Chanel Sulc ’14

Why did you come to Willamette—and why major in English?

When selecting a college to attend, my top priority was a liberal arts college with a small student population and a small student-to-faculty ratio. I hoped that such an environment would allow me to develop real connections with my peers and professors and challenge me to think critically not only about the things studied in class, but their larger societal implications. I believed Willamette fit that profile, and I am pleased to say, nearing the end of my time here, I was correct. I have developed close friendships with some of the most intelligent, innovative, inspiring individuals I have ever known—people who challenge me every day to listen actively and challenge complacency in situations of injustice. My professors have also encouraged me to question the status quo in order to enact real change. I feel incredibly lucky to have had classes with several professors whom I can look up to not only as educators, but whom I can call mentors and friends as well.

I knew about a month into my time at Willamette that I wanted to major in English. I have always been enamored with literature because I strongly believe that it is the space where people can verbalize their life experiences and thoughts in a way that they otherwise can’t or won’t. As Oscar Wilde once said, words seem “to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”

How does English intersect with your second major in Women's and Gender Studies?

As I said, I love books because writers can express themes and ideas that have an impact on the lives of themselves and others. So, while I sometimes study more concrete, tangible events of gender inequity in my politics, sociology, or history classes, my literature classes are a space where I can also explore these issues, but in a way that allows for more artistic expression. That is, I think literature can deal with systems of oppression and injustice just as factually and importantly as more social-science based classes can, but also in this beautiful, tragic, or sometimes subversive way that allows the writer to express what they don’t know how to say aloud or can’t say blatantly aloud for fear of social repercussions. Looking at the works of some of my favorite authors like Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin really highlights this important intersection between fiction and social reality.

You spent this past summer working with Willamette Academy, right? How were you involved, and what was that like?

I was incredibly fortunate to work at the Willamette Academy as a Resident Assistant and Teaching Assistant. The Academy is a college access program for students from historically underrepresented populations in higher education. As such, the Academy has a summer academic camp that mimics college life for its students, allowing them to take classes on the Willamette campus and stay in the dorms, and I assisted both in the classroom as a teacher’s aide and in the dorms as a resident advisor. It was such a great experience because it allowed me to work with some of the brightest, most motivated, inspirational, and aware middle and high school students. This experience also taught me so much about educational inequity, encouraging me to reflect on my own college experience and further examine the privileges I have that aided me in getting here. Additionally, it further inspired me to pursue my goal of becoming a high school teacher in hopes of helping to make our current educational system more equitable.

What's it like being a Writing Associate with the campus Writing Center?

I really love working at the Writing Center because, despite what I sometimes express at 2 am in the throes of writing a ten-page paper applying Foucauldian theories to Giovanni’s Room, I really love writing. I think writing is a lot like solving a puzzle, and I’ve been known to literally cut up pieces of my essay and rearrange them on the ground to try and find an organization that makes the most sense. Working at the Writing Center allows me to share this passion and way of thinking about writing with my peers. My favorite consultations are the ones in which writers and I have been able to work together and take their verbal ideas and put them up onto the white board in a huge, messy outline and see their argument come to life.

Tell me about your two senior thesis plans—and what your future beyond WU has in store.

This semester I am writing my Women’s and Gender Studies thesis on the gender dynamics of teaching and hoping to better understand the discrepancy that exists between the huge number of female-identified individuals teaching in primary and secondary education and the much smaller number of female-identified college professors. Through my interviews with women educators, I am specifically examining how mentorship and modeling in the undergraduate experience plays into this gap and the connections those activities have with feminist pedagogies. Next semester, I will be writing my English thesis in Professor Pérez’s senior seminar class on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I actually read my first year in my Dominican and Haitian Literature class and absolutely loved, so I am very excited for it!

After Willamette, I am planning on going into a Masters of Arts in Teaching program so that I can teach High School English. I have considered pursuing a Ph.D. and teaching at the college level and while that still may happen in the future, I have decided for the moment (in large part due to my experience working at the Willamette Academy) that my energy best lies in teaching students at the pivotal moment that is high school and in a setting where, to a certain extent, everyone can be there despite financial or other limitations. I can only hope that I will have as much of an impact on, and inspire a love for learning in, my future students as the most important Willamette professors have done for me!