Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



First Adviser

Lay, Jenna


My project narrows in on a specific segment of academic life—the first year—in order to consider how a new student’s experiences navigating an unfamiliar institution, through and among literary texts, helps us to understand contemporary imaginings of the university and the role of literature within those models of collegiate education. The lessons received in the first few months a college student is a college student have an impact on their understanding of the meaning and value of their university education; just as importantly, how we welcome students into our community (how we teach them to be college students) communicates something about our values as an institution and what we expect from these new participants. To investigate these values and expectations, the first chapter considers academic satires and the language of crisis in the contemporary university in order to diagnose a structural problem within the academic community. With that grounding established, the following two chapters explore a specific area within the first-year student’s academic structure—the common reading program and the first-year seminar—in the hope that each space will offer its particular insight into the general questions of the dissertation. Very broadly, the chapters ask: what is being taught, in theory and in practice, through content and through form, intentionally and unintentionally, in classrooms and outside of them, to student members of our community? What are the consequences of that teaching, especially when it comes to issues of community ethics and social justice (on- and off-campus)? What role(s) is literature currently playing in this education, and what role(s) might it play? Using the research skills, close reading habits, and pedagogical insights of a literature scholar, and drawing additionally from research in the science of education and other humanities fields, I look at the work of literature and literary study in helping us to define justice, create ethical models for action, and share this investigation and its active fruits with our students. My hope is that, in a moment of many possible academic crises, this project re-engages us to defend with more specificity the community-based value of students encountering literature early in their college career and invites new, creative, and collaborative imaginings of how we can create more just communities—beginning with our own.

Available for download on Friday, August 14, 2020