Case Study of Discourse Community in The Tiger Leadership Institute

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When Shevonda Minor walked into the first Tiger Leadership Institute meeting, she felt hesitant and shy. She sat in the front, somewhat away from everybody, and talked in a soft voice, “Hi everyone! My name is Shevonda and I’m in the Tiger Leadership Institute because I am shy but I need to break away from that. I’m going to need to start networking if I am going to get a job” (Minor).


John Swales, the author of “The Concept of Discourse Community,'' said that a discourse community is a group (or groups) that have common goals or purposes, and uses communication to achieve these goals (219). Swales helps us understand what he means by providing and explaining six characteristics that a discourse community has to have to identify as one. The six characteristics are “agreed set of common goals”, “mechanisms of communication among the other members”, “providing feedback/information through the mechanisms”, “genres”, “lexis/specialized vocabulary”, and “the hierarchy between members” (220-222). With these characteristics in mind, the community I observed and analyzed was the Tiger Leadership Institute (TLI).

The Tiger Leadership Institute is a six-week program that teaches students-whether that be freshman, transfer or upperclassmen students-about the foundations of leadership. They are taught how to be leaders themselves and how later that plays in community leadership. With this background information, my goal is to prove with Swales’ six characteristics that TLI is a discourse community.


I became a member of this community at the same time as Shevonda and since I am a member of this club already, it was easier for me to learn about TLI even further. I was able to interact and observe with other members who are also a novice at the U of M. With having that in common, it was easier to have conversations with them. I have gotten to talk with two members of the group to get their point of view of the Tiger Leadership Institute. I asked them general questions about their involvement and feelings about TLI. Also, to help understand TLI as a discourse community, I used observation and interviews as my research tools. As well as collecting and analyzing documents that the community has to provide. With this research, I will be able to understand the community as a whole.


TLI meetings are held every Tuesday from eleven-thirty am to twelve-thirty pm and I observed the second and third meetings that were held which were held September 24 and October 1. During these observations, I would draft field notes to collect my data and thoughts. While the second meeting was awkward and tense because the other students and I haven’t seen each other in a week, we still got to get to know one another by talking about why we want to become leaders and how to do so. The third meeting, however, was substantially better. Some of the students have made friends with each other and I got to do a group activity to see which team could build a balloon tower. There is a sense of comfortability between us now.


Twenty-year-old Hannah Nelson is one of the facilitators(the leader) of the Tiger Leadership Institute. She met with me on September 30 at two o‘clock pm in her office in the Involvement Zone which is located in the University Center. Hannah has been a member of TLI since she was a freshman. I asked her questions about Swales’ six characteristics and about how our community works together. While interviewing her, I was able to collect documents of TLI and observe how the community uses them.

The other member I interviewed is eighteen-year-old Shevonda Minor. We met on October 1 at twelve-thirty, right after the TLI meeting. We talked right outside the Iris Room which is also in the University Center. During this time, we discussed being a new member in this community and how she feels about it. We also talked about how much she has observed since she had joined the community, which was three weeks ago.

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Analysis and Results

Common Goals

According to Swales, these goals have to be “broadly agreed upon” (220). These goals have to be known between all the group members. In TLI, the common goal is to undoubtedly become leaders but also to also become better leaders. All the members of TLI want to be the best leader that we can be while in our community. We decided to join TLI for this purpose only. Another common goal was said during my interview with Hannah. She said, “A common goal that we all have is growth. Whether that be personal growth or leadership growth” (Nelson). Which I could relate to. We all want to grow as people because that is the way of life. Being stuck in the same mindset is not going to help anyone, including yourself.

Mechanisms of Communication

Mechanisms of communication are how the members of the community talk to one another. Examples can include, as Swales said, “meetings, telecommunications, correspondence, newsletters, conversations, and so forth” (221). In my discourse community, we use GroupMe and email as a technological resource. We use this to connect with one another while we are not in those meetings. Hannah would tell us what the activity we are going to do before we get there. But we also use talking to one another while in the meeting as communication. While observing the meetings, we always broke off into smaller groups to talk about the topic we had that day. This helps gets everyone's thoughts out without us talking over one another.

Information and Feedback

The information and feedback portion are participating with each other and give information/feedback to one another. In TLI, we get feedback from each other by having conversations with one another. As mentioned before, one of our common goals is to become better leaders. To do that we talk to one another about how we can accomplish that goal. We have conversations about how we are already leaders and how we can build from that as life goes on.


Swales wrote that “These may involve appropriacy of topics, the form, function, and positioning of discoursal elements, and the roles texts play in the operation of the discourse community” (221). It basically means different types of communication to use. It is written documents of the discourse community to prove that the community really is a discourse community. Hannah provided me with genres that include our lesson plans, a website, a GroupMe, and a form with all the TLI information on it.


The dictionary definition of lexis is the total stock of words and idiomatic combinations of them in a language. Which basically means specialized vocabulary used to communicate with the other members of the group. There are terms that are used in the Tiger Leadership Institute uses are “Level I”, “Level II”, and “Level III”. This specialized vocabulary is used to distinguish which program you are in. Like “Level I” is used when you are in the lower freshman level and “Level III” is the highest level that you can be apart of which is offered to juniors and seniors.


The hierarchy of members is the relevance each member has. In TLI, there are only two groups included in our hierarchy which are the leaders/facilitators and the students who are learning to become leaders. “The facilitators are other students who graduated from all three levels. They want to make sure others can get a chance to learn about leadership just as we did when we were freshmen” (Nelson). The students of level I would sit and do the activity the facilitators tell us to do. “I don’t know what my role is yet but I do know that I want to become a leader at this school and in the community” (Minor).

In conclusion, I was able to prove that TLI was a discourse community by applying Swales’ six characteristics to it. From learning about our shared goals to learning about our hierarchy within the group, I acquired more knowledge about this community. Wanting to know what Hannah and Shevonda what they found most interesting about TLI, Hannah responded, “I came into this as a freshman so I get to see all types of people in it. Whether that be race or socioeconomics wise but also personality-wise. I find it interesting that this leadership community is still applicable for everybody” (Nelson). While Shevonda said, “I think the chance to find out about one another and finding what leadership means to one another but most importantly ourselves” (Minor). I am honored to say that I am a member of TLI but also a leader in the Memphis community.The Tiger Leadership Institute

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