Women are strong.
In Honor of International Women’s Day, this Connections Post will focus on women in leadership roles in the English honors society, Sigma Tau Delta (unfortunately acronymed STD). Melissa Lopez, Grace Stafford, and Nolan Vail have transformed and revitalized what was once a club that held pizza parties twice a semester into a forum for experiencing cultural events in Atlanta, Chattanooga Nashville, and beyond. With the help of Dr. Joseph Jordan, these three have strengthened a community and built a family within the English department. Nolan opted to bow out of this interview in order to fully give the floor to his female compatriots.
Starting with the basics, why did you become English majors?
Melissa Lopez: Actually, funnily enough, you were one of the reasons why. I was taking two English classes at the same time, and I realized that I was really into the stress of papers and, like, looking at everything—
Oh we all love that.
Melissa: Right? If you’re an English major you’re either kind of sadistic or…you know we’re just weird.
One of the classes was with Dr. [Joseph] Jordan, right?
Melissa: Yeah! It was intro to Lit with Dr. Jordan and Values of 20th Century American Fiction—I went in hating Faulkner and then Dr. [Verbie] Prevost was like “Here’s a short story” and I walked out not hating him as much. Although, I will not read The Sound and the Fury ever again. But I was introduced to Chekov and that’s kind of my main influence of why I love English—Comparative Literature mostly.
Grace Stafford: I always read a lot as a kid, annoyingly so. I went through most of my time thinking I was going to Archeology with Egypt, I don’t know why, and I didn’t end up do that at all. That was when I was starting to realize that publishing is something I’d like to do. I like to write. I was good at it, so I wanted to keep doing it. And then junior and senior year is when I really started reading really good books for class and everything, and then I had a really great senior year teacher who recommended that I read The Bell Jar and that was what solidified it. It’s one of the most amazing books. It’s incredibly impactful just in general and it’s also just a good book, and I just wanted to study more of that while I was in school.
How did your passion for English influence your decision to join Sigma Tau Delta? Did you always want to be officers?
Melissa: In my first years of college I was in Greek life, and I really wanted a position in leadership because a lot of people say, “Being in a sorority is going to get you contacts and like networking and stuff.” Not really, unless you have a leadership position. I really like being in leadership positions. I did it in high school, and so then when I heard Dr. Jordan was like “the current president and vice president are stepping down and we need someone” and I was like “I’ll do it!” Because I really like to plan things. The idea of planning things and it all coming together and seeing the final result is very satisfying for me. I really like doing that and actually working. I like keeping busy, and if it means somehow mixing my passion of seeing an adaptation of a book into a play or something like that then it’s all worth it. Going to see Hamlet is great, I will always see Hamlet whenever I can.
And those are the kinds of things you guys do [in Sigma Tau Delta]?
Melissa: Yeah! We go to art exhibits with other professors is great and I’m a really big fan of art too and seeing “Gassed” by John Senior Sergeant and Dr. Shaheen tying his American Lit focus into that was really amazing. It’s actually kind of what I’m going to be doing with my thesis soon so that’s pretty chill.
Grace: So ditto to everything [she] just said. I’ve found amazing friends from the English department—probably the best friends. Obviously, there’s some [friends] outside of it because classes are fun, but we’re always together. We constantly see each other, and Sigma Tau Delta was just a way to take that classroom life out, and take trips, and have fun and so having the opportunity to be in a leadership position where we can help make those more frequent and cooler to us, rather than just what someone else thought, obviously. It’s a really good time to enjoy your friends and encourage new people to enjoy the English department as much as much we did because we do have a great faculty. I really enjoy it.
Melissa: Another little tidbit because I was just thinking of that when she mentioned faculty is that you develop relationships with your professors that you didn’t think you would. And you don’t know, their recommendation could get you into your dream grad school or the internship you want, and honestly it’s just really great when you have that relationship and you leave and come back and they’re like “I remember that great paper you wrote” and you’re like “really? Thanks!” You get to go to their houses and eat their food, too, so it’s great! I’m here for it.
Can you guys each just tell me a little about your position? What do you do in Sigma Tau Delta day to day?
Melissa: As president I really just try to research opportunities to go to events, whether it would be in Atlanta, Nashville, sometimes Knoxville—sometimes they have a Shakespeare company there—and just organize them and get the information to Dr. Jordan. Of course he is a professor, and he has a huge workload, so on top of my workload, I just research a lot of these things, and we all kind of mix in the responsibilities.
You herd the cats, basically.
Melissa: Yeah, what we have to do is figure out induction [into Sigma Tau Delta], who do we want at this, these are possible dates, and try and work around everyone’s schedule. We remind people of when we need to do things, and that’s mostly what I do.
Grace: So I have the…rest of it. I basically do our the social media and communications.
What is your official title?
Grace: That’s a great question. I kind of say PR Officer..sure that’s what I do.
Great, I just really need to put you in a box.
Grace: Sure, that’s fair. I need that as well. It’s a great comfort. I do all the emails, social media attempts—mostly just Facebook because that’s really where we had a better success at getting people to events we set up and that kinda jazz on the Facebook page.
Ah, yes I’ve been on Facebook.
Grace: Yes, as one does. It’s easier to use for our needs. I make sure everyone knows about the upcoming events, and being the liaison between the people and us because there’s been times when people have been like “I need a ride to this event,” and I can help facilitate that kind of thing. It’s a huge group effort to plan and work together because we are friends, and we talk, and we’re like “that would be fun,” and we just work it out.
Would you say that the English Department and Sigma Tau Delta specifically helped facilitate this friendship?
Grace: It helps having so many classes together, and you can pretty much rely on the meeting people in the same classes.
Lots of repeat customers?
Grace: Exactly, which can be a bad thing if you don’t like someone, but if you like people then it’s fun because then you get to see them all the time.
How do you think people can reach out and be more involved in Sigma Tau Delta?
Grace: Come out with us to places. Come here [TC Ware room in McCallie 540 building]! Because we love to talk to people. If we know your name, and you can tell us things you want to do, we would love to listen. But we can’t talk to anybody we don’t know. We want to know what everyone else is wanting. I general I feel like while Sigma Tau Delta does have fun events, it’s really just facilitating communication between everybody in the department and people who, I don’t want to say “care a lot more,” but people who want to be more involved in their education and their experience while they’re at school. Making the most of it kind of idea—if you come to the events you’re more involved with your own schooling.
What are some upcoming Sigma Tau Delta events that we should put on our calendars?
Melissa: We’re going to start doing our movie nights again, and another reason you should come to the teas is that you can give me your email, and Grace will put you on the list, and you’ll get all the dates. But March 8th we’re going to do a showing of Pride and Prejudice, so you should come out to that. We’re probably going to see The Glass Menagerie at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre as well, so that one’s easier to go to if you can’t go to Nashville or Atlanta. We’re planning an induction, so if you do want to join you should get into that so you can be a part of the induction ceremony. There’s always the end of the year and semester party which is always great fun, great food—we love snacks.
Great apartment [Dr. Jordan’s apartment, where the end of the year party is held].
Melissa: Yeah, Great apartment. A lot of sparkling water, I don’t know why we all have an obsession with sparkling water in this department.
La Croix is the lifeblood of the English department.
Melissa: There’s a lot. We do less in the spring because finals come up so quickly, and there’s spring break, so everyone’s super busy. The fall is where we’re really poppin’. Wow! Did I just say that?
Grace: Oh, yeah! You sure did say “poppin.”
What’s it like working with Dr. Jordan?
There is a long silence followed by a lot of laughter
Melissa: Honestly, it can be frustrating. Our friendship is weird because I’ve gotten really sarcastic with him, and it’s kind of funny because if a professor I don’t know really well was ever sarcastic with me, I’d think they hated me, and that I couldn’t talk to them—it’s terrifying, but now it’s actually really cool. The only difficult thing is getting everyone’s schedules together because we all have lives outside of school, and he has his job, too.
Do you have any hot takes on what it’s like to work with Dr. Jordan?
Grace: I don’t have too much to add, but I will say that I’m proud that I got Dr. Jordan to start saying “friends” as a gender neutral greeting. Now when he emails us it’s always “Hey friends, How’re you doing” and we’re like “We’re doing so good!”
Melissa: The greatest thing is that we exchange musical artists, and I will say this, and I know this is going on the internet, I will admit that I do like Chris Stapelton and Sturgill Simpson but that’s it. You’re not going to get me to listen to Carrie Underwood—
But “Before He Cheats,” though.
Melissa: True. But I made him listen to Childish Gambino in his car one day on the way to see The Crucible—
But did he like it, that’s the most important question.
Melissa: His only reaction was “I thought you guys were really innocent” but jokingly, and then I made him listen to Kendrick Lamar, and I didn’t get a reaction. But if he says he doesn’t like Kendrick Lamar, I think my heart will break, because I love Kendrick.
Grace: But all in all, it’s fun to work with him.
I know this is a broad question, but how much do you guys think you’ve grown from being in Sigma Tau Delta? If you met yourself before getting involved with the department and Sigma Tau Delta, what would that be like?
Grace: For sure. I’ve definitely become more of a social person in environments I feel more comfortable in— obviously because social anxiety is still a thing—but in general, I feel more comfortable talking to new people. I want to to get people involved and make people feel welcome. It’s definitely made me realize how important it is to experience that when you’re in a new environment, and to really be more sure of myself in my work. We were just sitting with three or four professors just now chatting, and that’s something in my freshman year … I would have shut down. And we just had a chill conversation where we talked about the movie It and avocados—even though they didn’t approve of that topic. In general, I feel that I’ve become much more of a social person, and more in charge of my own narrative.
After a brief Costco related tangent we return to Melissa for final comments
Melissa: I definitely think I’ve grown. Like I said I never would have spoken to any of my professors, I didn’t really do that in high school. There were only like two teachers I really spoke to, and honestly you would not have seen me at a table talking to Dr. McCarthy or Professor Baker, or talking to Dr. Einstein because all the professors in this department have this aura of coolness about them. I think they were the hipster Millennials of their generation. You know like that kind of vibe. Really I think by them being so welcoming really made me come out of my shell and become even more of an outgoing person than I already was.
Grace: I just have one more thing to add, and it’s very self serving, but I would also like to say that because of my increased interactions with my professors, that’s how I was able to find out about my internship with that I’m currently doing with Dr. Einstein. I wouldn’t have been in the know about this position. It’s pretty amazing.
Sigma Tau Delta is an International English honor’s society and these views are specific to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s officers and interviewer. The tentative date for the 2018 induction into the club is April 12th at Patten Chapel. For more info feel free to contact Melissa Lopez, (rwk261 [at] mocs.utc [dot] edu) Grace Stafford (hcc468 [at] mocs.utc[dot] edu), or Nolan Vail (ccs156 [at] mocs.utc [dot] edu) for more information.