GDST professor writes book on navigating crisis

written by morgan miles, staff writer
Photo courtesy of Mich Nyawalo
Dr. Mich Nyawalo, a new hire in the GDST department, released his book on using literature to navigate recent crisis events that have taken place.

Dr. Mich Nyawalo, associate professor of GDST, hosted a Zoom Q&A session on Friday for his new book Teaching in Times of Crisis: Applying Comparative Literature in the Classroom.

Nyawalo was hired last year as one of Xavier’s first and only GDST professors. According to Nyawalo, the
factor that led him to accept a teaching position at Xavier stemmed from the university’s commitment to community engagement.

Nyawalo stated that the offices and structures at Xavier have allowed him to engage in meaningful interactions around campus. He also noted that the field of comparative literature has interested him throughout his career.

“(Comparative literature) gave me meaning and enabled me to make sense of structures of inequity, violence and systemic forms of discrimination I witnessed around me,” Nyawalo said. “In classes, it gives me a sense of purpose and has enabled me to help my students make sense of their reality.”

Dr. Nyawalo’s Ph.D. in comparative literature served as a source of inspiration for his book that’s written from the perspective of someone who is a comparatist.

“The central motivation of a comparatist is to analyze a given thing and look at that phenomenon in relation to another,” Nyawalo said. “You can get insights that are productive that maybe you would not otherwise easily arrive.” Nyawalo cited different examples of crises, such as COVID-19, protests and the storming of the Capitol. “What is our role, how do we capitalize on our discipline and what do we do to help people get insights on our current states of crisis.” asked Nyawalo.

The introduction of Dr. Nyawalo’s book tries to address the myth of American exceptionalism. “There is this idea that the
U.S. is this ‘exceptional’ country… and then the storming of the Capitol happens… part of what comparatists do is say ‘We are not exceptional.’ In order to say that your country is comparable to others is to deny that myth of exceptionalism,” he explained.

The act of not only learning about cultural diversity, but embracing differences and similarities, is a goal that Dr. Nyawalo’s writings of and his teaching in the classroom. His students are expected to hear and understand stories, hopes, despairs and more from people who live in countries the U.S. may be negatively portrayed by different media outlets. “I want students to question the politician who says we should bomb Iran to the Stone Age,” Nyawalo said. “I want to humanize people who pray differently, live differently and love differently.” The book also ventures deeper into similar concepts.

During the Virtual Q&A, Nyawalo went into detail about individual chapters with examples tied to experiences of formerly teaching at an Appalachian university. Teaching in Times of Crisis: Applying Comparative Literature in the Classroom is available to buy online in hardback or as an eBook.