Full circle: once a student, now a professor

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From one journey of life to the other, Professor Arin Mason traveled the spectrum of time when she decided to return to New College, her alma mater, as a teacher for the spring 2011 term. Arin Mason, a ’93 alum, has now seen this college over a thirteen years and can only wonder at the differences upon returning to the halls of Sarasota’s Pink Palace. This semester she is teaching, “Performance Studies: An exploration of Performance as Praxis, Performance as Theory, and Performance as ‘Political,’” a weighty title worthy of the all-encompassing connotations in the three-hour seminar class. Mason returned in the hope of teaching her student counterparts performance theory, the topic continually motivating her career and initiated in her New College home.

After graduating New College in 1997 with a sociology/gender studies AOC, Arin Mason went to get her Masters and then her PhD at New York University and specializing, in addition to sociology and gender studies in: critical theory, queer theory, cultural bias, critical race theory, and critical legal theory—all in the framework of performance.

“An important thing to note,” Mason said in the interview with the Catalyst, “is that each thesis I have had to write has merely been an extension of my New College thesis that I wrote all those years ago.”  Mason’s thesis was built around three dance performances and corresponding papers examining how feminism can be represented in embodiment and dance, it was titled: “Dancing with Desire: theorizing the possibility of feminist dance.”

“It is what I learned at New College that established the path I would take for the rest of my life,” Mason said before adding, “and would love every step of.”

From her PhD Mason embarked into the teaching world, teaching at NYU, American University, George Mason University, Yale, and the University of Miami.  From writing to performance studies, Mason taught a wide range of classes, classes that never straying far from the topic of embodiment and critical theory which lead her gradually to focus on “sexualization and racialism in the body”, and her quest to analyze it in America.

“When I found out that there was a good amount of interest in Performance and Identity Politics here,” she continued, “which is exactly what I have been studying myself, it only made sense to return and teach.” She further explained that if New College offered Performance Studies as a slash major, which a few students are currently pursuing, it would be one of the only undergrad schools in the nation to offer such a degree.

Arin Mason found her way back to New College at a point in her life when she realized that the majority of her most significant influences, the people she could always go back to, had come from here. “The New College friends I had made,” she explained, “have always, without fail, been the ones that were always there. Furthermore, after teaching at several institutions, I realized how special this one really is.”

She went on to explain the atmosphere of the college and that now, after returning she realized “that the same type of people have always been attracted to this place.” Mason described her pride in the school and her fascination with the culture, learning how students find New College and embrace the “liberal lifestyle” in the ways that they do to create a solid identity. “I was part of the New College identity and now get to observe it through the lens of a teacher,” she explained. “It’s intriguing to me to see how much everything has changed but at the same time how nothings has.”

“I noticed during the 50th Anniversary that there seems to be these ‘archetypal figures’ in the student body, a ‘New College type’ that I hadn’t been aware of before,” she explained. “But even though the identity hasn’t changed, the force of it has. There is a really strong sense of what ‘New College’ is, now.  Which implies a unity and solidarity that wasn’t so explicit as it before.”

Much has changed though since her time here, among which she commented on the more plentiful resources, “though I bet you guys don’t feel like it,” she chuckled. “Also though, it has become more difficult to do interdisciplinary studies,” she said as she explained the bureaucracy now involved in double majoring and slashing. “It’s like the college has expanded as a whole, but gotten a lot more difficult to get into as well. I see a group of students that appear more goal-oriented and ambitious than we were, it seems like most students come here already with some idea of what they are going to do with their lives.”

As a representation of the “New College legacy,” Arin Mason represents New College’s past yet contributes to the present, sharing her experience with the school and students through stories and the education that also began in the halls of the pink palace.

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