Cultural Studies Student Expands Teaching Horizons at Mason Korea

Xinyi "Amy" Zhang is a PhD candidate in Mason's Cultural Studies program, researching power dynamics among institutions in the fine art world, particularly how legitimacy is constructed and maintained by art institutions in the non-West. During her time at Mason, she has taught courses in a number of academic units, including the ‎School of Integrative Studies, the Honors College, and the Cultural Studies program. During the academic year 2021-22, she is a term instructor at Mason Korea.

Please tell us about your work at Mason Korea.

This year marks the first run of this CHSS initiative, where a PhD student from the Fairfax Campus will teach courses at the Mason Korea Campus for a year. I am very honored to be selected for the first run of the program. As an advanced PhD student, this opportunity couldn't come at a better moment in my graduate career.

At Mason Korea, I have the opportunity to teach a new course that I have been eager to lead and adapt a course I have enjoyed teaching for several years. This semester, I am teaching ARTH 101: Introduction to the Visual Arts, which is partly formal analysis training, partly survey art history, and partly insistent probing of the notion of art and what art does in a society (and for whom). My other course is INTS 362: Social Justice and Human Rights, developed by Associate Professor Cher Chen at Mason Fairfax. I approach this course with a perspective informed by my research on museums in the non-West, seeing parallels in how concepts, professional norms, and institutions that developed from Western European intellectual traditions are adopted or spread elsewhere and sometimes with notable adaptation and contestation. Much vital contemporary work in human rights scholarship mirrors discussions about the "globalization of art." Many students in this course have also posed searching questions about human rights institutions, and they have compelled me to adapt our course to focus more deeply on the structure of power and mechanisms of accountability for these institutions who (much like museums!) operate with widespread assumption of their constant beneficence.

Aside from teaching, Mason Korea offers much needed resources to support my own work. It was fortuitous to join the program at this point in my graduate career when I can focus on completing revisions to my dissertation and publishing work, as well as writing for non-scholarly publications.

What drew you to the Mason Korea Campus?

In the courses I taught at Mason Fairfax, I met students who had started their studies at the Mason Korea Campus, in addition to many students from around the world. The mix never ceases to amaze me! The diverse backgrounds of our student body encourage instructors to be creative and flexible. I do not claim to navigate things perfectly on the first try. But attempting to engage students with many different personal and educational backgrounds has inspired a great deal of reflexive thinking about things like course content, instructional delivery, classroom norms, course expectations, and institutional hierarchy in sometimes challenging ways. As a result, I know that I am not the instructor I was five years ago. In this respect, coming to Mason Korea seemed like it would be a familiar dance, knowing that much, but not all, of the student body come from educational contexts that differ from the U.S. public education system in significant ways. A great community of instructors here work so hard to engineer effective instruction for our unique student body, and I have found much inspiration in their experiences. I have been interested in academic careers outside of the U.S., so working at Mason Korea presents a perfect trial experience for this professional prospect.

Why Cultural Studies at Mason?

The first thing was learning about the depth of students' work in the Cultural Studies program. We have very inquisitive students and a very admirable bunch of alumni! They produce exciting scholarship on a range of subjects and work around the world. As a prospective student, meeting the program's current students (now alumni) simultaneously inspired and intimidated me.

I also knew that the Cultural Studies PhD program encourages students to work with mentors and committee members in other fields, which was crucial for me as my research uses social sciences methods on objects (the fine arts) that are more commonly engaged with by scholars in the humanities. Informed interdisciplinarity is a real strength of the Cultural Studies program. Having faculty who jointly serve in other programs or appreciate the Cultural Studies perspective has been important for me and many of our students. The strengths of the Cultural Studies program and other CHSS disciplines at Mason made me confident in deciding to pursue doctoral work at Mason.