Just because you’ve got a Ph.D. doesn’t mean you stop learning.
That’s the perspective of Jennie Joiner, assistant professor of English, and winner of the 2010-11 Excellence in Academic Achievement award, given by the College’s Office of Academic Affairs. The award recognizes Keuka faculty members who have demonstrated to their colleagues an exceptional commitment to advance the knowledge base of their academic or professional field.
Within the realm of literature, Joiner’s interest includes depictions of masculinity, with a focus on the writings of William Faulkner. Her doctorate, from the University of Kansas, focused on the subject of marriage and masculinity in Faulkner’s fiction. Here at Keuka, Joiner created a senior seminar course last spring focusing on the fiction of Faulkner and Toni Morrison. The course followed the presentation of her paper, “William Faulkner’s Hearth and Toni Morrison’s Oven: The Slow Burn of Masculinity in Go Down, Moses and Paradise,” in October 2010 at a scholarly conference on Faulkner and Morrison held in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Not only was the class well-received by students, but a longer version of Joiner’s paper was solicited by an editor of the Faulkner Journal and published in August of this year. Another paper of hers, “Constructing Black Sons: Faulkner’s ‘Barn Burning’ and O’Connor’s ‘The Artificial Nigger,” was solicited by the Flannery O’Connor Review last year and published in the 2010 volume. She is already at work on a new manuscript that examines Faulkner’s sexual geographies, or the relationship between place, cultural institutions and sexuality.
“I don’t think students always recognize we have our own research agendas as well. Part of being a faculty member is continuing to be a student and continuing my own education. It doesn’t stop with a Ph.D.,” she said. “What you learn with a Ph.D. is how to keep doing your own research.”
And research, according to Joiner, “is one of the cornerstones of how I teach. It really informs my teaching – I can’t do one without the other.”
Research is also a key to stimulating her personal excitement and intellectual curiosity, Joiner said.
“If I’m not forcing myself and pushing myself, I get bored, and I don’t want to get bored in the classroom,” she described. “I also get energy from the students and that’s really important to me.”
To that end, Joiner’s spring lecture, “Lifting the Fig Leaf to Reveal Hidden Masculinities,” examining the iconic cowboy of American literature and his ultimate displacement, has become the springboard for a new class she will teach this year, Film and Literature.
In her lecture, Joiner contrasted the cowboy’s struggle to find his place to that of the middle-class, white American male struggling to define his own masculinity in the wake of progressive feminism, further impacted by the recent “mancession” in the U.S. economy. The novel, “True Grit” and its two film versions – the 1969 John Wayne original and its 2010 contemporary – were highlighted in her talk, and will be central to the new film class. Other films that will showcase either cowboys and/or masculinity will include No Country for Old Men, Fight Club, A River Runs Through It and Brokeback Mountain. The class is offered to students enrolled in English, theater and education programs.
“I’m trying to make [an elective] more fun and show the relationship between pop culture and the humanities, because they work hand-in-hand all the time. I try to build classes around questions I don’t have the answers to,” she said describing masculinity-gender studies as one of those arenas. “Talking with students helps me to come to a better understanding of it as well.”
The award, she said, “is encouragement for me to go and do more.”