Suban Nur Cooley received her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from Michigan State University in June 2020. She joins Ball State University to teach courses in the Departments of both English and Women and Gender Studies. Her dissertation research was a multi-location geographic comparative study which focused on elder women of the Somali diaspora and how migration and displacement can initiate a rhetorical inquiry of one’s culture and identity.
How would you describe your perspective on teaching?
Teaching is a collaborative process for me, much like anything else in life. Though I am responsible for the sharing of knowledge with my students, I’m also presuming they’re coming into that classroom space with knowledges of their own that might help us all collectively be shaped and grow as people. To that end, I work to build a pedagogical process that lends itself to breaking down hierarchies in the classroom setting.
As a researcher and writer, I often integrate multilingual/multimodal elements in my own work, so I often encourage students to incorporate cultural and community languages/dialects and multiple modes (digital, visual, textual, sensory, etc.) in their projects — regardless of whether the subject I am teaching is creative, digital, technical, or textual in form. Students in my classroom learn to understand that the languages and dialects they speak are important as they structure their identities as writers — it also does the work of decolonizing language expectations in writing spaces, and offer us another way we can learn from each other.
In the end, I really just enjoy getting to know who my students are and building community with them in a classroom setting.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
Many of my projects have been delayed or pushed due to COVID-19, but I’m excited for my multi-genre narrative-style exhibition to be unveiled at the Memories of Mogadishu Conference in Seattle in 2021. In the exhibition, Carrying Culture: Temporal and Spatial Constructions of Somalia Among Women in the Diaspora, I present findings from a multi-location geographic comparative study on the ways diasporic women’s practices of Somali culture become materialized in home spaces and in the cultural knowledges they pass on to future generations. It is a sensory exhibit that work to make my academic project accessible and available as an educational tool for public and participatory viewing.
What are you currently reading, if anything?
I just picked up What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas fame. Excited to read it.
What are your hobbies or interests?
I love to be out walking/hiking in nature so I can feel lost from the world for a bit. It’s also why I love to travel because I get to be a stranger somewhere, which is an odd way to feel more connected to the world — but somehow, I do. I am also constantly listening to music and love live shows in tiny venues, the darker the better (think Smalls in NYC for example).
Who are your biggest role models?
Hands down, my parents are my biggest role models. When your first role models are the people who brought you to this earth, you don’t realize the depth of that privilege until you navigate adulthood and they become your friends. I don’t know how I got so fortunate, but I am forever grateful for the Somali family I grew up in, and the brilliant minds who raised me.
My mother was my first feminist role model, making sure her daughters knew they were capable of accomplishing whatever it is they set their minds to or wanted to be in life. My father introduced me to writers like Fanon and decolonial concepts before I even knew what to call them! They gave up everything they knew and loved in Somalia to make sure we had the best of opportunities in life and I am ever grateful.
What is a piece of advice you would offer students?
Don’t be afraid to stand up against injustices you begin to see in the world, whether they are imposed upon you or you see them imposed upon others. Nelson Mandela said “Do not look the other way; do not hesitate. Recognize that the world is hungry for action, not words. Act with courage and vision.” Many people have shaped and changed the world this way, and I believe we can continue to do so with love and courage.
Welcome, Dr. Suban Nur Cooley!