Courtesy of Michael Marsland
This spring, as students in Directed Studies head for lecture in the Whitney Humanities Center, a new face will join them in the hall — Ruth Yeazell, Sterling Professor of English.
Yeazell will be taking advantage of a Faculty of Arts and Sciences initiative called “Scholars as Leaders; Scholars as Learners,” or SAL2. Among the programs that comprise SAL2 is “Teaching Relief for Learning” — an opportunity for faculty members to take a semester away from teaching and, instead, enroll as students in any undergraduate or graduate courses that intrigue them.
“I have been teaching Directed Studies in the fall for about a decade and a half, and it is more work than at least some of the other courses I teach,” Yeazell said. “But it’s among my most favorite teachings, which is a reason I want to flip the script and see what it’s like on the other end.”
SAL2 was introduced in 2018 by Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Gendler said that she created SAL2 with her team in order to sustain faculty learning, foster faculty leadership and advance faculty research. She modeled TRL after the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation “New Directions Fellowship” — a fellowship supporting mid-career humanities faculty who seek training outside of their fields of study — that Gendler previously participated in.
“My hope is that Teaching Relief for Learning will connect faculty across the campus along unexpected intellectual avenues, resulting in dynamic and innovative research, and powerful and creative teaching,” Gendler added.
According to Gendler, six other FAS faculty will participate in Teaching Relief for Learning this spring. In the past, faculty have taken classes such as “Hymns and their Music,” “Computational Set Theory,” “Global Food Challenges” and “Reading Yiddish.” Yeazell will be the only professor to take three courses simultaneously.
The D.S. program is designed for first-year students interested in studying the Western canon. It offers three courses per semester that chronologically survey literature, philosophy and historical and political thought. Yeazell, who currently teaches Directed Studies Literature in the fall, hopes to use this opportunity to learn how works in the spring semester are taught and discussed. She is scheduled to teach Directed Studies Literature next spring.
Yeazell said she finds it “strange” that her current teachings concentrate on earlier works in the Western canon, when her own research mainly focuses on 18th- and 19th-century literature. In the past, she considered teaching Directed Studies in the spring, but never got around to it.
“I always thought, maybe if I could sit in and see how it goes, and see what kinds of connections people make between these much more disparate works, I’d have the courage to do it myself,” Yeazell explained.
Yeazell added that, even before she taught Directed Studies, she had what she referred to as “Yale undergraduate envy”: a desire to be an undergraduate again, which resulted from her perusal of Yale’s course catalogue. She hopes to fulfill that aspiration by taking Directed Studies this semester.
Yeazell often feels wistful when her students “do what is one of the great things about Directed Studies” — make connections between works across the three courses.
“I am on very shaky ground when students come to my Literature class and, say, refer to Herodotus,” Yeazell said. Even though Yeazell does not intend to teach the other two courses in the future, she described this opportunity as a “chance to catch up” in the other disciplines that she “either left behind long ago, or somehow missed out,” she said.
Katja Lindskog, director of undergraduate studies of the D.S. program, said that she was “thrilled” to hear Yeazell’s decision to enroll as a student.
“[Yeazell] came into the program in the early weeks of fall to give a lecture on the Odyssey, and when she announced at the beginning of her lecture that she’d be joining us as a student in spring, the response from the students in the room was thrilling — it seemed to me to be a mix of astonishment, joy and pride,” Lindskog said.
Since Yeazell is “herself at the top of her game as an instructor,” Lindskog said, other D.S. professors may benefit from her student feedback. She added that having a wide variety of perspectives in the classroom also enriches everyone’s experience, and cited the example of Eli Whitney student Jimmy Hatch — a former Navy SEAL currently enrolled in D.S.
Lindskog considers Yeazell’s choice “unusual” due to the significant commitment Directed Studies requires, but hopes that Yeazell’s engagement will encourage other professors to join the program in whatever capacity they can.
Alongside her coursework, Yeazell will balance her responsibilities for the English department, faculty recruitment and her own personal writing. Yet she said that more than the sheer amount of reading, she worries about having an “active memory” — the kind of memory one needs to actively participate in class — at her age.
“It has been a very long time since I’ve been a student,” Yeazell said. “I know some of what I want to get out of it, but exactly how it’ll change me — I’m not sure, and that’s part of the fun.”
Freya Savla | firstname.lastname@example.org