April 5, 2021
Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, and Friends of Rutgers Humanities,
As we enter the final stretch of our third pandemic semester of teaching and research, I write with a sense of hope and gratitude. As of today, all university educators and staff are eligible for vaccination in New Jersey. Amazing. I am grateful to the health care workers, local volunteers, and medical scientists who have helped bring us to this point. While infection rates are still high in the region and throughout the world, we are heading towards the renewal of in-person teaching, advising, collaboration, and research. We can contemplate opportunities for study abroad and field work, and the immersion in archives, museums, architectural sites, and global cultures that are so crucial to Humanities scholarship and education.
At this moment of transition, I would like to acknowledge and honor the unprecedented labor and compassion of all those who have been teaching our students: our tenured and tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty, PTL instructors, and graduate instructors; and the many staff members who have been supporting our teaching. I am proud and moved by what we have managed to accomplish and innovate together in the classroom – and in all that has become “the classroom” this year – under very difficult personal and professional conditions.
We have been doing what we normally do, and so much more. Over the past 13 months, faculty and graduate students in the Humanities have responded to the urgent call to expand anti-racist teaching practices and pedagogical strategies that support social justice. Two recent pedagogy workshops I attended were remarkable for the liveliness of discussion, the generous workshop-style lessons, and very high level of engagement and attendance. On February 5, graduate students in Comparative Literature organized and hosted “Teaching Practices in an Era of BLM,” which brought three experts from outside Rutgers for a three-hour Zoom webinar attended by dozens of students and faculty from multiple Humanities departments. On March 25, colleagues leading the Language and Social Justice Initiative, in collaboration with faculty and staff in The Language Center and the Rutgers English Language Institute, organized “Language and Social Justice in the Classroom,” which featured faculty from Linguistics, AMESALL, and Anthropology and a truly marvelous group of undergraduates from Linguistics and Anthropology. Our undergraduates spoke eloquently and passionately about why it matters to incorporate issues of social justice into the language and linguistics classroom. The Language and Social Justice webinar was attended by dozens of instructors and students from Rutgers as well as by many K-12 instructors.
Faculty across the Humanities have been advancing our educational mission for students specializing in our fields of expertise. Students have communicated to me and to other campus leaders their deep appreciation for your warmth, intellectual seriousness, and engagement with them at this time. We have also been designing courses that bring our distinctive historical and cultural knowledge, and our approaches to knowledge, to students based in disciplines and Schools throughout the New Brunswick campus. This past Summer and Fall, colleagues in History moved with purpose to launch a new Signature course, “American Topics: Black Lives Matter,” in record time. The course was designed and taught in Fall 2020 by Charles and Mary Beard Distinguished Professor of History Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Associate Professor of History Donna Murch; in Fall 2021, Professor Dunbar and Associate Professor Tiffany Gill will be teaching together with several teaching assistants in History. “Black Lives Matter” explores the development of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, beginning with the colonial era and ending with the colonial moment. An array of scholars and activists will be visiting as guest speakers.
In addition to very large events, faculty have made time for smaller-scale innovations, using the occasion and capacities of remote instruction to bring visitors from off-campus – and in some cases, very off-campus. On March 9, Visiting Distinguished Professor Joyce Carol Oates welcomed a surprise guest to her undergraduate creative writing seminar, which she is teaching in the English Department for the second time this spring. To the students’ surprise, the guest was one of the world luminaries of contemporary fiction, the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood! With only 15 people in the Zoom conversation, students were able to ask questions and generate a meaningful space of social connection in a time of social distance.
I also want to draw your attention to the ongoing innovations generated by faculty participating in two Humanities initiatives launched by Michelle Stephens, then Dean of Humanities and now Founding Director of the Institute for Global Racial Justice: The Language Engagement Project and the Humanities Plus Initiative. The LEP provides pedagogical grants to faculty who offer 1-credit modules in world languages to accompany courses in various subjects throughout the disciplines, whereas Humanities Plus offers pedagogical grants to support innovation in pedagogical methods for all Humanities undergraduate courses of 3 credits or more. This spring’s LEP modules can be seen here. Some of the recent Humanities Plus projects can be seen here.
Finally, we are working to increase pedagogical collaboration across Humanities graduate programs through several new initiatives, including the launch of an omnibus list of graduate program courses across the Humanities Division. Graduate students and advisors can see easily and access the intellectual breadth of our Division’s seminars for PhD and MA students. This list was assembled and curated by Assistant Dean of Humanities Douglas Jones and is part of a new look and new content for the Humanities Division web site, which now includes rotating news stories, updated program information, and descriptions of (some but soon even more) Humanities initiatives. Please stay tuned: we will be adding information about our collective activities, collaborations, and major programs over the coming year. I am grateful to the SAS Communications Office and IT team for helping us redesign the site. Rutgers Humanities is now also on Twitter (@RutgersSASHUM). Please @ us, and we will help get the word out about your events and accomplishments.
Thank you for all you do to teach, advise, and mentor our students. Thank you for the work you are doing and have done to support anti-racist practices in the classroom, to make students feel engaged and heard, and to innovate our curriculum and our teaching methodologies. Thank you for bringing to our classrooms the intellectual energy, imagination, and commitment that you bring to your excellent research and scholarship. Thank you for modeling what it means to create as well as to learn, showing our students that we learn by creating and that we expand knowledge by sharing it.
I look forward to seeing you and teaching with you in the near future.
Rebecca L. Walkowitz
Dean of Humanities