Featured Faculty

 

LAURA TETREAULT
Assistant Professor (English Department)
Affiliate Faculty (Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies)
Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition (University of Louisville)

WHO SHE IS

Laura Tetreault is an Assistant Professor in the English Department and Affiliate Faculty in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Professor Tetreault joined the English Department in 2018, after completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition. She’s a writer and a scholar with a focus on political rhetorics with concentrations in queer, feminist and antiracist movements. She teaches specifically on these areas with connections to digital media and the arts. She’s from Rhode Island and is currently married to her wife Emily. During her free time she likes to hang out with her wife and friends, meet new people, go for little adventures and also just like any typical English major, read books.

IN THE LIFE

Tetreault’s main inspiration are both her parents. “[My parents] are not academics at all. I actually was the first to go to college, so neither of my parents went to college.” Despite them not going to college, Tetreault says they’re intellectual, smart and critical people and they learn a lot from life experiences. “For example, the main thing my dad did for a living was being a truck driver. You know the stereotypes of truck driver would be like ‘drinking beer on the side of the road’ but in this case, he would spend his 10 hour drives from Rhode Island to northern Maine listening to NPR or public radio channels that play classical music or he would just talk on the CB radio to other drivers. He would talk and have philosophical discussions with other truck drivers over the radio.” Her mother is also similar, she always would have intense discussions and debates with Tetreault. “When my wife first met my mom she was like, ‘Why are you arguing so much? I thought you were close (to your mom)?’ ‘Oh we’re not arguing.’ We totally agree we’re just talking loudly and enthusiastically about how much we agree about that thing or about a minor disagreement.”

Tetreault gets really inspired by her wife, Emily as well, who is a librarian from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). “I get really inspired by her because she’s very smart, very kind, very genuine, while also being very sassy (laughs). She’s very kind but in a way doesn’t take nonsense from people which I deeply appreciate,” said Tetreault.

She also had a lot of mentors she deeply appreciates from her MFA and PhD days especially her mentor Karen Kopelson, her PhD advisor and professor from the University of Louisville. “I consider her as a friend and not just a mentor and she was really supportive to me during my PhD program, and she’s also a queer-identified person. We had a great academic relationship; she’s amazing in giving feedback on my writing, but also I could talk to her about personal things so she had struck a perfect balance between being productively critical and pushing me intellectually while also offering support.”

Tetreault talks about why she went for this particular field and why she studied what she studied: “I’d like to work to have underrepresented communities and knowledges to be more represented and more widely listened to as authorities and their own knowledge.” Another reason is that, personally and professionally she studies activist, rhetorics and political rhetorics and communication of social justice activism especially queer and racial justice activist. “It’s sort of my whole research. Personally, I’m a queer woman. From there as a marginalized position myself, I have that experience but I’m also a white woman so I simultaneously experience of great privilege and I sort of like to investigate all those dynamics in terms of the rhetoric of political movements and thinking in terms of an academic space or political space or creative space like who is not being heard, what forms of knowledge are not being valued, who has authority in the space based on their embodied experience in their life but is not recognized or as valued.” She explains that all of those questions have preoccupied her and probably led her to what she’s doing today.

She also explains how she gets really inspired by other things other than just people. “I get really inspired by busy/public places. I’m a city kid and I love being anywhere that’s sort of bustling and busy and I sort of love ‘people watching’, seeing the patterns of how people move their space and checking out people’s outfits so I’m very inspired of the busyness of public places like being around people, it makes me feel energized and inspired to write something,” said Tetreault. She also gets very inspired by aesthetics and sensory things like anything with lots of color. She likes being surrounded by art, illustrations and fashion and any beautiful things that she finds very inspiring in multiple media. “Beautiful writing or critically intense writing or really smart writing or anything like that inspires me to be like, ‘Can I write something THAT good?’”

She does a lot of reading of her own as an academic and also an avid fan of reading good books. Her favorite author (after thinking) is Audre Lorde. She explained why she likes her work: “Lorde crosses a lot of different genres that I’m interested in and also very similar topics like black feminism, women of color theory, queer theory, and she’s also a poet and writes a lot about race, sexuality and many more that always interested me.”

Academic wise, her favorite book is by Imani Perry called Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation. She’s a scholar of gender, sexuality, race, African American studies, and Tetreault likes her work especially this book because she was able to take a really wide impressive scope where she looked at a huge historical period. “She talks about several hundred years back to right now and she’s also looking at an enormous scope of different materials like everything from court cases to archival documents to literary text to creative arts and I tend to really like academic books like that, books that combine other different things that their analyzing and using as evidence because I think it’s always interesting to see how someone brings us together,” said Tetreault. “I’m obviously interested in the topic and sort of the arguments about gender, race and the concept of liberation and what liberation actually means and what does that take and how the current structures we have that works against liberation for racialized populations.”

Her long-time favorite book is a novel called I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. “I just really like the voice of the narrator which is a teenage girl named Cassandra. It came out around the 1920’s but it also raises very refreshing contemporary and I just think the narrator is the most interesting and engaging voices I’ve ever experienced in fiction and I just really like it and probably read it around 10 times.”

EDUCATION

Tetreault completed her BA in English at the University of Rhode Island in 2010 and later went to Emerson College, Boston to do her MFA in Creative Writing in Nonfiction which she completed in 2013. She then moved on to the University of Louisville to do her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition and graduated in 2018 with her dissertation called “We’re Asking You to Show Up”: Accountability as Rhetorical Practice for Queer, Feminist, and Racial Justice Allyship.

While she was studying, she liked to write all sorts of stuff but she mostly wrote nonfiction. A lot of her writing had to do cultural criticism, topics that were a little more political in terms of media, criticism, what’s going on in the media and so much more. “I actually wrote my MFA thesis on the idea of an apocalypse in popular media so like the end of the world movies and all those stories about it,” said Tetreault. “It was preoccupied with themes like grief in communities and friendships as kind of processing a friend I had lost before then for a while so I wrote about that a lot. I wrote about stuff that are about feminine reality in community and friendship and lost and things like that where all the more personal themes.”

TEACHING

She started teaching college level classes when she was doing her MFA and PhD in Emerson College and University of Louisville respectively. After completing her PhD, she came to UAlbany as Assistant Professor in the English Department and teaches English classes that usually have to do with digital media and the arts.

She hopes her students will accomplish several goals. “One would be kind of being able to sort of reflect on their own positionalities and their own experiences because I teach on a lot of political topics and social movements and things like that. Students come to that with a variety of different experiences, some are like, ‘I identify as an activist, and I spend all my time volunteering for this non-profit or whatever,’ and some are like, ‘I have no idea I never read the news I don’t know anything political,’ and I totally understand either way, and I understand for people who aren’t immersed in politics or anything.” She then explains that there’s kind of a high bar of entry, it’s hard and it’s not accessible to a lot of people so she’s happy to meet students from wherever they are. “So my goal is whatever they are, for them to think about themselves and their own positionalities where they might have privilege, where they might have inherited histories of oppression, how their identities kind of intercept to create their own experiences, intersectionality theory which comes from black feminism and I bring that into my class a lot. So partly my goal is for them to sort of depend a little bit on where they coming from, so one thing is to learn more about them, and then other than that, I hope for students to be able to talk about issues that they care about or issues they find important and in those issues, what perspectives get represented the most commonly, what perspectives are overlooked, and to learn how to maybe advocate a little more for the overlooked or at least to learn where to look.”

She says she hopes for her students to have a little more consciousness of the variety of voices in any political discussion. “It’s never like one side versus the other side really, it’s like a sphere of like multiple perspectives and points and takes and places on the political spectrum so one of my goals is to get students to be more conscious of the variety of perspectives, in any given issue and to think about which ones get circulated most commonly, which ones that are overlooked, with the goal to kind of thinking more about the oppressed and marginalized knowledges as authorities.”

For more practical goals, she always wants her students to become more confident in their writing, and to take risks and experiment as she think it’s something that’s really important in that process. Tetreault said, “I try to build in a lot of ways where they can experiment and they can feel it’s safe to take risks instead of just being safe in their writing.” When she mentions risk taking, she means it in terms of examining new political views or in terms of taking writing risks. “Most of my classes are focused on writing and they’re probably not bad writers and it being sort of a long life learning process and there’s never a moment where you get to, ‘I’m done, I’m the best, I’m great at writing or whatever!’ I hope to teach some people (if they need to), to check their privilege (laughs).”

HER JOURNEY

She didn’t have one straightforward path where she always knew what she wanted to do but when she was little, she was really interested in writing and loved to write! She loved anything creative or artistic like writing photography and art. She taught herself to make websites and stuff so she was always interested in writing, art and media but she had no idea on what she wanted to do with that. She would have good grades in subjects she cared about like English, History, Art and Foreign Languages and then would have no attention span for things that she didn’t care about. She went to college and decided to study English because she had always loved to write and read and analyze books and think about literature and various types of creative writing. She always wrote poems, nonfiction and fiction. “When I went to college, I actually had a weird story where I switched my major to Journalism and then I switched back to English,” said Tetreault. “I just didn’t know because I was interested in maybe going into journalism or working in the media in some form. It was one path I thought about especially as an undergrad so I switched my major to pursue that but then when I got into Journalism, I kind of missed the stuff from English so I was focusing more on analyzing books and talking about things like history, not that you don’t talk that in Journalism but it was a little more focused. If I had more time I would’ve just done a double major but (laughs), I was running out of time a little bit.”

Towards the end of her undergraduate, she still didn’t quite know what to do, so like many others, she applied to graduate school. “This is also kind of in the middle of the financial crash and the recessions so recent college graduates are not doing so great at the moment and are trying to fight for jobs so I was like, in a way I might as well just stay in graduate school,” said Tetreault. She decided to apply to MFA programs in Creative Writing because that was sort of what she was more drawn to and thought that she might be able to still get a job and work in the media in some form, but might be a little more flexible where she can still do creative writing and also get a job doing something in the media world; that was her big plan. “I decided to go to Emerson College in Boston because I love Boston! I’m from Rhode Island originally so Boston was kind of where kids from Rhode Island want to end up because it's the closest big city.” She originally applied in Poetry Writing and then once again, she switched her focus after one semester there “Not that I didn’t like poetry, but I decided that I wanted to switch to nonfiction writing because I realized that I missed nonfiction writing classes and also I realize that when I was writing poems, I decided to break a line was when it reached the end of the page and when I hit the right margins I was like, ‘Maybe this should be like an essay!’” She mentioned that she did miss the more journalism stuff like nonfiction and investigative writing, feature writing and many more. “I switched because each of the tracks has their own application process so I basically reapply to my own graduate program (laughs) in nonfiction. I was accepted and switched to nonfiction. I started doing my thing, writing and a mix of stuff, like weird essays, academic essays, hybrid essays, lyric essays, more journalistic stuff, more expressive stuff.”

FUTURE

Tetreault is currently working on a book project which is partly based on her PhD dissertation. Tetreault explains about her book:

“My book is similar to it [her dissertation] but my book is about contemporary, basically post-2016 examples of social justice rhetoric and how it circulates especially, but not limited to digital media and I’m working a lot with the idea of pretty much treating intersectional social justice activists as rhetorical theorists and as authorities, and I study in particular how activists who have some kind of public platform in digital space or whatever that uses writing and the arts and multiple forms of media to obviously advocate for these issues but also to resist normativity in politics. I’m working with the idea of refusing to assimilate, or being anti-normative as an activist strategy. I think a lot of political rhetoric is still pretty normative and assimilative like you have to appeal to those who are empowered like tailor your messages to reach a dominant audience so I think that sort of erase voices of people who are being deliberately unapologetic about their messaging because they go against the dominant and also racist, sexist systems. So yeah, I’m working on all those things.”

She then mentioned she wants to work with local communities. “I’d like to do some work for local communities, especially involving the arts and activism but it’ll take a long time, because it’s traditional that academic researchers would show up and being ‘Hey, I work in this community,’ but not building sustainable connections. That's the opposite of what I want to do so as a newcomer I just want to figure out what work these communities are doing and what might be able to do work with me that’s useful so eventually I would like to do some project that would involve activism and the arts like in a local community context.”

WRAP UP

Tetreault talks a lot about how some people put down English majors: “I think that people misconstrue [the major] as ‘useless’ or ‘impractical’ because it doesn’t lead to like just one job. It’s like when you get a degree in chemical engineering, you’re probably going to become a chemical engineer! It’s a clear path and it’s a benefit of those majors for those who know what they really want to do into something like that. But I think that instead of being a downside, English is actually an upside because of the extreme flexibility of the degree.” She then explains that when a person has an English degree, that person can seek out opportunities to focus their degree in a way that’s meaningful to them by talking to the faculty about areas that interest them. “I think an English degree is flexible enough for you to sort of try on those hats like ‘Why are you in school?’ because there is no prescribed path so if you want to try out a variety of paths that has something to do with writing, language, reading, critical thought, communicating, you can try out a lot of paths and you can kind of tailor the major to whatever interests you the most and you can also try out different things.” She tells students who are thinking about the English degree is that it’s very flexible, it’s very customizable since most of the classes are small, especially the upper level classes, students are likely to get a lot of individual attention from faculty and a lot of feedback on their writing, get to know their other classmates since it’s a more close-knit major than some of the much larger ones so it's kind of a rare experience to get to have in colleges with more one-on-one or personal connections.

Her advice to those who are current or future English majors:

“Firstly, just talk to people what you’re interested in even if it doesn’t count as academic or scholarly because I find students in my classes they might want to write about something they’re interest them like sports or media or dating apps and they don't think they can because they don’t think its academic enough, but there are actually whole bodies of academic research on Twitter so you can write about whatever you want so, 1) Be interested in stuff and 2) Don’t be afraid to talk to people about what you're interested in and you might be able to incorporate that into your writing whatever if its a project for a class, independent study, honors thesis and whatever, just embrace what you're interested in and talk to people about it. Secondly, try to be open to receiving feedback on your work and writing to realize really good feedback and criticism is a gift.”