We’re thrilled to share with you this interview with Dean’s Distinguished Graduate Honorable Mention and American Studies senior Julie Reitzi. Here, she shares her experiences in American Studies over the past four years. Congratulations, Julie!
What was, or is, your favorite class in American Studies?
It’s so hard for me to pick. I found something great, useful, and perspective changing about every course that I took. This department has really great professors and lecturers.
I think one of the classes that impacted me the most personally, though, was Professor Cordova’s Mexican American Cultural Studies. I came out of the class with a new way of thinking about myself. Both this class and Christina Garcia’s Ethnicity and Gender: La Chicana gave me an identity term that worked for me – Chicana. It embraces the complexity that can exist for people of Mexican descent living in the United States, and also has a political edge. I also came away with a deep sense of the importance of keeping ethnic studies programs alive. I was amazed at how much history I had never even heard about. Some of us were even angry that we had been denied that kind of education.
As far as other influential classes, both Professor Lieu’s Asian Americans in Popular Culture and John Cline’s Global Power of the Funk really helped me grasp cultural studies theory and the importance of deconstructing popular culture. Professor Engelhardt’s Masculinity and Femininity intro course gave me a new way of thinking about gender roles – how they really are something we all participate in shaping. I never imagined a room full of sinister, robed men deciding how gender would operate in the United States, but it was good for me to complicate my understanding of patriarchy, to see it as something less top-down than my earlier conception was.
What are your research interests? Any particular interests you were able to pursue in American Studies or elsewhere (in class or in extracurricular activities)?
I have a lot of those… Mexican American Studies; Women’s Studies and Feminism(s); Queer Theory; Racism, Race and Identity; Immigration and the Border; Popular Culture and Film; Social Justice Movements; Transformative Justice; Interpersonal Violence Prevention; Cultural Studies… The list could probably go on.
I think my research and the extracurricular activities I’ve participated in reflect a lot of my academic interests. My honors thesis is about the impact of the drug war on the women and youth of Ciudad Juarez, a city that has been hard hit by economic downturn (as well as the ugly side of neoliberalism), a history of gendered violence, and an existing culture of impunity. It’s a very feminist project in that I focus on the agency of women and youth; whether they chose to participate in the drug economy or not isn’t something I really pass much judgment on. My goal is to look at the difficult choices they’re making in a really difficult environment. I also do some creative writing – short pieces about individual women that are intended to shift the attention to the experiences of individuals in a discourse of body counts. In a more abstract piece, I look at the city as a feminized body, imagining Ciudad Juarez as La Llorona herself– the weeping woman of borderlands lore who drowned her children for a man, but is ultimately rejected.
This academic year, John Cline and I took the film series in the direction of “The ‘Other’ Americans,” an exploration of the relationship between the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere. People who know me probably weren’t too surprised by the theme, or the fact that I was the one to introduce to “From Dusk Til Dawn…”
I also had the opportunity to develop my interest in interpersonal violence prevention by working with Voices Against Violence – an education and outreach program of the Counseling and Mental Health Center that focuses on dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. There are some glimpses of my VAV background in my thesis – I draw some comparisons between activism in Ciudad Juarez to reclaim spaces to the project of Take Back the Night – an annual walk during Sexual Assault Awareness Month that encourages survivors to speak out and walk at night together without fear.
Did your work inform or influence your post-graduate plans? How?
They kind of went hand-in-hand, really. My boss offered me an internship the summer after my freshman year because she thought my interests in history and women’s studies, as well as my familiarity with statistics because of my psychology background, would be a really good fit at the company. They’re a Human Resources consulting firm, so it helps to have a solid, researched understanding of why certain groups are legally protected classes, why affirmative action legislation was put in place, why it’s still important to have anti-harassment trainings for workplaces, and so on. I sometimes get research assignments at work and have to stay current on legislation, so the practice I have from American Studies papers and my thesis is a pretty direct application.
Why did you ultimately decide to study American Studies?
Well, I had a lot of credit from high school coming in, so I gave myself the opportunity to try out a lot of different Liberal Arts areas. I had a really hard time picking something to focus on; I loved Women’s and Gender Studies, I found Sociology interesting, I loved the African American Studies class I took. I think I switched majors and minors about four times. I eventually learned about American Studies from a friend who was in the program, James Clark. He really found a way to make his interest in social justice work with the program, so that was a huge draw for me. I ended up taking a similar path; I’ve kind of brought my activism into my academic life and vice versa. To join in the oft-repeated refrain of this department, I also really loved being able to study just about anything and having the support of a small, close-knit department. Having Val as an academic advisor is immeasurably better than the experience I had with the stockade-style advising for undeclared students.
Julie Reitzi is an American Studies Honors and Psychology major, minoring in Philosophy. She conducts interpersonal consent workshops and served as the 2010-2012 Voices Against Violence student organization president. She co-founded a feminist zine collective, and is committee chair of the 2011-2012 American Studies film series, “The ‘Other’ Americans.” She also serves on the Student Leadership Committee of the Gender and Sexuality Center. Her research interests include: feminisms, interpersonal violence prevention, border theory, race and racism in the United States, popular culture and film studies, social justice movements, and queer theory. After graduation she will work for a Human Resources Consulting firm in Houston, TX, where she has interned for three years.