On Saturday, April 9, the English Graduate Student Association (EGSA) hosted an online symposium titled Performance and the Body in a Time of Contagion.
Twelve master’s and doctoral students from The University of Tulsa and other institutions presented papers alongside keynote speaker Pamela Gilbert, the Albert Brick Professor of English at the University of Florida.
English Ph.D. student and EGSA President Jacob Crystal said that the symposium planners settled upon the theme when considering the non-stop academic rigor demanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I began to wonder what it might look like if we talked about how all of us must perform daily routines and functions while many of the world’s populations are battling the virus’ spread,” Crystal remarked. “Students were trying to work through what it means to be forced to function like everything is perfectly fine, when in fact the world is being ravaged by the pandemic.”
Meshing perfectly with the symposium’s theme, Gilbert’s keynote presentation was titled “Contagion, Bleak House and the Limits of Community.” Following this fascinating account of Dickens’ novel in the context of sanitation processes in 19th-century London were remarks by TU President Brad Carson. After that, attendees enjoyed three student-chaired panels focusing on “The Body and Its Spaces,” “Race and Colonialism” and “Gender and Queerness.”
A network of peers
For Crystal, one of the major benefits for students of participating in the symposium is that it enabled them “to hear from other cohorts on what their current research interests are, which oftentimes leads to a collective of students who are then able to talk about and engage with the same topics. This fosters a network of peers that want to help each other with their research and educate them on their findings.”
For her part, presenter and English MA student Mikala Richardson was a fan of the virtual delivery mode: “I think the advantage of a symposium like this one is that it’s accessible. Students and professors who might not have been able to attend due to distance and situation are able to simply find a Wi-Fi location and attend.”
Throughout the day, faculty support was strong both on and off screen, as many professors from the English department watched students present and interacted with them by asking questions about their papers and ideas. Crystal also emphasized how two professors, in particular, assisted with the creation of this year’s symposium: “I do want to give an acknowledgement to Drs. Dennis Denisoff and Laura Stevens for their constant support of what EGSA does, especially our annual symposium. We couldn’t do what we do without them.”