A new professor stands in front of his American Literature class explaining the nuances of the Native American oratory that a white man translated many years ago. The professor paces the front of the classroom and speaks with his hands as he invites his students to dig a little deeper, asking critical question after critical question to explore how the literatures that originated in this land were adapted to fit the white audience.
Dr. Ryan Wander arrived at VSU this fall to breathe life into the study of multiethnic literature in the English Department.
Dr. Wander, who graduated from University of California in 2019, found a love of literature in his public-school education, and it sparked his desire to teach English at a public institution.
Now Dr. Wander is excited to be able to branch out and start the kind of changes he’s been wanting from the start. As a new professor fresh out of his Ph.D. program, he hasn’t had the space to do much more than teach, but now he’s ready to try other ideas.
He’s already got a head start with the Genre and Film Club he started his first month here. He invited students of all backgrounds and majors to get together in a more relaxed setting to discuss their favorite movies as intellectuals. The goal of the club is to bring community to students where maybe there wasn’t any before, especially since COVID and virtual learning.
“I want to make students feel seen,” Dr. Wander said.
To accomplish this goal of giving students community, he plans also to involve more undergraduates in research that tends to be geared more towards professors and graduate students.
Dr. Adam Wood, the head of the English department, decided that he wanted to shift the focus to multiethnic literature prior to 1900 when evaluating the candidates for the position Dr. Wander took over.
“He was fantastic in the classroom,” Dr. Wood said. “When we brought the candidates to campus, he was immediately and constantly the first choice.”
Dr. Wood is excited about the fresh ideas of research institutions that Dr. Wander offers as a young professor recently out of graduate school.
Dr. Wood also mentioned that Dr. Wander is a key member of the recruitment and retention committee for the English department along with the other two newer professors. Dr. Emma Kostopolus and Dr. Eric Blix.
Dr. Ubaraj Katawal was responsible for pulling Dr. Wander on the committee that is restructuring the English literature courses that VSU offers.
“He has expertise in areas that are outside the American and British cannons,” Dr. Katawal said. “It’s very important to offer things that other colleges aren’t, and I think that he can do that.”
Dr. Wood said that hopefully within a year, Dr. Wander will be the professor of a few of the new courses they are planning on bringing in, namely Asian American literature and other multiethnic literatures of America.
Before making his way to South Georgia, he spent the past three years teaching at UC Davis and the College of Idaho.
“Ryan is a thoughtful, empathetic teacher; an incisive and creative scholar; and an extremely funny and enjoyable person to be around,” said Dr. Rachel Miller, a College of Idaho assistant professor of history.
Dr. Miller spoke of how sad they were to see him go and that the faculty there still remember the going away party they had for him.
“My conversations with Dr. Wander reshaped my own thinking about American literature,” said Hsuan Hsu, Dr. Wander’s Ph.D. advisor at UC Davis. “His thinking not only drew out the queer plots that can be found throughout classic Western stories … but also considered the limitations of these queer dynamics by showing how they often extended the scope of settler power.”
Dr. Wander’s research focuses on gender and sexuality in literature, and he hopes to bring that knowledge to VSU students.
Coming from a more liberal area growing up, Dr. Wander is excited to be in an area where not all his ideas might be blindly accepted.
“Reaffirming ideas is fine, but getting someone who doesn’t agree to think more broadly is valuable,” he said.
Written by Angel Davis, Copy Editor. Photo courtesy of VSU.