CASARI's interview series features members of the BU faculty and staff in conversation with folx from our organization, either via email or Zoom. With this initiative, we hope to create connections within departments/programs across CAS, learn more about current anti-racist work being conducted in the college, and discover the ways in which BU still has a long path to tread when it comes to inclusivity.

Episode 1: Mary Battenfeld (AMNESP)

Content warning: mentions of racism and genocide.

Our first guest is Mary Battenfeld (she/her), a professor in the American and New England Studies Program where she specializes in U.S. education and civil rights history, the literature and history of adoption in the U.S, and contemporary education policy and parent advocacy. The interviewers for this episode are publicity managers Vy Hoang (she/her) and Mari Rooney (they/them). Thanks for watching!

Episode 2: Anita Patterson (English)

Anita Patterson (she/her) is a professor of English. Her research focuses on American literature, modernism, and black poetry of the Americas with an emphasis on transnational and intercultural dialogue. She is currently working on a book project, American Japonisme and Modernist Style.

This interview was conducted via email.

What has support from faculty/administration looked like when it comes to your scholarship/interests, particularly when it comes to issues of race and other inequalities (should it apply to your work)? How do you want support to look?

I have been generally satisfied with the support of my scholarship and interests, but I’m pleased and encouraged by the fact that in recent years there has been growing institutional support of and interest in race and inequalities at BU.

What initially drew you to BU? How has your view of the institution changed since you began working here?

I was drawn to BU for many reasons, including the excellence of the humanities departments and programs here and the legacy of Dr. King. There have been important changes since I first arrived, decades ago. It’s wonderful to see how BU has moved forward on issues of diversity and inclusion, race, and social justice, for example with the hiring and promotion of Crystal Williams and Vincent L. Stephens, and with Ibram Kendi at the helm of the Center for Antiracist Research. BU is now a leader in the field.

Thoughts on LfA and its impact on students, faculty, and staff within your department? How has your department handled LfA and what support have they provided or not provided?

I have been teaching remotely this semester, so I’m not able to comment on LfA.

What sort of curricular change to promote inclusivity would you like to see in your department?

The department is currently engaging in an exciting dialogue and process of curriculum reform. Our mission statement needs to be updated to include Black diaspora studies, Asian-American studies, and multiethnic studies, and comparative American studies. There are also a number of survey courses in the major that can and should be developed to include a more diverse range of authors. These discussions are ongoing, and have been very productive thus far.

Can you talk a little bit about your current project on American Japonisme and Modernist Style?

This project explores how East-West intercultural dialogue is integral to works by American authors such as Emerson, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound; turns to an exploration of how Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks critically engaged modernist imagism; and culminates in an analysis of haiku-inspired Black poetry by Richard Wright, Sonia Sanchez, and others. Here, as always, I’m interested in understanding how the emergence of US and New World literature involves dialogue across racial, national, and cultural divides.

In the past you’ve conducted work related to democracy and protest, can you comment on the current national protest movements in light of that scholarship?

The Black Lives Matter protests build on foundational works by Emerson and Thoreau as well as by Dr. Martin Luther King, and in my view they could strengthen their authority and effectiveness by reclaiming this American legacy as their own. To dismiss the relevance of this protest tradition as “white” is historically inaccurate. Whereas Emerson and Thoreau protested against the injustice and expansion of slavery, Dr. King acknowledged that his conception of non-violent direct action was inspired by Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”; and, in a widely read sermon titled “Transformed Nonconformist,” he quoted from Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” expressing the need to resist racist intimidation and conformity.

How do you think/do you think it's possible for students of color in the English major at BU to make the major their own (i.e. overcoming the vastly Eurocentric/white-centered approach to learning English)?

Students of color should explore how many so-called “white” texts in the American tradition were the result of formative cross-cultural encounters; they should also feel free to study more recent literature by writers of color in order to learn how they both engage and depart from traditional stylistic conventions and values.

What drew you to the work that you do? What makes the work feel important? And were there things that you learned through academia that you've found to be essential in navigating "real life?"

Work and life have always been closely related, in my experience. My current project, for example, directly relates my family history: my mother is Japanese American and was interned in an American concentration camp during WWI; my father was Russian Jewish and his side of the family fled persecution in Europe and settled in Boston; and my husband is Afro-Jamaican. I am exploring how poetry necessarily crosses racial and cultural divides, for my daughter’s sake as well as for my own. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that life is fulfilling and inherently meaningful when I know I am seeking the truth and attempting to communicate it to others.

How does the field of English work in conjunction with other fields when it comes to research or activism? In other words, can English be used cooperatively in a way that's beneficial to society at large?

I’m a firm believer in the significance of literary studies as a field that establishes crucial connections with history as well as activism and social change. Important literary movements have consistently been fostered in the context of activism in the US and throughout the New World. As scholars we should be aware that literature can and should perform cultural work in advancing social reforms, although this does not mean that to have value a literary work must meet propagandistic requirements such as being easy to read or being widely available to the public.

Was there a specific author or literary piece that informed the scholarship that you do today? Who were you reading and learning from in the past? Who are you reading now?

I’ve already mentioned Dr. King, whose “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” has been a crucial source of inspiration to me, in my daily life as well as in my work starting with my first book, From Emerson to King, and continuing to the present day. Recently I’ve been reading two beautiful poems written in his memory, Gwendolyn Brooks’s “Martin Luther King Jr.” and Sonia Sanchez’s “Morning Song and Evening Walk.”

Episode 3: Ronald Richardson (History)

Content warnings: mentions of anti-Black, anti-Asian, and anti-Indigenous racism, genocide, and xenophobia.

We're back with Episode 3! Our guest is Ronald Richardson (he/him), a professor of History, who studies the history of racial thought and the connections between Black and Asian people across time and space. The interviewers for this episode are Nadia Frye Leinhos (she/her), cofounder and research team manager, and Merriam Lrhazi (she/her), from our publicity team.

In this episode, we talk about BU's long-standing history of upholding white supremacy, what campus-wide change can and should look like, and how important Asian & Black solidarity was, is, and will continue to be.

Episode 4: Nazli Kibria (Sociology)

Content warnings: mentions of racism (especially Anti-Asian racism) and genocide.

We're already on our fourth interview in this series! This time we spoke with Professor Nazli Kibria from the Sociology department, who studies family, immigration, race and childhood with a focus on South Asia as well as the Asian American experience. The interviewers for this episode are Vy Hoang (she/her) and Mari Rooney (they/them) of Episode 1 notoriety.

We discuss Professor's Kibria experiences with sociology scholarship at BU and elsewhere, important Asian-American scholars, manifestations of white supremacy at BU, and the complexity of the "Asian-American experience" with a focus on generational differences.