Department Chair and Professor of American Studies Rachel Rubin studies how ordinary people use culture to understand and express issues that matter to them.
“In my classes this year, I talked about popular music and plant closings, gangster movies and immigration, and hip hop culture's deep investment in history,” Rubin says. “I like to tell my students, people may not be likely to hang out at a bar and say to one another, ‘I'm deeply worried about the meaning of masculinity in the post-Vietnam period,’ but they will go see a horror movie and talk about it, and by doing so, they are grappling symbolically and collectively with that very subject.”
Heather Bryant, a second year American studies graduate student who had Rubin as a professor for “Studies in Popular Culture and Technology” and then worked with her as a teaching assistant, says Rubin’s use of films, television shows, and popular music makes for engaging classroom discussions.
“Rachel does a great job of facilitating class discussion, allowing students to ask questions and share their own insights about the class material,” she says.
Andre Diehl, another second year student who worked as a teaching assistant alongside Bryant, adds, "What makes Rachel an outstanding professor is how open she is to communication with her students. At the undergraduate level, she is excellent at receiving student comments and teasing out from them new directions to take the conversation. In her graduate courses, our discussion becomes so active and involved that it's easy to forget that we're actually in a classroom. Her office door is always open so it's easy to have a chat and throw around a couple of new ideas. She gives the same amount of attention to her students in and out of the classroom."
Rubin’s peers also have high kudos; they nominated her for the 2012 Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Scholarship for her connections among differing threads of popular culture and her sophisticated studies of popular music.
“I've taught at least briefly at five universities, and UMass Boston has been my favorite by far. I have found both students and faculty to be very open to multiple ideas and perspectives, instead of dragging assumptions into the classroom with them. Learning happens in a multi-directional way here: we don't tend to see knowledge only flowing from teacher to student,” Rubin says.
Rubin is one of the cohosts of the news and public affairs show Commonwealth Journal, which can be heard Sunday nights at 7 p.m. on WUMB 91.9FM and its affiliates.
“Working as a host on Commonwealth Journal has been wonderful. It's given me the chance to have fascinating conversations with a great range of very compelling people. There have been guests I sought out because I already admired them greatly, such as novelist Maxine Hong Kingston, and guests I came to admire greatly over the course of the interview, such as Abe Rybeck of Boston's Theater Offensive. More often that not, I'm really sorry when the time comes to stop talking,” she says.
Rubin is currently working on a children’s book and a collection of what she calls "critical interviews" with artist-activists who range from award-winning writers to rappers to photographers. Her latest book, Well Met: How the Renaissance Faire Invented the 1960s and Lived to Tell the Tale, is scheduled for an October release. She is also a frequent guest on the Callie Crossley Show on WGBH 89.7FM.