Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Jackson Effect -- African American Literature at SIUE

If we ever write a history of African American literature at SIUE, we'll be inclined to devote special attention to the years 2010 - 2012, when my colleague Candice Jackson was employed here. Although she was at the university for only two years before accepting an administration position at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, Jackson made important contributions to our overall efforts concerning African American literature and black studies.

For one, Jackson helped us implement our various course offerings. During the spring of 2012, for instance, she and I taught a total of 7 African American literature courses, which enrolled nearly 160 students. During that same time period, she assisted the black studies program, which I direct, in the production of approximately 50 public humanities programs, and in May, she and I coordinated a trip, as we had done in 2011, to New York City with undergraduates and graduate students.

Jackson's most notable contributions, in my opinion, were the many wide ranging suggestions and blueprints that she provided. Her previous experiences running an honors program, serving as a department chair, and organizing student projects had assisted in her becoming a human idea factory, constantly generating visions for continued growth and new directions that we could move in. Our offices were right across the hall from one another, so we were constantly thinking out loud, brainstorming, sketching, editing, and re-sketching blueprints for African American literature at SIUE and the broader fields of literature. We frequently invited and encouraged our two lead graduate students to participate in the discussions.

When undergraduates concluded their meetings with me during office hours, I would take them across the hall to meet Jackson, and she would do the same after her students met with her. As a result, students who enrolled in m class one semester would enroll in hers the next and vice versa. The only downside to the community of young scholars of African American literature that we were building was that students who took her class and then enrolled in mine were well aware that I had borrowed most of my best jokes from Jackson.

Given the many ideas and eventual projects that we generated over the course of those two years, I've come to the conclusion that the significance of office assignments among African American faculty in the generation of good ideas has been severely under-theorized. If Jackson's office had been more distant from mine, there's no telling how long it would have taken us to come up with our graduate student recruitment plan (which brought us Briana Whiteside), the hand fan exhibit, the blueprints for a course on race and representation in cartoons, the interconnected literature courses approach, the expansion of our annual Black Studies New York City trip, and several other ideas.

Related: African American literature at SIUE

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