Courtney Fields, Joint MA’12
I grew up on a small family farm in Northwest New Jersey. Though my working-class family made sure my brother and I read a book every night before bed throughout elementary school, reading was in no certain terms an important part of my coming of age. We were always more concerned with more practical matters: what put food on the table and how we could support each other. This collectivist-minded family dynamic did lend itself to nightly conversations around the dinner table where my mom, nana and great-grandma would share stories about my family's past that enlivened my sense of self. I was raised believing that sitting around and reading my great-great grandmother's journals was just as important as my formal education if not more. Through this emotional and narrative family lens, I developed a strong curiosity about what shapes the growth and formation of identity.
School did not always come easily to me, mostly because I continually felt that the questions I was asked to explore in the classroom were not as pressing as my own. School was a distraction from my own intellectual pursuits. Luckily, a rigorous liberal arts education at Smith College allowed me to realize that this "distraction" was actually an interest in the intersection between story-telling, identity and social justice issues. Once I discovered this interdisciplinary nexus that engendered my myriad philosophical questions, I began to realize I had an academic passion that needed unearthing.
While I took time off to consider this intuition I had surrounding these philosophical questions, I stumbled upon Brandeis' Joint Masters program in English and Women's and Gender Studies. It seemed like one of the few programs in the country that would help me hone my academic skills, while allowing me to create my own interdisciplinary approach to my burning personal questions.
Brandeis did just this. It offered me more than I thought one program could, allowing me to explore the theoretical concepts I was hungry to understand and open up new theoretical frameworks I probably never would have discovered on my own. Classes taught by Professors Tom King, Faith Smith, Paul Morrison and Harleen Singh allowed me to articulate my passion for post-colonial literature, memoir and queer and post-modernist theories. By the end of the program, I was able to synthesize over five years of personal questioning into my coursework and eventually my final Master's paper. I wrote on how Alison Bechdel uses graphic memoirs to queer psychoanalytic theory by emphasizing the way she is able to construct a narrative identity by re-orienting her narrative 'self' around her literary conception of her parents' identities. In essence, I think of my two years at Brandeis as a personal project that allowed me to come to understand my relationship to my family storytelling more intimately.
Beyond my own courses, Brandeis surprised me by giving me multiple opportunities to serve as a TA in undergraduate courses. It fostered a love of teaching and pedagogical reflection that has informed my graduate work as much as it has reminded me that education is a collaborative endeavor. I had the life-changing opportunity to work with Professor Sabine Von Mering who helped me transform the knowledge I had acquired into opportunities for discovery for the students I was teaching. She became a generous mentor and a great friend, reminding me that education is about building relationships and fostering intellectual questions. In a lot of ways, Brandeis was just an extension of my family dinner table -- sitting around with colleagues and friends, discussing the stories and people that inspire our everyday curiosities in hopes that when we all leave the classroom, teacher and student alike, will work towards making the world a more just and open-minded place.
I hope to continue to inspire and educate others now as a tenth grade English teacher at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. Known for their dedication to fostering individual voices in the classroom and supporting intellectual inquiry, Concord Academy has given me the great privilege of teaching English with a social justice focus.