USD Just Read! Interview
witrh Kevin Guerrieri, Associate Professor, Spanish
Desiring a unique way to create a classroom of discovery and exploration? Kevin Guerrieri is here to quench this thirst by reflecting on the challenges of social change through Just Read, an innovative reading program at USD. With the integration of the book The Price of Thirst and related events on campus into the course, students are encouraged to connect concepts and texts studied in the classroom with real-world situations, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, for example, and other important global contexts surrounding water inequality.
Read more below about Guerrieri's collaborative learning environment below:
The Basics: What’s your story?
I earned my masters at the University of Colorado, Boulder and my Ph.D at UC Riverside. I’ve been here at USD going on fifteen years now. I’m a member of the Spanish Program in the Department of Languages, Cultures and Literatures, and my research focuses on Latin American literature and culture, in general, and cultural production in Colombia, in particular. Scholarship of engagement is another important area of my research.
Why Just Read?
Just Read can potentially be a great mechanism for encouraging interdisciplinary work and helping students to make important connections among different disciplines, especially if they happen to be taking two or more classes that have incorporated the selected book. This semester I’m teaching two sections of a survey course, Cultural History of Latin America (SPAN 304), and one section of a special topics on Human Rights and Latin American Cultural Production (SPAN 494). We read two chapters of The Price of Thirst that fit very naturally into the content of both courses: the “The Colonial Origins of Global Water Inequality” and “How a Coup Opened Chile’s Water Markets.” I also encouraged my students to read the chapter on California for obvious reasons. In my classes we juxtaposed the analysis of cultural texts—including literature, film, music, etc.—with the study of issues related to water inequality, in particular, and to land, natural resources, and the environment, in general.
How do you create a collaborative learning environment in the classroom?
I think the first step is to try to ensure that everyone is present, not just in body but in mind, which means disconnecting from devices and emphasizing the face-to-face interaction among students as they engage with the texts studied. From there, it’s a matter of designing a lesson plan that creates multiple opportunities for all students to contribute to the discussion. In the classes in my department, which are taught in the target language—in my case, Spanish—there tends to be a wide range of communicative proficiencies among the students. So, it’s important to open spaces in which students with different strengths can actively participate.
What do you want your students to take away from the Just Read program?
In general, one of the main take-aways should be the emphasis on the analysis of the complexity of the issues—in this case, issues related to global water inequality—in order to reach a deeper understanding and to be able to formulate and explore even more difficult questions. My concern is that social change is often sought through quick fixes and “technical” fixes, while the underlying systemic issues remain unchanged. In my teaching I try to infuse the idea of making critical connections—among topics, approaches, disciplines, etc.—while also diving deeper in a given area. By doing so, and as part of students’ broader liberal arts education, hopefully, they will go out into the world better equipped to think critically and independently, and make those types of connections. I also emphasize to students that positive social change has to be done working collectively, working with different communities, but doing so through ethical collaboration and learning from these communities. In our academic context, the question is, how can we explore the issues more profoundly? Many of our students have an earnest desire to go out and do good in the world, to make a difference. So, it’s a matter of channeling that energy into the exploration of complexity, and, eventually, striving for meaningful, long-term change