The Professor Is In: Q&A with Emilie Zaslow
It’s no surprise that Professor Emilie Zaslow, PhD, was named “Best Professor” for the 2012 Pawscars. She has been featured in articles in The New York Times, the Associated Press and MTV.com. Her book Feminism, Inc.: Coming of Age in Girl Power Media Culture, a critical account of the girl power movement, was published in 2009. Her research explores the media’s impact on gender identity and femininity. She’s been granted many research grants including Pace’s prestigious Dyson Summer Research Grant several times, and written for and reviewed countless scholarly articles and journals. Whether she is acting as adviser, holding a riveting lecture, or moderating a classroom debate, Professor Zaslow is always available to her students in any capacity. In this Professor Is In, she lets Pace know just what makes her tick!
What was your favorite class as a student? Least favorite?
As an undergraduate my favorite classes were History and Sociology of the English Speaking Caribbean. It was an interdisciplinary course that used sociological, economic, and political frameworks to explore the relationship of a region. It was a real eye-opener and made me consider the global impacts of my values and actions. My least favorite class was Oceanography, taken at 8:00 a.m. The instructor was so enthusiastic but the combination of my lack of interest in the subject and the time of the class made it very difficult for me to focus.
What one thing or person made you passionate about your current career?
I don’t know that I could ever say there is one thing that made me passionate about being a professor. My research explores the messages young women receive from contemporary media and how they negotiate the narratives they receive about what it means to be female, feminine, and feminist. I feel passionate about my research every time I have a wonderful class discussion in which students confront and critically analyze the messages they take for granted.
What quality do you most value in your students?
I really value students’ desire to look at the complexities of our world, ideologies, and values and their willingness to question the ideas we hold most deeply. It’s very easy to be “critical” but more of a challenge to “think critically”; it can sometimes be easier to find answers than to ask more questions.
What’s your advice to students to make the most out of their time in college?
My advice is two-fold: (1) Do a lot of planning. I am a list maker. Once, during my sophomore year of college, when I was trying to settle on a major, I made a list of all the courses I wanted to take at my school and all the places I wanted to study abroad and all the extra-curricular experiences I wanted to have. My list could have kept me in school for over 10 years (which, of course, explains my career choice…). The significant part of this, though, is that I did not let my education unfold before my eyes. I took hold of it. I was mindful in my decisions. (2) Embrace the core! A lot of students complain that they find it difficult to get through all of the Area of Knowledge courses but a liberal arts education is not simply to prepare students for a professional life but also to inspire intellectual curiosity and nurture an analytic approach to cultural, social, natural, and political life. At the very least, you can gather some material for a great dinner party conversation.
If you had to do it all over again and took another path, what profession would you like to attempt? What profession would you not like to do?
I have a children’s book or two in me waiting to come out. I would also love to develop my artistic skills; I have taken classes in photography, silkscreen, and painting but never pursued any of them very far. At one point, before going to grad school, I considered getting a graduate degree in Library Science. I love books and I love libraries. I am glad that I didn’t do this since I have really mixed emotions about the digitization of information.
What is your favorite book/TV show?
I’m a media scholar. I love my TV. All for different reasons, my current favorites are: Parenthood, The Daily Show with John Stewart, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Modern Family, and Project Runway.
I am a big Toni Morrison fan and enjoy almost anything she has written. Song of Solomon is particularly beautiful. I recently really enjoyed People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.
What would you do if you had an extra hour every day?
Sit on the floor and play, read, draw, paint, talk with my kids. There is never enough time.
What is your favorite journey/experience?
Personally, watching my kids grow up is the most amazing journey I have ever been on. Professionally, I had a wonderful moment this past year when I co-authored an article on girls, media, and Presidential politics with my best friend of over 15 years, who is now Director of Research at the Girl Scout Research Institute. We met in kindergarten and followed very similar educational and career paths but this is the first time we have published together.
What is your favorite saying/words to live by?
“The people united shall never be defeated.” We should never just accept the status quo if it doesn’t work for the people. We can and should come together to make change.
If you could have any five people, living or dead, imagined or real, as guests at a dinner party, who would you choose?
I would probably choose a dinner with my family, both living and dead. Before my great aunt died, I was able to gather some materials for an oral history. I heard wonderfully rich stories about my family’s immigrant experience in the early 1900s, but those are on cassette tapes now collecting dust in someone’s attic. I’d love to hear more of these stories.