Faculty Spotlight: Barbara Robins
Her story of becoming interested in Native American Studies, is something Barbara Robins Ph.D. playfully derides as “goofy.” At a young age she was tasked with making a paper bag teepee. That moment of creation and pride was an ingredient in “the soup that [she] was growing up in.” In her office, well adorned with Native literature and artwork alike, Dr. Robins recalled growing up with the discipline of Native Studies. She became aware of the world at the same time the American Indian Movement (AIM) came into prominence. Now, in her role with the English department, she seeks to “open up enough of a visible space” for Native and non-native students alike to learn about the complex world of Native expression. Dr. Robins is no stranger to mediums outside literature as her undergraduate degree was in Studio Art. With a vested interest in art as well as literature, she “can’t help” but follow her desire to teach classes like ENGL 4960 The Creative Spirit which challenge students to explore both.
In fall of 2019 she will be teaching ENGL 8030 Field-Based Research Methods, a graduate seminar meant to cultivate both awareness and field research skills. The course, already full at the time of writing, asks graduate students to visit and communicate with local Native communities. Dr. Robins hopes to avoid the pitfall of works being created “at the expense of Native people” by instead developing a relationship of trust with the Native people involved. In pursuit of her goals, she sought friends in the community willing to operate as mediators. At the center of this endeavor is the push to “go back to the people” and have their perspectives represented. Beyond developing dialogue with Native communities, Dr. Robins wants the research skills gained by students “to be transferable” so that their horizons are broadened both socially and academically.
Beyond courses, Dr. Robins is also working on a project tentatively titled “Healing a Nation: Native Americans Responding to 9/11.” The project relates to Dr. Robins’s research interest in historical trauma as she expects to look at how Native artists and writers recognize then respond to the pain of the United States post 9/11. She recalls how she “had to go to class that day” and the surreal feeling that accompanied it. What she saw in the wake of the national tragedy were Native creators confronting the “double edged swords” of patriotic expression and using their own traumatic past to interface with the staggered nation. Dr. Robins’ multifaceted studies show no signs of slowing as she has yet another project delving into her family’s own “brush with history” in South Dakota. The project comes at a time when the “conversation among white people is changing” as the popularity of DNA testing challenges family narratives. Needless to say, she has come a long way from making paper bag teepees.