English Department Celebrates 'Words' With Students And Alumni

The York College English Department recently held its Annual Open House to the delight of students who got to hear directly from recent graduates who majored or minored in English or Journalism.

This fall's event focused on the theme "Why Words Matter" and featured a number of alumni from within the past 10 years. The Department holds an open house each fall so that students, faculty, and staff can discuss literature and ideas in an informal setting.

"First, we traditionally hold the Open House as a way of bringing students together with Department of English faculty" said Professor Phebe Kirkham, MFA, a department lecturer. "It provides an opportunity for students in general education courses such as English 125 and 200 as well as students majoring and minoring in English and Journalism to meet each other, learn together, and socialize with each other and faculty."

According to Kirkham, Dr. Linda Grasso, the department chair, suggested the idea of an alumni panel to the Open House Committee.

"We were heartened by the eagerness with which alumni agreed to attend and impressed with their articulate responses," said Kirkham. "We had hoped to show current York students that majoring in English or Journalism can lead to a variety of schooling or career paths, so we were pleased to hear how various the students' post-graduation experiences actually were.  That they testified to the value of the close relationships they had with faculty while students at York was a bonus."

In the second half, the panel, moderated by Journalism professor, William Hughes and English professor, Dr. Shereen Inayatulla, took questions from the audience. The panelists took turns giving their perspective on the role language has played in their lives as graduate students and young professionals.

These engaging former students included Cathy Rainone (nee, Jedruczek), '06, Isabelle Pierre, 08, Sadef Kully, '09, Julianna Hutson, '09, Chanae Bazemore, '10, Mehrunnisa Wani, '11,  Stephan Singh, '11.

Asked for her opinion on why words matter, Dr. Linda Grasso, chair of the English Department was decisive in her response.

"Words matter because they are forms of power, our primary tools of communication," she said. "Words enable us to make meaning of feelings and experiences and connect us to our worlds and to each other."

To underscore the event's title (Why Words Matter) Dr. Grasso read from Jill Lepore's book The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), because, she says, "Lepore meditates on the profound implications of words in one specific case -- in relation to war:

"Writing about war can be almost as difficult as waging it and, often enough, is essential to winning it. The words used to describe war have a great deal of work to do: they must communicate war's intensity, its traumas, fears, and glories; they must make clear who is right and who is wrong, rally support, and recruit allies; and they must document the pain of war, and in so doing, help to alleviate it" (ix). . . .War is a contest of injuries and interpretation" (x).

In the end, the event focused less on why words really matter and concentrated more "on practical issues and advice," mostly about journalistic careers.

"I hope we can have a more philosophical exchange next time," said Grasso, "Perhaps around the question of why ideas matter."

Tune in same time next year.

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