Professor Valerie Kinloch | Teachers College Columbia University

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Professor Valerie Kinloch

Professor Valerie Kinloch laughs when she thinks how others sometimes describe her outlook on life as utopian. “I pick my battles,” she says. “I can’t fight all of them, but the one I will fight is bridging the work we do in the academic environment with the community.”

Professor Valerie Kinloch laughs when she thinks how others sometimes describe her outlook on life as utopian. "I pick my battles," she says. "I can't fight all of them, but the one I will fight is bridging the work we do in the academic environment with the community." So far she has proven herself a true champ when it comes to writing, teaching, and helping students from all walks of life do the same, showing no signs of an imminent TKO. In fact, Professor Kinloch still has several rounds to go before she retires her golden gloves.

A native Southerner, Dr. Kinloch grew up in South Carolina's picturesque Charleston before heading to Charlotte, North Carolina to study at Johnson C. Smith University. While thoughts of periodic tables and Bunsen burners fail to intrigue most, the professor's passion during her first three years of undergraduate study was chemistry. "But chemistry was too easy," she remembers. "I came to the realization in my junior year that I could do chemistry, but I wanted to make that which others find difficult attainable [for them]. I wanted to make English do-able." That epiphany prompted her to drop chemistry as the second component of her double major with English and to focus solely on the latter. "I wanted to re-define the parameters of English, to look at the standards [relative to] the language people use in their everyday lives." Drawing upon her own background, she wanted to explore how the writings of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dunn could be applied within the context of Southern Black English. Her undergraduate thesis, in fact, focused on this topic.

Subconsciously taking a cue from her thesis advisor, Dr. Kinloch applied to his alma mater, Wayne State University, for a Master's degree in English, but was instead accepted into the Ph.D. program. She made the move to motor city Detroit in 1996. Her Master's thesis, rooted in the frameworks of DuBois, Wright, and Fanon, was conferred within two years in December 1998. Shortly thereafter in March 2000, she defended her dissertation which, based upon her studies in composition and rhetoric, examined the lives of residents of inner city Detroit to address how individuals' literacies must be discussed as a precursor to providing them academically-oriented instruction.

The cost of Professor Kinloch's graduate studies was underwritten her first year by a full fellowship and the subsequent three years through a guaranteed teaching assistantship and fellowship. "I always knew I wanted to be a teacher," she says, and that desire was nurtured by the opportunity to teach in the undergraduate program at WSU. She derived enjoyment from "being able to have conversations with students and understand different interpretations and meanings from multiple voices." Although her doctoral studies were full-time, she always worked closely with middle and high school students which cemented her decision to pursue a career in education. "That just topped it for me," she says of working with young students, and the professor realized "there was no way I couldn't be an educator."

A relocation to the Lone Star state followed her graduation from WSU as she began an assistant professorship at the University of Houston Downtown as the institution's composition and rhetoric specialist for the next 3-1/2 years. As fate would have it, a conference brought the academic to New York City before she ever saw an advertisement for a faculty position in TC's English Education program, and she knew instinctively that she needed to move here. A short while later, she fortuitously came across the job posting and applied. "TC," she expresses, "speaks to everything I do in terms of literature and teaching in public schools." She describes meeting with department and program faculty as "the best interview" she has ever had. "I feel a sense of pride in what I do and this place wanted to foster that." While the move from Texas has meant making adjustments, Dr. Kinloch says, "The transition was welcomed. I wanted to start another chapter of my life. There's something about New York, Harlem, and students."

In addition to her courseload at the College which includes classes like The Teaching of Writing, Writing: Nonfiction, and English Methods, Professor Kinloch is an advisor for the Annenberg Grant/Maryland Public TV "To Write" Professional Writing Series and an invited member of the National Council of Teachers of English. She is also an award-winning poet whose accolades include 3rd place honors in the international Miles Davis Annual Poetry Competition and invited recitations of her original piece, "A Tribute to Langston Hughes." Her anthology, Still Seeking An Attitude: Critical Reflections on the Work of June Jordan, about the well-known essayist, poet, and writer is slated for a Fall 2004 release (Lexington Books, The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group). She is also dedicating energies to penning a biography of this woman whose writings addressed race, nationalism, personal struggle, and engenderment. "She is an example of someone who did a lot of creative work and had it grounded in the education of others," Professor Kinloch points out about Jordan whose life has both influenced and motivated her.

In her professional experiences, she notes her students have exhibited a desire to acquire more knowledge and an understanding of what is taking place within their field. "They have a thirst for knowledge," she comments. She plans to work in the local community by partnering with a secondary school to help students with their writing. "My teaching is one life, my personal life is another, but the one connection [between them] is the role of students. I think I'm here to enter this community and to learn, and hopefully my TC students will also experience that connection for themselves," Dr. Kinloch says. Her goal is to help them achieve that desired end, even when that road proves tenuous. Perhaps she herself puts it best in the closing lines of her Langston piece that encourages us to never defer a dream when one possesses the vision and drive necessary to evoke positive change:
I, too, am America Langston,
Bathing in the Euphrates,
Building a hut near the Congo,
Looking upon the Nile,
Dreaming that I will not be judged by the color of my skin,
But by the content of my character,
Envisioning Mecca and waiting for The Fire Next Time.

Published Sunday, Mar. 14, 2004