President’s AATSEEL 2024 Roundtable on Representation in Slavic Studies

At the February 2024 national meeting of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL), which took place in Las Vegas, UW-Madison Professor Karen Evans-Romaine, who is the current president of the organization, convened a roundtable titled “Representation in Slavic Studies: What are teaching? Why? To whom?,” and a number of UW-affiliated participants took part in this important discussion.

The roundtable opened with a moment of silence for Alexei Navalny and other victims of Putin’s regime, and this moment of respect was followed by a land acknowledgement to honor indigenous communities of Las Vegas, Nevada. In their remarks, roundtable participants were asked to respond to a number of questions: What has changed in your teaching over the past few years? What are the considerations that prompted these changes and what do you think still needs to change?

Participants responded in a variety of ways, including: a proposal to continue shifting away from a Russia-centric curriculum; a caution about using the terms “Slavic” and “Slavist” to describe what we do and who we are: many of us do research non-Slavic populations, and the use of these terms risks rendering the racial and ethnic diversity of the region(s) we study invisible; a plea to place learners’ identities at the core of our teaching without assuming a monolithic student; a suggestion that decolonizing our field might best be understood as a form of radical empathy, especially toward those who advocate for human well-being in a way that challenges status quo practices; and a warning that our field may die off from a lack of student interest unless we (continue to) make substantial changes to it.

In her presentation, current UW-Madison Slavic Studies PhD student Aselle Alumuratova defined the practice of decolonizing as an everyday exercise in the restoration of personal dignity for people like her—a Russophone female scholar from Kazakhstan. She made an impassioned plea to not reduce this practice to adding a line about diversity and inclusivity on a CV: people are subjects with their own agency and should be respected as such.

Oksana Stoychuk, currently Academic Staff in both Slavic and German Studies here in GNS+, offered a personal story of how the war in her native Ukraine affected her teaching and research interests. She introduced Ukrainian-themed courses into her offerings, and these have generated considerable student interest (and this despite the fact that Madison does not have a demographically significant Ukrainian community). By providing our students with expanded choices in curricular offerings, we not only enhance our programs intellectually, but also attract more students to our courses. She also noted that decolonization is a gradual process, and that while it is relatively easy to revise syllabi toward this end, it is decidedly more challenging to uproot colonial forms of thinking from people’s minds and hearts. She concluded by saying that her ideal student is a fighter who should not look away: we must educate our students so they themselves become powerful agents of change.

In this comments, UW-Madison Slavic Studies PhD alum José Vergara, who now teaches at Bryn Mawr College and who was recently elected as one of two AATSEEL Vice Presidents, focused on embodied learning broadly understood, that is, on pedagogical methods that get students moving and that take learning to new contexts beyond the classroom. Learning should not be understood as limited to the classroom space, and students should be given space and agency to explore and share what they have learned. The classroom is best understood as a space of exploration and experimentation, and we should aim for more collaborative teaching that reaches beyond traditional academic silos.


Roundtable participants, pictured from left to right, included Aselle Almuratova (UW-Madison), Karen Evans-Romaine (UW-Madison), Jason Merrill (Michigan State University and Middlebury College Summer Russian Program), Oksana Stoychuk (UW-Madison), Sibelan Forrester (Swarthmore College), Thomas J. Garza (University of Texas at Austin), Sunnie Rucker-Chang (Ohio State University, and José Vergara (Bryn Mawr College and PhD alum from UW-Madison).