Hollins presents research of the ‘Tragic Mulatto’

by Bailey Porter
Staff Writer

Out of 250 individuals who applied for the new modern languages writing faculty position at the University of La Verne, only three were selected to make presentations of their research.

Among them was Tamara Hollins, a visiting professor at ULV, who presented “Encountering the Tragic Mulatto” on March 4.

The purpose of these presentations, which are open to all ULV faculty and students, is to determine if the candidates possess qualities of scholarship that will give them respect in the scholarly community and their own community in ULV, said John Gingrich, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who was among the 10 faculty members who attended Hollins’ presentation.

Janice Johnson, associate professor of English as a second language, said she looks for originality and the comfort level of the candidates when they present their topics of research and give a teaching demonstration.

“It’s not just presenting your research, it is being able to connect,” Johnson said.

Hollins’ presentation is based on seven years of research on the mulatto identity, the subject of her dissertation for Claremont Graduate University where Hollins will graduate in May.

Before coming to California, Hollins pursued undergraduate education at Hendricks College and has previously attended Benington College.

In her presentation, she explained that mulattos, people of mixed black and white heritage, carry with them confusion of identity in which there is a constant struggle.

Race is not a question of biology, Hollins said. It is a fight within oneself that the mulatto must face, and it is here that the conflict between self and other takes place.

The self is the mulatto’s white heritage and the other, the mulatto’s black heritage, she said.

Included in the presentation was a discussion of the novels and poetry used by Hollins in her research to determine how the mulatto was addressed in 19th and 20th century literature. Hollins read the poem “Mulatto” by Langston Hughes during her presentation, emphasizing, as the poem points out, that the struggle with one’s identity as a mulatto never ceases.

Other literature Hollins mentioned included “Passing” by Nella Larsen, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “Caucasia” by Danzy Senna.

Questions followed the presentation. Among the issues discussed was Hollins’ use of mulatto to represent all people with black and white ancestry instead of using the complicated system of classification often used in society.

“Mulatto is a metaphor for the war between the self and the other,” Hollins said. “In our world, and also in literature, when characters and people demonstrate a true understanding of how others are, then that can lead to being in the heterogeneous one.”

Hollins has incorporated into her research such elements as the psychology of Jacques Lacan when describing the three ways one can assimilate: in behavior, passing or a way of seeing. Assimilation can reiterate racial hierarchy, Hollins said.

“I certainly appreciated her scholarly presentation. It broadened my perspective,” Gingrich said, who sites that the most important rule in his opinion is that the candidate for such a position be a good teacher.

He also said that it is not the presenting of research for scholarship alone that the department is looking for in these candidates, but the use of scholarship as a tool to make teaching more relevant and interesting for the students.

Working at ULV while writing her dissertation has impacted Hollins as a student and as a teacher. It has allowed her to come up with interesting themes for the courses, she said.

In the courses she currently teaches, Hollins uses themes of identity and ways of seeing as it concerns reality and fantasy.

“And because I was doing the research, I felt more connected to it, and it was more vibrant, more alive to me, and so it was easier for me to bring that into the classroom and to communicate that same energy,” she said.

Sophomore Ron Robinson said, “Hollins is an educated professor who cares for her students. I enjoyed having her class.”

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