On February 21, 2015, the English Graduate Program hosted the first scholarly symposium for its students and alumni. The focus of the event was Poetic Justice, inspired by the Cultural and Intellectual Community Program Council (CICPC) annual theme. It provided a new forum for members of the English Graduate community to discuss topics related to justice across movements, genres, media, methods, and literary fields. Although the English Graduate Program began in 1971, this symposium was the first opportunity for the discussion to occur with TCNJ English community members outside of the classroom. Glenn Steinberg, Department Chair and Professor, explained the excitement he had attending the momentous occasion, “Seeing our grad students and alums brave the snowy weather to meet and share ideas was really heartening. Graduate school is about more than credits or grades; it’s about being part of an intellectual community and ever pushing the boundaries of that community to make it stronger. Our classes, I hope, do that for our students, but participating in something like this symposium only increases the feeling of community and intellectual engagement. I hope that this is only the first of many graduate symposia in the English Department.”
For creating the panels, interested TCNJ graduate students and alumni proposed abstracts on topics of justice they were interested in, much of which were born from the program’s seminars, prison literacy programs, and supervised research. Dr. Lisa Ortiz, Coordinator of the English Graduate Program, collaborated with student coordinators and panelists to pull off the first scholarly symposium in the department. She explains how much she enjoyed the experience and working with these passionate students and alumni for the symposium, “It was immensely gratifying for me to witness the outcome of months of planning with our panelists, student coordinators, and student volunteers. They learned a great deal about what goes into creating and participating in a forum for scholarly research. This was a truly valuable professional development experience for them and I’m so proud of each and every one of them.”
The four panels (“The Culture Games: Reframing Canons in Contemporary Spaces,” “Black Like Me: Defining African American Literature,” “The Memoir and the Movement: Perspectives on Female Imprisonment in Orange Is the New Black,” “Crouching Authors; Hidden Meanings: Literature of Dictatorship in the Latin American Diaspora”) explored and exchanged the idea of justice across multiple spaces, featuring four alumni and six current students. Each of the panels had unique approaches to “justice,” but all of them celebrated the individual and collaborative work that came from directly within the English Graduate program.
The first panel, “The Culture Games: Reframing Canons in Contemporary Spaces,” featured presentations by Christopher Hornyak, Nicholas Bellino, and Angela Hontau. This particular panel explored further into the interaction of pop culture and academia, seeing if the two clashed or coexisted in different literary spaces related to justice.
The second panel, “Black Like Me: Defining African American Literature,” showcased Melanie Frances, Cara DiMeglio, Lindsay Rogers, and Sarah Scholz. The theme of this panel highlighted justice related to the specific genre of African American literature within the American culture and how the racial themes within this movement helped to transform racial identity in America.
“The Memoir and the Movement: Perspectives on Female Imprisonment in Orange Is the New Black,” the third panel included Courtney McLaughlin-Polidori and Cara MacNeil. This panel discussed justice within female imprisonment, further studying how the recent OINB television show markets the “truth” on the prison system juxtaposes with the perspective from TCNJ’s prison literacy program.
Finally, “Crouching Authors; Hidden Meanings: Literature of Dictatorship in the Latin American Diaspora” panel celebrated the work of Lindsay Rogers, Kerry Fiallo, and Katie Ryan. These current students and alumna explored how women have been represented in Latin American dictatorships and each subjectively profiles the impact on their lives.
All the panels highlighted academic research from students and alumni within numerous fields related to justice and came from within the TCNJ English Graduate program, furthering the discussion within the English community and on campus. Diane Steinberg, Assistant Professor who attended the symposium, commented on this unity, “The MA Symposium brought together current undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni in an event highlighting this year’s theme: Justice.”
Alumni and current students extend engage in professional activities—such as scholarly journals and this weekend’s symposium—to showcase their work and academic achievements developed from TCNJ English seminars and research. This year’s symposium was one of numerous opportunities to showcase their successes. Dr. Ortiz added on how this reflects the greater success of the English Graduate Prorgram, “A highlight of our event was that our student and alumni panelists were able to share great news of future conference presentations, forthcoming publications, and pending Ph.D. applications. This, I think, is a sure sign that our MA program is preparing its students to excel at developing and sharing their gifts.”
With the success of this event, the English Graduate Program is excited to announce another scholarly symposium next spring on the theme of “Change” and hopes to continue to offer this unique opportunity as a centerfold of the English Graduate Program. Dr. Lincoln Konkle, English Professor, added, “I hope this becomes an annual event…I was very impressed by the quality of the presentations.” This year’s symposium would not have been possible without the support of The Office of the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, The Department of English, and The Women’s and Gender Studies Graduate Certificate Program as well as the participation of the distinguished graduate students, faculty, and alumni. The English Graduate Program is excited to celebrate scholarly work in future symposiums and make this event a tradition within The College and The Department of English.