With the new school year in full swing, Haverford College is welcoming three new visiting assistant professors to its English department. I had the pleasure of being able to talk to all three of them to get their insights on why they are here, what they are excited about teaching, and what they would like the Haverford community to know about them.
Sarah Watson, who recently received her Ph.D. in English literature from University of Pennsylvania, said that she is loving the people, atmosphere, and her introduction into the Quaker parts of the school. Watson has loved reading from a young age, and was inspired to become an English teacher by the excellent English teachers she had in high school and college. Teaching English is the best way to “share my passion for literature with others,” she explained.
Her current classes, Contemporary Women Writers and Topics in Middle English: Body Talk, compel students to explore how gender roles have evolved throughout time. Contemporary Women Writers, which Watson describes as focusing on “chick-lit as a provocative term for women’s writing,” includes classics like Pride and Prejudice through Bridget Jones’ Diary to more “out of the canon” novels like Waiting to Exhale on its syllabus. While Watson has always been interested in famous female writers like “the Brontës” of the world, a class on medieval literature and French writer Christine de Pizan revealed to her that the feminist ideas that she had always been drawn to were showing up very similarly in work from centuries earlier. Her other class focuses more on this line of study, highlighting how medieval texts talk about the body in regards gender, race, and even medicine.
When she’s not reading or teaching, Watson loves bird watching, making jewelry, and dancing. While she is classically trained in ballet, she has recently gotten into Nia, which she described as “like Zumba but a lot more zen and creative.”
Gabriel Sessions, who also joins us from the University of Pennsylvania, said that he feels like he seamlessly fits into our community. “[I] instantly felt a connection with the quality of life here, the mission,” he said.
As an only child, Sessions has always had a vivid imagination and loved to write, but was drawn to teaching after taking a course in his senior year of college at Wesleyan University, called a Poetry and Visual Culture. Sessions was particularly inspired by the teaching of scholar and poet Elizabeth Willis. He explained that he is currently teaching Art Against Fascism, a discussion-driven six-person class, and is advising senior English major theses, which he said that he feels are both incredible insights into the community and the engagement of Haverford students. In the spring, he will be taking on a greater class load, dealing with a variety of his different interests. In the future, he hopes to teach a class called, Adultery, Cheating, and Plagiarism, which will analyze the etymology of the word “adultery” and the connection between its taboo nature and plagiarism as we see it in our daily lives. Another class he hopes to teach, Topics in British Lit: British Cool, will deal with what Sessions describes as “20th century interpretations of Britishness” and will address the historical trajectory of the globalization of the English language. Overall, Sessions said that he hopes this class will answer the question: “is there a specific advantage enjoyed by British literary tradition and British art?” with a variety of media and authors as examples. A third class Sessions plans to teach, The Novel and Climate Change: Environments in Fiction since 1900, will address how novels portray environments and represent non-human actors, ranging from books like “Frankenstein” to more direct climate change focused literature.
While he highly recommends taking his classes, Sessions is most enthusiastic about a passion project he also has in store for next semester. This project will have a bit more of an environmental spin and will be a sort of symposium to serve as “an opportunity for tri-co students to share either academic essays or original creative work of any kind… centered around the question how we will remain at home as we are inheriting an earth that is changing and arguably doomed.”
A classical guitarist, he is fascinated by a various forms of art and expression and would even love to incorporate everything from written pieces to dance into the day. He encourages interested students to reach out to him if they are interested in helping to plan or participating.
Reema Rajbanshi, a New York City native, is also is visiting for the year with an emphasis on film. This semester she is teaching a course called Third World Cinema: Desiring Freedoms, Freeing Desires, which also touches upon her research interests in Brazil and South Asia. Next semester, she will be teaching courses on unfree labor and literatures of the anthropocene, both with a focus on visual materials like photography and film. She is also particularly interested in the concept of decolonization, which she views as “a very current demand for those of us in Native American Indigenous Studies and/or from communities living with the unburied bones of coloniality [including classroom space]”. On this thread, she would love to get the Haverford community thinking about questions like: “How can we be more collaborative and generous?” and “How can we value varied knowledges more equally and in a less zero sum manner?”
When asked about her favorite part of the community so far she noted, “I love the natureculture mash-up of the campus and how conscientious so many students are . . . sorely needed right now if we are re-imagining alternative futures!”
In her free time, Professor Rajbanshi loves dance and music and is always on the lookout for new experiences in the Philadelphia area and around New York City.