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Faculty Spotlight: Professor Helen Jun

Conducted in Fall 2017, this interview introduces Helen Jun as the new Associate Head for the Department. She speaks on her academic background and her goals for the Department.

Image of Assoc. Prof. Helen Jun

“I think the current political moment has made it more important than ever that students feel connected to each other and to the department.”

Helen Jun  |  Interview by: Zorgie Sanchez, Social Media and Outreach GA

How long have you been at UIC, and in what departments have you worked?

Helen Jun: I moved from California in 2003 and I’ve been at UIC for 14 years, teaching for the Departments of African American Studies and English.   As an undergrad student, I was an Ethnic Studies and English double major at UC Berkeley and I received my Ph.D. in Literature at UC San Diego.  I was born and raised in California and I was ready for something else – being at UIC and working and living in Chicago has been a great experience.

As the new associate head for the African American Studies department, what do you strive to do within the department?

Jun: I’d like to initiate some short-term and long-term programs to support our undergraduate students.   I think the current political moment has made it more important than ever that students feel connected to each other and to the department. We are pursuing ideas for off campus field trips, student-led programming for speakers and events (like open mic nights), as well as more simple things like sponsoring AAST “study hall” hours so that students have a comfortable place to sit, study, and read between classes. At a commuter campus, it can be tough for students to feel anchored at UIC, however, I’m hoping that we can mobilize the urgency that many students are feeling to create new opportunities for connection and engagement.

You’re holding open office hours for all majors and minors right? How can we expect them to be different from a regular advising session? And how often can students attend?

Jun: So yes, we have Open Office Hours every Thursday from 12:30-2:30 in 1250 University Hall (the AAST conference room).   I want students to know that there’s always a faculty person in the department that’s here for them on a weekly basis to talk about anything they want – questions about grad school, if they want to talk about something that happened in a class, a summer reading list, whatever.  In fact, even if students don’t want to talk to me at all but just want a welcoming space where they can sit and relax and read between classes – they can come to 1250 UH on Thursday afternoons.   We will look into expanding these hours across more days, so stay tuned.

What would you say to a student who is thinking about majoring or minoring in African American studies?

Jun: It’s such an intense experience to study something that you feel connected to.   When I was an undergrad, I started out as a biochem major and then I took my first Ethnic Studies class and it just changed everything.   I felt like I suddenly had entry into a new vocabulary, a framework for understanding everything around me and everything that came before.   I had some issues with the English Department but I ended up double majoring and I felt like I was able to intervene into what was happening in these classes and in general discussions about national culture, the canon, etc.   This is my hope for our undergrads – take what you learn in our classes and bring that lens into Public Health, Nursing, History, CLJ, Psychology, or Urban Planning.   i’m a firm believer in the double major, and in the importance of using minors to signpost your intellectual & social commitments to future employers and graduate programs.