As Sage’s most recent Fulbright Fellowship recipient, Associate Professor of English Shealeen Meaney, Ph.D., is spending winter 2017-2018 teaching American Literature and Women’s Studies at Goa University, which is the graduate institution for the state of Goa in India.
In this Q & A, she shares how the vibrant location connects to her expertise in travel and environmental literature; how the experience will enrich her teaching when she returns to Sage; and how Sage’s previous Fulbright recipients (she is the sixth in recent years!) inspired her.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Click here to read the unedited interview and view photos.
What attracted you to India, and to Goa, more specifically?
In my dissertation and subsequent research I have studied the writings of women who traveled to India, particularly American women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so India seemed like a logical destination for me as a scholar.
I was also fascinated by the India that I encountered in my readings for the WORLD* courses I taught, and the dichotomy in the U.S. and global media between India as a site of yoga pilgrimages and enlightenment and India as a nation marked by violence against women and residual caste prejudices.
Goa itself I had read about in historical travel accounts and in more contemporary cultural narratives of tourism. It is a fascinating place – it has a blend of Hindu and Catholic cultures and a growing Muslim presence and locals are quick to tell you about the ways it is different from the rest of India. Today it is best known as a beach tourism destination, which makes it interesting to me as a scholar of travel and tourism – and as a scuba diver and ocean-obsessed person.
What are you teaching at Goa University?
My project is a teaching project entitled “Re-Mapping Identities: American Literatures of Encounter, Place, Community, and Self.” The broad topic taps into my scholarship and teaching background and it also seemed to me to be one that was a good fit for India – and for Goa in particular.
I am teaching a five-credit master’s course in American Literature. In July I received a draft of the existing American Literature course, which I was told had not been revised in 20 years. I was encouraged to revise the course and increase the credits assigned to it, which I did.
I have also been invited to give lectures on American Literature by several of the undergraduate colleges affiliated with Goa University, and to offer lectures in the Contemporary Feminist Thought course in the MA program in Women’s Studies at Goa University.
Are there any surprising differences between your classes at Goa University, and at Sage?
Well, yes and no. I am teaching a survey of American literature, which is familiar territory for me, but the texts and the structure of the course are less familiar. Since this is a graduate course and not an undergraduate survey, it is focused on fewer than a dozen authors which we study in some depth. This has meant I need to do some research on authors and texts that I have not delved deeply into in the past.
In keeping with the norms of Goa University, it is also largely a lecture course. Unlike the small graduate seminars that I took myself and that I have taught for Sage Graduate School, this graduate course has 40 students enrolled in it and there is not an expectation that there will be extensive group discussion and shared knowledge production. Since I am coming from a different tradition, I do deviate from this somewhat and try to pull students into conversation with the text, but different students have different levels of comfort with this (as, indeed, they do at home) and, I am sure, with the foreign professor in their midst.
How will your experience in India enrich your teaching when you return to Sage?
Really, this question is one that I could write forever about. There are the connections between the WORLD* courses I teach and the opportunity to live and work with women in another part of the world. There is the opportunity to meet and talk to people working on women’s, environmental, and development issues here in India.
There is the immense value of learning about American literature and culture through the perspectives of people from other cultures. There is the challenge of teaching in a lecture format that is unfamiliar to me and that pushes me to prepare for courses in new ways.
I’m going to force myself to stop at three ideas here. The big one is the great value of being dislocated and destabilized. I am alone in an unfamiliar place, navigating new territories and meeting new people who don’t share my values and assumptions. There is immense value in all of this – I am already thinking that I must do this again sometime.
You are the sixth Fulbright scholar from Sage in the last few years – remarkable for a small university! Did any of the former Fulbright recipients at Sage inspire your interest in pursuing the opportunity and/or offer advice?
Yes! Even as am undergraduate student I had heard of Fulbright Awards and by the time I was in my Ph.D. program I knew that a Fulbright experience was one of the great opportunities that a career in academia might make possible.
Professor of History & Society Andor Skotnes, Ph.D., is quite the advocate for Fulbright. He has had two Fulbright Awards [Tokyo, Japan, 2000 and Nitra, Slovakia, 2011] and his encouragement made this seem like a reachable goal. Once I had earned the award, the insights of Professor of Economics Manijeh Sabi, Ph.D. [Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 2009], Pam Katz, J.D. [Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2012-2013] and Michael Musial [Sofia, Bulgaria, 2016] helped me to know that it was not an experience I wanted to miss.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Emerita Professor of Biology Dorothy Matthews, Ph.D., also received a Fulbright to conduct research in Gabarone, Botswana, in 2015-2016.
*WORLD is an acronym for Women Owning Responsibility for Learning and Doing, Russell Sage College’s general education program. The team-taught, interdisciplinary curriculum studies women’s lives through the lens of historical, cultural, global, and systemic forces that shape women’s opportunities.