By Francesca Olivo
To Surya Parekh, the only difference between the classroom and the world is four walls.
“I don't make that division between the classroom and life because we’re living in the classroom,” the assistant professor of English said. “When I ask students to read texts openly I want them to think about how they are being asked to look at objects in the world.”
Parekh joined Harpur College’s English Department in September of 2015 after earning his doctorate in history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2013. His degree harnesses many areas, including humanities, arts and social sciences. Parekh focuses on the perspectives of indigenous races and the theory of gender. Today, he continues to look at the human experience through all lenses.
“How robust is the concept of the human that we use for human rights? How sturdy is it when we talk about human rights violations?” Parekh said. “This tracks into very contemporary debates on human morals and about what it might mean to have institutions that are more global than national.”
At Binghamton University, Parekh was selected to join the Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence (TAE) faculty group for Citizenship, Rights and Cultural Belonging. Using his diverse academic background, Parekh molds his classes and research to a spectrum of subjects.
“One of the things that really drew me to TAE was what I can do with English as a base,” Parekh said. “I am able to do different kinds of projects that don't necessarily meet disciplinary standards or norms.”
Using examples from theorists like Karl Marx, Parekh leads his students into abstract thought and applies it to modern Western issues. Even if theories were originally intended for a specific demographic, he believes they give insight on the human race at large. Parekh hopes to expand students’ point of views on what it means to be human without the considerations of race or gender.
Parekh said that in order to analyze abstract theories through a historical lens, he must apply them to the present day. It’s imperative to be confident in the basic fundamentals of learning.
“One thing I stress in all of my classes is learning how to read. It’s important that we become readers who can enter the imaginative universe that the text has opened for us,” Parekh said. “A universe where people may have very different convictions, very different desires than our own. How is it that we can actually learn to read these novels, poetry, plays and other cultural forms? How can we suspend our judgments and learn how to read?”
Parekh’s classes, such as Globalization and Literary Culture, read all forms of text, including prose and film, with indigenous Native American and African origins. He hopes to instill a student interest in further understanding other cultures. In doing so, Parekh makes it a point to let his students form their own opinions.
“I always tell my students not to take my lecture notes as the authority on the subject. What I am really trying to teach them is to learn to read well enough that they can independently agree or disagree,” Parekh said. “I am not interested in students just repeating what I have to say.”
When approaching new material, Parekh encourages his students to engage with the reading or viewing together. Understanding how and why text manipulates itself gives careful insight to foreign experiences.
“I don't see the classroom as me talking at the students, but as a collective,” Parekh said. “How does a novel or film invite us into its world and how does it push us out? From that we can learn how it wants us to view the time period and its peoples.”
While Parekh enjoys taking advantage of multiple liberal arts disciplines, he also enjoys working with his colleagues and students.
“People take their work very seriously here and there’s a really terrific community of scholars,” Parekh said. “And by scholars I don't only mean professors but other faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students.”
When he thinks about his students’ future — after they have moved on from his classes — Parekh’s wish is that they see life differently with a more open mind.
“We do not work in the classroom only to turn it off and go,” said Parekh. “The real idea is to take what you're reading about, then carefully think through it so you can move your own sense on how you act, do and think in the world.”
Last Updated: 3/1/17