Macalester welcomes 9 tenure-track professors across departments

Macalester welcomes 9 tenure-track professors across departments

Anthony Reynolds, Staff Writer

Macalester is welcoming nine new tenure-track professors to the school’s faculty across different departments, but who are they beyond names in the Mac Daily? What classes are they teaching? What is their research about? What did they do before coming to Mac?  Hopefully, this article will answer some of those questions. 

Professor Gonzalo Guzmán, a new professor in the educational studies department, has a long history of teaching. He has experience teaching college students, of course, but also teaching in elementary schools. 

“A lot of my teaching is inquiry-based but also activity based, so we’re always moving around or I’m always moving around, like one thing you can’t do is you can’t lecture to 1st graders,” Guzmán said. “It’s not just about being performative but it’s how you can connect to the students. […] I’ve brought a lot of those principles to higher education.”

Guzmán’s experience with different levels of education allows him to modify and enhance his teaching style depending on the environment. Similar to Guzmán, Professor Randy Reyes in the theater and dance department has taught people of all ages, including elementary school students.

“Teaching kids—they’re so close to their imagination you just have to get out of the way,” Reyes said. “You just set something up and let them play.”

However, not all institutions value the same style of teaching that Macalester does. Professor Alix Johnson, a new professor in the international studies department, spoke about her experiences with higher education and why all institutions are not created equal.

“So I’ve been working at university systems for a really long time but [in] very different environments from Mac,” Johnson said. “I specifically came here because I wanted to shift to a smaller institution, I was starting to feel a little disenchanted with R1 schools.”

Professor Michelle Tong, a new professor in the neuroscience department, talked about how her experience teaching incarcerated students was similar to that of Macalester and other institutions she’s taught at.

“I think people want me to talk about how it was different than my other teaching experiences, and the fact of the matter is that the classroom was an extremely familiar place,” Tong said. 

The new tenure-track professors have different stories and experiences with higher education, some coming from a long history of teaching at colleges and universities, while others are in their first role as a professor. 

Many of the new professors have been interested in their discipline since they were children, and their reasons for that interest are very personal to them. Reyes spoke about his experience in his school choir that sparked his interest in performing. 

“Choir was my first kind of performance: it was a very positive escape and a way for me to express myself in a safe and productive way that made people happy,” Reyes said. “That was my way of coping with the world and it still is. When I’m in that rehearsal room, I feel safe and I feel joy.”

Professor Coral Lumbley in the English department explained that their interest in teaching is about more than just teaching English.

“I was a musician and dancer for a long time so I love the performative aspect of teaching; I love engaging with people and feeling the energy of the classroom,” Lumbley said. “I think that’s where my multiple interests converge. Students at Macalester are fantastic because they’re really generous and forthcoming with their energy and their interests.” 

Some of the professors discovered their interests in college where they were exposed to new experiences that caused them to look at the world differently.

Professor kt shorb in the theater and dance department spoke about their interest in theater and dance and performing in general coming from a dissatisfaction with their experience in music composition. They talked about how the culture of music composition was elitist and racist, disenchanting them with the discipline. They began participating in student organizations surrounding race and sexuality in college, eventually leading to them participating in political theater that addressed those issues. They specifically focused on the role Asian Americans play in the media. 

Professor Christina Hughes in the sociology department became interested in sociology simply by taking a class. 

“I took an intro class, and it made me realize that sociology has a lot of tools that could help me make sense of my own life past just an individual level,” Hughes said.

However, that interest did not come without caveats, as she had issues with how sociology was taught and researched and is trying to work against those trends. 

“When I entered the discipline, qualitative research done by people who wanted to write about their own communities was not serious,” Hughes said. “If you [were] a scholar of color who wanted to do research on your own community it was considered more biased and less objective than if a white scholar went into that community and studied the same thing.”

Tong had a similar experience with neuroscience, where she became enchanted with the subject through an emotional experience in a class.

“In the language development module, we learned that children of parents who sign have the same developmental milestones, so they begin to coo and babble with their hands, at the exact same developmental trajectory as speaking languages or verbal languages,” Tong said. “I remember just sitting there in class just kind of crying because I thought this was just such a beautiful thing.”

Johnson became interested in anthropology, which is her focus within the international studies department, because of its ability to study almost anything, something that she found important and meaningful. 

“You can point at any object in the world and you can figure out how to make it a valuable anthropological study,” Johnson said. “And that was really exciting to me, just a really open-ended approach to research that took seriously a lot of different ways of knowing and knowledge.”

Each professor had a different story and reason for choosing their discipline, but they’re all incredibly passionate about them, whether they’ve been interested in their discipline since elementary school or only discovered their interest in college. This can be seen in what they choose to research outside of their class instruction.

Each professor’s research is important in different ways, and some are important on a scale that you can’t even see. Tong’s research focuses on how people acquire memories of mundane or rewarding events. Specifically, she focuses on perineuronal nets, which exist next to neurons in the brain. 

“One of the coolest things that we’ve recently discovered is that [perineuronal nets] wrap themselves very selectively around meaningful neurons in the brain,” Tong said. 

Some of the professors are doing research on changing the way their discipline functions and are trying to ensure that people don’t experience the problems they did. Reyes is attempting to change the way theater is made, separating it from the structures that currently exist. 

“How do we decolonize the making, the rehearsal, and the creation of theater? What does it mean to have a decentralized rehearsal room, where everyone feels like they’re important and necessary for the success of the project?” Reyes said. 

He also works on classical adaptations of plays that have problematic elements, ensuring that these adaptations are more fit for a modern audience. Reyes also works with new technology in theater, specifically an interactive form of digital storytelling.

“This technology does 3-D digital video that is connected to a GPS system that can move depending on where you are,” Reyes said. “It could be very dynamic in storytelling if it’s a three-dimensional digital image that you can interact with and can move as you move. What are the possibilities with that in theater and storytelling?”

Similar to Reyes, shorb’s research surrounds anti-colonial practices and criticism through performance. 

“I look at my research as expanding the stories of marginalized communities on stage,” shorb said. 

Johnson’s research focuses on the internet, but more specifically the physical aspect of the internet, which is often ignored.

“I study the physical stuff that undergirds the internet—things like data centers and fiber optic cables, thinking about the politics of those objects,” Johnson said. “I’m really interested in the hidden underbelly of the internet. We experience data and the digital world as being very ephemeral, being immaterial, being everywhere and nowhere at once, but actually that experience depends on particular material infrastructures.

Her research took her to Iceland, a hotspot for data centers due to its cool climate and relatively cheap energy. She lived there for two years, talking to data center workers, members of the Icelandic government and environmentalists protesting the data centers, hearing about all aspects of these important pieces of infrastructure. 

Lumbley’s research is focused on Medieval Welsh literature, a form of literature that is unique in that texts often don’t have named authors or the named author is not the original author.

“It’s a bit like solving a mystery: what can we find out about this person? What little clues do we have about their life?” Lumbley said. “It’s really exciting to humanize people who have been dead for a long time.”

Something they find interesting about their research is that they’re sometimes looking at aspects of literature that wouldn’t normally be talked about, which is prominent in her newest essay. 

“A scribe was working on a law book, and he decided to start doodling animals in the margins, and his favorite animal seems to be a dog,” Lumbley said. 

Guzmán’s research connects to race and racialization in schooling and how that is important to the development of people. 

“Once education policy is racialized, once it’s institutionalized in public schools, the racialization process is over, it’s complete. … It’s the institution that creates ‘Americans,’” Guzmán said.

He wants to change the way race is presented in the American schooling system, and thinks this is possible. 

“There have been deliberate efforts to change the way we think and talk about race and we are living with said consequences of them,” Guzmán said. “We currently are trying to change that.” 

Hughes’ research surrounds Vietnamese gang members, a subject she says people usually don’t care about.

“The challenge for me was ‘why is this important, how do I know this is important, and how do I communicate that?’ and it brought me into really deep conversations into rethinking the category of Asianness in important ways about the histories of both its sexualizations, its racializations and its colonial formations as well,” Hughes said. 

She finds that her own life and the way she presents herself are important to these questions of Asianness.

“I think being an [Asian woman with agency] who has a view on politics and has a really clear sense of her interests and a sense of her place in the world is something that I think is important,” Hughes said. 

According to Guzmán, the prominent community engagement at Mac and how students are always getting involved really attracted him to the school. 

“During the job interview … in many ways, I felt like this could be my home, and so when the offer came through it was an easy yes,” Guzmán said. 

He also spoke about the importance of a liberal arts setting for educational studies specifically. 

“That’s why I love educational studies, we gotta be interdisciplinary and intradisciplinary just because in schooling and education in general it brings all those fields together,” Guzmán said.  “We’re naturally inclined to liberal arts.”

Reyes, who has been a visiting adjunct professor for four years at Mac, spoke about why being on the tenure track was important to him, and how it helps him to feel more involved.

“Being on the tenure track in an institution will allow me to be able to push and advocate for a significant change in what theater can be,” Reyes said. 

shorb expressed that both the diversity of people and ideas at Mac attracted them, especially with how Macalester constantly focuses on issues they find important.

“Mac attracts people who are both idealistic and pragmatic […],” shorb said. “Macalester has had questions of equity and community at its center. Everything could always be better but both the students and the faculty are diverse in ways that I haven’t encountered before.”

Johnson talked about how her needs and values aligned with Macalester making her want to work here. 

“I was really interested in coming to an institution that had more alignment with my values and also where I was going to have a little bit more freedom,” Johnson said. 

Furthermore, she talked about how the international studies department at Mac is different than other institutions. 

“At a lot of colleges, ‘international studies’ is just another word for [political science], but at Macalester its a really interdisciplinary department, where you have literature scholars working alongside economists working alongside historians, and that felt really invigorating and exciting to me,” Johnson said.

*Note: The Mac Weekly has perviously completed a profile on Joslenne Peña. Emily First does not begin instruction at Macalester until spring 2023 and was unavailable for comment. 

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