Melanie Benson Taylor to Become North Park House Professor

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The associate professor plans to create a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere.

Melanie Taylor
Associate Professor Melanie Benson Taylor says her working-class background has shaped her scholarly career, leading her to concentrate on issues of class structure and economic equity. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Next month, Associate Professor and Chair of Native American Studies Melanie Taylor and her husband, Alan Taylor, a lecturer in writing, will pack up their house in New London, N.H., and move with their 2-year old son, Abel, into a large Victorian house on North Park Street—part of the College’s new house communities system. Taylor says she’s thrilled to begin next term as the resident professor for North Park House.

“It will be a learning process for me,” says Taylor. “I am eager to get to know the members of this house community and to learn their interests and desires so we can all decide how to create activities that will be a good fit.”

Taylor will replace Dean Rebecca Biron, who filled the post temporarily after Ryan Calsbeek, an associate professor of biological sciences, stepped down.

Dartmouth’s house communities opened this fall to expand opportunities for students, staff, and faculty to interact outside the classroom. Six house professors live in single-family homes (a seventh professor serves all the Living Learning Communities). First-year students, who are assigned to a house when they arrive at Dartmouth, gather with fellow house members for social and intellectual activities in the faculty homes, student residences, and house social spaces. North Park House is a gathering spot for students living in Ripley, Woodward, and Smith halls.

Along with her family, Taylor hopes to create a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere.

“I was the first person in my family to attend college,” she says. “It was difficult at times not to have family members to turn to for answers to my questions.” The residential system at Smith College helped her feel at home on campus, she says, and “fostered connections between what was going on in my classes and what was happening outside them.”

She remembers lots of lectures and performances hosted by her house. “It was the nucleus of social life, and it gave us a sense of identity and pride.” On Saturdays, she recalls, “we served tea, and you could go in your pajamas if you wanted.” While there are obvious differences between Dartmouth and the smaller women’s college she attended, Taylor believes house communities here will also forge friendships among students and faculty. “The opportunity to help create that kind of space is so exciting to me; it makes me feel like I can go back to college in some ways and be part of a thriving social and intellectual community.”

Taylor says she feels fortunate to teach at Dartmouth. “It’s not work; it’s a grand adventure. I feel excited and inspired every day, and being able to convey that attitude with North Park students—that would be a contribution I would like to make.”

Taylor says her working-class background has shaped her scholarly career, leading her to concentrate on issues of class structure and economic equity. Co-editor of the journal Native South, she writes about commonalities between Native and Southern literature and culture of the U.S. Taylor is the author of Reconstructing the Native South: American Indian Literature and the Lost Cause (2012) and Disturbing Calculations: The Economics of Identity in Postcolonial Southern Literature 1912-2002 (2008).

“As a house professor,” she says, “I want to create bridges between what we’re doing and thinking about in the classroom—issues of social justice, nationhood, belonging—and activities and engagement outside the classroom.”

Taylor and her husband are happy to be moving closer to campus from New London, a 45-minute commute. “And I think it will be nice for students to be part of our family at North House,” she says. About her toddler, she says, “how amazing for a little kid to grow up in a place like this. I can’t wait to see how it activates him—he’s such a curious little guy.”

Taylor loves to cook. “Desserts are my specialty,” she says. “I make a pretty intense triple espresso brownie, and love experimenting with new recipes.” Too often, she laments, she ends up with more sweets than her small family can eat, and trusts the North Park House community will help solve the problem.

There’s one more bonus. “My two cats, Polly and Pearl, will be available as therapy pets, in return for copious petting.”

Charlotte Albright