Professor Michelle Robinson: Crossing Departments and Creating Change
Professor Michelle Robinson has been impacting students’ lives and reveling in the rich working environment at The University of Alabama since 2010. She received her PhD from the University of Louisville and spent time teaching at the secondary education level. Professor Robinson is an Assistant Professor at The University of Alabama in both the Department of English’s Composition, Rhetoric, and English Studies (CRES) graduate program, and the Department of Gender and Race Studies. With her passion for UA culture, innovative pedagogy, and exciting research, Professor Robinson’s story is a testament of the caliber of the faculty of the Department of English and The University of Alabama as a whole.
Professor Robinson was hired in 2010 to work with the English department’s CRES program. She found her way into the Department of Gender and Race Studies through her research interests and cross-listed courses dealing with African American and feminist literacy and rhetoric. Since her arrival, Professor Robinson has seen positive growth in both of these programs. She states, “I’m not sure what the exact numbers were when I arrived, but both departments now have more students and are hiring new faculty. They are thriving and I am hopeful for the future.” Professor Robinson speaks very highly of the culture of the CRES program, in particular, praising its close-knit community. When asked what she would like to tell prospective students of the program, Professor Robinson responded, “We are very interested in our students, in a personal way, and in their lives beyond UA. It is a great place to do advanced work.” Overall, Professor Robinson describes The University of Alabama as being a “jewel of a work environment,” full of exciting cultural and intellectual experiences.
Professor Robinson is particularly passionate about is the cultural diversity in the Department of English. She even cites this quality as a major factor in her decision to teach at The University of Alabama. “I don’t know of any place else where you would have four African American women in the English department’s faculty and over ten in the graduate program,” she explains. “It excites me in ways I can’t articulate.” The diversity of the Department of English, and the city of Tuscaloosa, are so impressive to Professor Robinson that she lists them as her favorite aspects of working at The University of Alabama (along with football, of course). In regards to the importance of cultural diversity in Alabama, Professor Robinson remarks, “We may have a problematic history, but this generation is important in the rewriting of those narratives.”
Professor Robinson encourages her students in this “narrative rewriting” process through the classes that she teaches, such as African American Language and Literacy. For this small graduate level class, Professor Robinson planned a culminating event centered on the production of a journal article about Bayard Rustin, a mid-century civil rights activist. Students worked together to create one cohesive article about this under-acknowledged figure. Professor Robinson chose Bayard Rustin because his life as gay man often causes him to be overlooked as a leader of the Civil Rights movement. Throughout this class, Professor Robinson focuses on the process of collaborative writing and scholarly research, rather than foregrounding publication. Despite that initial premise, Professor Robinson still ensures that her students will hopefully have the chance to see their work published. The article is currently under review in several different journals.
Professor Robinson cites her background in secondary education as one of the reasons that she successfully engages her students in classes. In a program like CRES, which prepares students for careers in teaching, her secondary education experience makes Professor Robinson an exciting asset to The University of Alabama’s Department of English. Professor Robinson speaks of the differences between high school and university teaching saying, “The former makes you better at the latter. You don’t have a captive audience in high school, so you have to package the curriculum differently.” Professor Robinson says that even though she now has a more captive and invested audience in college students, she still strives to make her classes interesting and different. It is clear that Professor Robinson speaks of both her colleagues and herself when she says, “The faculty of the CRES program is passionate about teaching and about giving students the tools to be good teachers and scholars.”
In addition to all her work within the Department of English and Department of Gender and Race studies, Professor Robinson is pursuing a variety of scholarly projects. She is currently finalizing a text for the Routledge Reader of African American Rhetoric and has three different articles under review, including the aforementioned Bayard Rustin article with the Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships. Her two other articles are titled “Changing the Rules of the Middle Game” and “Second Look: Revising Booker T. Washington.” She has also done archival work at Tuskegee University and is currently working on an article about the literacy curriculum of UA. Commenting on the breadth and nature of her projects, Professor Robinson relates, “The balance of my scholarly efforts are devoted to the completion of my monograph ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Literacy,’ which University of Kentucky Press has shown some interest in.”
Like all professors in the Department of English, Professor Robinson plays multiple roles in the lives of her students. When I sat down with her for this interview, she was in the middle of a full day of undergraduate advising, meeting with MA candidates, and speaking to prospective graduate students. She handles all these responsibilities with thorough care and intentionality. Professor Robinson’s passion for the work she does at the Capstone is evident in her teaching and research. She is a true asset to this university. The University of Alabama’s Department of English as it strives to foster students from across the country and around the world.