Hey! So glad you asked.
When you first arrive at Bennington, the dean’s office assigns you a faculty advisor based on the courses you’ve preregistered for (so if you’ve signed up for, say, ceramics, psych, dance, and something in CAPA, your faculty advisor will most likely be within one of those fields). As a freshman, your faculty advisor is essentially a resource for all academic questions and/or concerns that emerge over the course of your year. Throughout your time here, you will have numerous opportunities to change advisors. This happens a lot when folks begin to focus their studies and realize they would like someone that’s more within their area(s) of concentration. Every student has a different relationship with his or her faculty advisor, so how much you see them is pretty personal! Some people are absolute besties with theirs and see them at least once a week, for others it’s only once in a blue moon. Sophomore year, I definitely would say that your faculty advisor becomes a bigger part of your academic career. When it comes time to propose your Plan to a panel of faculty members (also chosen by the dean’s office, and also faculty who are in your areas of study), your advisor will review your proposal / revise anything that needs work / calm your nerves in case you are hyperventilating. They are also present during your Plan meeting, so you can rest assured you will know at least one faculty member! I really found that I relied on my advisor a lot during my third term, which is when student’s first write and propose their plans. Since then, Valerie Imbruce (my advisor) and I haven’t met quite as frequently, but I still feel like I can come to her with any concerns I have. She also is an excellent cook and knows all about where to forage for local, wild produce (like ramps! yes!) so that’s usually where most of our conversations end up going.
As for professors in general: It’s hard for me to make too many generalizations because each one is so different in my mind. I do think there’s a common belief among the faculty, however, that a learning experience is a collaboration between professor and student. They also are just really, super into being here and sharing what they do. As a student, feeling your professor’s enthusiasm for working with you/ reading/ listening/ observing your work is SUPER validating. As social psych professor Ron Cohen put it, “Teachers here teach what keeps them up at night” (We love Ron!).
Hope that helped some!
- Julia ‘15
45 minute phone conference at 8 o’clock at night with a playwrighting professor about the song cycle I’m writing for a joint dance/drama class that I’m taking as a music student.
If I had to think of one story that summed up as many of the reasons I love Bennington as possible, I’d be hard pressed to find a better one.
Why thank you!
As far as creative writing goes here, there really isn’t a technical program. The literature faculty believe that good writers are great readers, so before you write anything, you’ll be spending a whole lot of time analyzing and writing about literature and/or poetry.
That being said, it is certainly possible to study creative writing here, and many people do it successfully. Within those literature and poetry classes, there are often opportunities to write creatively, and as you become an upper classman, you begin to have opportunities to work individually with professors on creative work.
The senior lit students just had their reading of their senior projects on Wednesday, and out of 6 students, 4 of them wrote something relatively creative, from a historical fiction novel based on a Don Quixote character, to a collection of poems about smoking translated from Spanish to English.
Creative writing here is something you have to work for and persevere at on your own, but all of the lit faculty here are fantastic published writers, and their input on your work is super valuable.
I haven’t taken the Paradise Lost or Rhetoric courses, but I have taken The Social Construction of Silence and loooove talking about it. Maybe some other current students can let us know a little more about the other classes?
I took the Social Construction of Silence and have nothing but good things to say about it. For one, Ron Cohen is an amazing professor – I have never encountered someone so dedicated and passionate about teaching! One of Ron’s particular research interests is silence, particularly as it relates to justice. Instead of thinking about silence as simply a lack, or absence, Ron works to show how silence is socially constructed - that is, how silence is produced through social interaction, social norms, and the like (e.g. silencing is a process] and is instead a presence. As in all of his classes, the readings and texts we draw from are primarily social psychology, psychology, and sociology. But there are also many other perspectives brought in, including anthropological and historical literature, linguistics, and the mass media. Students conduct their own original research, so you get to bring in your own personal interests and questions as they connect the the broader theme of silence.
Here is the abstract from one of this recent papers, “Silencing Objections: Social Constructions of Indifference,” published in the Journal of Human Rights:
“This article addresses the question: Why is there so often silence in the face of injustice? Much of this silence is socially constructed, the result of a process through which possible (and, often, previously audible) objections to injustice are muffled, not by modifying the conditions giving rise to the objections, but by other means. Not all silences are socially constructed, of course, and some of those that are may have the genuine endorsement of all those who observe them. The author examines those socially constructed silences that are clearly not uncontested or incontestable and, drawing on Stanley Milgram’s classic work on obedience to authority and other, more, contemporary social psychological research, attempts to understand the social construction of various forms of silence and their consequences for current and future forms of injustice.”
We want stories to stir our desires. We also want them to lead us to places we don’t recognize and build us a temporary residence there. Bergman provides alluring glimpses into the strangeness, the ruthlessness, of the animal kingdom. We learn that “in captivity, the jaguar mother is capable of devouring her own cubs”; that “today’s whales sing lower songs, and no one knows why”; that superstitious villagers in Madagascar claim aye-ayes can “pierce” a human aorta “with their middle finger.
I’m consistently impressed with my professor’s qualifications. Just as an example, my friend Jason and I are in a tutorial in which we create a podcast called The Bennington Radio Project. It’s just the two of us and we meet with our two professors, Julie Last and Scott Lehrer, every week (they take turns coming every other week to teach us) and I’m always amazed that these really awesome impressive people are sitting next to me one on one and talking about my admittedly limited skills in Pro Tools and taking the work I do so seriously.
Scott received the first Tony Award for Best Sound Design (they only started awarding it in 2008) for his work on South Pacific and has been nominated for a couple of others since. He’s also won and been nominated for several Drama Desk Awards. Here’s a New York Times article about him and the increasing recognition of the value of sound design.
Julie is amazing - she’s a fabulous recording engineer who is one of the few women who were successfully working in the 70s and 80s. She was specially invited to work on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy album. She’s worked with Joni Mitchell, Liz Phair, Cheap Trick, Madonna, Brian Eno, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Aerosmith, The Clash, Iggy Pop, Chaka Khan, The Indigo Girls, Peter Frampton, Michael Jackson…and me.
Unfortunately, Bernard Cooper is not a member of the literature faculty for undergraduate students. Several of the literature faculty for our undergraduate program teach in the MFA in Writing program (which is low-residency and here when we are off at Field Work Term or summer break) and I know that faculty that teach in the MFA program have been hired to teach us undergraduates too in the past (sometimes as regular faculty and sometimes as visitors for a term or two). That being said, I wouldn’t count on Bernard Cooper being hired to teach you.
These are the literature faculty this term:
In the fall Doug Bauer teaches and I know that we are right now searching for two more literature faculty members (one of whom will be a poet).
One last thing: While the MFA program is here when most students are not, I know that I’ve had several friends who have been hired as program assistants and have gotten to stick around and sit in on lectures and readings!
Interviewer: There are some who say teaching doesn’t do the writer much good; in fact it restricts life and homogenizes experience. Isn’t a writer better off on the staff of The New Yorker, or working for the BBC? Faulkner fed a furnace and wrote for the movies.
Malamud: Doesn’t it depend on the writer? People experience similar things differently. Sometimes I’ve regretted the time I’ve given to teaching, but not teaching itself. And a community of serious readers is a miraculous thing. Some of the most extraordinary people I’ve met were students of mine, or colleagues. Still, I ought to say I teach only a single class of prose fiction, one term a year. I’ve taught since I was twenty-five, and though I need more time for reading and writing, I also want to keep on doing what I can do well and enjoy doing.
Interviewer: Humanity? Are you suggesting art is moral?
Malamud: It tends toward morality. It values life. Even when it doesn’t, it tends to. My former colleague, Stanley Edgar Hyman, used to say that even the act of creating a form is a moral act. That leaves out something, but I understand and like what he was driving at. It’s close to Frost’s definition of a poem as “a momentary stay against confusion.” Morality begins with an awareness of the sanctity of one’s life, hence the lives of others—even Hitler’s, to begin with—the sheer privilege of being, in this miraculous cosmos, and trying to figure out why. Art, in essence, celebrates life and gives us our measure.
Interviewer: It changes the world?
Malamud: It changes me. It affirms me.
Malamud: (laughs) It helps.