Friday, September 26, 2014

GW English Alum Abby Dimen-Taylor: Volunteer at the DC Rape Crisis Center

Abby Dimen-Taylor
GW English '12

Abby Dimen-Taylor graduated from GW with an English major and a minor in Psychology as part of the class of 2012.  She graduated with Honors in English after completing a thesis on James Baldwin under the direction of Professor Jim Miller.  She very much enjoyed her time with GW English, particularly noting her Critical Methods class with Professor Tony López and the short-term study abroad class she took with Professor Robert McRuer, Transnational Queer Film Studies, which included a week in Prague at the Mezipatra Queer Film Festival.  Abby is currently working for the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO)  in Alexandria, but plans on applying to programs soon to pursue a Masters degree in Social Work (MSW).  She is also volunteering for the DC Rape Crisis Center, helping to staff their hotline.  We recently caught up with Abby to ask her about that important work [disclaimer: the views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the DC Rape Crisis Center].

Could you describe the work that you do volunteering at the DC Rape Crisis Center?

I volunteered as a hotline advocate for the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) for about a year as a senior-year student at the George Washington University. I recently began volunteering again last month. As a hotline advocate, I speak with women and men who call DCRCC’s Hotline because they are experiencing sexual assault-related crises. At the beginning of the call, I try to understand the crisis that the caller is experiencing. He or she might be feeling scared, angry, confused, panicked, or suicidal – or a combination of several emotions. Our role as advocates is to try and identify the crisis so that we can intervene helpfully and supportively. We can also provide information on resources that are available to survivors of sexual assault, their families, and their friends. 

What are some of the challenges that you face working the hotline?

Working on the hotline is extremely rewarding, but it can be upsetting at times. It’s important to be cognizant of one’s emotional limits. When I have finished a particularly distressing call, I reach out to the volunteer or staff member on hotline backup duty discuss the call and, if necessary, ask questions. It is reassuring to know that there is always another hotline advocate who can help me to process my feelings about the call. 

It sounds like this work makes a real difference in the lives of women.  Has your work in support of victims and survivors of sexual violence influenced your decision to pursue social work more broadly?

I originally became a volunteer with DCRCC because of my growing interest in psychology as a student at GW. My experience with DCRCC has certainly contributed to my continued interest in psychology and my decision to pursue a Masters in Social Work. I value my work at the Center because it has given me the chance to see what it might be like to do therapeutic work with individuals who experience trauma. I should mention here that the hotline advocates do not have therapeutic training; rather they have been trained by DCRCC to perform crisis intervention. Nevertheless, volunteering on the hotline has exposed me to the powerful connection that can be created between the caller and the hotline advocate, and has motivated me to pursue a career that focuses on this relationship.  

The DC Rape Crisis Center’s aim is “Creating a World Free of Sexual Violence.”  What are a few of the barriers to creating that world?

There are some very real barriers that stand in the way of ridding the world of sexual violence altogether. Eradicating someone’s desire to hurt another person is not a straightforward task. That said, organizations like DCRCC initiate dialogues about sexual assault that educate volunteers, survivors, and the general public about why sexual assault happens and how we can best support its survivors. This effort is crucial to decreasing the instances of sexual assault locally and globally, especially when there are still so many who are misinformed, or even uninformed, about this issue.
Are there concrete steps that GW could take in furthering the work of organizations like the DC Rape Crisis Center?

GW provides information about sexual assault and an opportunity to openly discuss it among peers during orientation for new students. I would urge GW to take this communication to the next level. The University might consider providing ongoing discussions of this type throughout the year for new and continuing students. Additionally, sexual assault education on campus should cater to sororities and fraternities specifically, since it is within these cultures that sexual assault frequently occurs. GW certainly provides many resources to its students, but information surrounding sexual assault should be a priority. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Private Bodies/Public Encounters: Susan Nussbaum at GW October 6

PEN/Bellweather Prize Winner Susan Nussbaum
Our first event in the Private Bodies/Public Encounters series will occur on Monday, October 6 from 7-9 PM in 309 Marvin Center.  The event features novelist and playwright, Susan Nussbaum, from Chicago.  Susan’s novel, “Good Kings Bad Kings”, details the lives and struggles of a multi-racial group of disabled youth institutionalized at the outskirts of the Windy City.  The novel powerfully explores, as few others have done before it, the alternative subjectivities and lives of interdependency developed as survival mechanisms by the incarcerated characters.  Last year the novel was awarded the prestigious PEN/Bellweather Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

Private Bodies/Public Encounters
October Disability Studies Series
Susan Nussbaum is a longtime social justice and disability rights activist.  She originally came onto the arts scene as a playwright and her work has been produced at influential performance venues such as: Second City, Victory Gardens, and Live Bait Theaters. Her play Mishuganismo, first produced by Remains Theatre, is included in the disability arts anthology, Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out, and her play No One As Nasty is included in the anthology of disabled playwrights, Beyond Victims and Villains: Contemporary Plays by Playwrights with Disabilities. In 2008 Susan was cited by the Utne Reader as one of "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World" for her work with girls and young women with disabilities.  Her disability advocacy work started in 1980 at the Independent Living Center, Access Living, where she also created the Empowered Fe Fes (slang for female), a support, sexuality, and disability identity group for girls, which over the years, has included over 300 participants.

This event is co-sponsored by the GW Creative Writing Program, Disability Support Services, Women's Studies, Philosophy, The University Writing Program, the Digital Humanities Institute, the Vice Provost's Office for Diversity and Inclusion, and Africana Studies.
Private Bodies/Public Encounters is the first in a series of Disability Studies programming for Fall 2014.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Stay in the GW English Loop: October Events

September was a whirlwind of a month, complete with starting new classes and welcoming new members to the GW English community.

The English department hosted and participated in a number of exciting events in September, including Brando Skyhorse's first reading, Amy Bloom's reading and the Dean's Scholars in Shakespeare Annual lecture. It was great seeing so many new and familiar faces at all of these events and we hope to continue seeing GW students, faculty and staff at our events this October!

This page will serve as a one-stop shop for all upcoming GW English events in October, as well as local events that might be of interest to English students. Throughout the month this page will be regularly updated with event details, so be sure to check here for all of your GW English Event needs!

You can even print out a calendar of all the October events by clicking here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Simon Gikandi in Residence with GW English as Wang Distinguished Professor

Professor Simon Gikandi

Simon Gikandi's 2011
Slavery and the Culture of Taste
From October 26-31, GW's English Department is pleased to host Professor Simon Gikandi as this year's Wang Distinguished Professor-in-Residence.  Simon Gikandi is Robert Schirmer Professor of English at Princeton University and editor of PMLA, the official journal of the Modern Languages Association (MLA).

He is the author of many books and articles including Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature and Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism. His latest book, Slavery and the Culture of Taste (Princeton University Press, Spring 2011) was co-winner of the James Russell Lowell Prize for an outstanding scholarly work by a member of the MLA and the Melville Herskovits Award awarded by the African Studies Association for the most important scholarly work in African studies. The book won the 14th Annual Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship sponsored by Melbern Glasscock Center for Humanities Research, Texas A&M University, and was a Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 2012.

Professor Gikandi is editor
This visiting residency was created through a gift by Albert Wang and his family that has, since 2009, supported professors such as Edward P. Jones (now a member of the GW English Department), José Esteban Muñoz, J. Jack Halberstam, and Michael Bérubé.  The gift from the Wang family is one of the largest philanthropic commitments to GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences' Department of English.

Gikandi Residency Schedule of Events (events are free and open to the public)

Monday, October 27, 3:30-6 PM, Rome Hall 771:

Seminar for Students and Faculty with Simon Gikandi.  Readings for this event are available, although seating is limited.  Please RSVP to Robert McRuer at to be placed on the list for this seminar.

Tuesday, October 28, 5:30 PM, Marvin Center 301:

GW Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies: "Archives without Subjects."

Caught in the middle of the so-called crisis in the humanities, literary scholarship has sought to justify its projects by making an archival turn. This turn to the archive has been conceived as a way of reclaiming cultural authority by energizing the politics of reading at what appears to be its diminishing point. The lecture takes off from a famous statement by Jacques Derrida in Archive Fever: “Can one imagine an archive without foundation, without substrate, without substance, without subjectile?” But it asks a different set of questions: What happens when reading comes face to face with an archive without subjects—the void in which the enslaved, the subalterns, the untouchable, and the voiceless dwell? How do we go about reading texts that notate linguistic prohibition and cultural interdiction? What happens when we work in textual sites defined by silence?

This year's Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies is co-sponsored by Africana Studies.

Thursday, October 30, 2:15-3:15 PM, Rome Hall 771:

Seminar for Undergraduate Students with Simon Gikandi. All undergraduate students are welcome at this event, although seating is limited.  Please RSVP to Robert McRuer at to be placed on the list for this seminar.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Professor Tony López Presents for Latino Heritage September 18

Tomorrow evening, in honor of Latino Heritage Celebration, a Latina based sorority on campus is hosting an event called Virgin Maria vs. Maria Maria.  The event is at 6:30pm in the MSSC (2127 G Street NW). 

The purpose of the event is to put forward a discussion about the highly contrasting and problematic ways that Latinas are portrayed in the media.  GW English Professor Tony López and American Studies Professor Elaine Peña will present.  Join us!


Monday, September 15, 2014

GW English Alums on the Move: Dan Rudmann

GW English Grad Dan Rudmann:  "My not-so-secret goal is to assist in aligning the Mahābhārata with more university literature departments, in the same way that we work on Beowulf or Grettir's Saga."

Dan Rudmann (BA '05)
Photo Credit: Tamara Becerra Valdez
We caught up with Dan between his graduate study in Sanskrit and his work on his vinyl start-up, Punctum Records:

1.  When did you graduate from GW?  Were you an English major only, or did you have a combined major?

I earned my BA from GW in 2005 with a double major in English and Religion. After a year away to teach English at a boarding school, I returned to GW for a master's degree in Religion with a focus on the literary traditions of Hinduism and Islam.

2.  Were there teachers in the department who had a particular impact on you?  If so, who?  Why?

Truthfully, all of the teachers at GW English are exemplars for me in their approach to scholarship and pedagogy, and in the way that they develop a strong community at the department. Ormond Seavey taught me that an academic is distinguished not only by their work, but also by their capacity for kindness. Ann Romines showed me that focused study is not restricting. Robert McRuer is responsible for my love of critical theory. Working on my PhD, I'm astounded when I encounter people who dislike theory — those folks were certainly not introduced to it by Professor McRuer. 

It is probably Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's fault that I have the desire to be an academic. He completely realigned my conception of a scholar by embodying the profession as primarily creative and explorative, and remains a great friend and mentor to this day. I should also add that I have had the opportunity since my graduation to get to know, and be inspired by, members of the department from whom I did not take courses or who have more recently joined the department: Holly Dugan, Daniel DeWispelare, Jonathan Hsy, among others. The same goes for the department's incredibly brilliant graduate students. This is all to say that the impact of and connection to GW English can thankfully extend far beyond graduation.

3.  Why did you decide to be an English major?  How has the intellectual background you got from that major affected your life?

I came to GW to study International Affairs, but switched majors midway through Jeffrey Cohen's Medieval Literature course in the fall of my sophomore year. The decision was also influenced by a freshmen year pre-requisite literature course, taught by a graduate student. The type of perspective that these courses engendered, or perhaps more accurately the tools they provided that allowed me to develop my own outlook, imposed my agency within my education for the first time. Becoming an English major was as much an opportunity to learn about myself as the texts.

My PhD work is based upon my education at GW, so the English department is indelible. More broadly, however, upon learning how to conduct close readings or interrogate language, it becomes second nature to apply that mindset to everyday situations. I am not sure that I can hold a conversation or walk down the street without utilizing my English major. 

4.  Tell us about your graduate school, and about the focus of your studies.  How did you get there from a background in English?

I am currently working to complete my PhD in Sanskrit epic literature at The University of Texas at Austin. I apply the theoretical framework and processes of analysis that we learn in the English department to this form of literature. My dissertation focuses on translation theory and genre with regard to the Mahābhārata, an epic poem written around the start of the common era. This course of study is directly inspired by and builds from the work of my mentor Alf Hiltebeitel at GW's Religion department.

I am part of The Department of Asian Studies at UT, where I gained proficiency in Sanskrit and am able to navigate through different disciplines with a geographic anchor. The core of my work is the study of literature, and I particularly enjoy literature that has religious significance, so this path allows me to make my work relevant and (hopefully) interesting to a variety of scholars and students. My not-so-secret goal is to assist in aligning the Mahābhārata with more university literature departments, in the same way that we work on Beowulf or Grettir's Saga. 

5.  I know you also have a strong interest in music, and that you've been involved in that field as well.  Tell us a little about that.

Austin has a tremendous and unique community around music, and I have been a part of it in different ways: playing in bands, helping to organize shows, all sorts of support roles. In the last few years, my academic work extended to editing and publishing through the open-access press punctum books. I started to think about the ways in which my growing understanding of book publishing might extend to the publication of music. Just last year, I started Punctum Records, which focuses on creating vinyl records and also connects musicians, experimental artists, and theorists in Austin and other parts of the world. 

Now, I am in the process of opening a space in East Austin for Punctum Records and punctum books, as well as a number of other Austin-based organizations. We will be a site for creative and scholarly production, hold music events, readings and lectures, as well as sell books and records in the hopes of better supporting the members of organization. We are running a crowd funding campaign to assist with the building renovation, so everyone can take part. [GW English: You can check out the crowd funding campaign here.]

6.  Once you've finished your graduate studies, would you like to teach?  What do you see yourself doing in a few years?
I entered graduate school with the sole intention of becoming a university professor and it remains a goal that I work to fulfill. Working with students in a classroom sustained me through most of graduate school — I would love to continue to teach. But the academic landscape has changed dramatically over the past few years. Recent PhDs are having an exceedingly difficult time finding sustainable employment at an institution. So I don't know that I am in a position to speculate, unfortunately. I do see my best opportunity in developing a career for myself through maintaining diverse interests. Rather than climb along a more directed path, we might be in a time where we can build something wholly new out of many different fragments. I am optimistic about this new structure. 

7.  Do you have any thoughts or advice about majoring in English for current GW students who read this blog?

The most important thing that a major can do in the English department is participate. This is a place that fosters collaboration and a welcoming attitude toward different outlooks. Take advantage of those guest lectures, diverse course offerings, and events that bring everyone together. The more that you add your own voice to the conversation, allow your experiences to inform your approach and work, the better for everyone. 

Thanks so much, Dan!  GW Alums: share your stories and success with us -- contact Professor Margaret Soltan, Alumni Liaison for GW English, here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gelman Library Harry Potter Workshop

Instruction and Reference Librarian Tolonda Henderson has sent us the following entry about her upcoming workshop on Harry Potter, this Tuesday at 4 PM in Gelman:

One of the most basic ways we organize books is by fiction and non-fiction. My detective novels and sci-fi fantasy books live across my apartment from my textbooks from college and graduate school. The few pieces of fiction I have mixed in with the academic books are what most people would call Literature (with a capital L), and beloved books from childhood are kept in an entirely different room. The clarity of these distinctions, however, is slowly being turned on its head for me as I find myself wading deeper and deeper into the world of Harry Potter Studies.

I’ll take a moment to let that sink in.

Yes, I said Harry Potter Studies. On my desk here at work sit seven books for which the New York Times Book Review created a children’s best seller list. I keep the series within arm’s reach so I can refer to them as I research, for example, what the magical properties of photographs and portraits can tell us about our screen-oriented contemporary visual culture. This past February I gave a paper on the library at Hogwarts at a conference with a Harry Potter Studies Section. Next month, I will be giving a paper at the Harry Potter Conference at Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia It is entirely likely that my first scholarly publication will be about the world inhabited by The Boy Who Lived.

Would you like to add some Hogwarts to your academic experience? Consider coming my “Researching Potter” workshop in Gelman Library 219 on Tuesday, September 16th at 4pm. In the meantime, here are some tips.

  • Use multiple keywords when searching the catalog. If you just search for Harry Potter, you will get screen after screen of the Consortium’s holdings of the actual books and movies. Searching for “harry potter AND international relations” or “harry potter AND psychology” will return a much more focused list of results.
  • When searching a specialized database such as MLA International Bibliography, DO NOT limit your results to full text. Doing so would prevent you from learning about chapters in edited volumes. There are many such edited volumes on Harry Potter, but there are also individual chapters in volumes on other topics.
  • Pay attention to the date of publication. Scholars started writing about Harry Potter before the series was complete; depending on your topic, this can make a big difference. Articles or book chapters about Hogwarts as a school will be very different if they were written before the introduction of Dolores Umbridge in Order of the Phoenix than if they were written afterwards.

Please feel free to contact me directly. I am considering branching out in Popular Culture Studies to projects on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Hunger Games, or the Divergent series. I would be happy to talk to you about any of my projects or, more importantly, about yours.

Tolonda Henderson
Instruction and Reference Librarian
Gelman Library