Emma Schneider, English Ph.D. from Tufts in graduation cap and gown

Listening Communities

2017 GSAS Doctoral Hooding Student Address by Emma Schneider, Ph.D. recipient from the Department of English

Thank you to our advisors and other members of the Tufts’ faculty and staff and to our families, partners, and friends. You have challenged us and believed in us even when our own confidence has faltered. You have talked us through the umpteenth revision, held our hands as we crossed the street, and reminded us that, sometimes, taking a hike really, truly is more important than reading one more article. For that, and much more, thank you.

My dear fellow graduates—it is such a pleasure to be here with you today. As I stand with all of you, I am seeing familiar faces and am remembering my delight in hearing the passion you exude for your research and students. I am seeing unfamiliar faces and know that you too have such stories.

Today, we acknowledge our departure from one learning space and our step into the next. We are now among those who produce, share, and monitor what is considered knowledge. Whatever else we may carry with us, we are now privileged to be among the most educated people in our fields. With this position, we have ever increasing power to impact how that knowledge system functions and for whom.

Whether or not your future plans involve professing to eager first years, you will most likely be in a position where your voice counts, perhaps even beyond your area of expertise. As you walk into tomorrow, I ask you not just to think of yourself as a researcher or a professor. I also ask you to think of yourself as a listener.

Rachel Carson begins Silent Spring by asking her readers to imagine an environment without bird song. The inhabitants cannot just wait to listen for an outcry to determine something is wrong; to realize what is happening, they must listen for what sounds are absent. Carson argues that our long-term well-being depends on paying close attention and remembering that the world has been and, thus, could be different. Her concern with the impacts of DDT and other pesticides encourages us to think more broadly. What other sounds or silences due to injustice or violence are present but too often go unheard? Carson’s “Fable for Tomorrow” makes clear that we cannot just wait for those in trouble to speak up louder; we must also learn to listen better.

Our communities need the strength that comes from building connection, coalition, and respect. Such bonds are forged in listening.


Emma Schneider English Ph.D.

I ask that you become leaders in your communities not just by speaking out, but also by listening. Our communities need the strength that comes from building connection, coalition, and respect. Such bonds are forged in listening. Not the listening that soaks in any information that seems profitable or that obeys commands from people with power. Nor the listening that intends only to critique. Rather, I mean a form of intentional listening that seeks out those voices who have been undervalued and muted, one that asks why we aren’t hearing certain voices.

In my own teaching, I am thinking about how I can help my students learn to be great listeners in addition to great speakers. Earbuds and iPhones have made it easy to move through the world in a comfortable, self-created listening bubble. What are the dangers of hardly hearing the thrumming engines, chirruping birds, and pleas for spare change during a walk through Davis Square? When we listen outside this bubble, what are the potentials for unexpected engagement, joy, and motivation to make changes?

As we move beyond Tufts into new departments, labs, offices, and classrooms, I ask you to consider how you could strengthen the listening practices of yourself and your community.

How could we shift our understanding of what demonstrates wisdom to encompass not just eloquent professing, but also intentional listening?

Schneider won the Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education award 2017, and was a recipient of the Center for Humanities at Tufts (CHAT) Dean's Dissertation Award and fellowship. Her dissertation is titled, “Listening for Justice: Cultivating Listeners in North American Environmental Justice Literature.”