Joel Iwaskiewicz ′10
Major: English Major, Film Studies Minor
Hometown: Nashua, NH
Fun fact: Joel directs the Woolsocks a cappella group and was elected Mr. Rhodes by his fellow students.
Have you changed during your time at Rhodes?
Unbelievably. I’ve even changed since the beginning of my senior year.
The last part is easy. I decided fairly early that I wanted to get a Ph.D. and become an English professor. Then, last semester, I took Professor Scott Newstok’s senior seminar, The Return to Philology, in which we looked at literature in a whole new way. It made me rethink my goals as a graduate student. As a result, instead of applying to graduate programs I’m applying for teaching jobs at prep schools in the Northeast. I want to be sure of what I’m looking for before I start the application process.
What about before that?
I grew up in a suburban area of New Hampshire so, of course, the South was different. But it’s been much more than that. Engaging in service—I’m a Bonner Scholar—and three international experiences have been unbelievably broadening. I am much better informed because of the cultures, histories, and languages I’ve encountered.
Let’s start with the trips abroad.
I participated in two alternative spring break trips to Reynosa, Mexico, to build houses, and I also spent a summer in Juarez, Mexico. Both gave me a different view of poverty than the one I see in Memphis. Last year I took film studies, Czech history, and language classes in Prague. While abroad, I lived with a local family and volunteered as an English language tutor at a school for youth with disabilities. It was all just great. I felt completely accepted by the people, and, for the first time, everywhere I went people could pronounce my name!
You mentioned poverty in Memphis. What’s your experience with that?
I volunteer at More Than Art, a program at a local church for homeless and formerly homeless people. The program was founded and is maintained by Rhodes students in conjunction with the church’s More Than a Meal program. Guests at the meal come early, and we all do art work together. It is a warm and friendly place with all kinds of supplies, and there’s always music playing. As we create art together, we become friends. It has become quite a unique community, and I always look forward to Thursday afternoons.
What does all this have to do with the study of literature?
Literature presents many points of view, and we have to have a context in which to understand them. Entering Rhodes as a sheltered suburban kid from the Northeast I might have once had a limited understanding of or empathy for the homeless. Now, when I pick up a literary text I am much more likely to be able to step into the shoes of richly diverse characters. I feel tremendously privileged to have had the opportunity to experience and join such wide-ranging communities. I also believe it has helped me become a better human being.