Greyfriar Author Speaks with English Class

Each year, the English Department hosts the Greyfriar Living Literature Series in which they invite a distinguished literary writer to hold a workshop, discuss writing, and read from their work. This year’s Greyfriar author was Anand Prahlad, a published poet, memoirist, and professor. Prahlad visited my African American Literature class on Tuesday March 5th in the afternoon before his lecture and shared some of his insights on writing with our class. 

As part of our assignment for the day, my professor, Dr. Wilhite, assigned selected passages from Prahlad’s 2017 memoir, The Secret Life of a Black Aspie. His memoir discusses his experience with autism spectrum disorder and describes the way he sees the world. Prahlad kicks off his memoir with a bold statement: “Before I start telling you about my life, though, I should share with you a secret: I don’t remember most of it.” He admitted to our class that it was a line he wasn’t sure if he should keep in the memoir, but decide that there is an important, distinguished relationship between memory and life writing. “Everyone remembers differently,” Prahlad said.

Dr. Wilhite started off the class by having us read one of Prahlad’s poems, “Grind,” from his collection of poetry, As Good As Mango. The poem, written with extensive enjambment and impressionism, narrates an observer watching young black boys skateboarding in Harlem. Students discussed some of their observations from the poem, including Prahlad’s use of bright and positive imagery with darkness. Prahlad listened to student’s comments, then explained his own intentions with the poem, specifically how it was meant to capture a sense of percussive choreography. It was a great opportunity to hear an author speak about his own work. 

The class then transitioned into talking about the selected passages from Prahlad’s memoir. Students were able to ask Prahlad questions, and many of their inquiries centered around his writing style as someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “My relationship to memory is kind of rooted in sensory experiences,” he explained. Prahlad shared an anecdote about a time he was asked to describe the autistic experience in order to best understand how to work with someone with autism. “Imagine everything is alive,” he said. “Everything is an aura. Everything is vibrating.”

Hearing Prahlad speak about his memoir and poetry was a valuable opportunity as an aspiring writer and an English major. I was unfortunately unable to attend his reading and Q&A due to a class conflict, but I was fortunate to have the chance to hear him discuss his own work. If you’re interested in learning more about Prahlad and his publications, you can check out his website at https://prahladauthor.com.

SoLA Symposium Highlights Faculty Research

This past Friday, I attended the School of Liberal Arts Faculty Research Symposium. Held in the Maloney Great Room, the first session of the symposium showcased the Modern Languages & Classics, Political Science, History, and English departments. The event featured professors who have recently returned from sabbatical, giving them a platform to share their work with faculty, students, and the Siena community. Each presenter spoke for 15-20 minutes with a PowerPoint, then took questions from the audience. 

Dr. Lisette Balabarca-Fataccioli of the Modern Languages & Classics department started off the symposium with her presentation, “The Female Other: Muslim Women in Early Modern Spain.” Her research extensively analyzes 16th century Spanish texts in which, in order to convert to a new religion, daughter characters break the bond with their fathers. Dr. Balabarca-Fataccioli provided historical context for her research project, explaining that in the 16th and 16th centuries, Muslims in Spain were forced to convert to Christianity. She also mentioned she will have an opportunity to present more of her research later this year at a symposium in Toronto

Dr. Laurie Naranch of the Political Science department shared her research on “The Power of Relational Narratives in Philosophy, Politics, and Practice.” She discussed some of the work she completed during her sabbatical, including working on book chapters, being published in a symposium, and revising an article, “The Narratable Self: Adriana Cavarero with Sojourner Truth.” As someone who hasn’t taken a political science class before at Siena, it was interesting to hear about her research.

Dr. Pojmann responds to audience questions

The next presenter, Dr. Wendy Pojmann of the History department, titled her presentation “Espresso: The Art & Soul of Italy.” Dr. Pojmann is currently in the process of publishing a book that she wrote while on sabbatical and read an excerpt from her work during the presentation. According to Dr. Pojmann, her book attempts to explain the historical groundings of espresso, specifically in relation to its unifying qualities, globalization, and monetization. If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Pojmann’s project and travels, check out her Instagram page at @wendysespressolife.

English professor Dr. Keith Wilhite delivered the final presentation of the symposium, “Recession-Era Suburbs: Race, History, and the Housing Crisis.” During his sabbatical, he developed two chapters from his new book, the manuscript of which is titled Contested Terrain: The Suburbs, U.S. Literature, and the Ends of Regionalism. Dr. Wilhite discussed the paradox of postwar suburban development, emphasizing the increased focus on privatism in suburbia. He also gave a brief overview of some of the texts he will be working with in his book, including Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris. 

The event was a great opportunity to learn about the research professors conduct while away on sabbatical. As students, we rarely see all the work they do outside of the classroom. I have had both Dr. Pojmann and Dr. Wilhite as professors while at Siena, and it was interesting to hear about their research projects, as well as learn about Dr. Balabarca’s and Dr. Naranch’s areas of focus. There will be a second symposium session held on March 15, featuring the Sociology, English, Education, and Religious Studies departments. The second session will be held in room L26 of the Standish Library from 3:30-5:30pm.

Keep an eye out for extensive coverage of the first SoLA symposium by staff writer Madison Lemke in the 2/15 issue of The Promethean!

MLK Keynote Tim Wise Visits Siena

This past Wednesday Jan. 30, 2019, author and activist Tim Wise delivered a lecture at Siena as the speaker of the 32nd Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on Race and Nonviolent Social Change. This year’s lecture was held in the MAC to accommodate the large audience. I’m terrible with numbers, but there were easily over 200 students, faculty, and people from the local community at the event.

Wise had a very commanding presence as a speaker, constantly keeping the attention on him and using his humor to connect with the audience. He commented at the beginning of his presentation that he has been delivering speeches nationwide for almost thirty years, and his impressive rhetorical abilities shone through. 

Wise spoke on how King’s memory has ultimately been sanitized and stripped of “revolutionary content” in America’s historical memory, explaining that people only remember the parts of King’s philosophy that make them comfortable. “See, everybody will tell you that they marched with Dr. King,” Wise said. “If everybody who says that they marched with Dr. King had actually marched with Dr. King, we wouldn’t be having to have this conversation about racism in 2019.”

The MLK keynote centered on the idea of a dangerous historical memory. Wise tied this notion to the 2016 election, immigration conflicts, and police brutality, honing in on the idea that past history is constantly repeating itself due to America’s faulty historical memory. “We keep trying to reinvent the wheel instead of understanding that we’re fighting the same dragons,” Wise explained, “the same monsters we’ve always been fighting.” He concluded his lecture optimistically and answered an hour of audience questions.

I will be covering Wise’s visit in the 2/15 issue of The Promethean, so if you’re interested in more extensive coverage of his time on campus and lecture, be sure to check it out.

Reflecting on Last Year’s MLK Keynote

This Wednesday, anti-racism activist and published author Tim Wise will take the stage in the MAC and deliver his talk, “Challenging the Culture of Cruelty: Understanding and Defeating Race and Class Inequity in America.” Wise will be the keynote speaker 32nd Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on Race and Nonviolent Social Change. I strongly encourage everyone to attend Tim Wise’s lecture this Wednesday at 7pm in the MAC, and because these MLK keynotes usually draw in a large crowd of faculty, students, and members of the local community, I suggest getting there early to reserve a seat. 

As the event approaches, I am reminded of last year’s speaker, Luis Alberto Urrea, whose meditation on borders seems especially relevant in regards to the political climate today. I personally covered Urrea’s visit in The Promethean, which involved a lot of research, interviewing, editing…and re-editing. Out of all the articles I have written for the paper and events I have attended at Siena, Urrea’s keynote keeps coming back to me, maybe because his encouragement of unity is more important now than ever in the face of political division.

A self-proclaimed “border writer,” Urrea’s talk centered on issues surrounding the US-Mexico border, which is arguably a more politically charged topic now than when he delivered his keynote speech last year. He narrated his own experience as a Mexican-American, highlighting his struggles with racism, discrimination, and oppression, and acknowledged that many anti-immigrant sentiments are born out of ignorance. “People don’t understand the folks who seek solace and shelter here in this country,” Urrea said.

Despite the emotional, poignant nature of his talk, the author ended his keynote with a sense of optimism, encouraging the use of art and human connection in the face of division. “There’s got to be a better way,” Urrea addressed the audience. “Force doesn’t work, politics doesn’t work, co-optive religion’s not working. What’s going to work? Maybe only, right now, art and song and hope and each other. Maybe we can understand there’s no ‘them’ out there. There’s only ‘us’ out there. Maybe we can help each other.”

Looking Ahead to MLK Week

With the first week of classes drawing to a close and a massive snowstorm rolling in, everyone’s looking forward to having Monday off. A long weekend means sleeping in, catching up on Netflix, and getting a small break from work and school. It’s important, though, to remember that this Monday marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day. MLK day is observed on the third Monday of January every year in celebration of MLK’s birthday. The holiday celebrates King’s life and legacy, as well as encourages a day of reflection.

“The holiday must be substantive as well as symbolic. It must be more than a day of celebration . . . Let this holiday be a day of reflection, a day of teaching nonviolent philosophy and strategy, a day of getting involved in nonviolent action for social and economic progress.” -Coretta Scott King

In recognition of King’s life and tremendous achievements, Siena will be hosting a weeklong series of events, including a mass, a gospel concert, and a day of service. The 2nd Annual MLK Week runs from January 23-20, 2019 and ends with the Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series of Race and Nonviolent Social Change. This year’s keynote speaker is Tim Wise, an anti-racism activist. He will be delivering his lecture, “Challenging the Culture of Cruelty: Understanding and Defeating Race and Class Inequity in America,” on Wednesday January 30 at 7pm in the MAC. 

I attended last year’s MLK keynote speaker, author and activist Luis Alberto Urrea, and was incredibly moved by his talk on immigration and acceptance. Before delivering his keynote lecture, Urrea even met with creative writing students in a hour-long lunch. Wise will be meeting with students on campus before his lecture as well and leading a workshop in Dr. Wilhite’s African American Literature class. I’m looking forward to attending Tim Wise’s upcoming talk and am hoping to see a successful turnout for the event. Last year’s speaker brought a full house, so if you’re hoping to find a seat during the lecture, be sure to arrive early!

Best wishes for a restful, reflective weekend.

5,000 Miles, 10 Countries, 3 Months

When Saul Flores was a junior in college, he walked 5,328 miles from Quito, Ecuador to the United States. He traveled through 10 countries and took over 20,000 photos in an effort to capture the danger of an immigrant’s journey north. His project, “The Walk of Immigrants,” made national news, and Flores has been featured on NPR, TEDx, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post. Flores was invited as the Keynote Speaker for Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week and spoke in the Sarazen Student Union on Wednesday Nov. 14, 2018.

A map showing Flores’ journey

During his lecture, “Fleeing Home: Immigration and the Cost of Poverty,” Flores shared personal anecdotes from his experience as a first generation Mexican-American. He explained how both his parents were immigrants: “My mom left because she was escaping poverty and my father left because he was escaping a civil war.” Flores talked about his parents’ experiences working and struggling to provide for their family in New York City. “Being an immigrant in America is very hard,” he said. “It’s been a very turbulent time for a lot of people across the country, and I keep going back to my childhood.” Flores then shared a particularly moving story in which he and his sister witnessed his mother, who worked as a housekeeper on the Upper West Side, scrubbing floors for a living for the first time. “We had never seen my mom scrub the floors before,” Flores said. “My guardian angel, my protector, was on her knees scrubbing floors.”

Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Center for Service & Advocacy

Flores was inspired to take his 5,328-mile trek by a service trip to his mother’s hometown in Mexico. While visiting his grandmother in Mexico, he went to the tiny cinderblock schoolhouse that had been constructed in the 1970s to provide an education to the children of the community. When Flores and his friends went inside the schoolhouse, 124 children began singing the Mexican national anthem to them. “It was so beautiful because they were introducing us into their home,” Flores said. He started noticing the poor conditions of the building, like the crumbling walls, flickering light bulbs, and splintering desks. Flores’ grandmother explained to him that this would have been the school he would have gone to if his mother had not immigrated to the United States. This trip was the catalyst for Flores’ journey, especially once he was told the schoolhouse was doomed to close. In his travels, he took over 20,000 photos, which he sold and donated the proceeds to the schoolhouse’s repairs. Flores shared stories of his 3 month-long journey, with one particularly harrowing experience in the Darién Gap, a passage of swampland between Panama and Colombia. Flores spoke on the positive impact of his journey, explaining that it sparked a national conversation on immigration.

Throughout his lecture and into the Q&A, Flores emphasized the importance of international travel, the influence of passion, and the power of grit and perseverance. Keep an eye out for more extensive coverage of this event in my article in the 11/30 issue of The Promethean! If you’re interested in learning more about Saul’s experience, check out his social media pages at @sweetlikesaul.

Thinking About Grad School?

With registration in full swing, students are encouraged to think about their plans after graduation. One option many students consider is attending graduate school to get a Master’s degree and sometimes continue on to get their PhD. Continuing your education post-undergrad is a big decision, and it’s important to know all the factors that weigh into this choice. On Wed. Nov. 7, the English Department hosted a Grad School Panel where Drs. Snyder, Spain-Savage, and Dearing shared their own graduate school experiences and gave advice to prospective students. They primarily talked about their experience in grad school for English, but the advice they shared can largely be applied to any grad school program. Dr. Snyder explained the panel intended to “demystify” the process of applying to graduate school.

Dr. Spain-Savage talked about the importance of deadlines in graduate school, emphasizing that it is nothing like the undergraduate workload. In grad school, you impose your own deadlines, she explained, which is one of the reasons why not all graduates complete a dissertation. Unlike the strict schedules of undergrad, graduate school grants you the freedom to set your own deadlines, which can be troubling to students who struggle with time management or self-motivation. Dr. Spain-Savage also commented on the importance of finding a program that fosters and supports your area of specialization. Dr. Snyder shared his personal experience with grad school. He said, “You never feel smarter than when you’re in grad school.” Dr. Snyder emphasized the importance of doing research in the grad school search to find out where the funding is, showing that it is possible to get your Master’s and even your PhD and not have to pay for it. Dr. Dearing, fresh out of grad school last May, discussed the importance of knowing what to expect when continuing your education. She emphasized that graduate school is “not undergrad part two,” but schooling at another level. The panelists then shared their advice on applying for and attending graduate school. Another important part of applying for grad school is the application itself. Applicants usually need a certain number of letters of recommendation. Dr. Snyder emphasized the importance of asking your professors early for these letters and providing them with information to help write your letter of recommendation, like a resume, a personal statement, and a writing sample. Similarly, letters of recommendation should show different sides of you and your personality to reflect how you will fit into a particular program. Talking to current grad students is a great way to fully understand the experience. Because they are currently enrolled in programs, they will be honest and realistic about what grad school is really like. Similarly, ask graduate students what they’re doing once they graduate to get an idea of available jobs and realistic goals to set. Another helpful tip is to reach out to the department of a graduate school you’re interested in and ask to be put in contact with a graduate student.

One big concern for undergrads looking towards grad school is the debt. After finishing undergrad, most students have to begin working off their debt from student loans. All three panelists emphasized the importance of finding programs that will help fund you or at least help you pay for the process.  The takeaway? Research, research, research before applying to a program. Research can find you funding to help pay for your education and place you in an academic environment you thrive in. “You have to stay true to what you love,” Dr. Spain-Savage said. Graduate school can be a great opportunity for undergrad students to reach their potential and find themselves in the process. The panelists emphasized to not be afraid to go somewhere new, especially when you’re young. “It’s fun to live somewhere you’re not staying,” Dr. Snyder said.

Grad school is a big decision with many deciding factors and it is not for everyone. It is important to be well-informed about the goals, challenges, and benefits of attending graduate school. If grad school is something you’re considering or even just starting to think about, reach out to your professors, especially those working in your field of interest. They are great resources and are almost always willing to share their own education experience with students. Your academic advisor is also a great resource if you have questions about graduate school. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, reach out, and research the process!

English Colloquium Highlights Professor Projects

Do you ever wonder what your professors do when they’re not assigning homework or grading essays? In an English Department Colloquium on Tuesday Oct. 30, students and faculty learned about Dr. Keith Wilhite’s and Dr. Christiane Farnan’s research projects while they were both away on a spring semester-long sabbatical last year. 

Dr. Wilhite, associate professor of English, titled his talk, “Contested Terrain: The Suburbs, U.S. Literature, and the Ends of Regionalism.” Dr. Wilhite’s primary focus is in urban and suburban studies. His book analyzes the 1945 escalation of suburban sprawl through the 2008 housing crises. He explained that his book “scrutinize[s] the cultural idea of the suburban home.” Dr. Wilhite drew in multiple sources to explain this shift, including the House & Garden magazine and A Raisin in the Sun (1959) by Lorraine Hansberry. The two chapters he worked on during his sabbatical discuss the American desire to progress forward following World War I and the effect of increased suburban housing on race. In the conclusion of his presentation, Dr. Wilhite read a passage from the chapters he worked on during his sabbatical.

Dr. Christiane Farnan is an associate professor of English who focuses primarily on mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century women writers. During her sabbatical last spring, she wrote about The Wide, Wide World by Susan Warner in which Ellen Montgomery travels from New York City to the Adirondacks to Edinburgh, Scotland through the duration of the novel. Dr. Farnan’s talk, titled “Training for Travel: The Value of Girl Physical Fitness in Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World,” argues about the depiction of protagonist Ellen Montgomery in the novel. She explained that in her essay she argues that “Susan Warner presents the mid-nineteenth century American girl abroad as a different, unusually athletic, more interesting kind of mid-nineteenth century girl.” Dr. Farnan supported her claims with evidence from the book, including Ellen’s physical fitness, spiritual guidance, and psychological strength.

At the end of the colloquium, both professors responded to student and faculty questions. I have had Dr. Wilhite as a professor for a few classes now and have never had the pleasure of taking one of Dr. Farnan’s classes, but it was fascinating to hear about each professor’s individual research. I oftentimes think of my professors only in the classroom and don’t think about all the additional work and research they do in their academic careers, so it was interesting to learn about what they’ve been working on during their sabbaticals.

For more extensive coverage of the English Department Colloquium, keep an eye out for my article in the 11/16 issue of the Promethean! To stay updated on upcoming events on campus, like and follow our social media pages on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter!

Dr. Lewis Releases New Book

Dr. Daniel Lewis held a book release lunch this past Wednesday, Oct. 24, to promote his most recent publication, The Remarkable Rise of Transgender Rights. The event was held in the Norm and drew in students of all majors and interests. When asked how he decided on pursuing the topic of transgender rights, Dr. Lewis said, “I’ve been broadly interested in the idea of how minority rights are represented in our democratic system. Through networking with my co-authors, I started doing some work there and realized there wasn’t really a comprehensive examination of transgender rights politics. We saw it as more of a need and something we were passionate about trying to understand.”

Dr. Lewis’ book seeks to explain how the transgender rights movement has taken shape over the years and how they can achieve political success. He shared some of the successes and obstacles transgender people have faced. He used a Powerpoint with images, graphs, and statistics that I thought helped the audience more fully understand his research.

Part of their research involved running national surveys asking about people’s attitudes towards transgender people and transgender rights policies. On a “hot to cold” spectrum, transgender people rank lower than gays & lesbians, gun owners, interracial couples, police, scientists, and veterans, which suggests there is a generally negative response to transgender people. Similarly, though the overwhelming majority of survey takers believed in discrimination protection for transgender people, the public opinion on bathroom access is still widely divided – there is an even split between those who believe people should use the bathroom reflecting their current gender identity versus birth gender.

Dr. Lewis’ research also reflected that knowing someone who is transgender increases one’s likelihood to support transgender policies. “The number of people that report knowing someone who is transgender has increased over time, not only among close friends or family members, but also acquaintances,” he said, “which suggests there are opportunities to increase support for their policies.”

Though there are still ongoing challenges faced for the transgender community, Dr. Lewis remains positive on the outlook. “A lot of these victories are tenuous right now, and there are challenges to come for the movement. Still, there is a lot of optimism for the transgender movement in securing these civil rights,” he said.

Philosophy Colloquium: Distrusting Distrust

How do we deal with our distrustful feelings? Dr. Jason D’Cruz, philosophy professor at UAlbany, has been working through this question in his research project, “Distrusting Distrust.” He broke down his plan for the lecture, wanting to first work through an analysis of distrustful behavior, then explain the risks of distrust, and finally deliver a proposal on how to respond to these risks.

“I think we should be distrustful of a lot of our distrustful feelings,” Dr. D’Cruz said. He gave an example of a study in which participants were shown several faces and were asked to choose which ones looked the most trustworthy; faces with a turned-down mouth and furrowed brow were regarded as untrustworthy. Dr. D’Cruz explained there is no correlation between one’s face and integrity, and that we respond to new faces based on our past experiences, which are also shaped by difference, prejudice, and stereotypes.

Dr. D’Cruz continued discussing the moral risks of distrust, which include insult & disrespect, and the notion of self-fulfillment. He also commented on the epistemic risks, which are interpretive biasing and asymmetrical feedback. When we distrust based on bias or preconceived notions, we never learn how the person would have responded if we had trusted them.

As a solution, Dr. D’Cruz proposed humble trust, which he defined as a “social virtue and skill that responds to the moral and epistemic pathologies of distrust.” The aims of humble trust are to cultivate full trust of those who are trustworthy. The humble trust mindset similarly seeks to reframe and reorient our thinking, pushing us to make the decision to actively trust in the face of fear. Ultimately, the humble trust mindset seeks to create conditions where a person can rationally trust that they will be trusted.

After finishing his lecture, Dr. D’Cruz answered questions from students and faculty to help the audience fully understand his research and proposals. “Distrusting Distrust” was an interesting, thought-provoking colloquium. To learn about upcoming events on campus, like and follow our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!