Student seminar on race and gender in literature: An Interview and POV


Kayden Lamphere, Contributing Writer

Concepts of race and gender have become extremely prominent topics, with the more connected nature of the world allowing people to discuss and debate key issues involving them. 

The Utica University English 306 class, Bad Mothers in Literature, hosted a student seminar on April 4, 6 and 11 aimed at generating interest and discussion about these issues.

The seminar prompted students to take initiative in analyzing course literature and presenting how race and gender intersect and relate to numerous topics. 

“It all started with the course planning when I was deciding the best evaluation system for the class,” said Ane Costa, assistant professor of English and professor of the Bad Mothers in Literature class. 

According to Costa, the assignment and conference were intended as a way to challenge students in an upper-level class to look at literature through the lens of gender and race, in order to foster critical thinking in not only her students but also in the audience who attended the event. 

“One of the goals for this conference was to have the class synthesize their learning, and I believe we achieved that,” Costa said. “During our lessons, we talked about colorism, gentrification, intersectional theory, identity, generational trauma, race and gender theories. Everything was there in the students’ presentations.” 

When asked about the student involvement level of the event, Costa touted just how student-driven the seminar was as a whole, with everything from seminar organization to panel moderation having student input. 

“None of it would have worked if the students had not embraced the idea and done their best to make it happen,” Costa said. “Even being unfamiliar with the presentation style, the students completed their research, often discussing their themes with me in my office.” 

As a presenter on the panel myself, I can absolutely confirm the high level of student involvement with the event, as I acted as a moderator on the first day in addition to presenting my own ideas on the second. 

Being my first conference paper and presentation, I felt a very familiar sense of pre-presentation dread, but much like the rest of my classmates, I was driven by my passion for the topic of my presentation. 

My presentation covered the aforementioned topic of colorism in literature and society as a whole, covering how it works and why it is something that should be spotlit.

I remember feeling a sense of connection with my classmates during our presentations, both on the level of nervousness and our interest in our topics, fully wanting to step up and speak on our issues despite the fear. 

Costa also recognized the nervousness of the students involved but made sure to note that she could see the growth in them occurring during their presentations. 

“Before the conference, students were nervous about it being open to the public, but I felt their confidence growing during the event,” Costa said. “And as I told them, they’ll probably still remember the conference experience in ten years, while the everyday class work and discussion might fade away.”

According to Costa, students and staff should not expect the conference to be a one-time event, with plans already set in motion for the second in the coming semesters. 

He added: “There is room for many more student seminars in the English department and I hope to continue providing students with opportunities for learning outside of the constraints of the traditional classroom setting.”