During the summer of 2018, Alex Aguayo, Student Ally for Diversity for Comparative Literature spoke with three CompLit alumni about their experiences as graduate students in the department. This interview with Sara Grewal is part of that series.
When Sara Grewal was in college she did not anticipate her work would focus on Urdu literature. As she explains, when she was an undergraduate she believed her foray into Urdu would end with the final course of the language sequence. Thanks to a dare from a friend, Sara took an Urdu literature class and fell in love with it. She was especially interested in the Urdu poetic tradition, and the play with language that poetry allows. While she may have majored in English, Sara continued her studies in Urdu as a minor.
Encouraged by her advisor, Sara decided to pursue graduate studies in Comparative Literature. Comparative Literature, she says, offered her the flexibility to work across different literary traditions. This was especially important to her given that her research on the Urdu ghazal spanned several linguistic and literary traditions, ranging from the Persian, to the Hindi, to the English. At the University of Michigan, Sara found a welcoming and supportive environment, among both peers and faculty. With the guidance of her advisers, Sara was able to continue her studies of the Urdu ghazal. Moving beyond an aesthetic appreciation and understanding of poetry, Sara integrated historical poetics into her research in order to assess how poems are deployed within a social and historical context.
Teaching was also an exciting part of her graduate student experience in Comparative Literature. Prior to pursuing graduate studies Sara was a Teach for America Fellow in Chicago teaching the seventh grade. Her experience with TFA solidified her love of teaching, and provided her with skills she still applies to the undergraduate classroom. Having worked at her undergraduate institution’s writing center and for TFA, Sara was excited and prepared to teach in the comparative literature department. The department gave her the unique opportunity to create her own syllabi for the writing courses she taught. Sara affirms that teaching is one of her favorite parts about academia, and it shows given that in 2016 she was awarded by the Rackham Graduate School the Outstanding Graduate Instructor Award.
During her time at Michigan, Sara was able to pursue her graduate research with the support of a Fulbright Fellowship that allowed her to do extensive research in India. She was also granted the Susan Lipschutz Award for Women Graduate Students, which is awarded to promising women scholars. Beyond fellowship support, Sara also had the financial support to be a graduate student parent. The University’s health care benefits allowed her to access prenatal care and child care at an affordable cost. This form of support allowed her and her spouse to balance their academic work with their parental responsibilities.
Now, Sara is Assistant Professor of Post-Colonial Literature at MacEwan University. Her research and teaching experience in the Comparative Literature department has equipped her to teach literature by writers of color. Aside from expanding the worldview of her students, Sara is also able to teach works that reflect the experience of her students of color. Her commitment to an expansive and diverse education for her students is also demonstrated by her continued work in MacEwan’s Office of Human Rights, Diversity, and Equity. Through these efforts, Sara is able to combine her scholarship with an ethics of inclusion.