Though largely unknown to students outside of her new Sixth Form English seminar “Matters of life and death: literature of migration,” Dr. Callie Ward explores the world of migrants and their stories with her class.
Dr. Ward’s passion for migration literature emerged from a combination of her academic studies and extracurricular pursuits: while studying for a Ph.D. in Literature at Stanford University, she volunteered for a human rights organization.
“The more and more I started volunteering for legal organizations for people seeking asylum in the United States—a big part of that process was collecting the testimonies of these people—I started thinking about how their stories are narratives at their core, much like the literary texts I was writing about in my dissertation,” Dr. Ward said.
At the organization, she translated the stories of migrants, predominantly from Central and Latin America, from Spanish into English, for judges and attorneys.
“It was really heart-wrenching work. It requires a lot of trust and empathy to listen to people who’ve gone through such harrowing experiences and extremely violent persecution,” Dr. Ward said.
Her practice of absorbing and sharing stories in her classes, not through legal studies, helped her articulate these narratives in trials.
“I felt a lot of pressure to tell their stories right,” Dr. Ward said. “I put my translating and literary skills to good use because, not only does it have to be accurate, but also concise and convincing to show that they have good enough reason to be seeking and, hopefully, granted asylum.”
But, aside from this experience, people’s movements around the world have always fascinated her, especially the reasons that might cause or force people to migrate. Dr. Ward’s passion for learning further encouraged her to teach, even while she was in graduate school.
“I love sharing my passion for learning and everything I’m learning about with others, and teaching is a great way to do that. And also I was a teaching assistant for a course on Latin American film and migration, and so I’ve always been eager for the opportunity to do my own course on literature and migration,” Dr. Ward said.
However, during her Ph.D. program, she felt isolated as candidates focused heavily on their own research; teaching, especially in a younger setting, provided a different learning environment.
“[In the Ph.D. program,] it could happen that somebody spends a lot of time in the library alone, and I found teaching a really beautiful way to connect with students and share what I’m interested in but also to hear their ideas and learn from them.”Dr Callie Ward
“[In the Ph.D. program,] it could happen that somebody spends a lot of time in the library alone, and I found teaching a really beautiful way to connect with students and share what I’m interested in but also to hear their ideas and learn from them,” Dr. Ward said. “I appreciate what younger high school students are thinking about these days.”
Appealing to the spectrum of her students’ interests in her class, she hopes to share with them many different perspectives and the ways in which stories about migrants can be written by analyzing novels, short stories, documentaries, and even graphic novels in this quarter.
Dr. Ward said, “I’m excited to show how widespread genres and forms can present the same issue, and how it’s a very global issue, so I’ve decided to branch out from my Latin American focus and include some things dealing with Vietnamese refugees and those from the Middle East, for example.
Dr. Ward also looks to prepare her students for the future.
“I know that my students are going onto colleges and universities so soon, and I’ve taught at that level, so I do tend to think about what I can do to prepare you because I know exactly what lies ahead, at least in the humanities courses,” Dr. Ward said.
And within this goal, but also useful beyond college, she aims to help students with their writing skills, so that they may better express their ideas. Less concretely, however, Dr. Ward also wants her class to recognize the greater impact of literature.
“Just as important, I hope to [help students] foster or solidify an awareness [in students] of the evocative power of storytelling and narratives: the power of language, really,” Dr. Ward said.
Outside of school, she enjoys some hobbies that she grew up with: dancing ballet, rock climbing, and hiking.
“I haven’t rock climbed in a while: recent times have been hectic moving to Philadelphia from across the country,” Dr. Ward said. “But when I was in Nevada, which is where I’m from, I did a lot more climbing. And I hope, when the weather gets better here, to look for some places to go hiking.”
On a final note, she expressed excitement to continue her learning journey here.
Dr. Ward said, “I’m excited to be here and to get to know everyone. I’m already learning a lot from the students; so, as passionate as I am to share my own interests, I’m just as excited to hear how they think.”