When I was 13, my family and I moved from a suburb in New Jersey, where racial/ethnic diversity was the norm, to a large city in the Pacific Northwest—where it definitely wasn’t. At the time of the move, my Jewish identity was just one small part of my life, like my obsession with reading and my mediocrity at soccer. When we moved, Jewishness became a much bigger part of my life—and not in ways I might have anticipated. In our new hometown—as the one Jewish kid in a high school of 2,000—I encountered anti-Semitism for the first time. I would be harassed by a variety of people, ranging from idiots on the bus, to a coworker who participated in neo-Nazi marches, to a play where I wound up sitting next to the head of the Aryan Nation (whose headquarters were fifteen minutes away) and his swastika-ed body guards.
These encounters with overt bigotry, alongside everyday microaggressions that demonstrated deeply-held beliefs about race, ethnicity and religion in the United States, affected me in ways I would not have anticipated. They served as the gateway to my scholarship, leading me to seek understanding on how discourses about Jewishness in the United States shaped my identity, and what it meant that the ways I experienced my own Jewishness did not match up with the common—and even scholarly—conception of what Jewishness is or means.
Using a repertoire of Rhetorical Studies, Critical Discourse Analysis and Cultural Studies, my scholarship investigates how a variety of identities are produced and represented. In particular, my work focuses on how American Jewishness affects and is affected by Whiteness, masculinity, and Americanness. In so doing, I theorize new and emerging ways of envisioning Jewishness in the United States. I am fascinated by the new, the unusual and the taboo, including Jewish Americans performing hip-hop and reggae on big stages, tattooing their bodies with tongue-in-cheek references and finding ways to memorialize the Holocaust using humor.
I would be remiss if I did not mention my other great passion in the world of academia: teaching. I was educated at a small liberal arts university (go Willamette Bearcats!), taught at big, public universities and a community college while receiving my graduate degrees, and then was an Assistant Professor at a small liberal arts college in Ohio for four years before life took me to Ann Arbor. The constant for me, regardless of the type of institution where I was currently located, has been my love of being in the classroom. In my teaching, I strive to create a space where students are comfortable and feel welcome. For me, the thing that makes for the greatest learning experience is when students enjoy being in the classroom. I attempt to make my classes fun and funny, in addition to thought-provoking. After many years in higher education, I have come to believe that its most important aspects are not necessarily the specifics one learns, but also learning how to learn, being challenged and encouraged and interacting with new ideas. I also value the ability to take theoretical concepts and think about how they apply to the real world. My core beliefs as a researcher center on the importance of language and its representation in constructing, maintaining and changing society and hierarchies of power. Thus, I want my students to understand how much their knowledge and interactions matter. At the end of each course, I want my students to leave feeling encouraged, listened to, appreciated, capable of understanding the world differently and more aware of their capacity to make it better.
In my freshman seminar, COMM 159: Representations of Difference, students will examine the construction, representation and performance of "difference"—race, religion, gender/sex/sexuality, class. Using various scholarly lenses, students will investigate:
- what difference really means or does not mean;
- how difference intersects with notions of power and privilege;
- how various media technologies reproduce difference;
- and what it means to resist.
Students should expect to explore identity and difference in their own lives as well as in media texts of their own choosing.
In COMM 305: Whiteness and the Media, students examine Whiteness as a cultural and media phenomenon, as well as an emerging academic discipline. In the course, students will observe and grow to understand:
- the media's construction of race and of Whiteness as a powerful aspect of that construction;
- Whiteness as rhetoric, property, and privilege;
- the construction and representation of "liminal" Whites (those on the borders of racial and socioeconomic identities);
- and such phenomena as passing, appropriation, fragility and guilt.
Whiteness in mass media and politics will be emphasized. I set out on this path because of my love for learning, and my work with passionate mentors as an undergraduate. It is my great joy to take more students on this journey with me.