Alumni Spotlight: Leah Perry Receives Fulbright Specialist Award

Alumni Spotlight: Leah Perry Receives Fulbright Specialist Award

The program is pleased to announce that CS alumna Leah Perry has recently received her second Fulbright award in Hungary. L. Perry’s first Fulbright was a Teaching award in 2017, she has currently received a Fulbright Specialist award in Hungary. Esma Celebioglu conducted a short exchange with Leah in which she reflects on her experiences in Hungary and her research projects. Read her responses below.

Could you tell us about your current position? What are your responsibilities?

I am currently in Hungary on a Fulbright Specialist award, at the University of Debrecen’s Institute of English and American Studies (IEAS). (The Fulbright Specialist program is a shorter-term program; general Fulbright scholar awards are for one semester or a full academic year. Specialist grants are from two weeks to 42 days, and are to do specific projects. International universities either post for a specific project to which scholars accepted as Specialists can apply, or universities name and apply for a Specialist to do a specific project.). I am here on a named project to work with LGBTQI+ students and on Gender and Sexuality Studies. Framing the project here has been a very deliberate, careful effort with my colleagues at the University of Debrecen. The Hungarian state is overtly anti-queer and anti-Gender Studies itself, as Orban effectively banned Gender Studies—because it is too “ideological”—by severing all funding for it. While things for queer people are by no means ideal in the US, being an out queer person here can literally be dangerous, so it is imperative that I collaborate with and support students and colleagues in a way that will work in Hungary; plugging in US models for gender justice simply will not work. What this looks like on the ground is that during the course of this grant, I have a number of meetings with students and colleagues, am co- leading workshops for students with my Hungarian colleague, Dr. Dorottya Mozes, and co-leading a pedagogy workshop for faculty with IEAS’ current Fulbright scholar. I am also providing feedback on students’ work (and of course also learning much from them in the process). For instance, one doctoral student is doing really interesting comparative work on queer cinema in Eastern Europe and the UK; a master’s student is doing innovative ethnographic research on womxn-to-womxn violence. All of my events and activities are designed to collaboratively create what we hope will be lasting structures of queer feminist community, support, pedagogy, and curriculum.

My deep commitment to my students and colleagues at the University of Debrecen (and to gender justice in Hungary writ large) began in earnest in 2017 when I was at the IEAS at the University of Debrecen on a Fulbright teaching award. I taught classes on gender, sexuality, race, im/migration, and media. My students were very interested in and committed to intersectional social justice, and many also came out to me individually. I was struck by my LGBTQI+ students’ courage and bravery and I wanted to do whatever I could to support them on a structural and not just inter-personal level. But given that my grant was only for one semester, by the time I began to truly understand the material reality of the political situation here and what may or may not work in terms of moving towards gender and racial justice, my Fulbright grant was ending. I kept in touch with many students and colleagues, and Dr. Peter Csato, the chair of the IEAS’s North American Department, worked to bring me back as a Specialist to do this crucial work, and he has been a strong ally.

In what ways do these experiences as a Fulbright scholar and specialist contribute to your research and teaching methods?

Believe the hype about Fulbright fostering international collaboration and understanding, expanding one’s view and skills as a scholar and teacher, and experientially teaching one that we as humans are connected, that our fates are fundamentally intertwined. A Fulbright award is, perhaps ironically, also a palliative to the exceptionalist myopia that is so common in the US. Additionally, as an American Studies scholar, working with students at the IEAS certainly expanded my own understandings of “America,” how American culture is perceived, and what is legible as “American culture” and history. In order to be an effective teacher here, I also had to learn about the Hungarian educational system, political context, and what my students’ daily lives were like in this milieu. Much of this knowledge had to necessarily be learned experientially as well as intellectually. I also had to be flexible as an instructor and willing to revise my plans in order to connect with students, to meet them where they are at, and to learn from them. bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress continues to resonate deeply in/as my pedagogy, as does queerness especially in terms of fluidity. Overall, my experiences as a Fulbright professor have truly made me a better teacher, scholar, and human.

Do you have any current projects you’re working on?

Along with smashing the white supremacist heteropatriarchy in the classroom in Hungary and at home, I am working on my second book project, tentatively titled Unsettling Immigration: Gender, Race, and the Public Pedagogy of Indigeneity and Immigration in the U.S. The book traces the connections between gendered state violence towards Indigenous peoples and racialized immigrants in policy and media from initial colonization into the early twenty-first century.

Dr. Perry is Associate Professor of Literature, Communication, and Cultural Studies at SUNY-Empire State College and a Fulbright Fellow. She is the author of The Cultural Politics of U.S. Immigration: Gender, Race, and Media (New York University Press, 2016).