This Is Why Professor Mahurin Must Stay At Wesleyan


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.

  1. Sign our petition.
  2. Write a Wespeak.
  3. Take it to social media, preferably Wesleyan’s official accounts.
  4. 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.

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23 thoughts on “This Is Why Professor Mahurin Must Stay At Wesleyan

  1. Orelia Jonathan

    Just wanted to shout all to all the negative commentators that Prof. Mahurin IS the reason I am an AFAM major. I took one of her classes my sophomore fall thinking it would be a walk in the park and it wasn’t. I was planning on majoring in Government and History, and because of her I changed my majors to History and AFAM.

    While Melody may NOT have known her as a teacher, and may NOT have been in the AFAM department, I think that just goes to show how branched out Prof. Mahurin can be, and the fact that she is able to encourage students who know nothing about AFAM studies or the subject matter to turn around and become majors says something about her teaching.

    SO to answer your questions – also also confused – : does she have a great personality: absolutely, is she fun: yes she’s fun and a great friend to some, but she is also incredibly thought-provoking and hard too, is she an excellent English Prof.? I think that’s your own opinion, but isn’t everybody entitled to their own opinion. You may know people who don’t think so, but I also know MANY who do think so. But in my opinion, Prof. Mahurin’s role as an English Professor is totally insignificant and her role as a CRITICAL AFAM teacher is very important. Since I hadn’t taken any intro classes, Prof. Mahurin’s class was extremely hard, but she will make you think about the subject matter in a way that you have never thought before, class discussion is great, and while the workload may not be ideal (with a book and some reading a week), her AFAM teaching style is arguably one of the best at Wesleyan.

    Lastly, Prof. Mahurin is my advisor. Not only does she go out of her way to make time to meet with me, but she makes suggestions on future career options, writes recommendations on short notice, and bends over backwards for her students. Instead of seeing her for the first time when I came back from abroad at the meeting we had scheduled, she surprised many of her advisee’s and students by showing up at our track meet.

    If Wesleyan looses Prof. Mahurin, we are loosing a true gem. I can’t speak for her husband’s teaching style, but instead of watching a great teacher go, I’d love to see Wesleyan give the thought of hiring her husband a chance.

  2. Also also confused

    I think my biggest issue with this entire conversation is that Melody Oliphant, the author of the post above, was not an English major at Wesleyan. As someone who was indeed an English major and took classes with Professor Mahurin, I did not find her teaching style nor her material remotely challenging or inspiring. Does she have a great personality? Yes. Is she “fun”? Yes. Is she a good person? Yes. Is she an excellent English professor? Absolutely not. And there are many people I could cite that would wholeheartedly agree with me.

    In my opinion, (and yes, I am aware that this post reflects ONLY my opinion, though I know many people who would agree) she was the weakest English professor I had over my four years at Wesleyan. If you want to write a convincing argument about a professor you loved, at least have the academic background to compare and contrast the professor you’re defending with others in his/her/ze/hir discipline. Otherwise, your entire position falls flat and reads as an over-the-top and fanatical personal review rather than an impassioned defense of a Wesleyan great, which is what I assume you were going for.

    *** I can’t speak for her role as an Af. Am. professor but am curious to know what students in that major think of her teaching style

    1. anonymous

      Also also confused–
      As an English major who took 3 courses with Professor Mahurin, I could not disagree with you more. In terms of being inspirational, Mahurin’s passion for every novel she teaches made even the thought of skimping on a reading assignment unfathomable. It is rare that a teacher’s passion for their subject imbues students with a sense of necessity in completing assignments.

      Her discussions encourage students to take the reigns, while not allowing them to skirt uncomfortable issues. Her insights are incredibly thoughtful, and invite students to view each novel, passage or word from every possible vantage point, so that they can form their own, well informed, opinions.

      The material covered in class was incredibly challenging. The novels we studied were wrought with uncomfortable conflicts and difficult relationships. It is on the student to parse out the difficulties and immerse themselves in the challenge. It is one thing to read through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and note uncomfortable race relations, but it is quite another to sit in a room in Downey House for 3 hours discussing a single passage.

      I am glad that you acknowledge that your post reflects your personal opinion, but respect Melody’s opinion as well (I know many would agree with her as well). Her initiative is admirable and she is striving to do right by someone who has done so much for her. If a professor changed your life for the better, wouldn’t you want other students to have that same opportunity?

    2. kgibbel

      Hi, also also confused.

      I am a current English major at Wesleyan. I also posted/wrote the introduction to Melody’s article; I did this because the class I had with Professor Mahurin was one of the better English classes I’ve taken at Wesleyan. I believe that the Wesleyan English Department is stacked—we have a plethora of phenomenal professors and I feel very lucky to take classes with many of them—but Professor Mahurin has stood out to me. As a professor she never hesitates to hide or shy away from the complexity of a text, but she makes those complicated ideas about literature, life, and humanity accessible to every student in the classroom. It’s no mean feat and she does it with panache. She inspires her students and isn’t afraid to call them out when they shirk their responsibilities. I just spent an hour and a half in her class discussing the second half of The Sound and the Fury. It’s a challenging section and she helped her students dissect it, make sense of it, and apply it to larger structures and systems of time, economics, race, and love. I left the class with my brain whirring—in a really good way.

      I DO respect your opinion and I think you are entitled to it. Professor Mahurin does preface every course by saying that she is not the professor for everyone. I do resent, however, your implication that Melody’s stance as a science major somehow makes her less capable of judging her experience in a humanities classroom. In fact, I think Melody’s enjoyable experience as a Neuroscience & Behavior major in an English class speaks to Mahurin’s broad appeal (save, of course, to you).

      So, thanks for your input. But please keep in mind that plenty of English majors, AfAm majors, Neuroscience & Behavior majors, and other Wesleyan students—regardless of their major—have loved their experiences in one of Mahurin’s courses.

  3. Also confused

    This letter does not adequately explain why Professor Mahurin is leaving Wesleyan. Is she leaving because it is her choice or because Wesleyan is forcing her to leave? It sounds like she is leaving of her own accord, in which case this petition seems strange because it is not a failure on Wesleyan’s part but a choice on Mahurin’s part. While i admire the efforts, this would carry much more weight if, say, Wesleyan failed to grant Mahurin tenure or fired her wrongfully.

  4. Confused

    This is an incredibly ridiculous argument. How is it Wesleyan’s responsibility to hire Mahurin’s husband, committing to a yearly salary of aprox. $60k, because a handful of the 2900 students at Wes think she’s just GREAT? Per the precedent set by your highly biased letter above, every professor’s spouse should be hired by Wesleyan. That is utter nonsense. Wesleyan has no obligation to hire a professor’s spouse merely because some of her students are obsessively in love with her. This whole movement, to be quite frank, is incredibly bizarre and borders on creepy.

    1. Elsa Hardy

      I understand your point, though I think this is a unique situation. It is not simply that Professor Mahurin is great; she has been a tremendous ally of and advocate for students of color at Wesleyan, and she has advanced a lot of difficult and important conversations about race on our campus. It is our community, as well as the African American Studies department, that would feel her loss the most. Especially given the loss of faculty within the African American Studies department in recent years, extraordinary measures need to be taken to rebuild this program. And Wesleyan should be prepared to take those measures if students of color and our experiences here are truly an institutional priority.

      1. Confused

        That doesn’t address my point whatsoever. Mahurin’s involvement as an ally and advocate for students of color is unrelated to hiring her husband…major loophole here. I’m not disagreeing about her role on campus, just pointing out that it is absolutely bogus to suggest that it’s Wesleyan’s responsibility to hire her spouse.

        1. Wes '12

          She actually does address your point. Spousal hiring is a pretty standard strategy in academia for retaining desirable faculty and administrators. There have been multiple spousal hires on Wesleyan’s campus under this same model.

          1. Melody Oliphant

            Laura Caldwell/Bob Caldwell
            Megan Glick/Laura Grappo
            Olga Ferrer/Matthew Treme
            M Roth/Kari Weil

          2. Confused

            So…listing four out of nearly 500 tenured/tenure track, full, associate, and assistant professors is enough to prove your point? I think not. (Not to mention the avg. 90 professors who serve as adjuncts and/or visitors per year).

            .007% of the Wesleyan faculty doesn’t seem to quite count as “multiple spousal hires”…

  5. Wesleyan '13

    As a recent graduate who had the pleasure of taking three classes with Professor Mahurin, this brought such a smile to my face. I wish her well wherever she may go, but Wesleyan would be losing a valuable professor and, really, a wonderful person.

  6. Has Anyone Talked to the Prof?

    Has anyone talked to Mahurin about her desires ? Obviously she cares about the school, but isn’t is possible that she has reasons other than “being with her husband” to move to Bard? Maybe she just likes upstate NY? I feel like her input is missing here.

    1. Melody Oliphant

      My wish is to not involve Mahurin in this effort because to me, the issue here is what Wesleyan students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators NEED. And they need Professor Mahurin and others like her (ahem, Professor Mutter) in my opinion.

      Having said that, I think she would indeed be happy at Bard because she is a wonderful professor and she would not cease to engage students simply by changing schools. But, again only speaking for myself, she deserves for our community to fight for her. She loves Wesleyan, and I want to give her the option to pick us as her home. Given her love for this place, I think it’s safe to say that she would leave Wesleyan with a heavy heart.

      I encourage you to reach out to her though and hear it from her rather than from me.

  7. Guest

    This is a great move – thanks Melody for getting the ball rolling! Just wondering, anyone else having trouble submitting their petition form?

    1. Melody Oliphant

      Thanks for the kind words. If anyone is having trouble with the petition, please feel free to e-mail me personally and I will add your name to our list. (moliphant[at]wesleyan[dot]edu)

      The latest signature was received a little after midnight (01/30/14), so it should still be working and accepting responses.

  8. Wes Alum '13

    This highlights something that I’m ashamed to say about Wesleyan– amazing faculty keeps entering this school and inspiring their students only to leave when Wesleyan fails to reward them for their work. Instead of steady faculty that remain at the school to enrich research and future students, we have a string of “temporary” teachers that are just not compensated or appreciated enough for their work. Honestly, I think the school should have a more structured system for awarding professorships so that these amazing professors are actually permanent members of the Wesleyan family.

  9. Jay Bay

    Wish I could say something deep and revealing but nothing I come up with successfully captures Mahurin’s dedication, passion, intellect, character, and generosity. All I can say is: “This lady is beyond amazinggg.”

    Thanks for this post, Wesleying/Melody.
    Thanks for supporting us in every way imaginable, Mahurin.


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