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Xiaojing Zhou (middle) poses with Dean Rena Fraden (left) from College of the Pacific and Provost Maria Pallavicini (right)

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English and Ethnic Studies Professor Xiaojing Zhou receives Pacific's 2015 Distinguished Faculty Award

Apr 28, 2015

In honor of her innovative teaching and her research achievements in literature and ethnic studies, Xiaojing Zhou has received University of the Pacific's Distinguished Faculty Award for 2015.  

She is not your grandparents' English professor.  

Yes, discussions in her class may touch on the traditional literary canon, but in Professor Zhou's classroom they will invariably expand to include diverse voices exploring issues of race, culture, ethnicity, gender, class, globalization and the environment.  

Zhou, who is also director of the Ethnic Studies program, doesn't actually direct, but rather facilitates, the conversation. In Zhou's classes, students are both learners and teachers in the process of collaborative learning.  

"That is the centerpiece of my teaching.  I don't give extended lectures because I want students to be involved in active, intentional learning.  I provide students with specific theoretical, critical and historical frameworks for them to learn how to learn," she explained.  

She says she models at the early stage of a course how to do close-reading, how to apply critical theories to analyzing the texts in relation to large issues outside the books, and how to ask provocative questions to generate fruitful discussions.   

Then she asks her students to put into practice what they have learned.  

Provost and Professor Zhou "Learning how to critically interpret the data and texts is enabling and empowering for students. To me, this kind of student-centered learning is what University of the Pacific strives to excel at," she said.  

For example, in her Environment and Literature course, Alea Freeman '16 discovered that Zhou, "while she guides the class with her vast array of knowledge, also requires her students to lead class discussions. In this way, she turns teaching on its head by placing the onus on the students, showing us that we have the power to educate one another."  

The 2015 Distinguished Faculty Award was announced April 21 when Pacific Provost Maria Pallavicini and the dean of the College of the Pacific, Rena Fraden, made a surprise visit to Zhou's classroom. She will also be honored during the main Commencement ceremony on May 9.  

A Commitment to Student Success   

While Zhou receives high praise for her scholarship and service from students and colleagues alike, there is another aspect to Zhou's work they all call out: her teaching.  

"I know Dr. Zhou first of all as an outstanding and committed teacher. ... Her concern and commitment to student success is truly amazing. She cares about her students and she goes every extra mile to help them accomplish their goals. In fact, in her gentle way, she pushes them to work harder and go further than they imagined," said Gesine Gerhard, professor of history and associate dean of the College of the Pacific.   

Adnan Hashtam '15 knows that first-hand.   Working with Zhou in an Asian American literature class,  he was able to do a research paper, "Resistance, Activism, and the Killjoy: Criticism of Hegemonic Happiness in Karen Tei Yamashita's Tropic of Orange," that he presented last year at both the National Undergraduate Research Conference and the Pacific Undergraduate Research and Creativity Conference.  

"Dr. Zhou challenged my work and assisted me in producing a scholarly paper that was chosen to be presented from over 4,000 submissions. Her commitment to students is both encouraging and inspiring," he noted.    

And it goes beyond the classroom.  

Professor Zhou's classroom"Dr. Zhou continuously engages in intellectual and thought-provoking discussion both in and outside of the classroom. Her dedication to learning and teaching goes beyond the limitation of a classroom and academia," he said.  

Inspired by Zhou's chapter on trauma within the context of colonialism in the Philippines, Adnan worked closely with her yet again and produced a paper, "Border, Trauma, and the Autobiography: An Analysis of Bapsi Sidhwa's Cracking India," that he will present at another conference, Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast (ASPAC), in June.   

"Her dedication to fostering undergraduate scholarly work being produced at Pacific is one of the strongest components of what shapes students' and faculty's experience at Pacific," he said. "I will consider myself Dr. Zhou's student well after I graduate from Pacific."    

Her Path to Pacific  

Zhou was an English major in her undergraduate years at Shandong University in China. She earned her master's degree at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, then went on to Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, for her doctorate.  

While pursuing her Ph.D., she heard the news that Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Even though American literature was the field of her graduate studies, she was not exposed to Morrison's or any other literary works by African American writers. She started searching for and reading African American, Native American, Latino and Asian American literary writings, which were invisible in the curricula of her graduate programs.  

Reading works by minority American writers helped broaden significantly her knowledge of American literature and society, she said. She began to question why she was not exposed to their writings throughout her graduate years- and came to the realization that "students are deprived of opportunities to learn about humanity, society, and literature as fully as possible if they read only European American authors."  

That's why, in both her teaching and scholarship, Zhou is committed to including a wide range of voices, perspectives and aesthetics.  

"Professor Zhou's innovative approaches to literature and ethnic studies have broadened the offerings within our department immensely. ...Professor Zhou's courses pair literature with history, geography, and environmental studies in profoundly meaningful ways that challenge our students to think beyond and work across traditional academic boundaries," said Amy Smith, professor and chair of the English department.     

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