Valparaiso Volunteers interviewed Betsy Burow-Flak.
1. Please tell us a little about yourself:
I teach British literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which means Shakespeare, Milton, and writers such as Thomas More, John Donne, Aemelia Lanyer, and Elizabeth Carey. I also teach courses in digital media and in literature and humanities. These courses range from first-year core up through graduate courses. This semester, in addition to teaching core, I am teaching courses in Banned Books and Global Shakespeares.
2. What qualities do you think prepare you to be a Professor?
This is my twentieth year at Valparaiso University. The single most quality that enables a professor to thrive over this amount of time is to be constantly learning and changing. I teach countless works–dramas, books, performances, scholarly articles–that did not exist when I was in graduate school, and I am continually learning from professionals in my field, from my students, and from colleagues and my own research.
3. Who inspires you?
My students and today’s youth inspire me. More and more, students coming to college and graduate school seem to be pulled in multiple directions. Some speak multiple languages; they and others may live with a “dual consciousness” of fitting in at the university, but also in a home where the university experience may be quite foreign. I see students who are working, with their families, against increasingly difficult challenges in paying for their education, and others who, despite incredible talent and advantage, battle anxiety and the struggle to “do it all” in fear that they will slip away from economic stability. Yet despite all of this, the students who make up this university bring their own unique knowledge and experiences, and with those, they contribute new perspectives, energy, freshness, and hope.
5. Do you have any advice for incoming Freshman or continuing student leaders?
Learn everything you can, including opening yourself to viewpoints with which you are not inclined to agree. The “filter bubbles” created by search algorithms and social medial platforms tend to sharpen our own viewpoints and dull our ability to understand, talk, and work with those with whom we disagree. We cannot function in a democratic society if we cannot even listen to opposing viewpoints. It is also important to ask others about themselves. Sometimes, for example, U.S. students are afraid to even talk with international students for fear of appearing unknowledgeable about world politics or cultures. But that is ok. Anyone who has traveled knows the importance of people simply being curious about their lives and motivations.
6. What drives you academically, personally and spiritually?
I am active in my church and in the lives of my husband–a fellow English major to whom I have been married for 30 years–and my high school-aged sons. In my research, I have been exploring how Shakespeare and playwrights contemporary to him express ideas of redemption: moments of grace, transformation, forgiveness, and second chances as they could explore them secularly and in the context of seventeenth-century religion. Redemption on the seventeenth-century stage exceeded ideas of what is fair or just or what anyone deserves. In our daily lives, related moments occur when unexpected understanding, learning, acceptance, or solutions to difficult problems occur. These moments are truly miracles, often unsung, that keep us motivated academically, personally, and spiritually.
8. Outside of your career goals, what do you want to accomplish in life?
Completing my book manuscript is a major goal right now. But in the near future, I also want to see my sons settled and doing well in college. This is their challenge and it will be their accomplishment, but making it through college requires a lot of support from family members.
9. If you change anything to make the world a better place what would it be?
Difficult problems are never solved with simple solutions. We need hundreds of solutions, small and large, to address two major issues: the changes to our climate caused by human activity, and the concentration of wealth, in recent decades, in the hands of a very small class. Both of these problems can be difficult to talk about. Education about them, within universities and without, is a first and vital step, as is compassion for all who are affected by these issues.
10. What’s your favorite animal, comfort food and television show? Why?
Our family dog, Bella, a three-year-old husky-lab mix, is my favorite animal. Food of all kinds is appreciated in our household, and most of us cook when we have time. Some comfort food-like shows on Netflix that we enjoy: European comedies (Bonus Family; Welcome to the Family) and the Great British Baking Show.
11. What’s your motivation to do good?
Gratitude has inspired me, primarily. I teach Sunday School, for example, out of gratitude for the people who spent time with my sons when they were young. But there’s more, and that is what I have learned to recognize and articulate in working with Lisa Talley. Part of my motivation to do good is the enrichment–the fun–that comes back to me, sometimes in unplanned, unexpected ways that are definitely moments of grace.
Thanks Professor! Have a great spring break! ~VV Team!