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The Hawkeye

The Student News Site of University of Louisiana Monroe

The Hawkeye

The Student News Site of University of Louisiana Monroe

The Hawkeye

Harris breathes life into ULM English program

Courtney Collins

Every student can remember one teacher who changed their life. For many ULM students, that one teacher is Jaleesa Harris.  The youngest of three siblings, Harris always possessed a love for learning and a thirst for knowledge. As a child, she borrowed romance novels from her sister, spending hours immersed in fantasy worlds and romances. Preteen Harris’ bookshelf consisted of a mishmash of Eric Jerome Dickery novels and classics like “The Color Purple.”

While Harris’ parents may not have shared their youngest daughter’s love for literature, they fostered her inquisitive and creative nature.  

“In retrospect, I appreciate that while my parents and siblings didn’t necessarily understand me, that never stopped them from supporting me, even if that support was letting me cocoon in my room for hours undisturbed or when my mom stood in line at Books-a-Million at 5:00 a.m. to make sure I got the latest ‘Harry Potter’ novel,” Harris said. 

 Despite constantly reading and studying literature, Harris decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in pre-pharmacy. This decision led Harris to attend ULM, which has one of the only pharmacy programs in the state. However, Harris did not stay a pharmacy major for long because she was “horrible in all variations of math.” Looking for a new career path, Harris stumbled across the English program after taking a composition course. 

“I’d always had an interest in reading (writing, not so much), but I never considered that a career was possible,” Harris said.

Harris graduated with a bachelor’s in English, deciding to attend ULM’s graduate English program.  While attending graduate school, she worked as teaching assistant for Composition 1 and 2. Harris helped students develop their voices as writers, instilling confidence into each and every student. 

Former English Professor Mary Adams remembers the first time she watched Harris lead an introductory English class. She instantly recognized Harris’ undying passion for teaching. 

“Watching her teach that day was one of the most memorable experiences of my career, “Adams said.

Once Harris finished graduate school, she became an instructor at ULM. She entered the doctoral program at ULL. Harris, along with fellow English instructor Meredith McKinnie, commuted three hours to Lafayette multiple times a week. 

During her Ph.D. program, Harris took a course titled Racial Capitalism, which ignited Harris’ interest in the Black Gothic. 

The Black Gothic is “a way to think through complex ideas around dispossession, afterlife of slavery, redlining and Black horror.” 

Ironically, Harris specialized in a field she despises, hating the feeling of being afraid. Last summer, Harris successfully defended her thesis on the Black Gothic, earning the title of doctor.  

Harris currently works as a tenure-track professor and teaches courses on English composition, Shakespeare and African American literature. While teaching, Harris lights up the room and quickly becomes a favorite of students. Her courses dive into complex topics, such as colonialism, racism and literary canonization. After taking one of Harris’ course, students leave with a new unique perspective. 

English Professor James Pettit explains that Harris woven the thread of relational equity and academic excellence with her students.

“She establishes relationships, but she also holds students to a high standard,” Pettit said. “She is going to make them think through issues critically and in a non-threatening atmosphere.”

English Professor Vanelis Rivera became a close friend and colleague of Harris’ after the two completed undergraduate and graduate school together. 

“We connected over hearing about similar social issues and being able to talk about them and understand our points of view because of our own personal experience and background.”

Harris’ impact on ULM will be felt for years to come. 

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