My studies within the English department at Queens College gave me tools and frameworks to understand society and my place within it. I developed a broader vocabulary and a sense of place among critical conversations. A course in literature from the Americas with Anamaria Flores and a course in Asian American literature with Caroline Hong taught me the importance of representation of marginalized voices within the canon. A course on critical theory with David Richter gave me a vocabulary and a history of criticism to draw from. These professors also instilled in me a sensitivity and intolerance towards inequality and injustice. I have tried to use my skill set through volunteer work and helping economically disadvantaged people get back on the job market. Together, we’d navigate job search databases and computers and craft resumes and cover letters. These interactions reminded me of what a privileged position I hold and how important it is to share your knowledge.
During my junior year, Ryan Black nominated me for a fellowship at SILCS (Summer Institute in Literary and Cultural Studies) at Wheaton College. My cohort received funding and guidance towards graduate school applications and participated in a graduate level in literary and cultural theory. Although we’ve gone on to pursue a myriad of occupations—some went on to graduate school, one of my friends works in public service, another the army, another is a social studies teacher—we continue to connect on a passion for literature and theory.
My studies have also resurfaced in unexpected ways. During my senior year, I participated in the seminar “Dreams” with Jason Tougaw. We studied psychoanalytic and cognitive theory as well as other literature exploring the concept of the mind. Several years ago, I worked as an assistant on a web series profiling how different scientists think of the mind. Though I was hired to prepare lights and cameras and operate mics, I was able to contribute conceptually by drawing from my readings in that course.
I guess what I have done with my English major is sort of indirect and not particularly traditional but the skills and knowledge I developed have been invaluable. For the past several years I have worked in art conservation studios. The day-to-day tasks involve examining artwork, restoring them, documenting our treatment, and writing reports. The process is not so different from planning and writing research papers. Additionally, each artwork has a unique material, historical, and conceptual context that must be taken into account. Every intervention and movement affects the history and reception of an artwork. My interest in history and cultural movements began in college. Today, I am completing graduate coursework towards an archivist degree. My creative work—whether it is writing, painting, or filmmaking—requires focus, various literacies, and resourcefulness.
If you asked me immediately after I graduated how I felt about studying English, you might’ve received a very cynical answer. For a few years during and after college I was a barista, an embarrassing stereotype. I have befriended others with English degrees while working at coffee shops and sad temp jobs. We have bonded over love of reading and our insecurities about having “useless” degrees. However, research skills and imagination go such a long way and I hope it’s some comfort that things have worked out professionally. My fellow former barista is now a librarian and my fellow former paper pusher is herbalist and poet. Other friends have ended up with positions in local politics, education, advertising, marketing, and tech companies. Despite our occupations and titles, we still exchange poetry, essays, and short stories for edits and critique.