Rose Gubele: Aniyvwiya, Real People Living in the Present
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from (i.e., where did you grow up), etc.?
I was born in Santa Monica, California. My mother was a farmer’s daughter from South Dakota and my father was Cherokee. My family moved to Oregon when I was a baby, and I grew up in Portland, Oregon. I received my B.A. and M.A. in Northern California from Sonoma State University. I moved to Washington to attend WSU for my Ph.D. and I graduated in 2008. I went “on the market” when I was still ABD, and I was offered a position at Central Michigan University.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at Central Michigan and what your work is all about?
I was hired as the director of basic writing. I have a 2/2 load and a course release to administer the Basic Writing Program. I teach basic writing and rhetoric, and I recently started teaching courses for the American Indian Studies minor as well. For the administrative part of my position, I chair the Basic Writing Program Advisory Committee meetings, coordinate with the writing center, train new instructors, and oversee program placement in cooperation with the orientation office and the director of composition.
The position is very rewarding because I have the opportunity to help a lot of students. I often contact and meet with students who need to be moved to a different English class and work with them and the instructors to find a new class. For example, this semester we have record numbers of freshmen, so students trying to move from one class to another are having a really difficult time. All the courses are already full.
What obstacles did you overcome to obtain a position in your field? How have racial, gender, and class issues both hindered and enhanced your life and career?
I have had two main areas of emphasis in my career: basic writing and American Indian rhetoric, and both are tied to my own background. I started focusing on American Indian rhetoric because of my ancestry. I was very fortunate, because in my M.A., I worked with Julie Allen at Sonoma State University. She encouraged me to focus on American Indian rhetoric. Before that, I didn’t do it because few Native authors were introduced in classes, and, on the rare occasion that they were, instructors talked about stereotypical images that were offensive to me. When I tried to focus on cultural issues in my papers, teachers thought I was being “too narrow and one-sided” or “not objective enough.” I went away thinking I couldn’t focus on American Indian writers; I thought that I didn’t have a right to work with them. I was either not Indian enough (because I didn’t wear buckskin and feathers), or conversely, I was too Indian (because I wanted to write from a Native perspective). It was all very confusing. Julie changed all that. She encouraged me to be myself unapologetically and, in doing so, she helped me focus my career. Julie also encouraged me to go to WSU.
I also began working with basic writers at Sonoma State. I related well to basic writers because I am a former basic writer myself. I came from a blue-collar background, and I’m the first person in my family to get a degree, so I had a lot in common with many of my students. Often I had more in common with my students than I did with other graduate students and instructors. The connections I have with basic writers is ultimately what brought me to CMU.
How did WSU prepare you for the job you now do working as a Director of Basic Writing?
WSU prepared me in so many ways that I cannot list them all. I came to WSU to work with Victor Villanueva, and working with him literally changed my life. Victor was the one who really taught me to write in a way that is true to my own self. He also helped with my teaching. As busy as Victor is, he was always there for me and he still is. He has been helping me with every aspect of my career, from advice on administrative issues to publication venues, since I left WSU. Last semester, he came to CMU to give a talk.
Debbie Lee also taught me a great deal that has helped me in my career. I took her class my first year—Introduction to Scholarship. I remember that I didn’t want to take the class at first; I was reluctant because all of my classmates were in the M.A. program, so I felt like the one “different” student in the class. All the other Ph.D. candidates had taken an equivalent course elsewhere. I went to Will Hamlin before the class began and told him that I didn’t need it. He made me take it (Will has always been so good about knowing what we need, regardless of what we think we need). He said that I had never taken a class like it, so I should do it. I remember he said that it would be good for me. He was so right! I learned so much about publication and professionalization and I now pass that knowledge on to my own graduate students.
There are many other people at WSU who had a huge impact on me. My committee members, Carol Siegel and Lynn Gordon, did more than work with me on my dissertation. They both taught me different aspects of professionalization. My first publication came from one of Carol’s classes. Lynn taught me Cherokee and that has been a huge part of my career (part of the scholarship I do involves translating Cherokee texts). Will Hamlin, though I never took a class from him, really gave me the model for what a good, kind, administrator should be. Todd Butler and Kristin Arola helped me with every aspect of the job search. They read and provided feedback on my materials, gave me advice on interviewing, and listened to all of my anxiety with the patience of saints. Barbara Monroe and Bill Condon helped with the job search also, graciously volunteering to do a mock interview with me to prepare me for the MLA. Patti Ericsson has a former colleague and friend who works in the Basic Writing Program here at CMU and taught me everything I know about teaching technical writing (which I’ve taught twice).
I was also involved with the English Graduate Organization (EGO) while at WSU. EGO provides a wonderful opportunity for graduate students at WSU to experience service opportunities. When I began work at CMU I had to be on two committees and chair an advisory committee as a part of my appointment, so that preparation really was crucial for me.
What advice can you give to Ph.D. candidates who hope to continue in the field of academics?
Don’t give up, don’t get discouraged, and never stop believing in yourself. Also, present at conferences, submit articles for publication, and get involved in EGO—in short, make yourself stand out. Don’t try to do this alone—the professors at WSU are more than willing to help with the whole job search process, so don’t be afraid to ask. Every year, there are people designated to help students with the job search; find out who those folks are, and ask for help. And ask WSU students or graduates for help too. Apply widely, and don’t limit yourself by location. If you are willing to go anywhere, you will be more likely to find a tenure-track position.
When you get your dream job, be prepared. It will be difficult at first. The job is not the happy ending, it is the beginning. It takes time to get to know a place and find your niche, but it does happen. When I first came to CMU, I was homesick for Washington every second of the day. Everything here is different. I had never lived in the Midwest before, so even things that I took for granted, like where to go to get my vehicle registered, were very different. Here, you go to the Department of State! I felt like I was signing up to be a spy or something. It was a process, but I gradually started to feel at home here. Teaching American Indian Studies courses really made me begin to feel like I had found a place where I fit. I think I am even starting to get a Michigan accent.
If you could open people’s eyes to see one issue differently, what would it be?
I would tell people that American Indians are real human beings living in the present. The original Cherokee name for us was aniyvwiya, which means “real people.” Too many people think of us as “relics,” or have other stereotypical ideas about us, and those are very harmful. Too many of us listen to these stereotypes and get the idea that we can’t compete with this idealized ancient image of what we should be; we begin to believe that we are not supposed to exist. So, I would tell people to treat Indians like we are real and are really here to stay, because we are.