Students critique professor’s research

By Luis Aranda

Students typically present their papers or projects to their instructor in the hope of receiving positive feedback and constructive criticism when their assignment is returned. For one Spanish literature instructor and a group of students, the roles were reversed.

As part of the Latin American Paper Workshop, Dara Goldman, University professor of Spanish literature, presented her essay entitled “Dancing with the Enemy: Guantanamo and the Strategy of Undesirable Neighbors” to several of her graduate and undergraduate students at the International Studies Building on Tuesday.

The workshop is an initiative started two years ago by Nils Jacobsen, director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. The workshop serves as an open dialogue for instructors to present their works-in-progress to students and staff within the international studies department and representatives of other disciplines, Jacobsen said.

At least once a semester, Jacobsen invites faculty members or graduate students to come to the workshop to discuss their latest research work. Goldman’s presentation was the first of the semester, he said.

“The reality is very often, research and writing is a very isolated experience,” Goldman said. “It’s nice to present your work and have people consider it with a certain amount of care and intelligence and offer you feedback.”

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She offered her students extra credit in exchange for them to read her essay, summarize it, offer critical analysis, submit a discussion question and attend the workshop. The students were then welcome to share their thoughts on what worked well, what they did not understand and point out any discrepancies in the essay.

Despite a hesitant start, students spoke up about their ideas and shared them with Goldman. Guadalupe Arroyo, senior in LAS, attended the workshop because she enjoys Goldman’s lectures and wanted to see her work.

“She always has an interesting point of view,” Arroyo said of Goldman’s class. “I didn’t feel strange giving her any advice or comments.”

She added that Goldman treats her students at an equal intellectual level.

“I’ve never been able to have that type of relationship with a professor,” Arroyo said.

One of the issues that are discussed in the essay is American and Cuban relations in Cuba. The United States has a Naval base in Guantanamo Bay along the coast of the island. Cuban leader Fidel Castro is an adamant opponent of what he considers American imperialism and has been known to distrust the United States, despite having its presence along the coastal region.

Goldman visited the island numerous times for her research. The essay she wrote is part of what she hopes to be a compilation book of various works. Her presentation on Tuesday included pictures she took of her visits. The Cuban government does not allow photographing certain portions of Cuba.

“It was very interesting to see the length that (Goldman) took for her work,” Arroyo said. “You appreciate that length of effort she puts into her work.”

“That’s the part of my work that (the students) don’t usually see first-hand,” Goldman said.

The essay presented was a preliminary draft and Goldman hopes to incorporate the notes she took to make revisions in the coming weeks.

One of the advantages to working at a major research university like Illinois is that teachers are encouraged to have their work on display for students, Goldman said.

“(The students) were invited to challenge me, and see me being challenged, in the same way that I usually challenge them,” Goldman said. “I think that the role reversal of the workshop is closely connected to the dual function that professors should play as both teachers and learners.”