Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Thursday, November 18, 2010

English Student Leadership Council

This past Tuesday, members of the English Student Leadership Council held a successful meet-and-greet event all afternoon in the atrium of the English building. To mark the event, they also had T-shirts made, such as the one pictured here on a rather dumpy middle-aged torso belonging (ahem) to the head of the English department:

Anyone who entered the building on Tuesday must have been aware of the event, because there were eye-catching posters everywhere, and this is only the latest indication of this year's ESLC's remarkable ambition and energy. We have some wonderful students in this group this year, and some wonderful leadership, too, from Adrienne Pickett and Lori Newcomb.

This group's main purpose is simply to enrich the experience of English majors, and part of what that means is trying to find ways to create departmental community for those who want it. We're a big department with many, many majors. And that means that it can be a challenge for our students who want to be part of a more tight-knit community to find each other. At the organizational meeting I attended earlier this Fall, members of this year's ESLC clearly expressed a desire to work towards community-building, and their labors are now bearing fruit. There is an ESLC Facebook page now to facilitate communication; the meet-and-greet event gave others in the department a chance to get involved; and members have organized and participated in a number of smaller-profile events designed to take advantage of the many cultural resources available on campus. Most recently, ESLC members organized a group outing to hear Dave Eggers speak in conjunction with the selection of his book Zeitoun for our "One Book, One Campus" program. And to speak with Eggers, too, as this picture demonstrates:

Here's why I love what the ESLC is doing: we provide our students with excellent classroom instruction, of course, but humanities scholarship is ultimately meant to be more than just something you master in a classroom. The kinds of thinking and learning we try to teach should ultimately be equipment for living, and anything that allows students to develop for themselves a fuller, more holistic relationship to their major or that makes it easier for them to take ownership of their own identities as intellectuals is, in my view, priceless.

Because English at Illinois is a large major in a large college on a large campus, it can all feel relatively impersonal at times. But by the same token, our size means that there are all kinds of smart people around to get to know and a huge wealth of relevant activities on campus to take advantage of. Part of the challenge of the university experience for our students has to do with finding personal interests, forging affiliations, and generally figuring out how the college experience matters for them in particular. Even though the members of ESLC might not see what they are doing in these terms--they might even dislike my avuncular tone here, for all I know--I'm grateful to them for creating a venue that will help many of our students to better negotiate this all-important challenge.

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