KU News: Class of 2024 honors chemistry professor Shuai Sun with HOPE Award for teaching

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Class of 2024 honors chemistry professor Shuai Sun with HOPE Award for teaching

LAWRENCE ­— The University of Kansas senior class has honored a chemist with the 2023 HOPE Award — to Honor an Outstanding Progressive Educator. Shuai Sun, assistant teaching professor of chemistry, was presented with the award Nov. 18 during the Sunflower Showdown football game between KU and Kansas State. The HOPE Award was established by the Class of 1959 and is given to a faculty member who greatly affects students’ lives and exemplifies Jayhawk values in the classroom through exceptional teaching strategies.

Distinguished professor lecture to address how theatre contributes to healthy communities

LAWRENCE — Peter Ukpokodu, the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of African & African-American Studies, will present “Statements From an Interventionist Theatre Practice” as his inaugural distinguished professor lecture at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in Slawson Hall’s Beren Petroleum Conference Center. Individuals can register to attend the lecture, which will also be livestreamed.

‘Masculine Pregnancies’ reveals literary relationship between artistic creation and procreation

LAWRENCE — A new book from a University of Kansas scholar, “Masculine Pregnancies: Modernist Conceptions of Creativity and Legitimacy, 1918-1939,” reveals how modernist writers used depictions of “mannish” pregnant women and metaphors of male pregnancy to explore the relationship between artistic creation and physical procreation. “I’m making the argument that pregnancy and femininity — or pregnancy and womanhood — are not dependent on one another,” said Aimee Wilson, associate professor of women, gender & sexuality studies. “In the early 20th century, writers adapted centuries-old reproductive themes by depicting queer pregnancy.”

Full stories below.

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Contact: Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, KU News Service, 785-864-8858, [email protected], @ebpkansas

Class of 2024 honors chemistry professor Shuai Sun with HOPE Award for teaching

LAWRENCE ­— The University of Kansas senior class has honored a chemist with the 2023 HOPE Award — to Honor an Outstanding Progressive Educator.

Shuai Sun, assistant teaching professor of chemistry, was presented with the award Nov. 18 during the Sunflower Showdown football game between KU and Kansas State.

The HOPE Award was established by the Class of 1959 and is given to a faculty member who greatly affects students’ lives and exemplifies Jayhawk values in the classroom through exceptional teaching strategies. Today, the award remains the only honor given to faculty by the senior class through the Student Alumni and Endowment Board.

Sun typically teaches between 300-600 students each year in introductory chemistry courses. The student who nominated Sun said he cares not just about students’ academic success, but also how they are doing mentally.

“He helps students achieve their goals outside of the classroom,” the student wrote. “He has helped me through my tough medical times and has helped me with DEIB issues. He has been a very reliable and compassionate professor to me and many others.”

Sun said he was “deeply honored and humbled” to receive the award.

“This recognition holds a special place in my heart, as it reflects the meaningful connections and impactful learning experiences shared with my students,” he said. “I am grateful for their trust and the opportunity to contribute not only to their academic growth but also to their personal and professional development.”

Sun earned a doctorate in physical chemistry (theoretical and computational chemistry) from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Before that, he earned a master’s degree in physical chemistry (colloid and interface chemistry) from Shandong University and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and chemical education from Shandong Normal University, both in China.

“My journey in chemistry — from my academic roots in China and Canada to teaching hundreds of students each year at KU — has been driven by a passion for education and a commitment to the well-being and success of every student,” Sun said. “The joy and fulfillment I find in teaching are amplified by the engagement and curiosity of my students.”

Sun, who also won first place in Best of Lawrence for teacher five years in a row from 2019-2023, said the HOPE Award is a testament to the collective effort of the university community in fostering an environment where every student can thrive.

“Together, we continue to uphold and advance the esteemed Jayhawk values in every aspect of our academic journey,” Sun said.

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Contact: Savannah Rattanavong, Office of the Provost, 785-864-6402, [email protected], @KUProvost

Distinguished professor lecture to address how theatre contributes to healthy communities

LAWRENCE — According to Peter Ukpokodu, theatre and arts have long been associated with community health by how they seem to rejuvenate people’s emotional well-being so they can appreciate life though a new lens.

Ukpokodu, the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of African & African-American Studies, will present “Statements from an Interventionist Theatre Practice” as his inaugural distinguished professor lecture at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in Slawson Hall’s Beren Petroleum Conference Center.

Individuals can register to attend the lecture, which will also be livestreamed. Additional webinar details will be available upon registration. A recording of the lecture will be posted afterward on the Office of Faculty Affairs website.

In addition to being the first faculty member in the Department of African & African-American Studies to be named a distinguished professor, Ukpokodu is a courtesy professor in the Department of Theatre & Dance.

“My research for over 25 years in sociopolitical theater has enabled me to include theatrical interventionism as a way of responding and seeking resolution to problematic issues in our shared humanity in order to continue to create a healthy and virile community, whether that community is local, national, international or global,” Ukpokodu said.

“I approach this from two main angles: as a creator of culture and as an interpreter of culture. In both, I have found it exhilarating working seamlessly within the two departments that are so close to my heart — African & African-American Studies and Theatre & Dance — at the University of Kansas.”

A playwright and theatre director, Ukpokodu is the co-editor of “African Literatures at the Millennium” and the author of “African Political Plays,” “It Happened to the Blind Beggar” and “Socio-Political Theatre in Nigeria.”

After joining KU in 1990 as an assistant professor in the theatre & film department, Ukpokodu went on to become a professor in African and African-American studies in 2003. He previously taught at the University of Benin and the Bida College of Technology, both in Nigeria.

Ukpokodu has directed plays, including “Sizwe Bansi is Dead,” “The Island,” “Eshu and the Vagabond Minstrels,” “Oedipus Rex” and “Waiting for Godot.”

He serves as an editor-in-chief of Africana Annual as well as a consultant and reviewer for publishing companies. Some of his previous appointments include being an advisory board member for numerous organizations, including the Lied Center of Kansas, the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka annual festival, African Traditional Peoples Institute and the David-Wright Institute for African Studies.

Ukpokodu is a member of numerous academic and theatre organizations, such as the International Federation for Theatre Research, American Society for Theatre Research, African Studies Association, National Association for African-American Studies and Black Theatre Network. He is an invited member of the Oxford Round Table at Oxford University, England.

A past president of the Mid-America Alliance for African Studies, Ukpokodu has additionally served as the former co-convener of the millennial conference of the African Literature Association, chair of the KU African & African-American studies department and founding parliamentarian of the Kansas chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

His publications on theatre theory and criticism have appeared in several journals, including the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, the Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy, Theatre Research International, TDR: A Journal of Performance Studies and the American Historical Review.

Along with the W. T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, Ukpokodu has received several awards, including the Excellence in Teaching Award from the KU Center for Teaching Excellence and the World of Poetry’s Golden Poet Award.

Ukpokodu earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theatre arts from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria as well as a doctorate in theatre from KU.

The first distinguished professorships were established at KU in 1958. A university distinguished professorship is awarded wholly based on merit, following exacting criteria. A complete list is available on the Distinguished Professor website.

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Contact: Jon Niccum, KU News Service, 785-864-7633, [email protected]

‘Masculine Pregnancies’ reveals literary relationship between artistic creation and procreation

LAWRENCE — Pregnancy has traditionally been seen as among the most “feminine” traits.

A new book argues that not only is this perspective changing, but it’s also been a contested viewpoint in literature for more than a century.

“There are a lot of people who tend to think about pregnancy as being automatically connected to women and femininity,” said Aimee Wilson, associate professor of women, gender & sexuality studies at the University of Kansas.

“I’m making the argument that pregnancy and femininity — or pregnancy and womanhood — are not dependent on one another. In the early 20th century, writers adapted centuries-old reproductive themes by depicting queer pregnancy.”

Her latest book, “Masculine Pregnancies: Modernist Conceptions of Creativity and Legitimacy, 1918-1939,” reveals how modernist writers used depictions of “mannish” pregnant women and metaphors of male pregnancy to explore the relationship between artistic creation and physical procreation. It’s published by ‎State University of New York Press.

Wilson said that when she discusses the concept of masculine pregnancy, she is referring to an umbrella term that she coined to cover a variety of ways that masculinity and pregnancy link in the imagination and reality. It includes topics that have been part of the scholarly conversation for a long time, like male characters who are pregnant in works of fiction, as well as ones that haven’t been studied by scholars before, like pregnant “mannish” women.

“Scholars typically argue that masculinity and pregnancy only combine in ways that are oppressive to women — like when male authors compare writing a book to having a baby and imply that male ‘procreation’ of this kind is superior,” she said. “By creating mannish female characters who are pregnant, modernist authors show us that masculinity and pregnancy can sometimes combine in ways that are liberating for women and queer people.”

The professor said one of her motivations for examining this subject is the current boom in “queer pregnancy literature.”

“Yet when people talk about these memoirs and novels in the popular press, they usually perceive it as something that doesn’t have a history,” she said. “One of the things my book does is demonstrate we have a long lineage of queer pregnancy in literature. It stretches back at least a century, and I would venture to guess further.”

In addition to works by William Faulkner and Ezra Pound, she cited Willa Cather’s 1918 novel “My Ántonia” as particularly notable. Wilson recalled reading the classic in high school.

“Honestly, I thought of it as a boring book about life on the prairie,” she said of the Nebraska-based tale concerning immigrants and the great migration.

“But when I returned to it, I found it queer in ways I hadn’t realized. The character Ántonia, when she’s a teenager working on the farm, says, ‘I like to be like a man.’ And when people complain she shouldn’t behave so mannishly, she says she prefers acting that way.”

When Ántonia is expecting, she still retains her masculine traits. By the end of the novel, she’s given birth to 10 children.

“I realized there was something really fascinating going on with the way Cather is depicting a woman as queer and pregnant, yet also depicting her as a domestic goddess. I’m interested in this idea that a masculine pregnant woman could be a figure of normativity and stability,” she said, noting that Cather herself wore men’s clothing and went by the name Will or Willie at various points in her life.

Mannishness was a concept (and term) popularized in the interwar years. Wilson explains societal fears arose that women were becoming too masculine because they had gone out and gotten jobs in factories.

“They were wearing pants, going to college and fighting for the right to vote. There was worry women were becoming problematically masculine. And there was also a lot of literary talk about pregnancy at this time. So I became interested in where these areas of discourse intersect,” she said.

In the years between the world wars, a perceived overlap between mannishness and lesbianism began surfacing, Wilson said.

She said, “These things weren’t always connected in the American worldview. Over the course of the 20th century, they increasingly became aligned to where there was an assumption that if you’re mannish then you must be sexually attracted to women as well.”

A KU faculty member since 2016, Wilson specializes in modernist literature, gender studies and feminist theory. Her first book, “Conceived in Modernism: The Aesthetics and Politics of Birth Control” (Bloomsbury, 2016), looks at the early birth control movement in the interwar years and how it overlaps with literature.

Wilson said she hoped her latest endeavor could change some long-standing viewpoints regarding the gender spectrum.

“We need to really push the conversation in a direction that is recognizing the legitimacy of queer people, including trans men, as reproducers in our society,” she said. “Literature can help us think through the ethical implications of our society’s approach to queer pregnancy.”

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