By: Sarah Vanderslice
Every college student must pave his or her way to maturity and individualism. In the cacophony of daily schedules, classes, social events, club meetings, sports practices and more, it’s hard to remember to also be mindful of what one is becoming. What makes an individual interesting? What makes an individual successful? Happy? In this column, I seek to answer these questions through the questioning of developed and intriguing individuals in our Sewanee community. In this article, I interview the accomplished Assistant Professor of English Maha Jafri. After being her student for only a matter of weeks, I became inspired by her wisdom and intelligence, as well as her humor.
In the beginning of the interview, Jafri discussed the importance of silencing one’s own negative voice. She points out that at some point, one’s fear must surpass the actuality of the situation, leading them to realize the presence of a solution to any difficult situation. Jafri reminds students that the majority of the time, their own fear leads them to failure, instead of a lack of ability.
She acknowledges that her idea of herself has changed a great deal from the age of 18. Jafri admits that like many young people she wanted to make the world a better place in her own way. Additionally, she longed to work as some sort of writer. Although she says she never planned on becoming an English teacher, she feels lucky to have secured a job in which she can both help her students and have discussions about literature each day. Moreover, Jafri commented on the prevalence and importance of literature in the enrichment of her own life.
“I was very hungry for cultural experiences,” Jafri stated about her younger self. “I would see any band I would read any book, I would see any movie, I was so excited to just experience whatever kind of art I could, and I always wanted to be the kind of person who was interested in cultural events or objects.”
She explained that many people find that an encounter or event in their life encourages them to become critical thinkers. When asked if she could remember a specific turning point, Jafri explained that she has always enjoyed analysis and being intellectually stimulated. “I always enjoyed those things. After I graduated from college though, I was working in an office, and there were parts of that job that were fulfilling in that way, and parts that weren’t,” she recalls.
As for her childhood, she was always reading. “Whether it was classics or new stuff, it was really at that time I saw stark contrast the difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction. And that’s probably what sparked me to go to grad school.”
She describes her decision to get a PhD as a “big moment” in her life. Arriving at graduate school, Jafri “felt really clueless…because I really wasn’t one of the people who’d been intending to go from the time I was five years old, and I remember it dawned on me at one point that you can’t get things you don’t try for.”
After discussing her own educational decisions, she described qualities from her lifelong role models that she wished she possessed. “Immediately when I think of who I want to be morally in terms of having moral courage and follow through, I really think of people I know personally,” Jafri said.
She added, “I think doctors who work in certain fields that are dangerous to work in, so in terms of moral heroes [that’s who I would want to be]. But to take it more lightly, if I could have anything from anyone else it would be Oscar Wilde’s charm and the talent of Quincy Jones.”