Like most English majors, Tess Reichart ’17 has spent countless hours reading literature and theory, dissecting and discussing texts, and researching and writing papers. But at Clark University, Reichart also discovered the power of words to make change.
“I chose to study English because I’m passionate about creative writing as a means of liberation, and reading literature as a means of increasing awareness of social justice issues,” says Reichart, of Guilford, Connecticut. “We English majors are taught to view literature as a means of understanding issues of race and class in society. I’ve had a multitude of powerful learning moments while taking English classes with Professor Esther Jones, who encouraged me to be more critical of institutional injustice, especially as it’s presented in the literature canon.”
Yet, Reichart hasn’t left that knowledge at the classroom door. Throughout her four years at Clark, she has applied it to her work with refugees, children, teenagers and others seeking to express their experiences through language and writing.
Her work beyond the classroom began her first semester, when she took a first-year intensive course, Communication and Culture: Main South, with Sarah Michaels, professor of education. Reichart and her classmates applied their learning in communication theory and education practice to create a curriculum for an after-school poetry and arts club for sixth graders in the neighborhood surrounding Clark.
She continued working in the community her sophomore year as part of a Clark undergraduate team that developed a curriculum and taught English language and literacy skills to adult Somali Bantu refugees.
Her volunteer work inspired her to add a concentration in urban development and social change to focus more intensely on the sociopolitical framework of communities.
“What I love about Clark is its cohesive relationship with the Main South community,” Reichart says. “I have always felt that some of the best experiences I’ve had at this university have been classes or internships that involve observing public school classrooms or working with local organizations.”
"Clark gave me autonomy in designing my academic experience. The liberal arts component enabled me to combine all of my interests — literature, urban development, youth work, and social justice — by giving me freedom to design my own course load."
Reichart has taught poetry workshops through the Educational Studies Program’s annual one-day Splash event, which brings middle and high school students to campus to learn from Clark students. And she’s mentored children through the nonprofit organization Big Brother Big Sister of Central Mass/Metrowest and tutored low-income youth involved in Upward Bound.
She continued her work with youth in Main South this spring, when she interned in marketing and community outreach for the Worcester Chamber Music Society's Neighborhood Strings program. Her internship was part of the Community Music and Social Action Problems of Practice course taught by Matt Malsky, a composer, associate provost and dean of the college.
Reichart also worked with youth overseas as part of a spring 2016 study-abroad experience and then a summer 2016 LEEP project supported through Clark's Thomas Wisniewski ’87 Award for Creativity and Research. She interned at Fighting Words, a nonprofit co-founded by author Roddy Doyle in Dublin, Ireland, designing a curriculum for children, teenagers and young adults taking creative arts summer camps and off-site workshops. Her goal? To encourage their self-expression through poetry, photography, cartoon studies and fiction writing.
“Dublin is home to a multitude of cultures and ethnicities,” she says, “so working for an organization there presented challenges of navigating cultural differences in the workplace.”
When she returned to Clark last fall, she continued to study issues of social justice, working as a peer learning assistant for Heather Silber Mohamed, professor of political science, and researching academic achievement gaps among students of different races in American schools.
As she graduates this May, Reichart is headed into Clark’s fifth-year master of arts in teaching and may eventually seek a Ph.D. She says Professor Michaels inspired her to pursue graduate school.
“She has continued to provide wisdom and insight concerning my interests,” Reichart says. “I now hope to begin a career in the education field, whether it be teaching, policy or research.”