Kane draws on past teachers for inspiration in classroom

2014 marked a huge year publishing-wise for Vassar’s Associate Professor of English Jean Kane. The professor of english published two writings, “Conspicuous Bodies” and “Make Me,” this past year. Photo By: Jacob Gorski
2014 marked a huge year publishing-wise for Vassar’s Associate Professor of English Jean Kane. The professor of english published two writings, “Conspicuous Bodies” and “Make Me,” this past year. Photo By: Jacob Gorski
2014 marked a huge year publishing-wise for Vassar’s Associate Professor of English Jean Kane. The professor of english published two writings, “Conspicuous Bodies” and “Make Me,” this past year. Photo By: Jacob Gorski

Associate Professor of English Jean Kane is a master of the humanities. Having grown up in the intellectual hub of New York City, she encourages progressive thought in students and has been published both in the realms of academia and literature.

Though Professor Kane may seem like the epitome of a liberal arts professor on paper, she can’t be figured out so neatly.

After spending parts of her childhood in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, Kane made a radical move for a person liberal arts sage: the Midwest. After relocating to Indianapolis, Ind., Kane soon enrolled at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., where the then-professor studied comparative literature and art history.

Despite its large location and size, however, she attests that she was still able to receive a contained, focused education at IU, usually characteristic of a smaller liberal arts college: “I did feel that I got to know professors and got to be in small classes [at Indiana University], so I think I appreciated that and wanted to bring that intimacy but also that breadth [to Vassar]…and those kinds of interdisciplinary interests while also focusing on developing certain skills and knowledge bases,” said Kane.

Upon earning her undergraduate degree at Indiana, Kane worked as a writer and editor while simultaneously teaching classes at a junior college. A few years later she was accepted to a now-defunct Masters in English program at Stanford University which combined traditional literature classes and a creative writing program, satisfying Kane’s interest in a range of persuasions.

After Stanford, she yet again shifted locationally to the south and earned her Ph.D. in English at University of Virginia, teaching for a short while at Virginia-based Washington & Lee University as a visiting professor.

Kane arrived at Vassar in 1997 and has been here ever since, but her distinct perspective and background linger. She is able to draw on her knowledge and background in many disciplines to teach classes in English (concentrating in imperial and post-colonial as well as modern British and American literatures), creative writing and women’s studies.

She brings her distinctive educational experience, but also a perspective seasoned in the southern and midwestern U.S. in addition to more commonly referenced intellectual areas like New York and California, to her all-inclusive classroom discussions of race, gender and authorial bias.

To her students, she is straightforward but passionate, firm but warm.

“Professor Kane is definitely the most engaged professor I have, and the one I interact with the most…rarely does anyone leave without expressing their opinion on the reading and Kane makes sure the conversation keeps moving and stays balanced in view,” said Caleb Zachary ’18, who is enrolled this semester in Kane’s ENGL 170 course, Introduction to Literary Studies.

“Some of my other classes I can sit through and not say a word, but not hers,” he added.

Decades after being a student in a classroom herself, Kane is still inspired by her most closely-held teachers from her undergraduate and graduate school experiences, thinking of them frequently and drawing from their influence while carving her own legacy. The professor considers herself to be in the business of more than feeding knowledge to her students: She said, “[I] hope to foster a sense of excitement about learning.”

The English professor’s students attest to this drive to analyze texts deeply in order to develop personal interpretation. “Her teaching style is guiding, rather than authoritative. She leads class discussion where she wants it to go, and facilitates the subjects we discuss before we’ve even stepped into the classroom. My favorite thing about her class so far is the enthusiasm she brings,” said .

Of current excitement in Kane’s life are the publications of two of her writings in 2014, her academic text on the surprising correlations between religious institutions, James Joyce and Salman Rushdie, “Conspicuous Bodies” (published in July of this year by Ohio State University Press), and her book of poetry, “Make Me,” was released last month at a literary festival in Park City, Utah. Kane said, as being “[Make Me] is [an] extremely personal with poems that aren’t always presented in a first person confessional mode.”

When asked what students most get wrong about her, Kane quipped, “I’m not married to Paul Kane. A rumor goes around every few years that we are secretly married—now why that would need to be kept a secret, I don’t know,” said Kane.

But regarding possible pressures regarding student-teacher dynamics and the demands of the “publish or perish” mentality in academia, Kane is forthcoming about the perils of such pursuits, but ultimately content with her life and accomplishments, relishing her essential personage. “It’s like everything else: I just try to be myself and hope for the best. I just try to be a human being,” said Kane.

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