Students, alumni, faculty and friends recently gathered to honor SunHee Kim Gertz (pictured), professor emerita and senior research scholar in English at Clark University. Throughout her career, Gertz has championed diversity and inclusion, and the scholars recognized her contributions with the Global Cultures Alumni Conference, coordinated by Lisa Kasmer, associate professor and chair of the English department.
For current English majors, the Nov. 10 conference provided perspective on the impact of Gertz in her 32 years at Clark; for students, alumni and faculty, the talks provided a way to reconnect and converse over issues that continue to resurface in academia and American culture.
Below, Zachary Noel ’18, an English major concentrating in Africana studies, provides his take on the day’s events. Noel is a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the international honors society for English majors, which helped at the event.
When I arrived at Dana Commons to help set up the conference, there was a pleasant feel in the air as people reconnected with those they hadn’t seen in a number of years. I overheard Betsy Huang, associate professor of English, say to another attendee, “No way, has it been 10 years?” It was great to see the smiles on people’s faces as they caught up with their old friends.
The conference began with opening remarks from Lisa Kasmer, associate professor and chair of the English department. She gave a lovely introduction to Professor SunHee Gertz, who greeted her fellow colleagues and past mentees. The session’s plenary speaker, Sarah Stanbury, Distinguished Professor of Arts and Humanities at Holy Cross, then gave an amazing talk about the idea of home.
The day’s sessions included speakers on the themes of “Diversity and Inclusion in Contemporary Society,” “Theoretical Interventions,” “Cross-Cultural Writing” and “Gender Trouble,” with introductions by Professor Huang; Michael Bamberg, professor of psychology; Virginia Mason Vaughan, professor emerita and research professor of English, who was on the committee that hired Gertz; and Cynthia Enloe, professor emerita of political science and research professor of international development, community and environment, respectively.
Here is a sampling of the talks:
- Henry F. Fradella ’90, professor and associate director of Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, gave a talk on mental illness, and the exclusion of it from conversations in society. He specifically focused on the media and Hollywood’s poor representation of mental illness.
- JT Thelen, M.A. ’06, a visiting lecturer at Westfield State University, brought Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America into the conversation, commenting on what she sees as exclusionary right-wing politics in America, a topic she often discusses with her students.
- Melike Sayoglu, M.A. ’12, a doctoral student in interdisciplinary studies at Clark, told the stories of marginalized Turkish people, such as the late Afro-Turkish singer Esmeray Diriker (1949-2002). Sayoglu dived into what it means to be Turkish, an identity she emphasized as including a multitude of races. She described the history of how Turkey has developed and diversified its laws to be more inclusive of women and other races.
- Kimberly Bell, M.A. ’95, dean of the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College and professor of English at Sam Houston State University, and Steven Bruso, M.A. ’08, who is on a teaching fellowship at Fordham University, gave wonderful presentations inspired by Professor Gertz’s scholarship in Western European medieval studies.
- Paul Babin, M.A. ’12, a doctoral candidate in English at Northeastern University, gave an interesting discussion on cartography, sharing a book of old with the audience. He also noted that “SunHee really is one of the most important people in my life. She has really opened up a whole world of academic possibilities for me.”
- Peter Murray ’09, M.A. ’10, a doctoral candidate at Fordham University, spoke about the role of women in politics and the public sphere, drawing upon quotes and ideas from Professor Gertz.
- Arthur George Kamya, M.A. ’16, a doctoral student at Boston University, discussed “Sugarcoating Tourism, Race, Slavery and Empire: Nineteenth-Century American Travelogues as Genre and the Unpublished Diary of Boston Lawyer Thomas Coffin Armory’s Travel to Cuba, January to April 1843.” His talk addressed the gender politics of the time and area, specifically the role of women in Cuba.
- Dianne Berg, M.A. ’10, a doctoral candidate at Tufts University, discussed the use of torture, private suffering, and public subjugation of women in “The Clerk’s Tale,” part of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Berg focused in on the fetishism of Grisilde, and her transformation from village maid to royalty, categorizing “The Clerk’s Tale” as a form of anti-feminist pornography, uniting morality with misogyny.
- Marcia Lagerwey, Ph.D. ’96, senior curator of education and experience at the Worcester Art Museum, gave a talk on “Otto Dix on the Front Lines of Pregnancy and Birth,” examining Dix’s painting of “The Pregnant Woman,” recently purchased by the museum. She discussed the grotesque, shame and discomfort experienced in viewing Dix’s depiction of pregnancy, and how the United States has some, if not the worst, medical and social conditions for pregnant women in the developed world.
- Carol Bailey, M.A. ’99, assistant professor of English at Westfield State University, discussed both the misrepresentation and the underrepresentation of black women during the Trans-Atlantic slave period. Bailey, who studies fiction in the black diaspora, took a deep look into how black women’s fiction can be tied into each other as a commentary on post-colonial women of color.
- Dyan Mazurana, M.A. ’99, Ph.D. ’99, associate research professor and research director at Tufts University’s Feinstein International Center in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, whose research examines sexual enslavement, massacres, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Uganda and Eastern Asia. She has worked with families and the Ugandan Peace Committee to end the war and sexual violence, which at one point had closed 90 percent of the schools and crippled the country.
Additional speakers included:
- Kyle Brunel '93, principal architect at Pencil Box Architects Inc. in San Francisco.
- Novelist Myfanwy Collins, M.A. ’12.
- Emily Darling Haley, ’03, M.A. ’04, chair of the English Department at Notre Dame Academy in Worcester.
- Alex Finn-Atkins, M.A. ’14, a doctoral candidate at Fordham University.
- Angie Woodmansee, a master’s candidate at Clark and an assistant director of study abroad at Holy Cross.
Overall, the conference delivered on its promise to honor Professor Gertz, with so many past and present students engaged in discussions about diversity and inclusion – each of whom could take home something interesting to think about.
All photos by Rose Wine '20 of Rose Wine Photography.