Interview with Ahmet Atay
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Ahmet Atay Interview
Edited by Matthew Harris-Ridker and Ahmet Atay for clarity
[00:00:02] MHR: Ok, I'm here where Ahmet Atay. It is June 13 . Hello Dr. Atay!
[00:00:08] AA: Hello! Hi.
[00:00:09] MHR: Thank you for being a part of this!
[00:00:13] AA: Of course! It's my pleasure!
[00:00:14] MHR: Alright so to start off this interview, can you tell me where you are from and how you ended up as a professor at the College of Wooster.
[00:00:23] AA: Sure! I am originally... I was born in Cyprus but I've been in the U.S. about twenty years now, so I guess I'm there and here simultaneously. I was looking for jobs as soon as I got my PhD. And it was the recession, so there wasn't that many jobs. So I took a job University of Louisville for a year and then the following year. This position opened up in the Department of Communications so I applied and I took this job and I had been here since then. Was I planning to be here? No. I didn't know anything about College of Wooster until I applied to the job. I did not even hear about it. But now I know quite a lot about it and it's fun to be here.
[00:01:10] MHR: So what got you interested in the WGSS Discipline and what was your experience with WGSS before coming to Wooster?
[00:01:19] AA: Sure, I'm always interested in the gender issues but I did not take my first class until my second year in the Masters Program, which I took the Feminist Theory class. And after that I started to take more gender classes in the Masters Program and continue to do so in the PhD Program. I think I completed probably eight-nine courses in either gender or queer related issues. In my dissertation, looked at queer... the queer body is using the cyber space. So even my research was... ended up being in the gender/queer related issues. So as soon as I graduated and took my first job at University of Louisville, I was asked to be part of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department as an affiliate faculty and I taught a course, Gender and Communication, through that Program. And once I arrived here I wanted to keep going with the WGSS and gender related work. So I contacted, back then, the chair of the Program, Nancy Grace, and said, "you'll be great! We would like to have you to contribute classes." So I proposed some classes, now they're cross listed and, you know, down the road I'd formulize my relationship with the Program.
[00:02:36] MHR: Very nice! So what was it like being, I guess, a male professor in a largely female Department or also a student when you were taking classes?
[00:02:46] AA: Sure. It is very very different because... I had a similar thought when I took the Feminist Theory class. It was a large lecture class, we had 150 people in it and there were only two men. So, a hundred and forty eight woman and two men. The ratio was outstandingly completely different. So I filled a similar vein here that I am the first male chair of the Program. I am the first international person who is chairing the Program. So it comes with responsibility. It's also odd that I'm chairing a Department, or a Program, that is inherently meant for women's issues but then spread it open to include more gender issues and the queer issues.
[00:03:31] So, I believe that even though it is kind of interesting to work with a lot of women, they are also...respect and value what I bring to the table. The feminist ideals, the queer ideals that are non U.S. based and different ways of looking at gender and talking about gender. And more and more I'm trying to attract also male faculty who can step in and open up spaces to talk about gender from masculinity point of view or the queer point of view. So, that's my responsibility to reach out and invite more people.
[00:04:08] MHR: Yeah, so... I mean as a student I believe you and one other professor have been only two male professors I ever took [WGSS] classes [with]. So is there like... is it hard to find male professors to come teach at Wooster?
[00:04:26] AA: I think it is hard to find male professors who are really invested in the feminist issues historically. Now we have a new cohort of people who are more interested in it but not necessarily able to teach courses because of their departmental responsibilities. So most of the... most of the courses, except maybe the masculinity course that have been taught, is taught by the woman at the College of Wooster. And it's hard to find people who are taking feminist perspective, or queer perspective, or both, or intersectional perspectives but also freeing them up time or to teach courses. It's also very much of a challenge.
[00:05:13] MHR: Yeah, I mean I was asking these questions because as a student, as a male student, I'm also very much, like, the only male students in these WGSS classes I'm taking and I've always been curious about integrating more men into the Discipline. Yeah.
[00:05:32] AA: I mean I hope that you will have more courses in at least Masculinity or Queer Masculinity combinations that will attract more students. More students start seeing that this is valuable of who they are, what they do. So and male students is a particular. So, we need to work on that a bit more. Next year you're on the... on the board so you can help me with that.
[00:05:56] MHR: Yes! Cool. So how have you seen as... since you've been a professor at Wooster, how have you seen the WGSS Program change? Or if you have seen any change?
[00:06:09] AA: I have. At the time that I came in there was a larger cohort of people who contributed to the WGSS. And for a variety of reasons those people retired, left the college or transferred somewhere else. So there was an erosion of those bodies. So now we are trying to actively recruit a lot of young people who can actually fill some of the void, or the gap, that is created by the departures. So that has been an issue for us that we will hopefully address down the road. But the exciting news that we also got awarded a tenure track line and this is one of a kind. In forty years of the history, that's the first full line that the WGSS is getting outside of Christa. So it is the most exciting development. But also there are other issues of people who are leaving. So that is affecting us. But also people who are committed to WGSS being put into other responsibilities so they cannot really offer courses in the WGSS. So we have to manage that dynamic. It is something new for us as well. So it's a good development but also some negative developments that we have to overcome.
[00:07:27MHR: ] Your point about the tenure track, and it being like the first of its kind. A lot of people I've been talking to have been talking about how an issue they have at the WGSS Department at Wooster currently is the fact that we have these awesome visiting professors come in for a year or two and then you get really attached to them and what they teach. And then when you become a senior they aren't there anymore...
[00:07:53] AA: Yep, yep.
[00:07:53] MHR: ...To be your I.S. advisor. So, how do you see, like, the tenure track really, like, helping the Program in the future?
[00:08:02] AA: I think it's going to help to grow, first of all. But, second of all it's going to stabilize the Program. The students are going to feel that there is, in addition to Christa, another person fully in the Program and the rest of us are committed to it will contribute or chair the Program. So, it will stabilize the Program. It will make the advising, I.S. advising, easier. So that person can overlook for four people or, depending on the years, seven people or whatever the numbers will be. So there will be more relationship building between that person and the community building within that person and the student body. But also that person can grow the Program, the numbers go up and we will have the same issue yet again. So... and that's a good problem to have. Right? It's a very good problem to have. So I am hopeful that this person will help us to stabilize and the growth the Program, more than anything else.
[00:09:04] MHR: Yeah that's something that I hope for future students at Wooster, too.
[00:09:10] AA: Yes.
[00:09:12] MHR: You sort of talked about this a little bit, but what are some big strengths you see of the Department currently and what are some weaknesses you see of the Department?
[00:09:22] AA: I think the biggest strength is being very interdisciplinary. It borrows from all kinds of places and within the college. And that is something that I always celebrated. And that comes with also some of the burden because if we cannot free up people to contribute or take on an I.S. advising then it becomes an issue. So, there is a good and the bad thing that interdisciplinary way of looking at it. The good is the college is committed to it. They're giving us a whole line. We're committed to it, so we see that commitment in the number of students interested in the classes as well as the majors or the minor. So there is a growth in there. So those are all the good stuff. The bad stuff is definitely the staffing. And something as a chair that I am facing, the staffing comes with either the lack of courses that the students can take. Also some of the courses that we need and we cannot staff them because there is nobody who can teach those. So I would like to see somebody who can teach classes on trans issues, somebody who is continuously offering a class on masculinity and more queer courses in the books to come up more frequently. But in order to do it... to do that we need more bodies who are willing to offer those courses but also Departments that free up time for those people who can teach those courses.
[00:10:46] MHR: The question that just popped into my head is... the WGSS Department is such a small Department and it is relatively new and we're talking about how this tenure track is, like, a big deal for the department because it shows that the school is really supporting the growth of it. Has it felt, since you've been a professor, that the school's always, like, supported the WGSS Department? Because a lot of times, I know, there can be controversy with WGSS Departments, as it's like, "oh it's not, like, a legitimate area of study. Like, why is it Women's Studies? Why shouldn't we have male studies, too?" So has it felt like the college has always supported the Program? And, like, wanted to see it grow? Or, is it, like, as the Programs grown and there's been more interest then they start taking more initiative in it?
[00:11:40] AA: I mean my understanding... that before even I got here when Joanne Frye originally built the Program there was support and there was commitment from certain Departments, such as English, History, Art History, Religious Studies, that they were committed to it. And that commitment came in with extra work or ability to take a course release in a Department and contributed to the Program. So those Departments see that as support and the college supported that. And there were times that when the students are down, they say, "Oh you don't need the extra people. You can survive." But they really show the commitment to the Program because it means that no matter how small or large we can get, there is one and a half permanent position in the Program. It is a huge deal comparatively. And I think more now there are faculty member who are advocating for queer issues or trans issues in addition to women's issues. So they see those as attached additional layers at they feel like diversity is a commitment. So in addition to women's issues we're also committing to other diversity issues that are housed in the WGSS Programs. So now the WGSS is seen as a hub for diversity as the colleges engage into the conversations with diversity and engagement. We are using WGSS as one of those stand points or hot bed. It houses diversity that is extremely valuable for the college. So therefore that becomes another way of they are showing commitment and value because it adds diversity.
[00:13:24] MHR: With the Program being so interdisciplinary and growing, a lot of times, for me at least, there's just so many cross-listed classes that we can take. And they've all been awesome. Do you find, sometimes, that somebody wants to cross-list and they think that the Program is really relevant to WGSS majors but it's not actually relevant. Like, I guess talk about the process of how do you decide if a class really is appropriate to be cross-listed.
[00:14:00] AA: We ask for a syllabus. We look at the readings and the goals of the course. And one of the things that we are committed to... we want the courses to be offered from a feminist standpoint rather than having as, like, an added unit to it. Or a queer perspective.
[00:14:17] So we are interested in courses that builds on the idea of we're going to look at the feminist foundation, the queer foundation and also if it's possible take an intersectional perspective to look at the other elements attached to it. So if there is a course that is going to cover a gender in one day, out of how many, we are not interested in cross- listing that. But if, let's say, there is a course in feminism and film that builds on the idea of feminism, that is what we're interested in. That approach from the day one to the end of it with their assignment, with the readings, with the idea of building feminist sensibilities in the class. We are interested in that.
[00:15:03] MHR: Yeah I ask that question has I've talked to some alumnus of the Program who were students, and they were talking about how when they were there it sort of seemed there was starting to be a transition from classes that were appropriate for WGSS cross-listed versus classes that just because they had the word "women" in it...
[00:15:26] AA: Yeah.
[00:15:27] MHR: ...then it would've been cross-listed. So, has there been, like, a change in how you or how the Discipline, like, decides what's appropriate?
[00:15:36] AA: I think there is a shift from, I guess, late 90s onward looking at the intersectionality, right? So we are not only looking at the women's issues but we are looking at different gender issues and also women's issues with them. So most of the people who have trained before that, they might have taken courses that did not do that work. Therefore they don't have enough training. And the new people are coming out of the PhD Programs in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies or with certificates that they do that work in different levels. So there is a value on looking solely on women's issues.
[00:16:15] Of course there is. But we also want some of the courses to take more of an intersectional prospective. To look at the issues that are women's issues, but they have different elements to it. So...and once you have a course it is crossed listed, we cannot take it back, right? Because that person might develop that and that was needed at the time. Now we cannot ask for a new syllabus because it's already approved and it's already in the books and it's already been cross-listed. But what we can do; monitor when there's a shift between that person and another person is teaching the class that they are actually integrating some of the new voices in the courses that they are teaching. So they are not going to be outdated.
[00:17:04] MHR: So another question I have is, what do you think the most valuable thing students learn in WGSS classes or... and then to follow up with that, why is WGSS such an important area of study, especially at a school like the College of Wooster?
[00:17:22] AA: I think the WGSS is, again, where we are in terms of the politics and the cultural shifts. WGSS became one of those important Departments that does the diversity work, right? So it is important for the College of Wooster students to come into WGSS courses where they can learn about women's issues, but also they can learn about transnational feminism, they can learn about queer lives, they can learn about issues pertaining gender, sexuality, and other identity elements. So this Program does work on identity as an umbrella that focuses on gender, but intersects with the other things.
[00:18:04] So I think students come into the Program, as well as taking the courses that might not be the majors, they learn about critical lenses to look at the society where we are. Looking at women's issues, looking at gender issues that can add sexuality issues, but also become more of aware of the diversity and the layers of the diversity and the complexities of it. So we try to give them critical perspectives to interrogate what does it mean to be gendered, or gender queer, or black lesbian, or black feminist, or transnational person, or a trans person. In this time of the where we are going in terms of the society, but also historically what has been done and why is it important to look at the history to understand all the fights that people fought so we can enjoy some of the liberties that we have. So it largely introduces to them a critical lens to look at issues pertaining woman and gender and sexuality, but also gives them other tools to interrogate the society at large and to question the power structures around us. Political, economic, or otherwise.
[00:19:15] MHR: So, especially at a school like College of Wooster which is, like, a small town in Ohio which...there's definitely, I guess, a struggle with the students on campus and the town that surrounds us. So, how do you see WGSS being important as like, sort of, that kind of relationship?
[00:19:36] AA: I think WGSS gives students a community as an intellectual community, but also a community that they can thrive and they feel like they belong to even down here earth surrounded by, maybe, a lot of people who are more conservative or they don't practice some of the things that we value. So therefore we give them a house. Also we give them a position to speak from.
[00:20:03] We support what they do on campus and outside of the campus their involvement in the community. So I see WGSS as a Program that is a hub of critical thinking, but also a community that supports no matter how different or similar you are and value that within and outside of the college. And we want to address that from the first day somebody declares a major that, you know, you're part of a learning community but you also learn to become an activist and that's okay and we support you in that endeavor as well.
[00:20:43] MHR: Yeah! Speaking of what we learn, what's a favorite class you have taught within the WGSS Discipline, and what are the goals you, sort of, hoped your students would get out of that class?
[00:20:56] AA: One of the secondary core-courses that we have is the one that I teach; Media, Gender, Race, Sexuality. It's looking at gender, race, sexuality in the media. I like teaching that course. I think you're surrounded by the media nonstop and I want the students to get a critical lens looking at the representations of diverse bodies, but also looking at the self-representation in the new media that you all engage in. What do you do? How do you represent yourself in particular ways? And question the ways in which you represent yourself. I think students enjoy the class because we look at historically where we were and looking at the television, the film, and the growth of the representations. But also looking at the new media and understanding, you know, how much what... the ways in which represent ourselves is replicating the stereotypical representations and how we go and challenge those.
[00:21:56] I think students really enjoy the media part as well as looking at the gender elements. So I wish I can offer that course more frequently to accommodate more students, but I hope it happens. Now it's not happening that much but that's one of my favorite courses at the college!
[00:22:15] MHR: That sounds really interesting!
[00:22:17] AA: Take it!
[00:22:27] MHR: I know! Hopefully it'll be offered while I'm still there. I'll have to come back for it!
[00:22:25] AA: You must!
[00:22:26] MHR: Yes! So we already talked a little bit about what you want to see the Program look like and being in the future. But, as the new chair of the Department, do you have any other goals you want to achieve within the Program? Or how do you see the Program moving forward especially, as you said, being the first male, the first international chair as well and bringing all of those things into the Program as a whole?
[00:22:58] AA: I would like to see, first of all, that we have a successful hire.
[00:23:04] MHR: Yes!
[00:23:12] AA: And that hire brings what we don't have and what we desperately need; other diversity elements to the WGSS Program. So that's one of my top priorities for next year. But starting next year, and also my third year as the chair, I hope to develop a Queer minor, Queer Studies minor that is housed in WGSS but also is a interdisciplinary Program that borrows from other Programs, so that minor can give us a different kind of energy, commitment, and excitement. And we can also have more courses in the Queer Studies because currently there is only one course that has a Queer title in it and definitely I think the students are interested in it.
[00:23:49] There is a growing interest of that, so I hope that I can achieve that as well.
[00:23:55] MHR: Awesome! I think it'd be awesome to have a Queer Studies minor!
[00:23:58] AA: I think so, too!
[00:23:58] MHR: Yeah! How would it be, sort of, a, like, companion Program to WGSS? Or, like, what you want it to be like? But... talk about that a little more.
[00:24:09] AA: I think we really need other core-courses... such as we need a core-course on queer theory meaning that we need a course on transnational queer. We need a course in queer politics and some queer history. So those would be the elements that will make the core of the study and the others will be electives that come from the WGSS dimension. So there is a queer core and the rest will be the secondary core that really supplements through the WGSS. At the moment we have core faculty who is trained to teach queer courses but we don't have the time or the space to do so. So one of the things that we need to negotiate to release us from some of the duties and start teaching these courses if it's possible.
[00:25:02] MHR: That's awesome! That sounds so cool. It's also cool, too, because I know a lot of people in different areas of study love WGSS courses but don't have the time to, like, take all the WGSS classes and I think having a Queer Studies minor might be a really interesting way for them to be involved but not feel like they can't take the courses.
[00:25:26] AA: Yeah, and also I think it's good for us because I look at other Programs in Ohio, looking at liberal arts school. Denison has a Queer Studies Program and some of the other colleges also have a Queer minor.
[00:25:41] We are one of the rare ones that don't have it, so if you want to be competing with them in that capacity we have to get there. And I hope that the college will commit to it. And I know the diversity conversations that we have engaged last year and this year, I hope that there will be more acceptance and push towards acceptance of that minor sooner than later.
[00:26:06] MHR: Yeah. No, that's very exciting.
[00:26:08] AA: Yeah.
[00:26:09] MHR: I feel like the WGSS Department right now is in, sort of, an exciting moment of really beginning to push forward and expand.
[00:26:17] AA: I think so too. I think we caught a good energy and if we can bank on it we can do great stuff.
[00:26:23] MHR: Yeah! I think those are actually all the questions I have, but I want to know if you have anything else you want to ask me or bring up or say about WGSS at Wooster?
AA: I want to say thank you for tackling these projects. You are doing something very valuable and I can speak for all of the past chairs that we really appreciate what you are working with Catie and Christa on this. So thank you. And I am also looking forward to have you on board next year so we will carry on these conversations and also materialize some of this stuff next year.[00:27:02] MHR: Yeah! I'm looking forward to it.