How is your fall semester so far?
It’s been interesting and busy, I am teaching five classes, and uh – so it’s a lot… but I think NJIT students are the best (laughs). I am just flattering you – but I really think very highly of them.
Where did you go to school? And where did you have your graduate and undergraduate education?
My undergrad… Well, I will tell you. My undergrad was Brooklyn college, graduate was New York University and Columbia.
You grew up in New York also?
In Brooklyn, straight from Brooklyn.
What kind of student were you in college?
Confused (laughs). It took me a while to figure out. I tried this and that until I figured out what was right for me. But you know, the thing is I liked everything. I liked – I like literature and history, and math and science, I liked it all! I still do. I found everything fascinating – you know, you have to get a career – I took a lot. I took every course they let me take.
What major did you start with?
Well I decided that I just want to read a lot. I majored in literature, English and American literature, but I have a feeling that everything is connected. I am still interested in all the other things. I read Scientific American and my sister was a math major. In fact, she taught mathematics at NJIT–so she showed me that mathematics is very beautiful–but that was my degree. I got a PhD in English Literature, and then I started teaching English. The book that I wrote, The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation, published by Temple University Press, that is in cultural history. I mean, I really think sometimes we think in terms of, “what is your field?” [but] what I think is anything that is out there interests me, and a lot of things are interconnected.
You mention your book on disability rights… how did you get into disability studies?
Well, my sister got polio when she was two and a half– So she was a disability rights, I would say, pioneer! She had a lot to do with the fact that NJIT became accessible before the Americans with Disabilities Act and she got a lot of support from President Fenster, who was president at the time. He was very supportive and NJIT was accessible to people with disabilities well before the Disability Act. And she had a lot to do with making busses accessible in NYC, she is a professor emeritus from NJIT in mathematics. She also just really moved policy and attitude towards disability by her activism. She was very effective [and] she was an inspiration to me. She had all the documents, she had everything, and I said “Frieda,” that was her name, “we’ve gotta write a book! we have all the information!”– So we wrote a book. And there were publishers who wanted her to write the history of her life, and she said “I’m not interested in that! I want to write the history of the movement that means so much to me.” And that’s what we did.”
How did you get involved with NJIT? Was it through your sister then?
Oh at NJIT? How did I get Involved with NJIT; we came from entirely different paths. We ended from Brooklyn in the same school in New Jersey, but with no connection from each other. With my sister, it was because when she was in Courant Institute of Mathematics–so she got her PhD–at NYU, very prestigious school– one of the teachers from NJIT in the math department– there was a problem and she was the only one in the class who could solve it and she said, “come to NJIT, I will put in a good word for you.”
With me it was entirely different. I just interviewed for the job; There was a job opening, I was teaching at a community college near my house, just because I was raising children, it was convenient. And it was like, I know my sister is at NJIT, I talked to her, she says come here, it’s a good school, so I interviewed, and I got the job! It’s a very long trip, but it is worth it. It’s a good place to be. I am very happy to be here.
Do you have any student class that you would always remember as your favorite?
You know, I always find something. I teach courses for example, literature and medicine. And by literature, I mean it very broadly. I mean I’ll teach novels and plays and I’ll also teach nonfiction… I enjoy all my classes! I like my freshman classes, I like to get them from the beginning, you know? They’re just coming [from] high school, I like them to know, you know, this is what college is! (laughs) It is different.
What is one piece of advice about life that you want to share with young students?
I mean it in the best way. It is so much fun to live a good life. It’s fun to be kind to people, it makes you feel good. It’s fun to learn stuff. It makes you grow. It’s so much, enjoy it! Sometimes it feels like a punishment, because you know, because you’re studying for finals, but it really is a wonderful thing to have an opportunity to have an education. It’s a wonder the things that we have today that make our lives easy. So enjoy, enjoy the fact that life is good.