Training colleagues: Newcombe/Women’s Studies Fellow mentors new Women’s Studies Fellow
Newcombe Fellow and WW Women’s Studies Fellow Regina Kunzel CN ’86 WS ’87 was happy to recommend her student Jayne Swift WS ’15 for this year’s WW Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies. It’s not a responsibility she takes lightly.
“I try to remember that I’m training grad students to become people who I would want to be my colleagues,” says Dr. Kunzel. “Ultimately we are going to be recommending them to people as good colleagues, and so I think about training people to be reliable and generous in their critical practices and also in their collegial practices. These things seem to come naturally to Jayne. They don’t to everybody.”
For her part, Ms. Swift says she values the tough, clear-sighted guidance Dr. Kunzel offers. “Her feedback… can sort of feel like a layer of skin being taken off — it’s very precise and deadly right. It sounds kind of awful when I put it like that, but it’s the best possible thing,” says Ms. Swift. “I’ve really grown as a writer and a thinker and have a much clearer sense of the contributions I want to make from getting feedback from her.” At the same time, she adds, Dr. Kunzel has helped her understand the nuts and bolts of academic life, from research techniques to grant-writing. “Regina has always been willing to demystify the whole process.”
Ms. Swift was first introduced to Dr. Kunzel’s research when she picked up a copy of Dr. Kunzel’s 2008 book, Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality, and the work immediately and strongly resonated with her.
“I found a certain kind of affinity with my own research and intellectual curiosities,” Ms. Swift says, and so she applied to the University of Minnesota’s feminist studies program to work with Dr. Kunzel. “We were a natural fit for each other,” Dr. Kunzel affirms.
In addition to teaching her in a seminar and independent study, Dr. Kunzel chose Ms. Swift as a research assistant on her current project. The study, which looks at mid-20th century attributions of mental illness to sexual and gender variant people, was largely inspired by the vast writings of psychiatrist Benjamin Karpman. Dr. Kunzel hired Ms. Swift to summarize Karpman’s work.
“That’s a measure of how much I trust Jayne and her smarts and her instincts,” says Dr. Kunzel. “I don’t hand over that kind of assignment to just anybody, but I really trusted her reading.”
The experience ranks at the top of Ms. Swift’s all-time favorite jobs. “I learned so much during that time about the process of writing a book, specifically historical study,” she says. “I learned patience with the research process and an understanding of the legwork that goes into the finished product.”
Now at Princeton University as the Doris Stevens Chair in Women’s Studies, with appointments in history and the program in gender and sexuality studies, Dr. Kunzel continues to advise Ms. Swift from a distance as she completes her dissertation on the cultural history of recent sex worker social movements in the United States. While she describes it as a challenge, Dr. Kunzel tries to maintain regular calls and check-ins with Ms. Swift and other Minnesota mentees.
The field of gender and sexuality studies, Dr. Kunzel notes, may be “more self-conscious” about mentoring than many others. “It is a field that thinks through relations of power, and that contributes to thinking self-consciously about mentoring.”
For her part, Ms. Swift feels lucky to have a working relationship with someone who is both a respected scholar in her field and generous with her time and support. “Dr. Kunzel is just one of those people whose intellectual brilliance is really matched by a deep decency and kindness that she shows to her graduate students,” she says.
“Your dissertation advisor will always be your dissertation advisor even when your dissertation is finished,” Dr. Kunzel notes. “It’s a relationship that’s forever.”
This story appeared in our Spring 2015 newsletter. To view the full newsletter online, click here.