Through a Student’s Eyes

One of my rad students wrote this profile of me for her class:

 

Colleen Clemens sits outside the cafe within the Rohrbach Library at Kutztown University, coffee cup in hand, awaiting her interview. As per usual, her hair is tousled into a messy bun, the under layer a magenta purple. She sports a graphic tee with the words “Girl Power” across her chest, which is demonstrative of her personality to say the least. A large grin appears across her face when greeted.

These elements of her appearance, however, are not nearly as noteworthy as what she has to say. Students she has encountered in the past have begged to differ though. She has received criticism for her looks on elevations meant to detail opinions regarding her teaching capabilities. But unfortunately, as a woman, assessments made on appearance over intelligence are not uncommon, which is why she does the work she does.

Clemens, originally from Allentown, did not stray far from home to pursue her education and then to educate others. She first attended Penn State where she earned a degree in French and English Education. She studied at Desales University for her masters degree in English Education. She obtained her Ph.D. in Postcolonial Literature as well as a certificate in Women’s Studies at Lehigh University. Currently, she is a professor at Kutztown University. There, she is associate professor of non-Western Literatures and director of Women’s and Gender Studies.

There was not one instance which lead Clemens to her field of study. She always held a personal interest in topics revolving around women and gender long before she was aware there was a name for it. She did not even hear of such a thing until she was far into educational journey, as far as her the pursuit of her Ph.D. At one point along the way, she was trained as a counselor for a women’s resource center, which helped her to realize her passion for teaching and advocacy, and eventually encouraged her to make a personal interest her profession.

In an effort to advocate outside of the classroom, Clemens is co-host of a free Podcast called Inside 254 alongside colleague, Amanda Morris, who is also a professor at Kutztown. Every other week, the two discuss political issues at stake in light of the Trump-era. She also has a blog on which she reflects on gender and postcolonial issues. Clemens occasionally makes appearances on WFMZ’s Business Matters to debate politics. Raging Chicken Press is another soapbox for her to air her beliefs. She feels it imperative she use her platform as a voice for those marginalized.

Expressing political beliefs is often frowned-upon in the classroom setting. But as someone who does so much work pertaining to such, it is inevitable students have caught on to where she stands politically. While not all her students may see eye to eye, she stresses her intention is not to transform everyone into feminists. Her classes do not require a feminist’s perspective. Clemens welcomes beliefs that differ from her own and she does not challenge them, but rather, she works to help students see more clearly things they already know but are not comfortable acknowledging. Clemens likes to imagine those students as scared animals. Her approach to educate on such topics is no different to how one would attempt to reach a timid animal, with slow movements.

Clemens believes her technique works because the things she has to say are rooted in fact. During the previous election, she found herself in several instances in which she had to apply such methods. She does not do so in an effort to sway, she focuses on policy in such conversations and does not waste her efforts debating arbitrary aspects such as a candidate’s hair to defend her argument. Clemens can agree to disagree as long with opposing argument is well-constructed.

The previous said, Clemens has encountered students who have made arguments not so reasoned. She recalls a specific instance in which her motherhood was attacked. It was her daughter’s first day of school, and so Clemens could not help but be somewhat distraught. She expressed her distractedness to her class thinking they would be understanding and willing to bare with her. While most students were, one student had the audacity to complain. The student said it was Clemens job to be there and that because he was paying tuition he did not want to hear of such things. The student was deeply angered Clemens had acknowledged her life outside the classroom, which is an argument she tries not to take too much offense to as she recognizes its irrationality.

When asked if the overwhelming abundance of women to men in one of her Women’s and Gender Studies classes is at all discouraging, she answers no. In the classroom, she explains, women are often dominated by men. They have a harder time expressing themselves, which is why Clemens is happy to provide a safe space for women to speak up.

The current state of our world is at times disheartening. We are deeply embedded in a patriarchy, and there are many people that reject this reality. But it is Clemens students that give her hope for the future of our society. She believes the work she is doing is helping to generate eventual change, which is why even though she would rather spend her time watching movies and reading, she continues her work as an advocate and an educator. Despite the persona she puts off, she admits she is actually an introvert. However, in order to make a difference, she breaks from her shell to do the work as she believes is her duty.

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