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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Professor Profile: Rachel Rubin

American Studies professor and Faculty Staff Union president, Rachel Rubin
Negar Mortazavi
American Studies professor and Faculty Staff Union president, Rachel Rubin

For associate professor Rachel Rubin, the line between work and diversion can at times seem non-existent. Teaching in the American Studies department, professor Rubin integrates art, poetry, fiction, cartoons, movies, music, and even comic books into her curriculum. When asked about the benefit of using these different forms, Rubin responded, “It’s kind of fun, I think the main benefit is it allows students to see that historical arguments are being made everywhere around them.” The freedom to use these alternative forms is partly what attracted Professor Rubin to American Studies. Rubin believes that bringing in these other forms is essential to understanding the subject.In a course she teaches regularly, Music in American Literature, Rubin explores literature in which, “The writers that we read in class are extremely involved with popular music forms. In some cases they’re working very hard to approximate in their literary text, music…like a punk novel or a blues poem. So without allowing music in, there’s a limited understanding of the literature. Why should people in college make these divisions when the artists and writers themselves don’t?” Pop Music is one of Rubin’s fields of specialty within the American Studies Program. She describes herself as an avid music listener with a pension for seeing live shows. In November, Professor Rubin attended the Vote for Change Tour that included Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty. She also recently saw, and loved, Prince.

“I saw Prince and that was just phenomenal…the audience was so mixed in terms of race, age, class, and on the back of the ticket it said ‘wear something purple’ so there were all these people wearing completely different styles of purple,” says Rubin. In addition to teaching, Rubin just began this semester as the President of the Faculty Staff Union and is active in both local and national politics. Rubin says that, “The union was involved with the statewide elections in November, working to see that candidates who have what we consider to be destructive attitudes about public education didn’t get elected.” Rubin is also a contributing editor for a textbook for high school students that grew out of the American Studies major. The idea for the book came out of an American Studies course that is given at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. Professors from UMB’s American Studies department meet each year with the teacher of the course at Rindge and develop the class.

Professor Rubin explains that the course, “…allows students to have an early peek at what college courses are like,” and it might even change students’ minds that weren’t thinking of going to college.Students who take part can earn college credits if they decide to attend UMass. Rubin continues, “The idea of the book, and it has been extremely successful, is that it would help other places make that bridge between secondary education and college curriculum.” This semester, Rubin is teaching her first Honors Seminar on Appalachian Cultural History. The course was spurred by a Boston Globe article that led her to conduct a number of interviews dealing with stereotypes of the “hillbilly” figure.

“This course introduces students both to the ways people in Appalachia, and poor white Southerners, generally, have attempted to define themselves and the ways in which they are defined commonly from the outside,” she explains.

In constructing these definitions, Rubin will once again draw from course material that reaches beyond the academic norm. As with the remainder of her classes, Professor Rubin hopes that blurring these often-institutionalized lines between academia and every day culture will help her students connect with the material on both an intellectual and a personal level.