Persis Karim: 2017 Outstanding Professor

By Julia Halprin Jackson

“We live in a global context. If we see each other, walk in each other’s shoes, if we are open to collaborating, beautiful things can emerge.”

Photo: David Schmitz

While attending a panel on Persian literature in translation at the 2017 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, Persis Karim heard a panelist recognize her work as the editor of three anthologies of Iranian-American writing. It was then that the professor of English and comparative literature understood how her career had “midwifed” a generation of diaspora writing in the United States.

“I hadn’t fully taken in the full impact of the work I had been doing over the past two decades,” Karim says. “One of my goals as an editor and as a teacher has been to arrest the presumption that there is one version of being Iranian or Iranian-American.”

The 2017 Outstanding Professor Award recipient says that she aims to create an inclusive space for students to ask big questions and test their voices. She is also the coordinator for Middle East Studies and the founding director of Persian Studies, a program for which she has raised $500,000 since 2011.

“I see teaching as a fundamental vehicle for teaching citizenship,” Karim says. “I am a huge advocate of the humanities because studying them generates empathy. When we have empathy for others who are different from us, who lack the privileges that we have, our understanding and capacity for connection grows.”

Her passion for collaboration is perhaps best exemplified by her production of Together Tea, a play based on a novel by Marjan Kamali. Working with Communications Studies Professor Matthew Spangler and actress Leyla Modirzadeh, she brought this one-woman show to San Jose State in October 2016.

“I am interested in hyphens and hybrids and bridges,” she says. “We live in a global context. If we see each other, walk in each other’s shoes, if we are open to collaborating, beautiful things can emerge.”

The Outstanding Professor Award recognizes a faculty member for overall excellence in academic assignment. This year’s winner comes from the College of Humanities and the Arts. She will be honored at the 18th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 9, 2017. Tickets are available for purchase.


Julia Halprin Jackson

Julia Halprin Jackson is a writer on San Jose State University's Strategic Communications and Marketing team.

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1 Response

  1. Natascha Walker says:

    Congratulations to all! These distinguished professors portray a campus climate of diversity and tolerance, collaboratively showing this Universities overall vision without a sales pitch. As I narrow down my selections for graduate school, most important to me is being in an academic atmosphere that will continue to nurture my perspectives of global humanity. Thank you very much for sharing the stories of these distinguished professionals. San Jose State University is at the top of my list.

    Natascha Walker
    BS Geography, Senior
    Texas State University

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