The short answer to this question is that new courses at NJCU must undergo a lengthy process during which a minutely detailed course proposal has to be approved by at least four levels of administration and five separate faculty committees. This proposal will include mysteriously coded terminology such as “DS4” (“Discipline-Specific Learning Outcome #4”) and “T2-CT7” (“Tier 2 Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Learning Goal #7”). A title must be chosen, and that title must be pithy, appealing, and yet informative; this is the hardest part of all.

Truth be told, the entire process is a huge ordeal. However, faculty continue to propose innovative new courses. Why do we put ourselves through all that? The answer to that question can usually be found somewhere at an intersection between the scholarly expertise of an individual faculty member and the needs and desires of current NJCU students.

For example, the earliest courses I proposed—back when NJCU was still Jersey City State College—drew heavily on the research I had done for my own dissertation at UCLA. I arrived in Jersey City in 1994 eager to share my expertise within the then-new field of Lesbian and Gay Studies as widely as possible. What really drove me to propose both “Lesbian and Gay Literature” and “Intro to LGBT Studes,” though, was student demand. Energized by worldwide struggles for LGBT rights and motivated by several homophobic incidents here on campus, members of a student group called the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Friends Alliance urged the NJCU administration to address LGBT interests in its curriculum—even before I was hired.

The next course I proposed was even more directly shaped by the needs and desires of NJCU students. In grad school in California, I had gained a solid grounding in U.S. Mexican (or “Chicano”) literature, but when I arrived at NJCU I was immediately struck by the rich diversity of the Latina/o students who made up a plurality in the student body, which of course reflected the diverse Latino communities that surrounded us here in urban New Jersey. I set about reading as widely as I could in literature by authors from Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Colombian, Brazilian, and other Latin American communities in the U.S. This led to the creation of “U.S. Latina/o Writers,” which has since been renamed “U.S. Writers of Latin American Descent.” (Names are so tricky!)

My newest course—a general education course called “Portugal Brazil North America: Stories of Migration,” which will be offered in spring 2017—has the sweetest backstory of all. Over the years I had realized that, if I wanted to responsibly teach literature by U.S. Latina/o writers, I would also have to be well grounded in the rich traditions of Latin American literature. To this end, I brushed up my rusty Spanish by spending a sabbatical semester in Mexico City and then studying in Costa Rica under an NJCU Title V internationalization grant. Later, I spent two further sabbaticals studying Portuguese in both Brazil and Portugal before zeroing in on a long-term research project on LGBT literature under the Brazilian military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985.

Just as I was plunging more deeply into my own scholarly exploration of Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language a few years ago, then-English major Jacqueline Da Silva expressed her desire to learn more about Brazil and her own Portuguese heritage. I suggested an independent study in which we would read contemporary literature from Portugal and Brazil, which then led to a second independent study—an in-depth research project on Portuguese and Brazilian immigrant writers in the U.S. and Canada.

In the end, Jacqueline became so excited about the work we were doing that she applied for (and received!) a prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant in Brazil. Well qualified for the position in part because of the sophisticated connections she could make between Portugal, Brazil, and the United States, Jacqueline traveled to the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais and taught English for a year at the Universidade Federal de Uberlândia. Meanwhile, I was so excited about the work we had done that I began proposing this new course through NJCU’s dynamic and growing Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies program.

New courses, then, don’t just happen; there’s a lot of hard work involved. But NJCU faculty agree it’s all worth it in the end. We get to share our own enthusiasm and expertise while helping the university to meet the ever-changing needs and desires of its abundantly diverse student body.

 

David Blackmore is Professor of English and Coordinator of the Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies program at NJCU. Born in Pittsburgh and raised in northwestern Pennsylvania, he received his BA from Harvard University and his MA and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. He has published articles in scholarly journals such as African American Review, The Hemingway Review, and Tranformations:  The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy, and he has an article in the forthcoming book Teaching the History of the English Language. During a spring 2016 sabbatical semester, Blackmore studied Portuguese at both the Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Rio de Janeiro and the Universidade de Lisboa in Lisbon.