Tag Archives: alumni

“Teaching Practices in the Era of BLM” Follow-Up Q&A with Dr. Carolyn Ureña

The program in Comparative Literature and the Rutgers Advanced Institute for Critical Caribbean Studies sponsored a student-led event on February 5th, 2021, under the title “Teaching Practices in the Era of BLM.” The event, organized by María Elizabeth Rodríguez Beltrán, Paulina Barrios, Mònica Tomás, Milan Reynolds, and Amanda González Izquierdo had over 100 people attend. We were honored to have Dr. Carolyn Ureña, a Comparative Literature alumnus and now Assistant Dean for Advising at University of Pennsylvania. Along with Dr. Jonathan Daniel Rosa and Dr. Angel Jones, Dr. Ureña spoke on the ongoing importance of incorporating pedagogy that addresses systemic racism and white supremacy in educational spaces. We thank Dr. Ureña for the opportunity to share her responses to the questions that came out of that workshop and for providing such necessary theory and practice for antiracism in the classroom.

Watch a recording of the workshop here!

Dr. Rosa and Dr. Ureña, how do you see your presentations overlapping and/or diverging? What ideas sparked for you as the other presented?

Thank you for encouraging us to think about our presentations in tandem. I was particularly struck by Dr. Rosa’s illuminating example of Black Cuban-American actress Gina Torres being interviewed by the Telemundo anchor in English. This inability-to-recognize Torres as Spanish speaking, the host’s claim that they had allegedly “both” succumb to stereotypes immediately drew my mind back to my recent re-readings of Fanon on “The Black Man and Language” (of which I spoke in my presentation). I am very much interested in language as a tool of colonial violence, as a tool for accessing power, but also as a weapon for policing who and who does not belong to a particular culture. When Fanon writes about the white French doctors who talk down to their Black and Arab patients in an invented patois/gibberish, they are invoking their position of power as physicians, which shields them from sounding ridiculous since they claim to be meeting the colonized subject “where they are,” so to speak. I’m wondering what it means for the Telemundo host to have spoken her accented English in order to do the same with Torres. How is this complicated by the fact that in some ways, the star is more “powerful” than the host, since her words and image are what sell in this case?

While Dr. Ureña’s presentation centered hope and the stubbornness of idealism, this reveals the ways in which students are often so oppressed that it can be emotionally, physically and structurally devastating pulling them further away from hope. How do we think about joy, foster and encourage in a way that doesn’t rob students of the fullness and validity of their feelings?

Thank you for your question! I would like to clarify that “idealism” in Fanon is not necessarily (or not always) a happy thing, and in my writing on Fanon my aim is to show that hope does not always appear in the places or ways we expect. So when I talk about being stubborn in asserting the presence of the body, I mean this as a proactive stance in opposition to the “business as usual” attitudes that would have us ignore the complexity of the body in favor of the so-called “rational” mind. When I speak of hope in Fanon, I am drawing attention to the moment when he resigns as chief psychiatrist in Algeria, when he writes an impassioned and damning letter to the Resident Minister to reject the colonial structure (I urge everyone to read it!). Many might view this moment as Fanon “giving up,” but I argue this moment of rejection is what opens up new and unexpected opportunities (to this effect, my most recent article on this subject is titled “Hopeful Resignation”). This understanding of hope and idealism, I propose, does not rob students (or anyone who embodies it) of the feelings of anger, indignation, sadness and even momentary despair. What it does, I find, is show us a new way to understand what it means to take a stand, that anger can be quite productive — sometimes saying no, leaving a situation, literally quitting (as in Fanon’s case) can actually push against narratives of “grit” and resilience and allow us to challenge the standards for what it means to succeed, to hope, to be fulfilled.

Link to the article I mentioned: https://brill.com/view/journals/bjgs/6/2/article-p233_233.xml

I am wondering how to factor in how my body experience changes in contexts, for instance, I might feel out of place in a white American classroom, but my body experience is a privileged one in a different context internationally because of caste and class. How do I think through the first experience to listen and respond better to students who come from less privileged backgrounds?

Thank you bringing your own bodily awareness to this discussion. One of the many aspects of existential phenomenology that I find compelling is precisely that it allows us to acknowledge that our bodies are not static because we are always in relation to something/someone else. In other words, we do not exist in a vacuum, so, as you pointed out, we feel differently in our bodies depending on the environment, depending on the presence of other bodies as well. I think the activity I mentioned, the Social Identity Wheel from University of Michigan, might yield especially interesting insights if you were to complete the task with each environment in mind: which identity to do you pay most attention to in situation 1? what identity do you think others notice most, etc? Then repeat for environment 2. The idea here is that one’s growing awareness of the complexity of the experience can help us become more aware and attuned to our students’ complexity as well. Above all, as educators interested in adopting a Freirian model of problem-posing pedagogy, I would say we need to ask our students about their experiences, past and present. I would also ask your students a version of the question you asked me. As with the experience you described, the first-gen, low-income college experience can be very disorienting, and gaining a particular kind of education can make one feel alienated from one’s home (I’m reading Fanon’s “The Black Man and Language” through this lens). Likewise, for me, attending a primarily white institution as a Latina was certainly a reminder that I was one of just a few, whereas back home in the primarily Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in NYC, I was one among many, from an ethnic perspective.

As part of the problem-posing pedagogy, do we seek particular pedagogical structures/strategies that would also gradually bring students to their own? Do educators avail themselves of particular methods for structuring questions in the classroom?

I love that your question points to the possibility of students developing thier own pedagogical strategies — when I teach Freire, I actually tell students that just because I am aiming to build a Freirian classroom does not mean they will encounter this everywhere they go. Therefore, I want to help them become Freirian student-teachers, so that whatever classroom they enter, whatever syllabus they encounter, they feel empowered to ask themselves and their friends “what is the goal of this class? what about this is important or relevant for me, for my growth?” My point being, they don’t need anyone’s permission to bring their questions to their learning. That being said, I always talk about the importance of being strategic, as I am not throwing out the rule book that may say “these are the grading standards, this will be on the test,” since certain kinds of academic success, even traditionally construed, can open important doors; the question is, what do we do when we open them? Still, there is much more to learning the materials than memorizing and producing the right answers.

In terms of methods for structuring questions, I often find myself encouraging questions that denaturalize the presence of the text or object in the class, by which I mean, encouraging the student to put themselves in the role of the syllabus writer (i.e. teacher!) — why do you think we are STILL talking about this old/strange/boring (if that’s how it’s being received) text? What can we gain from it? What can we set aside? If it’s somehow mandated by the discipline/class/high school…. why might that be so? Answers range from utilitarian to utopian, and that’s part of the point — nothing is obvious, nothing is static, which reminds me of when Fanon writes, “Society, unlike biochemical processes, does not escape human influence.”

Oh! And I mentioned during the Q&A that literature is a great place to discuss race and difference more broadly, even simply by starting to ask questions about why particular characters were made to speak by particular authors in particular ways, and I have a recommended text for this — Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif,” about two young girls, one white, one black, and their repeated encounters throughout their lives. The thing is, Morrison never tells us who is white and who is black. Check it out, you won’t regret it. But you don’t have to take my word for it! (here is LeVar Burton, of Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, reading and discussing it: https://www.stitcher.com/show/levar-burton-reads/episode/recitatif-by-toni-morrison-part-1-200144090)

What would you suggest / recommend to professor (white/black) to feel comfortable in raising racial questions in class—how to be intentional in incorporating racial issues.

For handling these kinds of discussions — whether for the first time or each new time — I am so grateful for the wealth of resources to be found at college Centers for Teaching and Learning. As educators, we really never need to do this alone. We can seek help and guidance from other educators, others who know how to start these discussions. I’ve mentioned the University of Michigan Inclusive Teaching resources (https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/). UPenn’s Center for Teaching and Learning has some great, evidence-based resources and strategies as well (https://www.ctl.upenn.edu/Node/160, and has sponsored events about trauma-informed teaching that included representatives from Counseling and Psychological Services. If you search for resources on how to discuss the 2020 Election results, you’ll also find helpful advice that is applicable in this context.

Even after reading through these kinds of materials, we may continue to feel unsure, and my thinking at the moment is that true learning happens when we stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone. I believe the commitment must come before the comfort. I think of our students, those who are not yet comfortable speaking in class — we encourage them to try, we find ways to let them know that we will not let them falter, that we will help them through that first comment and also give them feedback on how to improve. Oh, and you better believe their classmates will give feedback (nods, building on the comment, eye rolls, silence). I would say to you and all professors, speak sincerely, humbly (even announce it — I’m not sure how to have this conversation, this is the first time I am trying, and I need you help), and above all, ask questions. Students overwhelmingly appreciate being heard, being included, as well as our willingness to be human in front of them.

Once again, we thank our presenters Dr. Ureña, Dr. Rosa, and Dr. Jones for thoughtful and pertinent talks, and the Comparative Literature Program for supporting this workshop.

Comparative Literature Alumni Reunion

by  Amanda González Izquierdo

On November 8, 2019, the program in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University hosted its first alumni reunion. The chair of the program, Andrew Parker, organized a lunch that brought together faculty, current undergraduate and graduate students, and undergraduate and graduate alumni.

The lunch began with a few words from Dr. Parker welcoming everyone and speaking to how moving it was to see alumni come back to campus, which he described as a testament to the impact that their time at Rutgers has had on their professional and personal lives. Then, everyone in the room briefly introduced themselves, and we learned that the student body that has made up the program from its beginnings has included people representing all parts of the world, including Pakistan, China, Mexico, and Canada. Dr. Parker then proceeded to introduce two notable guests: Barbara Lee, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Barry Qualls, Professor Emeritus of English and former Dean of Humanities in the School of Arts and Sciences. They both spoke about how the campus has changed since some of the alumni graduated, highlighting the caffeine molecule sculpture in front of the chemistry building in Busch campus and the Sojourner Truth apartments in the College Ave campus. They also both spoke about the importance of the humanities, the passion that Comparative Literature students exhibit for literature and language, and how the program is characterized by its continuous crossing of boundaries.

After the talks, everyone started to form or join conversation groups around the room. Some people were getting to know each other for the first time, while others were reconnecting. In these conversations, we learned about what alumni have been up to since their graduations. Some of those who earned their PhD at Rutgers have retired after fulfilling careers in the professoriate, while others hold teaching positions at universities throughout the US, including neighboring colleges like Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. A great number of the undergraduate alumni are in the process of applying to graduate school, considering PhD programs in Comparative Literature and Women and Gender Studies. It was wonderful to witness the meetings between current graduate students and undergraduates who were in their classes semesters ago. One senior undergraduate told fourth-year PhD candidate, Rudrani Gangopadhyay, that he will be writing his thesis on a work he first read in a class she taught.

The lunch was also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with fellow current graduate students. Since all of our research interests are so diverse, and since many people are already past the coursework phase, it becomes difficult to see each other as often as we would like to. It was great to talk to people in their final years of the program about how their dissertations are shaping up and new interests that are emerging during the writing process. PhD candidates also kindly offered advice to those who have just started teaching or will begin soon on how to handle the nerves of being in front of a class, how to create a syllabus, and how to moderate discussions. We also spoke about the biennial graduate student conference which will be taking place on April 3-4, 2020 in conversations that touched upon our collective excitement for the theme, plans on how to move forward, and the stresses and felicities of getting to the point of publishing the call for papers.

The reunion lunch was a wonderful way to catch up with old friends, meet new people, and talk about our interests and plans. It will certainly not be the last time the program organizes such an event bringing together former and current Comparative Literature students.

Job Market Series: An Interview with Lina Qu

By Yuanqiu Jiang

On Feb 22, 2019, I interviewed Lina Qu (a recent graduate of CompLit), who, beautiful and glowy as ever, has just been offered a full-time position as a Fixed Term Assistant Professor of Chinese at Michigan State University. Our conversation was about Lina’s experience with the job market. It was mainly conducted in Mandarin. Below is the original conversation and its English translation.

Y: 你在找工作的时候大概的一个经历是什么样的呢?

Y: What has your experience been looking for work?

L: 大概是可能经历了两年的时间。在我把论文写完但是还没有答辩之前,找过一年的时间;然后答辩过后又找过一年的时间。

L: It has been two years since I started looking for work. Between I finished my dissertation and I did my defense, it was one year, and another year after the defense.

Y: 那你觉得答辩对你找工作有什么影响吗?

Y: Do you think the defense had any influence on your job-hunting experience?

L: 我觉得可能那些教授他们,就是those who have been on the search committee, 他们都会说可能现在只会邀请已经答完辩的人参加他们的interview。但是我自己的经验的话,我也没有觉得有那么明显的差异,因为那之前那一年我的论文已经完成了,在等待答辩的状态。然后那一年也是有一两个interview,然后这一年也是一两个interview。但是大概你在进行了第一轮的interview以后,在考虑下一轮的shortlist candidates的时候可能会考虑……因为跟你竞争的人很多,不仅已经答辩完成了,而且还已经工作了一两年。

L: Those professors who have been on the search committee probably would tell you that they only interview candidates who have defended their dissertations. But I personally didn’t feel a big difference because in the second year [of looking for work] I got a couple of interviews; I got a couple of interviews in the first year too. But perhaps after the first-round interview, when you are in the shortlist, you should know that some of your competitors might have already defended, and some of them might even have been working for a few years.

Y: 刚刚讲的那个search committee是什么呢?

Y: What is the search committee you just mentioned?

L: 就是对方学校他们教授组成的一个招聘团队。

L: It is a recruiting committee formed by the professors from your target school.

Y: 那个shortlist像是类似于经过一轮筛选之后的名单吗?

Y: Then is “shortlist” the list of second-round candidates?

L: 对,因为一般现在第一轮面试都是电话或者是Skype。这一轮可能会有10-15个人。哦当然还有另外一种是,像我们这个专业去MLA进行那个MLA interview。这三种形式的interview我都经历过。第一轮之后就会有那个shortlist,大概一般是三个人。然后如果是tenure-track,甚至是有一些fixed-termposition,他们会邀请这三个人去campus visitCampus visit可能会让你去做一个lecture,或者是一个lesson demonstration。但是有一些职位它是没有这个第二轮的,它可能在选出这个shortlist以后就会考虑一下其他的因素。比如说目前对于我们international students来说可能最重要的就是你需不需要sponsorship

L: Yes. Generally, the first-round interviews are phone interviews or Skype interviews. There are 10-15 candidates. Another type of interview is, for programs like us (Comparative Literature), they will do interviews through Modern Language Association. I have been interviewed in all the three ways. There are usually about 3 people in the shortlist, and if it’s a tenure-track position or fixed-term position, they will invite the three people to visit the campus, during which they might ask you to do a lecture or lesson demonstration. But for some positions, there’s no second round, so they will consider other factors to decide which candidate from the shortlist they will hire. For international students, I think the most important factor is whether you need sponsorship or not.

Y: Sponsorship是什么意思呀?

Y: What does sponsorship mean?

L: 就是你的那个working visa

L: It’s related with your working visa.

Y: 哦哦,像如果你是需要一个working visa的话会不会对找工作有影响呢?

Y: I see. If one needs a working visa, will it have any influence on finding a job?

L: Legally他们是不能做这样的discrimination的,但是这应该是一个非常重要的factor。比如说我这个工作它是有所谓的probationary year,试用期这一年他不希望你需要sponsorship。所以你需要用你的OPT

L: Legally they cannot discriminate like that, but this is a very important factor. For example, this job they offered me, it requires a probationary year. During this year they don’t expect that you need any sponsorship, so you will have to use your OPT.

Y: ——,所以说你去Michigan State第一年是用OPT吗?

Y: I see. So you’re on OPT for your first year in Michigan State?

L: 对,然后它后面会给我H-1B,这已经是非常ideal的状态。因为我这个职位不是tenure track,如果是对于tenure track的话这些问题可能不是那么严重。可是我另外一个今年做的tenure track的一个positioninterview,我跟它interview之后,就还发邮件跟我确认我需不需要visa sponsorship,就是应该说这个对他们来说一个非常大的concern。有一些广告会specify说你必须有working authorization才可以申请,这个working authorization就是指你eitherOPT,或者是有其他的green card什么的。然后你自己需要make sure you have working authorization。然后一般你在网申的过程当中他们就需要问你这个问题,就会说“do you need visa sponsorship”

L: Yes. Then they will give me H-1B. This is already a very ideal situation because this position is not a tenure-track position, for which visa might not be of that much an issue. However, after an interview I did for a tenure-track position, the university still sent me an email to confirm whether I needed visa sponsorship or not. I think it means sponsorship was still a huge concern for them. Some job advertisements may even specify that you can only apply when you have working authorization, which means you should either be on OPT or have something like a green card. Then you have to make sure you have working authorization. For this type of jobs, they will ask you “do you need visa sponsorship” when you do their online application.

Y: 你觉得在找工作的过程中对你最有帮助的是什么?

Y: What have you found most helpful during the process?

L: 老师给了我很大的帮助。

L: Professors, they helped me a lot.

L: 就是我觉得申请工作当中虽然更多的是看你个人的表现,但是其实它是一个teamwork。比如说首先就是你的教授要跟你写推荐信,你要跟他们去把deadline的这个事情处理好,因为其实他们很忙。而且很烦的是不同的工作它们的application process完全不一样,它们用的portal,就是那个门户网站也不一样。有的用学校自己的employment的一个网站,有的用通用的那种interfolio之类的,然后有些会要求你把所有东西都发到一个email address,就是非常混乱的一个状态,完全不同的申请的方式。那你自己可能要把这个work out,怎么能让教授更明确地知道这些方式,然后明确的deadline可能要提醒他们。因为他们能在deadline之前及时帮你提交推荐信,这个是一个非常重要的因素,很多工作会说在你的材料不齐全的情况下,包括你的推荐信,它是不会review你的申请的。所以在这个方面它其实是一个teamwork。另外就是当你得到interview invitation的时候,可能你去准备的过程中,老师帮你做一个mock interview,或者是你的peers能够帮你做mock interview是很有帮助的。因为你自己的perspective是非常有限的,他们可能会指出一些你没有准备的东西。比如说我在interview之前宋老师,Janet,还有Jorge他们都有帮我做准备。因为他们很有经验,所以他们知道一般interview会问什么问题。然后他们就听一听我回答当中有什么好的和不好的地方,能够帮我变得更好一些,甚至帮我想一些应对各种问题的策略。另外我同时也跟我的朋友,就是把我准备的东西讲给他们听,然后他们去帮我润色一下。

L: I think though your own performance matters the most, applying for a job is a teamwork. For example, you need recommendation letters from professors. You have to coordinate the deadlines well because professors are busy. Also, different jobs have completely different application processes. They might use different portals: some universities have their own employment websites; some use websites like Interfolio; some will ask you to send all your materials to an email address. You need to work out a good plan: let professors know about these portals; remind them when deadlines are approaching. Some employers will not review your materials until you have all the required ones, which means you should really make sure the professors submit the recommendation letters in time. Another thing I’d like to mention is that when you get an interview invitation and are preparing for it, it is helpful to do mock interviews with your professors and peers. Your own perspective is limited; other people can point out certain aspects that you neglect. For example, before I did my interview, Professor Song, Janet, and Jorge all helped me prepare for it. They are very experienced and know what questions are generally asked in interviews. Also, they can help me know the good and not-so-good aspects of my responses, then I can improve them. They also helped me to devise strategies to deal with various questions. My friends were really helpful as well. I rehearsed what I prepared in front of them, and they helped me polish it.

Y: 你可以给其他要进入就业市场的比较文学系的学生提一些建议吗?

Y: Could you give a couple of suggestions for other Comp Lit students about to enter the job market?

L: Just try your best but prepare for the worst.

Y: OK.

L: 这个我觉得这个心理的建设其实是很重要的。要不然你的过程当中会有太多的自我怀疑,然后你在自我怀疑的时候其实是不能够最好地表现自己的。那你去避免这种情况最好的方法就是你先有一个心理建设,先把工作市场搞清楚,把你自己的期待明确,在你不断遇到挫折当中很快地调整你的心态,去准备下一次的申请和面试。当然最重要的就是要在way before你需要的时候就build up your resume.

L: I think preparing your mind for the difficulties is very important, or you will doubt yourself very often in this process. When you doubt yourself, you will not be able to demonstrate your talents properly. To avoid this, you really need to be prepared: know the job market as well as your own expectation, adjust yourself quickly after setbacks and start to prepare for the next application or interview. Of course, the most important thing is to build up your resume way before you need it.

Y: 你有尝试过申请不是在美国的工作吗?如果有的话,那是一种怎么样的经历呢?

Y: Did you/Have you tried applying to jobs overseas? What was that like?

L: 我自己的话没有特别多的申请的经验,我可能申请过一两个比如说香港和英国的工作吧。因为如果这些它是面向国际招聘的职位的话,流程大概跟美国的学术招聘是基本相似的。而且他们也是都要求是英文的材料,所以至少是申请这个步骤我没有觉得有什么特别大的区别。我也没有进入过面试的环节,所以后面的情况我不是那么清楚。但是,有一个事情就是,因为每个国家的学科分类是不一样的。那比如说每个国家地区对于像什么是China Studies就会有不同的定义,然后它有不同的划分,所以它的这个招聘的条件对于你的要求可能跟美国大学会有一些不一样。尤其是对于teaching这一块可能就非常不一样,因为毕竟是教育体制的不同嘛。所以你的申请材料可能会要非常的不一样。比如说像香港的职位他们就是会让你写非常长非常具体的research plan。然后美国的很多学校会让你写非常详尽的teaching plan。即使是那些research universities它们的工作也是需要你至少是一个balanced的状态。所以可能你准备的时候这些材料的侧重点不太一样。

L: I myself don’t have much experience in this regard. I have applied for one or two jobs in Hongkong and the UK. When they are hiring people internationally, the procedure is very similar with what we have in the US. They also ask for materials in English, so I think at least the application part is not that different. I haven’t been interviewed by international employers, so I don’t know what happens after the application. However, one thing I do know of is that every country classifies disciplines and fields differently. For example, different countries and regions have different definitions for “China Studies”, and they might have different requirements as well, especially in terms of teaching, since educational systems vary as well. As a result, you might have to prepare very different application materials. For example, positions in Hongkong will ask you to write really long and specific research plans. And many institutions in the US ask for really detailed teaching plans. Even for those research universities, they still want that you’re in a balanced situation, so you have to emphasize different aspects of your skills during the application process.

Y: 对于你的新的职业生涯你最激动的是什么?

Y: What are you most excited about regarding your new professional stage?

L: 我觉得可能最让我期待的是你的position的改变给你所带来的从一个graduate student然后到一个faculty的这种职位的改变,可能会给你带来的一些新的体验和启发吧。我觉得虽然我们在读书期间也一直在教书啊,也在做研究啊,但是可能还是更多的以一个研究生的身份,博士生的身份在做这些。那当你的positionality改变的时候可能你会有一个新的视野。你可以更多地去掌控你想要去做的研究方向跟你想要教学的内容啊方式啊。然后这种的话可能会给你一些更多的自由,当然不是说完全的自由,而是说更多的自由,能够让你真正地把无论是你的研究还是你的课变成由自己来掌控的一个经验和工作吧。这个可能是让我最期待,我觉得最不一样的地方。就是你的职位的改变给你带来的自由度。

L: I think I’m most excited about the position change: from a graduate student to a faculty member. I think it will be a very different experience and inspire me differently. Though we’re also constantly teaching and doing research when we’re graduate students, but a different positionality may give me different perspectives, when I have more control on what I want to do research on and the content and style of my teaching. It might also mean more freedom; of course, it will never be absolute freedom, but comparatively speaking, the freedom of researching and teaching of my own will. This is what I’m most excited about and what I think would be the most different experience: the change of positionality and the freedom brought by the change.

Y: 好!谢谢丽娜!

Y: Great! Thank you, Lina!

L: 强调一下international students这块。因为系里面一方面不了解,另一方面他们也没有渠道去了解。但是这是每一个international student要面临的问题。就是如果你的最终的目标是待在美国工作的话,你要思考你怎么样在找工作的这一段比较漫长的时间中去maintain你的legal status。那这是你自己必须要去take care的一些东西,所以如果是我去年就答辩了,然后用我的opt的时间再找工作,那么我现在拿到的这个工作的offer我可能就不qualified。因为他们第一年不想要给我sponsorship,而opt只有十二个月。但是如果你可以毕业论文答辩跟你的工作能衔接上,然后你给自己至少有这个opt十二个月的时间是可以用来工作的,不论是对你还是你以后的雇主来说都会是一个好的选择。

L: I still want to emphasize something regarding international students because our program doesn’t know much about it and doesn’t have the resource to know about it. However, if your goal is to find a job here in the United States, you will face this issue sooner or later: how to maintain your legal status when you are looking for work – this is something you have to take care of on your own. If I had defended last year and used my OPT to look for jobs, I would not have been qualified for this job offer I currently have because they don’t want to give me sponsorship in the first year: OPT will only last for 12 months. If you can streamline the process of defending your dissertation and looking for work and use OPT for actually working, it will do both you and your employer a favor.

Y: 所以你是在拿到这个job offer之后才申请的opt还是之前就申请了?

Y: When did you apply for the OPT, after or before you got this job offer?

L: 我现在的情况是我会五月份的时候才开始申请opt,然后就等于说我五月份正式毕业以后才开始opt,然后opt从八月份开始。我八月份会去那边工作,这样时间就会配合得很好。这样在我的opt有效时期内我可以在那边工作一年,接着他们就可以sponsor我的H-1B。我也希望系里面以后在策略上可以有什么帮助国际学生的地方,关于这一点我要特别感谢Andy对于我的支持。

L: I will only start to apply for OPT in this May, which means I will apply for it after my graduation. And the OPT will start in August, when I actually go to Michigan State and work there. In this way I can work for a year while my OPT is still valid, then they will sponsor my H-1B. I also hope the program can devise some strategies to help international students, speaking of which I have to thank Andy in particular for his support.

Comp Lit Alumni: Vaughn Anderson

Vaughn Anderson graduated in 2015 with a dissertation titled “Disappearing Acts: Octavio Paz, John Cage, Haroldo De Campos, and the Silent Turn in Contemporary Poetry.”

Since I lugged my last suitcase of books back to Alexander Library almost a year ago (my final act of closure), I’ve spent a lot of time writing and thinking about graphic musical notation. This so-called “eye music” was a brief fad in the 60s and early 70s. Composers, painters, and poets created scores where any act of musical interpretation first demands formal analysis of visual elements and close reading of text, often in several languages. Performance requires multiple competencies. And what I quickly discovered, when I sat down to piece together a critical bibliography about these works, is that almost nobody has written about them. Everyone seems to assume that this is someone else’s area of specialty.

This is what’s made my formation as a scholar unique: not that I’m more widely competent, but that I’m more comfortable venturing outside and between my areas of concentration. Throughout my time in Comp Lit, I was allowed and encouraged to change. I started as a scholar of urban studies, and then moved to science fiction. At various points my passions included eco-criticism, literary translation, graphic novels, intermedia, and avant-garde poetics. I took grad courses in Spanish, Portuguese, Art History, and any number of other cross-listed disciplines. Eventually I wrote a dissertation that focused on hemispheric American poetic networks during the Cold War, but it drew life and inspiration from all these other areas. I take pride in trying to wear my entire hat collection all at once, and I’m glad I surrounded myself with people who thought this was a good look for me.


[Cover image: a score from Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise Handbook, 1967]

Comp Lit Alumni: Ben De Witte

We asked Ben De Witte, who has recently defended his dissertation, to share his thoughts on his doctoral experience at Comp Lit. Here is his account of the laborious but rewarding path that has led him to the dissertation, with some great suggestions for current (and future) graduate students.


In October 2015, I defended my dissertation “Queer Visibility on the Transatlantic Modernist Stage,” which investigates the transatlantic circulation of themes and techniques used to stage queer plots and persons in a selection of Argentinean, Spanish and U.S. modernist plays. I did not start in the Program of Comparative Literature knowing that I would write on the history of Anglophone and Spanish-language theater and performance. I did know, however, that I wanted to work on multilingual, comparative queer modernism (I had written a master’s thesis on Djuna Barnes’s expatriate novel Nightwood) and on the intertwined histories of literature and sexuality. For these reasons I applied at Rutgers, which boasts an impressive faculty in these areas. Among the various faculty members who have helped me think about my research, I certainly want to mention my dissertation committee members: Elin Diamond, who introduced me to the pleasures of modern drama scholarship, Andy Parker, who stimulated me to think of literature in tandem with philosophy, and Ben. Sifuentes-Jáuregui, who encouraged me to think of comparative literature (and queer figuration) in terms of circulation.

Although it took me all the way into my third year – when I was preparing for my Ph.D. exams – to decide that modern drama would be my main field, I am grateful for everything that I read and studied (my coursework in Comparative Literature, English, Spanish, French and Women’s and Gender Studies, and also my ever expanding multi-genre reading list) leading up to that moment. I am fortunate that our program allowed me a certain amount of time and flexibility to figure out what I really wanted to say and do. And of course, I am equally blessed that my committee helped me apply for grants, allowing me to do archival research in Buenos Aires and Madrid, and for a Mellon Dissertation Fellowship. My main piece of advice to students in the program would be: remain politic about real constraints (such as time and funding) without losing sight of what you really want to investigate; you will need your enthusiasm, wits and a lot more to finally write the dissertation. And although you can (and probably will) read up for the rest of your academic career before you ever fully “get it,” I found that jumping into dissertation chapters much more effectively stimulated my thinking and my creativity. Don’t delay too much, and instead enjoy the practice of writing.


Brown Bag Lunch with Caroline Godart

On December 14, Comp Lit alum Caroline Godart returned to Rutgers to discuss the publication of her new book The Dimension of Difference: Space, Time and Bodies in Women’s Cinema and Continental Philosophy. She provided a brief overview of her project, connecting the analysis of space, time, and bodies in cinema with the work of philosophers Luce Irigaray, Henri Bergson, and Gilles Deleuze, and explaining her approach to theory-based feminist film criticism. She described the chapters, each of which focuses on the relationship between a theoretical concept and a film. In particular, she discussed two films by Claire Denis, Beau Travail and Trouble Every Day, at length, explaining why she chose to write about Denis’ most popular and least popular films side by side. She also explained the process of revising her dissertation for publication. An engaged discussion followed the presentation. Participants talked about Bergson’s concept of intuition and the relationship between intuition and identification as modes of approaching Hollywood or art films.