Just Visiting: Shervin Malekzadeh and Heather Love discuss revolts, friendship

The Record’s newest column, “Just Visiting,” highlights visiting professors’ research and careers. In the column’s first installment, Shervin Malekzadeh and Heather Love share a bit about themselves and what it’s like to be visiting professors at the College.

“It’s a sexy topic, of course,” Shervin Malekzadeh, visiting assistant professor of political science, said of his course “Revolutions.” Malekzadeh was a visiting professor at Swarthmore for four years before coming to the College; this spring, he is teaching two political science courses: “Introduction to Comparative Politics: Nationalism, Religion and State Power” and the aforementioned “Revolutions” class.

When asked about the inspiration behind the course, Malekzadeh spoke about his family’s immigration to Illinois from Iran when he was 10-months-old. He was in kindergarten during the Iranian Revolution and in first grade during the Iranian hostage crisis. “In a rural setting where there are corn fields all around, it’s hard to conceal the Persian kid in the corner, and I was made pretty aware of the political situation in Iran because of it,” he said. His childhood, in addition to his experience traveling to Tehran during the 2009 Iranian Green Movement, sparked Malekzadeh’s interest in revolutions.

“[These experiences] reinforced my interest and desire to understand where revolutions begin, how they end and what constitutes a successful revolution,” he said.

Heather Love is a visiting professor of English from the University of Pennsylvania. This spring, she is teaching a course titled “Friendship.” 

“People are surprised that the philosophy of friendship has such a long history.” she said. Love explained that her class starts with the work of Aristotle. “It’s part of his writing on ethics. What does it mean to be a good or a bad friend, [and] how is that related to questions of justice?” she said.

“We don’t define ‘friend’ from the start,” Love said, but her class does agree on certain criteria of friendship. “It’s not the couple, and it’s not the family, but there’re a lot of other forms of intimacy that don’t get the same kind of recognition that romantic love and family do,” she said.

“The class does have this sexuality emphasis because the idea of being gay wasn’t legible to people,” Love said. “Intense same-sex intimacies were called friendships.” This is where the course intersects most with her research. “I tend to focus on how homosexuality was stigmatized in the 20th century,” she said.

While Love’s research relates to the difficulties queer-identifying people have experienced, she said, “For teaching, I like to teach more hopeful stuff – it brings out my more hopeful side.”

At the College, Love has enjoyed the chance to focus on undergraduate students. At the University of Pennsylvania, she mentors graduate students, a role she describes as “difficult, high-pressure and rewarding.” It can be challenging for doctoral students to find jobs once they graduate, but “we try to give them the best shot possible,” Love said.

This sentiment echoed some of the difficulties Malekzadeh mentioned about starting a career as a professor. “In no other business or industry do you need to keep going until you find tenure track,” he said, pointing out how, often, non-tenured professors need to move after only a few years at a school. Malekzadeh said the College’s faculty development programs like First3, which offers weekly lunches for new faculty members, help to smooth the transition.

Malekzadeh said that the First3 program is particularly “outstanding” for recent additions to the College who may have questions ranging from what it is like to be a new professor to how to best participate in faculty meetings. The talks “really encourage you not to be shy and give you guidance on how to get involved,” he said.

“I’m pretty lucky,” Malekzadeh said. “In terms of the resources, the view from my office… I’m a big Paresky fan,” he said, laughing. “Williams and [Swarthmore] are really interesting places because they just tell you to teach whatever you want… It’s been impressive, just a very vigorous population of students and professors.”

He said that he is also happy with the role he plays within the department.

“You are treated as a peer, which is pretty impressive given that academia is based on an almost medieval hierarchy,” he said. “Williams goes out of its way to make me feel welcome and not [like] a fill-in.”

Love agreed and said she feels at home on campus. “I’m a fan of Williams,” she said. “It’s peaceful, it’s beautiful – it has been a really good place to work.”