Portrait of the Academic as a Student: Meredith Miller
What did you study at university, and why did you choose the subject?
My degree was called ‘Women’s Culture as World Literature’; I made the title myself. I did a kind of degree we have in the States called a Bachelor of General Studies. Because we have a modular system you can very much make your own course, provided you fulfil certain requirements and pre-requisite pathways. We have a Liberal Arts philosophy of education, so even a Humanities degree includes higher Maths (at which I am terrible) and sciences, which I find fun. Physicists have to take English and History classes, too. I wanted to combine Women’s Studies and Global Literature as major subjects, hence the title of my degree.
Which book changed the way you viewed the world or yourself?
If we’re talking about a book I read as an undergraduate, I’d have to go with an anthology edited by Gloria Anzaldúa, called Haciendo Caras/Making Facing, Making Soul: Radical Writings by Women of Color. I earned my Bachelor’s in the deep south of the United States in the 1990s, at a university that was predominantly white. Our ‘Introduction to Women’s Studies’ professor made Anzaldúa’s book the main text for that course, and it made some of the white women students angry. There was a lot of debate. It is the experience of that debate, as much as the book itself, that continues to resonate with me and has informed my teaching.
When I went to university, and when I first began teaching, there was very much a sense that education was about liberation and social change. It was about extending democracy and making the world a better, more thoughtful place. The feeling that we are losing that really worries me these days.
If you could give your eighteen-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
You are worthwhile.
What was the hardest thing to learn?
Parenting, which I did while completing three university degrees. Compared to parenting, the degrees were a piece of cake!
What was the soundtrack of your undergraduate years?
As I said, I went to university in New Orleans, where I lived for ten years. There was a lot of street music: second-line bands, Jazzfest, Mardi Gras parades, and every neighbourhood has its Mardi Gras Indian gang. (Not gangs like street gangs from Hollywood movies; they’re folk artists and musicians.) On certain days of the year, you get up at the crack of dawn and follow your local gang through the streets while they dance and play music and face off with other gangs in these sort of musical badass-ness contests. Here are the Wild Tchoupitoulas, one gang made famous by the Neville Brothers. We actually lived in Wild Magnolias territory.
Show us a shelfie?
This is my working shelf, next to my desk. Here is where I stack successive drafts of things I’m working on and keep current notebooks, articles and books I’m reading for research.