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English Department Prepares to Fill the Role of African American Lit. Specialist

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Ohio Wesleyan’s English Department is currently in the process of hiring a new faculty member to fill the role of African American literature specialist.

After extensive applicant reviews, the department has narrowed the pool down to four candidates. The filling of this position within the English Department is intended to replace the role Professor Judylyn S. Ryan held within the department until her retirement in 2020.

Judlyn Ryan’s teachings focused on African American and African diaspora literature and cinema, as well as Black feminist theory. Ryan was the first African American woman awarded tenure at Ohio Wesleyan and played a crucial role as a mentor for students since her initial hire in 1998.

Over the course of three weeks, from late January to early February, the department conducted four individual virtual campus visits for each candidate. Each visit spanned two days of meetings which included a fifty-minute teaching demonstration, a fifty-minute scholarly presentation, and conversations with students and faculty.

The teaching demonstration and scholarly presentation events were open to student participation and encouraged by faculty members. Student feedback about the attended events was asked for by faculty as a valuable aspect of their decision-making process.

The four candidates demonstrated on the topics of Dystopian literature, the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar; the relationship between the 2017 film Get Out and African American literature, and the works of poet James Monroe Whitfield.

“Hiring an African American specialist into the English department is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary and would greatly benefit both the campus and the students…” says Katherine DiJulius, an OWU sophomore majoring in Politics & Government and Spanish, and minoring in English.

“From my experience at all the teaching demonstrations, there is a considerable lack of knowledge or context that students have of African-American literature and history, myself included. A lot of the ideas being presented were things that had never been discussed in detail in previous areas of my education,” DiJulius added.

Such ideas include challenges Black Americans experience within a country that provides only partial histories that often dismiss our faults and biased systems, and instead perpetuates a propagandic vision of the United States as a place of liberty and freedom.

Although the new hire events and teaching demonstrations for this position are completed, future events open to student participation are a crucial opportunity for student voices to be heard on campus. “New hire events are incredibly important for students because it not only allows them to give valuable input on each candidate to the hiring committee, but also gives students a chance to interact with a different professor and new and challenging ideas,” says DiJulius.

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