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Rice English majors organize association

By Emily Abdow     3/23/16 4:11pm

Students have formed a new resource group, the English Undergraduate Association, focused on connecting English majors across Rice’s campus.

English department chair Rosemary Hennessy and the Director of Undergraduate Studies Betty Joseph approached English major Magen Eissenstat to undertake the endeavor. Eissenstat, a McMurtry College junior, engaged her fellow English majors last semester by discussing the English department’s ideas at an academic advising meeting, and Ian Schimmel, a lecturer in creative writing and faculty advisor for Rice’s literary journal, “R2: The Rice Review,” came on board with the project by agreeing to serve as the group’s sponsor.

“I am very lucky to have the humanities community I have at McMurtry,” Eissenstat said. “But I often hear from people that they only know one or two other English majors at their college. That doesn’t need to be the case because we actually have a significant number of majors on campus, they’re just spread out.”

The organization’s first meeting occurred in late January when English majors gathered to discuss their hopes and goals. According to Eissenstat, the group identified community building, advising and communication within the department as points they wanted to tackle.

“I think an organization like this really has the potential to bring us together so we can learn from each other, foster a culture of advising from upperclassmen to new students and provide a space where we can get to know faculty, graduate students and others,” Eissenstat said.

According to Joseph, English is the largest department within the humanities division. Eissenstat explained that despite large numbers, feelings of isolation among English majors arise due to the large number of classes offered and the more solitary nature of an English major’s work.

English major Tina Nazarian, a McMurtry College senior, echoed this sentiment when describing why she feels the organization is necessary.

“I have always felt that in some ways it is harder for English majors to create a community than engineering majors,” Nazarian said. “Because while engineering majors can work on problem sets together, English majors can’t really do the same with essays.”

Erika Schumacher, a Duncan College freshman, shared her excitement about the organization from the perspective of a first year student who has yet to meet many English majors on campus.

“I’ve really liked and admired the other English majors I’ve met so far, and I would love more of an excuse to get to know them,” Schumacher said.

Joseph identified two central goals of the English Undergraduate Association which are also stated missions of Rice University — readying students for diverse career paths and lives and advancing knowledge of the humanities.

Eissenstat said she hopes to fulfill these missions through outreach events including dinners with faculty members, a writing party during dead days for English majors to write final papers with coffee and snacks, and an event called “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” which will feature senior English majors discussing their career paths.

Schimmel identified a sense of guilt among some English majors for pursuing a subject which has fewer articulated paths after graduation. He hopes a stronger sense of community will alleviate anxiety among students through a sense of togetherness.

“While the professional successes of English majors are well-documented, the pathways to those careers will always be varied and ever-changing,” Schimmel said. “Amidst a career-driven student body and an increasingly results driven society, it takes a bold soul to be an English major.”

Schimmel also hopes the English Undergraduate Association increases the presence of the English department on Rice’s campus.

“We want Rice to be known as a great place to major in English,” Schimmel said. “It already is that great place. We just need to get the word out.”

Eissenstat said she wants to make the organization a part of the department’s infrastructure with elected positions and regular programming. As she works toward strengthening Rice’s community of English majors, she continues to love her chosen field of study. When asked her favorite part of being an English major, she struggled to choose.

“I think if I had to pick, it would be that I am constantly being challenged to think more critically, challenge more assumptions and explore more exciting questions in beautiful ways,” Eissenstat said.

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