Alumni Interview: Hayden Golden

Hayden Golden

Tell us about yourself.: 

I graduated in 2008 and I currently work as an Organizer for the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan representing unionized adjuncts and graduate students. I help them in collective bargaining, developing leaders on campus, and building a regional coalition of faith leaders, community organizations, and political allies. Before that, I worked on a legislative campaign in Rhode Island and the Yes on 1 same-sex marriage campaign in Maine.

I graduated in 2008 and I currently work as an Organizer for the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan representing unionized adjuncts and graduate students. I help them in collective bargaining, developing leaders on campus, and building a regional coalition of faith leaders, community organizations, and political allies. Before that, I worked on a legislative campaign in Rhode Island and the Yes on 1 same-sex marriage campaign in Maine.

What are some of your most memorable moments at UMF?:

In my time at UMF, there were two events that stand out as the most profound in my education. In 2010-11, the faculty put together an amazing series on indigenous art and literature featuring William Yellow Robe, Jr. and Georgina Lightning. Interacting with these amazing people was a great lesson in how literature, film, and performance can be instruments of social justice that push for a new kind of discourse around Native communities, their often tragic histories, and their sovereignty. That same year UMF hosted Bill Ayers and Lincoln Auditorium was packed! He’s this radical scholar and people tend to have strong feelings about him because of his involvement with the Weather Underground, but he spoke about how classrooms and the academy create power structures that actually inhibit democracy. I think that the year culminated in a major shift in my writing and thought: I moved away from reflective and distant writing and the stereotype of the scholar secluded in the ivory tower thinking great thoughts toward intensely political and engaged writing.

What makes studying English at UMF unique?:

Having worked with higher ed institutions across Michigan for about a year now, I’ve noticed that they tend to host one or two big speakers a year. I guess that’s cool if you want to see Noam Chomsky or Slavoj Zizek, but at UMF there are scholars coming throughout the year. It means that students get to practice learning outside the classroom more than students at bigger schools. It’s not to say that big name schools don’t have scholarly activities going on, just that perhaps they’re more easily overlooked in an academic environment where too much is happening for students to keep track of it all.

I’d also say that studying English at UMF is innately collaborative. The faculty push students to read outside the field and consult scholars in other disciplines. Sure, we can read about having a room of one’s own, but our ability to truly understand it and incorporate it into today’s discourse comes from reading Annette Kolodny or Jack Halberstam. Once we get past our core classes, we’ve got the fundamentals of writing down and we know how to pick a single line of poetry or even a few words and extract pages of meaning, but then the faculty pull you out of that microcosm and force you to confront all kinds of new knowledge, even if messes with your thesis. You learn at once how to learn from the smallest of details and glean as much knowledge as possible from myriad sources.

How did your time at UMF help you beyond the classroom?:

It’s influenced my current work as an Organizer fighting for a future where faculty and grad students aren’t paid according to their discipline, but according to their labor. Whenever some administrator at the bargaining table asks why we need to raise wages for grad students in the social sciences and humanities, I do take that personally because they’ve placed (an arbitrarily) higher value in STEM fields. More importantly, I’ve got loads of data showing why majoring in English is vital and why our stereotype about beatnik-quoting baristas is actually a myth.

What advice do you have for current or prospective students?:

Study something that makes you uncomfortable and don’t believe that grad school is the only option. And if you are sure that grad school is the answer, think about American Studies.

What type of students should consider majoring in English at UMF?:

I don’t know that I can pigeonhole a “type” of person for the English major, but I’d encourage everyone who’s studying English to double major. I know from experience that you can do it in four years (if that’s what you’re worried about), but more importantly, it’s a chance to give yourself breadth and depth; you’ll encounter all kinds of new materials, but you’ll also find fascinating points of intersection.

What do you see yourself doing in the future (10- 20 years)?:

Well, I’ve been working on my Master’s in Social Work for a couple of years now, so I’d really like to have that finished up. And in 10 or 20 years, I’d still like to be engaged in social justice work, but I’d like 20 hours a week to be considered full time. In the technology-laden world we live in where productivity has increased consistently since the mid-1960s, doesn’t 40 hours seem like an insane standard? I’d spend a lot more time reading if 20 hours was full time and maybe get around to reading Middlemarch or one of 50 other “classics” BuzzFeed keeps telling me I’ve missed.

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