Know Your Professor: Janie Ward

December 23, 2014

Janie Ward

Find out Professor Ward's hidden talent!

What's your favorite class to teach?

A few years ago I created a course for the Honors Program that was later moved to Africana Studies. I named it "Soul, Funk and Civil Rights." It's a musical trip through U.S. history examining black music that was created and consumed in the 1960s and 1970s. Historically, music has been an essential aspect of African American culture. In this course black music, dance, theatre, film and fashion are used as both a backdrop and a timeline as we explore the profound social, political and cultural events that changed American society forever.

Everyone has some kind of connection to the music--from songs of social protest to Motown and Stax records, from funk bands to disco halls, from American Bandstand to Soul Train--those song writers and musicians tap the culture and consciousness of who we were and are today. Students love going home and asking their parents and grandparents about what they remember from that period and why. In one semester a student's grandfather, a jazz musician, came to class to share his experiences playing behind "The Last Poets" after a Black Panthers rally! We cover twenty years of tumultuous history as told through stories you've probably never heard before. Crazy movements (funky chicken anyone?), fun memories and the best music ever!

Fill in the blank: When I was in college...

...being a professor was the last thing on my mind.

What's your favorite restaurant in Boston?

I still enjoy Legal's Seafood. I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts which is where Legal's began as a hole in the wall fish joint in Inman Square. Their food was great then, and it's even better now. I've never had a bad dish at Legal's.

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?

I'd head back to the Ngorongoro Crater in the East African nation of Tanzania. I went there years ago with a study abroad group. We studied Kiswahili culture and language, the Massai people and their traditions, and we went on a safari in the Serengeti. Driving down into the crater at sunrise, you see every color imaginable as the migrating animals--zebra, wilderbeast, hippos, elephants, gazelles--strut their stuff through that huge and unspoiled national park. At one point we came around a corner and suddenly the sky turned completely bright pink. Hundreds of flamingoes took off from their nesting place on the lake all at the same time. I had never seen that many birds take flight together. They completely filled the sky. The burst of color was simply magnificent and definitely worth a return visit.

When I'm not teaching I'm ___________

watching TV. I know, I know. Professors aren't supposed to be heavy TV watchers, but I was a television and film production major in college, and although I now teach in a completely different discipline, my first love is television studies. Back when I was in college the major networks owned everything and if it wasn't produced by ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS, it couldn't be seen. Since then the proliferation of new networks, the spread of cable television stations, and now the increasing number of internet delivery television platforms increases the opportunity for so many more populations to be involved and stories to be told than was every possible in the past. I love the creative risk-taking going on today. Spectacular web-based series, incredible documentaries, hysterically irreverent comedies -- it feels like the field is exploding with exciting energy and talent.

Do you have a hidden talent?

I enjoy playing West African dundun drums. I am a sucker for polyrhythms and when we get into a groove, it's also a really good workout.

What is your favorite quote?

Frederick Douglass, the great orator, abolitionist and intellectual leader from the nineteenth century once said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." I think of this quote often and I use it as a foundation for my professional work. For example, my research studies are designed to uncover the psychological and environmental variables that contribute to promoting resiliencies in black and children and youth. I hope to instill in my students the desire to work from a strengths perspective and impart the skills to do so.

What song is your personal anthem?

Elton John's "I'm Still Standing."

I love my students because ___________

so many of them are smart, inquisitive, hard working and see themselves as future leaders. I feel honored to play a role in their development.

I love Simmons because ___________

around here there's never a dull moment.