Visiting scholar Dr Rita S Nezami talks about developing nuanced perspectives about global issues in classrooms
Students and teachers at BRAC University were recently privy to an engaging talk titled, “Bringing the World into the Classroom through World Literature” featuring Dr Rita S Nezami, a visiting scholar from Stony Brook University, in the United States. Organized by the English and Humanities department of the university, the talk was held on May 28 at the BRAC University auditorium. The event was coordinated by Roohi Huda, senior lecturer, ENH Department, BRAC University.
The lecture saw Dr Nezami sharing methods for increasing students’ awareness of the world outside their comfort zones in order to prepare them to become responsible global citizens by bringing in the voices of world literature into their classrooms. Speaking seven languages, translating from four, and having lived and taught in Asia, Europe, North Africa and the United States, she considers herself to be a global citizen and takes it as a responsibility to include themes of global literature in the classes.
More often than not, voices from countries such as Bangladesh, Nigeria, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Japan, Morocco or nations that are rather underrepresented in classrooms, tend to “offer a vision of common pain, of a common oppression, and, so often, of a common poverty.” Dr Nezami believes that the characters of such writers “speak to students with a degree of truth and honesty that can never be matched by a political or social analyst.”
She emphasized on unearthing selected fiction and non-fiction, which have the ability to make global literary texts and their universal themes more meaningful to “deepen their understandings of the works’ political, social and cultural contexts as they engage with racism, displacement, the global refugee crisis, human trafficking, immigration, police violence, and the great divide between the rich and the poor.”
The discursive nature of the personal essay opens a space for self-exploration and self-discovery
“Not only do we read, discuss and analyze short stories and novellas, but students go one step further and create their own stories so that they sense the challenge of inscribing their experiences, of bringing coherence to them and redeeming them from otherwise unformed impressions, memories, and associations. The discursive nature of the personal essay opens a space for self-exploration and self-discovery,” she added.
Dr Nezami strongly believes that the acts of reading and writing inform each other, and the acts of reading globally and writing locally also inform each other. Which is why, she insists that students must write textual-analysis papers on literary works and study each other’s subjective responses to non-Western aesthetic and intellectual sensibilities. She said, “And then I ask them to look deeply, critically, into their own culture. What they find there is not always pretty. And some are appalled at what they discover: economic injustice, antisemitism, fundamentalist reactionary extremism, and a rat race that consumes people.
Dr Nezami concluded the session by answering why she emphasizes on the need for such personal engagement. She said, “As teachers who encourage students to explore the deep connection among, writing and our humanity, we’re dealing with what Milan Kundera called literature: ‘an investigation into the human condition.’ And, as we look at the vast majority of our fellow humans on this planet, are we not overcome with pity, with heartbreak, with outrage at the injustices and the arrogances inflicted on the marginal who have lost their voices?”