Senior Profile: Sarah Riback

Sarah R from UMD ENGLISHSarah Riback is double majoring in  Sociology and English on the Literary & Cultural Studies track.

Why did you decide to become an English major?

I decided to join the major after taking Virginia Butler's ENGL265/LGBT265 class during the second semester of my freshman year.  Before then, I hadn't taken any classes in the English department; I was totally floored by the writers and thinkers that we read -- Baldwin, Foucault, Lorde, Sedgwick, The Combahee River Collective -- and hooked by the discussions and writing I was able to be a part of with other students. I feel very lucky to have stumbled across the class.

What clubs, campus groups, internships, outside of class projects have you been involved with? Do you have any leadership roles in these groups?

Throughout my undergrad experience I worked as a DJ with WMUC, a student-columnist for the Diamondback, a tutor for incarcerated folks with the Petey Greene Program, an organizer with NARAL Pro-Choice MD, and an educator at a youth center in the Mississippi Delta.  While all of these experiences were formative, by far the most special and meaningful were instances that I was able to work within a classroom, teaching and learning alongside other young people.

What has been your favorite class in English and why?

Last semester, I had the opportunity to take Professor Chico's honors seminar "The Postmodern Enlightenment" which focused on studying both literary and visual works from the long 18th century and the early 21st century to examine and put pressure on the ways that Enlightenment ideals are embedded, rewritten, and reworked in our current moment.  What I enjoyed most about the class was the way that it challenged my conception of the archive and also located a distinct type of archival possibility that I hadn't ever thought about in a classroom before.  By putting Enlightenment thinker and ideals -- as well as the archives that house them -- into conversation with contemporary thinkers such I feel as if I gleaned a really different vision of the deeply archaic and enduring ways that institutions --  read: society -- are ordered.  

Throughout the semester, Professor Chico encouraged us to engage in critical thinking about the different mediums that we were engaging with, while also affording us space to do creative assignments in UMD's Booklab.  These two dimensions of the class yielded a great deal of cross-pollination in thinking as a group, and a great deal of personal curiosity in myself that has carried far beyond the semester.

What is something you read during class that impacted your worldview?  

In the spring of 2017, I took Professsor Coles' ENGL301 class in which we read excerpts from M. NourbeSe Philip's book Zong!.  The book itself is monumental and deserves to be revisited again and again.  At the time, I remember dwelling on her poem "Discourse on the Logic of Language." For me, it fundamentally shifted what a poem could be and do for a reader.  Up to that point, I didn't think that a reading experience could be such an act of instruction and teaching. It also really challenged me to think about the violence that is embedded in the catalogue and history of the English language but never discussed.

What skills (professional, creative or other) do you think you’ve gotten from the major?

Through the major, I've become a much stronger writer and thinker -- both independently and collaboratively.  One of my favorite parts of taking English classes has been working to open up my own perspectives and thoughts to engage with and listen to my peers -- to learn together.  I also think that I've become a much more critical -- and curious -- reader, though it is something that I want to work on forever.

What is your dream job or career?

I hope to be some sort of educator doing work that is focused on youth empowerment, although in what space or capacity I'm not totally sure. I'm a firm believer in the distinct possibilities of the classroom as a space of radical growth, learning, questioning, listening, collaboration, and community.  These are all really big ideas, but I'm excited by the opportunity to explore what these things both look like and require of educators, students, community members.

What are you passionate about (or even curious about)?

I am curious to think and learn more about the possibilities of the classroom as a space of community and collective empowerment.  Each of those words sound a bit trite and are quite abstract, but I am very curious to learn from other educators and organizers about the role of the classroom in empowering young people to think about themselves as community members and radical thinkers; as people who have the autonomy to pen their own futures and narratives.

To you, what has been the most valuable part of the English major?

To my mind, the most valuable part of the English major has been the space that the community has afforded me to think, read, write, discuss, and challenge ideas that I never would have encountered otherwise.  The curiosity I was able to cultivate among peers and professors is indelible.