Saturday, January 9, 2016 by Geghard Arakelian
As a previously active member of AFFMA, I wanted to extend my gratitude and appreciation for having been able to take part in an organization dedicated to the arts. It is my understanding that members of AFFMA recently had the opportunity to express their own personal thanks in statements that were written via email and then shared—I would like to do the same.
Back in 2009 school became too demanding. I had to shift over from being an active member to an outside observer. In the years since, I have earned my M.A. in English, graduating with honors from CSUN. In 2013, I was accepted into various PhD programs and even passed on an offer from UC Davis’ doctoral program in Cultural Studies to attend Syracuse University. I am now three years into my PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition and getting ready to start writing my dissertation. As a note of consideration, my dissertation is an inquiry into America’s response to the Armenian Question through silent-cinema and war-propaganda, from 1918-1923.
My program is demanding and difficult for many reasons. However, at times the most demanding aspects of my program, surprisingly, have less to do with the actual work. The difficulty can often stem from peer-to-peer and peer-to-mentor interaction. I grew up working class/poor, as many first and second generation Armenians being raised in Glendale do; and, working class culture can be confrontational. I taught myself to be defensive, suspicious, and suspect of people by default. Defense is a natural mechanism and is often a safe resort for people who grew up under economic constraint and among hostile racial relations. The traits mentioned above became guiding principles to my own personal handbook of social interaction—be leery of empathy, close your ears to sincerity, drive a wedge into patience, so on and so forth. My world would be turned upside down as soon as I reached my doctoral program, at Syracuse: listening, consideration, patience are all hallmarks of my program. My defense mechanisms would have turned against me and eaten me alive had it not been for the values that were instilled in me by AFFMA.
What AFFMA and its esteemed members did was simple: they listened. Listening espouses co-collaboration. And listening prepared me to respectfully engage with my cohort and department staff. Listening, in this case, is not to be conflated with complicity. No. Listening is much more; it is a virtue; it takes critical engagement with the ideas and notions being mediated. Listening puts the individual to task with parsing out the merits and silver linings of what is being conveyed from the speaker. It is the job of the listener to ask themselves “how does what is being said make sense to the person speaking and how can it be put to work?”, first, rather than to start from the cold, simple point of “this does not make sense.” To close, listening is a craft and it can very well feel like an arduous process at times but it provides for an essential professionalizing quality that fosters community; that helps to build confidence in other people; that provides the chance to sift to the merit of one’s idea instead of pushing it down stream before it’s had its chance. I am grateful that I was taught to catch on to the virtues of listening before my old habits had a chance to damper my candidacy in my PhD program. For this reason, I am grateful to AFFMA.
Teaching Assistant, Composition and Cultural Rhetoric PhD Student