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

I can't really say for sure, but I think it was the way the application process went down. The online application made my life easier—the university understood that we (incoming students) struggle to get them in sometimes. Willamette even waived the application fee. I felt good about going somewhere that could work with me from so early on. Plus, I’d always wanted to enroll in a small school. Even though I didn't visit campus before enrolling, I thought the website presented Willamette very well and the community seemed to be close-knit. Turns out it's true.

How does English intersect with your second major in American Ethnic Studies?

Everywhere. I think that both majors focus on a lot of technical training—critical thinking, scrutinizing material and ideas, etc. You begin to see how one idea has an effect on another. What I find very interesting about how English and AES intersect is the ways in which we talk about authority in writing: who has authority and credibility and who doesn't? More importantly, why is that? Who do we read in class and why? The questions go on and on, and I like that I am able to look at aspects of literature in my AES classes and take critical theories on race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. into my English classes to see how they interact with the text, author, and reader. The majors are very complementary and really enrich each other.

How have you been spending your summers?

This past summer I was working with three other Willamette students and two professors through Willamette’s LARC (Liberal Arts Research Collaborative) program. Our team and project were dubbed the Indian Mascot Community Listening Project, and we went out to three different towns in Oregon to interview people (mostly at the high school level) about their Indian-themed mascots. This project came about after Oregon's ban on these mascots. We wanted to help produce some kind of transition material for schools and communities—this is still in progress.

The summer before this I interned at Chemawa Indian School, which is a boarding school/high school for Native students from across the nation. We lived with the students for about a month and did a lot of team building and leadership development. It was a life changing experience. I also worked at a vineyard that summer.

What kinds of activities are you involved in beyond your studies at WU?

I currently intern at Chemawa in one of the classrooms. It's great to be able to hang around and help the teacher with some of the activities in class. I especially love the sense of humor that the students have. As for on-campus activities, I am currently in UpTop—the all-female a cappella group—beatboxing all the time. I'm choreographing a hip-hop piece with a friend for Willamette Dance Company, and I am part of Mosaic, which is a mentoring program for multicultural, multiracial students.

Tell me about your two senior thesis plans—any ideas yet?

I am currently working on my AES thesis, which consists of producing a short, 10-15 minute film aimed at demystifying college a little bit for Chemawa students. I film bits and pieces of a typical day of former Chemawa students who now attend Willamette and will also focus on the application and financial aid process, class expectations, resources, and social life.

As for my English thesis I will be enrolling in the Humanities Seminar on Junot Diaz's The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao this coming Spring.

Do you have any advice/insight for current or prospective WU students (and especially ENG majors)?

Take an English class. And, if you have time, take Literary Theory. It might sound a little horrifying, but it provides you with a lot of ways you can look at not only literature but the world in general (pop culture, advertisements, Halloween costumes, lots of things). Also take a class that falls under the AES program. The ideas might challenge you, but they will allow you to consider different perspectives of reality. You can engage in a narrative other than the mainstream one. This is really useful if you want to go out and do something about injustice, social disparities, etc. If you are fine with the world as it is, I would challenge you to take one of these classes and still say the same afterwards.

Blanca Gutierrez
Willamette University


900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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