Imagine competing against the best high schoolers in the nation to prove you are a leader. With DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), you get the opportunity to do just that. DECA is not just about competition, however. They are a strong community who use language to meet their goals. Therefore, it is easy to see that DECA is a discourse community. Lexis and genres used in the DECA community prove the group has its own specific way of communicating to meet their goals of competing and helping others.
To understand what a discourse community is, it is first important to understand the concept of discourse itself. James Paul Gee states, “A Discourse is a sort of “identity kit” which comes complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act, talk, and often write, so as to take on a particular role that others will recognize” (278). Discourse groups act in their own way. For instance, they have their own set of communicative rules. They use a particular lexis and some even dress in a specific way to prove they are part of their group. They act similarly so they are easy to identify, and a few choose to associate their group name with who they are.
Anna M. Johns claims that discourse communities concentrate, “on texts and language, the genres and lexis that enable members throughout the world to maintain their goals, regulate their membership, and communicate efficiently with one another” (321). It is essential that every group member understands other members in their group. They must speak and communicate in a similar way. That way there is no confusion, and no group member is left out. The more a group is able to use the similar language and terms, the more successfully that group will meet its goals.
DECA was founded in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1946. The DECA community is a high school organization that you can join as a freshmen. Some colleges have DECA as one of their student-lead groups. DECA cares about competing, community service, and school spirit. DECA members compete at the state, regional, and national levels. DECA fundraises for students’ competition fees. Since DECA fundraised, students such as myself only had to pay $200 to go to last year’s national competition in California. DECA’s competition is receiving a test based on the category that the student is in. Then the student will receive a scenario and have a certain amount of time to come up with a solution to present to the judge. DECA puts together programs for the community. They host a Veteran’s Day program every year for the student body and the community. For students, they hosted a homecoming movie night. It was open to all high school students who wanted to come and watch a movie. After the sports events, they sold popcorn and drinks for the students with all proceeds supporting DECA.
The discourse group is interesting to study because I was involved in this organization in high school and have background information about this group. I even have more access to the group now because my best friend, Zena White is president of the organization. I chose to do a personal interview with her because she has a passion for DECA, and I have access to her any time on her personal phone number. Mrs. White is also very easy to communicate with. We were a team last year for competition, so I trust that she will give me accurate information. I talked to the advisor Mrs. Keri Mitchell in person to get more information. I even asked her to for permission to study DECA. I was able to attend a meeting to observe and gather information. From that meeting, I generated interview questions. I also received the agenda of the meeting that outlined what the meeting was about. For additional information about DECA, I used their Instagram account that lets the community know when there is an event going on.
DECA is a discourse community because they share common goals and use lexis to meet those goals. Their goals are competing, fundraising, and community service. DECA is a very competitive organization. There are several schools that compete against each other. The students thrive and work very hard to do well in competitions so they have a chance at competing on the national level. DECA also fundraises for students. Competition can be very expensive if many students advance and the regional and national competitions are far away in big cities. Some students are not able to pay for their trips, so funds that DECA raises cover costs for those students. Community service is also a priority for DECA.
Just last year, DECA was involved in a 5K literacy run, a food drive, and a veteran’s program. I graduated with over a 1,000 community service hours with the help of DECA. It is clear that DECA wants to help as many people in the community as it can. DECA communicates efficiently by texting one another when an announcement is made. For instance, when a student is sick and missed information, someone from the group will contact them through text message or social media. The group also communicates through meetings that they have every week. The president also consistently puts reminders on the group’s social media accounts. DECA also communicates in order to fundraise. They would not work successfully if they did not communicate because they would not know when and where activities are held or even when meetings are.
DECA uses specific lexis to communicate with one another. The lexis is understood by the group members and includes words like “meetings,” “marketing,” and “hospitality.” When someone in DECA refers to “meetings,” everyone in the group knows they mean the meetings that are help every Thursday in Mrs. Mitchell’s room before 7:30 a.m. “Marketing” means promotion. It is how DECA gets a product’s name out to the community. While many people think “hospitality” just refers to the tourism industry. For DECA, that word means the customer is always right. DECA uses these general terms to communicate, but they also use more specific terms like “teamwork”, “nationals”, “encouragement”, and “helpful”. “Teamwork” means to work with one another, but it also carries the meaning of not abusing your partner. We use “nationals” to refer to the competition that has participants from all over the United States. For me, competing at this level meant representing my school. In DECA, “encouragement” does not just mean saying helpful words to others, it also means actively supporting and uplifting our fellow members. When I observed DECA, the word “helpful” came up very often, so it is obvious that the group prioritizes helping each other and their community.
Perhaps the most common word we use is “competition.” Every member knows this word, even novices, and everyone values the experience of being able to compete. Lexis sets this community apart from other groups. Every DECA member knows what every other member also knows. The group DECA is not hard to join, but members have to pay dues at the beginning of the year. Each member decides how involved with the group they want to be. The novices are the newer members or the people who are not active. The experts are the older members and the people who hold offices. A person can become an expert quickly if they are active and willing to participate and sacrifice for the group. Most people leave this chapter of DECA by graduating from high school. Although some people can continue DECA on the college level if their school offers it.
Every group has some kind of conflicts. The ratio in DECA to the advisor and resident is 80:2. It can be hard to try and talk to all 80 members and make sure that they understand the information that is given. In order to make sure the information is clear, they hold weekly meetings and pass out an agenda. As the president Zena White goes over the agenda. The members are asked to write down anything they do not understand or ideas that they have for the group. After the agenda has been reviewed, there are a few minutes for any questions or suggestions. This allows all members to have a chance to speak. This helps resolve major conflict, and allows the group to communicate efficiently. Communicating well with one another can help reach the goals quickly and effectively.
DECA is a discourse community that communicates efficiently. They even have methods to help them avoid significant conflict. They communicate most efficiently because of the genres and lexis they have in common. A future study of this group could benefit from watching more of the events they are involved in, particularly competitions.
- Gee, Paul. “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics” Writing about Writing: A College Reader. Ed 3. Ed. Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins, 2017. 274-297
- Johns, Ann. “Discourse Communities and Communities of Practice” Writing about Writing: A College Reader. Ed 3. Ed. Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins, 2017. 319-342
- White, Zena. Personal Interview. 5 Oct. 2017.