A scholar in settler colonial studies, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Assistant Professor Leanne Day says whatever the medium, whether it is a book or slam poetry, she hopes her students will be inspired to engage in critical self-reflection.
Born and raised on Oʻahu, Day, the newest faculty member in the UH Hilo Department of English, says it is a dream to be back in Hawaiʻi teaching contemporary indigenous literatures of Oceania to the diverse student body.
Day is currently the inaugural Daniel K. Inouye postdoctoral fellow at UH Mānoa, where she is co-hosted by the Department of Ethnic Studies and the Public Policy Center. She spent the past two years as a postdoc at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, where she helped build an Asian American and Pacific Islander studies program.
“I was raising awareness of why these programs are important and trying to help students understand that [Asian American and Pacific Islander] as a combined group needs to be questioned,” she says. “It was exciting to help students understand the different histories and the relationships to the nation state.”
She explains that even though she grew up in Hawaiʻi she did not realize until she was an undergraduate at Scripps College in Claremont, CA, that it was possible to study topics such as ethnic relations in Hawaiʻi or the complexities packed into the word “local.”
“I met a professor from Arizona State who grew up in Hawaiʻi and he had all these materials about Hawaiʻi,” she explains. “I said ‘wait, you can study this?’ I had no idea because I had never seen it so I didn’t know you could do it.”
Pacific Islands literature
This semester she is teaching Pacific Islands literature to students from all over the Pacific region as well as Oklahoma and California. Day is especially interested in introducing her students to writers and poets from Oceania who use not only traditional writing but also multimedia posts on social media as a vehicle for social activism.
“Literature gives us a different approach to thinking about these larger social challenges and different ways of connecting. It gives students ways to understand things they are observing in their own communities. We ask questions like, what does the phrase ‘to be local’ mean in Hawaiʻi? Who counts as indigenous? Students here understand a lot of the concepts because they’re living them every day.”
—By Leah Sherwood, a UH Hilo tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate student