INTERVIEWS BY NIKAYLA KIRCHNER
FACULTY: DAVID ZEGLAN
Why do you teach what you teach?
This semester I’m teaching a class on nationalism in the Honors College. I did a guest lecture for a colleague of mine the day after Trump was elected in 2016. Many of the students, understandably, had several questions and concerns about the election results. So I ditched my prepared lecture and instead did an ad-hoc discussion with the students about the issues they raised, and we had a productive conversation about American nationalism and globalization. After that experience, I felt a responsibility to offer a course to students that would help them understand the current context of their own lives and think about the relationship between nationalism and capitalism.
What made you interested in Marxism?
I was an undergraduate student when 9/11 happened, and I was a graduate student when the financial crisis happened. So these were two formative events in my lifetime that prompted me to seek out answers to questions about imperialism and capitalism. I was particularly radicalized by my experiences as an undergraduate in Montreal which had a vibrant left[ist] scene. So I learned a lot in my classes as well as from friends and colleagues about Marxist thinking.
Why do you think what you teach here is important?
All instructors teach from a specific intellectual tradition that has a specific political commitment to it, whether instructors know it or not. If American universities really care about viewpoint diversity, then I think it’s important for students to learn from a Marxist perspective since, contrary to right-wing media claims, there aren’t actually that many of us in the public university system. Therefore, I think that what I teach is important not only because I think Marxist thinking is invaluable, but because it provides an opportunity for students to think about specific problems and issues in a way that they are not accustomed to and likely have never learned about.
Do you see yourself in the same position in a few years? And if not, what do you think would change?
I would like to continue teaching at GMU since I really enjoy working with a wonderful community of students. However, as many students are not aware, instructors like me are paid very little relative to our intellectual abilities and workloads. This is why GMU needs a labor union, and instructors need to join the GMU chapter of the AAUP [American Association of University Professors] so we can build up our capacity in solidarity with one another to win better labor conditions from the university. Thus, whether or not I’m in the same position in a few years primarily depends on whether or not labor conditions improve here.
What do you hope students will get out of your classes?
I hope students have learned how to ask a good research question that they genuinely don’t know the answer to, and grasp that research is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. My students know that I strongly emphasize dialectical thinking and historicization. I also encourage students to first learn how to carefully read an argument, then think about how it can be applied or not to other things before moving to critique. My mantra for my students is ‘analyze, apply, critique.’ So I try to give them intellectual skills that will help them become better and more critical thinkers.
STUDENT: DREW SMITH
What is your major, minor and/or concentration, and why do you study what you study?
I am an integrative studies B.S. with a second degree as a B.A. in anthropology, and my concentration is human health, disease, and death (pre-health). I am most passionate about what it means to be human, why we act the way we do and how health and death are viewed across culturally. Essentially, I find what I do to be both academically and personally interesting because I have the opportunity to study new people, places and things under a lens that is all-inclusive but also highly specific and applied.
Why do you swim, and what does Mason Club Swim mean to you personally?
Mason Swim Club has been a place where I’ve found a home at GMU. Given the area and the commuter-like nature of our university, it can be hard to get to know people. I was lucky enough to get involved in the second week of my freshman year, and I’ve stuck with it as it has changed from a stress-relief to a source of professional development through leadership.
What would you say is your favorite thing about swimming?
I would say swimming and working out in general have been my form[s] of self-expression for as long as I can remember. For me, the water is a mode of finding peace, traversing challenging life-experience[s] and, of course, training the body. My favorite thing about swimming is that it is intensely personal, but also the most involved team sport I have ever experienced.
What do you hope to achieve and/or become after you leave Mason?
In a perfect world, after leaving Mason, I would ultimately find my way to medical school for pathology or autopsy and get my master’s or Ph.D. in forensic anthropology in order to work in the field.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment during your time here at Mason?
Within swimming, I would say my biggest accomplishments are three consecutive national championship qualifications and placing top 10 in the 500 freestyle both of my first two years at Mason. Outside of swim, I would say that my biggest accomplishments are graduating a year early with two degrees and, of course, all of the amazing friends I have made along the way.
If you could tell your freshman year self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself that you are absolutely capable of doing anything that you would otherwise be afraid to put your mind to. Do not sacrifice your career because you think one component of your undergraduate degree is going to be too much for you.