CSUN College of Humanties Newsletter
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"Participation in LSLA provides the rare opportunity to learn theory while applying it in a real-life setting. How these techniques come into play in a classroom has a greater impact than any textbook "


Sheena Malhotra, department chair, program coordinator and globe trotting researcher.

It is a sunny day in LA. You call 1 800 FLOWERS to order a bouquet of flowers for Mother’s Day. Your call is answered by a customer service agent named “Nancy,” with whom you chat about your order, the latest Lakers win and the chances of rain that afternoon. You hang up the phone after a pleasant interchange, and your flowers are delivered to your mother the next day. What you often do not realize is that the agent who picked up your call in not around the block at your local florist, or even in some centralized center in the U.S., but rather in a suburb of New Delhi, India. Nancy Smith, alias Naintara Bhandari, lives in a time zone half way around the globe, has an American accent and spends her night hours pretending to be an American ... after which she goes home every morning to her traditional Indian family in New Delhi and transitions back into being Naintara again.

Dr. Sheena Malhotra has spent years researching the implications of this everyday “migration of the mind” for call center agents as they make over 160 calls a night, and metamorphose from bright, eager Indian college graduates into disembodied, oddly-accented, Westernized voices journeying between two cultures and continents night after night. Agents are asked to memorize popular American songs, and will often reference Hollywood film stars when asked who they would most like to be. A bizarre performance of global hybridity comes through in their chorusing lines to a hip hop song, using the tempo and rhythm of the music as a guide to “neutralize” their accents. They learn to mouth scripts that prepare them for any questions the customer may ask, using phrases and accents designed to keep the U.S. customer comfortable in the illusion that they are “American” agents. A feeling of isolation seeps through on the sodium-lit streets of Bangalore as they arrive and leave in the company van each night, working through the hours when the rest of India sleeps. Over time, the world they inhabit becomes an increasingly disconnected one, even as their main relationships are with other call center workers and their customers in the U.S.

Dr. Malhotra wears many hats in the college. She is currently serving as the department chair for Gender and Women’s Studies and as the program coordinator for Queer Studies. Moreover, this will be her fourth year running the College of Humanities International Film Festival with co-founder, Dr. Beatriz Cortez of the Central American Studies Program. The theme for this year’s festival is Race, Privilege and Exclusions. The festival will take place on Monday, November 2nd from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Armer Screening Room, Manzanita Hall, and is free and open to the public.

The Angel Network invests in the College’s innovative literacy program.

The Liberal Studies Program’s relatively new initiative, Literacy Scholars for the Future of Los Angeles (LSLA) moves into its third cohort this year, joined by an exciting reading partner! Oprah’s Angel Network (a global public charity that evolved as a result of an appeal made on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”) has agreed to fully support scholarships for the Literacy Scholars for the 2009-2010 academic year. LSLA trains our nation’s future teachers on how best to teach reading and writing to at-risk children.

The program takes students who are planning to be elementary school or special education teachers and exposes them to a unique and powerful mix of theoretical and applied experiences. This three-course, full year experience provides CSUN students with a special opportunity to understand literacy from several important angles. These future teachers work—supervised by University faculty and K-12 faculty—with early readers while they are learning the latest research on early literacy and language acquisition. The first semester experience features team-taught classes with Dr. Sharon Klein of the English Department and the Linguistic/TESL Program and Dr. Sue Sears of the Special Education Department.

In their second semester the scholars learn from and work with families in second language communities in the San Fernando Valley. Dr. Rosa Furumoto of the Chicano Studies Department leads the scholars in this journey, which finds them working with families. These family literacy experiences allow them to experience literacy issues in a more disadvantaged socioeconomic context and to build on the depth of knowledge from the first term. This approach has proved to be invaluable, one recent LSLA student remarked, “Participation in LSLA provides the rare opportunity to learn theory while applying it in a real-life setting. How these techniques come into play in a classroom has a greater impact than any textbook”.

Questions regarding LSLA should be directed to Elizabeth Adams at elizabeth.adams@csun.edu.

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