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Women’s Studies Professor Challenges Ideas


She has been at Fresno State now for two semesters and her appreciation for the students here continues to grow. Some students will rise to the occasion and reaffirm that there is hope for the shapers of the next generation, but not without changing their perspectives. “Understanding the underlying themes of nationalism, gender, and class structure allows us to dissolve the stereotypes that we so often malign against each other.” Anahid Kassabian educates to challenge thinking patterns that, she hopes, will eventually change the way we behave. It is her endeavor to further define family, historic, and social relationships within her students and her own Armenian heritage.

Kassabian was born in New York City and grew up in a community deeply immersed in the Armenian experience. Her grandparents came to America shortly before the Turks began to aggressively persecute the Armenians. Growing up she was actively involved with the Armenian community participating interested in Armenian national politics and the Armenian Youth Federation throughout high school. After graduation however, she found that the opportunities for a woman to serve were restricted to complementary positions and not the frontline action that she desired. She continued her education in Europe, where she met her husband, and in America, receiving her Ph.d. from Stanford University. Her current projects focus on the societal perspectives of class, gender, media, and nationalism.

Attracted to Fresno State because of its diversity and historical Armenian community, she continually encourages her classes to think independently. With the resource of materials she has collected, she gives them inspiration to question the world around them. Kassabian distinguishes her classes beyond a lecture course in that the students are encouraged to invoke the course of the discussion. A risky method if the class doesn’t volunteer. This does not frighten her, “I can tolerate silence a lot longer than they can.” Fortunately the students do participate and with eagerness. However, she is careful to keep the momentum controversial without becoming confrontational. It is a fine line she manages successfully; it would be easy for unconstrained dialogue about race, gender, and nationalism to become affrontive and counter-productive to the discussion.

Is there racism in Fresno? What are the stereotypes still surrounding gender? Do we still have barriers within the social structure? And within the Armenian community what are the dissentions? Kassabian engages to ask questions concerning diaspora Armenians versus those who have recently emigrated, the distinctions between Lebanese-Armenians and Russian-Armenians, and the patriarchal conventions of most Armenian culture. These are important controversial explorations whose outcome will decide how the Armenian experience will advance. “The Armenian question, ‘Who are we after the genocide?’, is now only one of several central questions. Who we are now, and from now on, is what we will be called upon to answer within the next generation.”