Dr. Grace Howard, assistant professor in gender studies, opened a new chapter in her life this year. She completed her doctorate at Rutgers University and moved to Evansville, Indiana to teach at USI. While she has been accustomed to living in big cities for the past decade, Evansville has been a sort of homecoming, in that it reminds her of her hometown Winchester, Virginia.
She has a natural curiosity that has led to a diverse array of experiences ranging from foraging for berries to scaring people at a theme park. When she’s not teaching, you might find her knitting, baking homemade pies, playing video games or snuggling with one of her three black and white kitties.
Let’s get to know this intriguing new faculty member.
What do you think are the most important attributes of a good instructor?
I never thought I’d go to graduate school. My parents didn’t go to college. If it hadn’t been for my undergraduate professors really pushing me and telling me I was capable of doing these kinds of things I never would’ve done it. Having that kind of support from professors is so important.
You need to be able to show the students why what they’re learning is important. Having a passion for what you teach is really, really important. Helping students nurture their own passions keeps them from getting bored and keeps them connected to the material. Having some degree of understanding and emotional competence is also important.
What’s a common stereotype about your academic field that you would like to debunk?
I’m a political scientist by training so around election time when people ask what I do, I hate telling them because I don’t study elections. I don’t really like elections and when people think politics, that’s what they immediately go to.
At USI I teach gender studies and I think a lot of people are afraid of gender studies. I think they’re afraid of feminists. The stereotype about gender studies is that we’re all a bunch of bitter, angry, hairy-legged man-haters. I wish I had more guys signing up for my gender studies classes because we talk about stuff that touches everybody’s lives. You know, men have a gender too. There are a lot of pressures with masculinity that can have very negative consequences, like rates of suicide and self-harm and hurting others. Those things get neglected when we don’t talk about men as having a gender.
What are three interesting facts about you?
I used to be a classical singer, a soprano. I sang at Carnegie Hall in high school.
I like foraging in the woods and sometimes, in the city. My grandmother is an urban forager. She lives outside of Washington D.C. and is a child of the Great Depression so she doesn’t waste things. I guess I get that from her. I think it’s so cool to go out into the woods and find something to eat. I look for roots, berries and leaves. I also know a little about medicinal plants.
I used to work as a zombie in a theme park. It was called Kings Dominion, right outside Richmond, Virginia. Around Halloween they transform the whole park into a spooky theme and hire college students to be some of the actors they have walking around. They send a bus to pick us up and do our hair and makeup. My whole job was just trying to freak people out. It was great! It was probably the most fun job I ever had.
What’s the title of the current chapter of your life?
This is a weird, big changes chapter. I think “Home Alone” is the name of the chapter because I just moved here from the east coast and I am truly home alone for the first time in my life. It’s like when Kevin McCallister realizes he’s alone there’s a little montage of him jumping on the bed and eating ice cream. I kind of feel like I’m there emotionally right now. I’m like “Yeah, I’m going to ride the stationary bike and watch Drunk History at 3 a.m. What are you going to do about it?”
If you had a warning label, what would yours say?
I will try to get you to foster an animal. If I hear you don’t have one, I’m going to try to get you to do it.
When you have a sweet tooth what food do you crave?
All of my teeth are sweet teeth. I like all dessert. When I was a kid I once cried myself to sleep screaming “I want cake!” I learned to bake early and even baked professionally for a while. I like picking berries for homemade pie because it’s so nice to harvest the ingredients and make something from scratch with your own hands.
When people come to you for help, what do they usually want help with?
Reproduction and cats, and sometimes cat reproduction. I used to be a sex health educator, so I got a lot of questions. I still get calls from people I haven’t seen for decade “Hey I’m pregnant. What do I do?” People don’t know a lot about their own bodies.
With cats, I used to live in West Philadelphia and when the kids saw me coming down the street they would yell “The cat lady’s here!” I would trap, neuter and release cats. I would wrangle sick, feral tomcats who want to rip your face off. I was always bottle-feeding a newborn kitten.
If you were stranded on an island and could only bring three books, what would you bring?
Euell Gibbons' Stalking the Blue Eyed Scallop, just to be practical (it is a book on foraging in watery environments). Judy Grahn's Work of a Common Woman for replenishing my spirit (if you havn't read Grahn's poems yet, you gotta!), and Ocavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (for grit and to inspire the strength to survive.)
If you could bring any fictional character into your world, who would it be?
I wish I was the kind of person who would pick someone from classic literature, a sophisticated choice. My choice is kind of silly, but I stand by it. I want to hang out with Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. She’s amazing. She was kidnapped as a child and taken away from her feminist utopia. She was forced to work for a tyrannical dictator. She lost her arm. She overcomes adversity, uses her position to help other people and overthrows the tyrannical regime with a group of grandmas on motorcycles. I just want to hang out with sci-fi women who get things done.
Photo Credit: Provided
Dr. Grace Howard