I worried last semester about whether I would have the opportunity to take a course in the spring with Professor Sarah Mahurin. The last class I took with her was the highlight of my semester; I didn’t want to miss my chance this year before she leaves for Bard College. When I got back to campus, the first place I saw Professor Mahurin was not in class, but in the Freeman Athletic Center. It was Saturday and she had watched a track meet, the women’s basketball game, and the men’s basketball game. Her dedication to her former and current students, both inside and outside the classroom, is what makes Professor Mahurin a cut above what we expect from our teachers. She has certainly shaped my college experience and, I know, the experience of many others. My Wesleyan would not exist without her. #ThisIsWhy Wesleyan must keep Professor Mahurin on faculty. Melody Oliphant ’13 (perhaps known better here as Melodious) has written a beautiful testimony to Professor Mahurin’s work, which better explains how she has contributed to our University and why she is such an integral part of campus. Please read, share, and sign our petition. Below is Oliphant’s account:
Professor Sarah Mahurin changed my life, and Wesleyan is about to lose her. Last month, President Roth wrote about the dependence of Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience on the talented and hard working faculty on campus. He was talking about professors like Mahurin who in her three years at Wesleyan has taught us how to “Think Big,” helped us confront the problematic familial and racial relationships of Imitation of Life in Goldsmith Family Cinema, led us in discussion about abortion through the lens of poetry in the Shapiro Writing Center, unpacked for us the implications of effective allyship in and outside the Wesleyan community, advocated for us in discussions on diversity and racial profiling with Public Safety, cheered us on at countless sporting events on and off campus, and was honored by students with an Edgar Beckham Helping Hands award last year. Sarah Mahurin is an advocate for students, in the classroom, on the playing field, in the dining hall, and in our day-to-day lives. In her advocacy, she ventures to all corners of campus and breaks down barriers among students of academic focus, class year, gender, sexual orientation, regionality, and race.
But, at the end of this semester, Professor Mahurin will leave Wesleyan and head for Bard College, an institution that has offered both Mahurin and her husband, Professor Matthew Mutter, positions. Over the last few years, Professors Mahurin and Mutter have split their time between New Haven, CT and Rhinebeck, NY as they occupy positions at both Wesleyan and Bard, respectively. Bard has offered both professors a position at their institution, but Wesleyan has failed to replicate that offer. Wesleyan students cannot afford to lose Professor Mahurin. After all she’s given and done for the students and young alumni of Wesleyan, I hope you’ll join me in advocating for her and her husband the same way she’s advocated for us over the last three years. It’s worth noting that Mutter, in his own right, would undoubtedly prove a robust addition to our faculty, as he brings with him a prestigious academic pedigree replete with noteworthy publications and fellowships. If you don’t believe me, just look at what his students say about him.
If you’re reading this post, you’re probably pacing the library in anticipation of receiving an e-mail from her about gaining admission to her ever popular class, Imagining the American South. Professor Mahurin takes her classes seriously, a fact you’ll quickly learn should you ever have the misfortune of showing up late to one of them. Imagining the American South originally began as a 25 person class. Given her commitment to accessibility while still maintaining a small class size, she opened a second section of the class in order to accommodate folks from a wait-list that could have easily spanned over 65 names long and surely represented all four class years and more than a dozen different majors.
As a Neuroscience & Behavior major, I took her class during my Senior Spring at Wesleyan. For me, she reignited a lifelong love of literature, a critical eye and impassioned spirit in my analysis and writing, and above all a desire to break down any prejudice that I could locate in my own self or my community. Over dinner last week with a Wesleyan student in Brooklyn (because I’m a walking stereotype), we agreed that the beauty of Mahurin’s teaching lies in the way she leads students to enlightened epiphanies, but all the while leaves them feeling as though the discovery was an independent journey. Needless to say, it doesn’t hurt that Professor Mahurin speaks more eloquently, more intelligently, and frankly more poetically than perhaps any human being I’ve encountered. But, don’t take my word for it. As another Wesleying writer says about her eloquence in her defense of omitting race from Public Safety reports:
“In response to the ongoing debates over this decision, Professor Mahurin, who also serves on the Public Safety Review Committee, gave an extremely articulate argument for why these descriptions were removed. She was direct, personal, and downright inspiring in her logistical and sociological rationale for this decision. (When the video from this event is posted online, be sure to watch her speech.)”
So, we’ve established that she is a professor. Her teaching though extends far beyond the boundaries of the classroom, and perhaps most influentially to her experience as an adviser. Throughout her short time on campus, Professor Mahurin has advised at least four senior thesis writers, four Mellon-Mays Fellows, one McNair Fellow, and perhaps dozens of other students in the English and AFAM department. But, Professor Mahurin does not simply advise her advisees as the University declares them so. She routinely arrives to campus before 9 a.m. and doesn’t leave until past 8 p.m., as her daily itinerary includes a long list of meetings with students to discuss their essays, their reading, their insights, their questions. She fuels intellectual curiosity at Wesleyan by simultaneously challenging her students to articulate their ideas effectively and supporting her students in what could be their first and/or their only class in the English or AFAM department. Her support has meant so much to Wesleyan’s incredible student body—#ThisIsWhy I want the administration to keep her on our campus.
Perhaps above all her university titles though, Professor Mahurin is a human. And most importantly, she treats her students as humans in the fullest sense, whether those students are here on campus or in her Center for Prison Education Intro to AfAm class at Cheshire. Somehow, she manages to eradicate the condescension that many professors carry into the student-teacher relationship, but never loses that sense of respect for her position. She knows too that students are involved in all sorts of activities–from Crew to Football, from film to dance to a cappella, from environmental activism to student government. And she knows it because she’s right there with them, cheering them on from the sideline, applauding them from the audience, or advocating for students alongside them on WSA committees. Wesleyan is lucky to have her in our community, and we would be foolish to lose her.
I continue to give back to Wesleyan because people like Sarah Mahurin changed my life. If I could endow that same gift to exist in perpetuity for Wesleyan students, I would. (Dare I say it, but #MahurinIsWhy because giving to Wesleyan has never been about maintaining a status quo, but rather making Wesleyan the best we can.) So, what I’m asking you to do is to join me in asking the University to offer Professor Mahurin and her husband, Professor Mutter, a contract in whichever way you feel most comfortable.
- Sign our petition.
- Write a Wespeak.
- Take it to social media, preferably Wesleyan’s official accounts.
- Get involved in our efforts by e-mailing me at moliphant[at]wesleyan[dot]edu.
Thanks for reading. And if this post read like a fan-girl tribute, then mission accomplished.