019.

4. Bijker, Wiebe, Thomas P. Hughes, and Trevor Pinch, eds., The Social Construction of Technological Systems (MIT Press, 1987).


Benjamin, Ruha. Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. Polity Books, 2019.

Bijker, Wiebe, Thomas P. Hughes, and Trevor Pinch, eds., The Social Construction of Technological Systems (MIT Press, 1987).

Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stan. L. Rev. 43 (1990): 1241.

Capehart, Joseph. “What Does a Garden Have to Do With Abolition?” April 7, 2021.

Ellison, Estelle. “In Defense of Praxis.” June 25, 2021.

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. “Stardust and Sea Salt: Daily Creative Practice.” Mobile Homecoming Project, podia 2020.

Kaba, Mariame. We Do This Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice. Haymarket Books, 2021.

Kynard, Carmen. Vernacular Insurrections: Race, Black Protest, and the New Century in Composition-Literacies Studies. SUNY Press, 2013.

Love, Bettina L. We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Beacon Press, 2019.

McKittrick, Katherine. Dear Science and Other Stories. Duke University Press, 2021.

Rice-Evans, Jesse, and Andréa Stella. “Femme Madness.” Mad Scholars Anthology. Syracuse Press, forthcoming.

Wynter, Sylvia. “On How We Mistook the Map for the Territory, and Re-Imprisoned Ourselves in Our Unbearable Wrongness of Being, of Désêtre,” in Not Only the Master’s Tools: African American Studies in Theory and Practice.  Paradigm, 2006.

Course site:

About the Author

Katherine Pradt is the Adjunct Reference and Digital Outreach Librarian at the Graduate Center.