Instructor Spotlight: Jiamin Li and Nayun Eom

Jiamin Li (right) and Nayun Eom (left), the Explorations Leaders of Theorizing Love and Social Justice, caught up with the ExCollege.
Jiamin Li and Nayun Eom

What inspired this course?

JL: Last year, I read Valarie Kaur’s memoir, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. By the end of the book, Valarie convinced me that love isn’t just a cheesy and overly-feminized word, but instead a powerful source for social and political change. At around the same time, I stumbled upon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons on love preached during the Civil Rights Movement, which called attention to the power of love to combat racial injustice. Observing the connection between activism and love, I wanted to structure a learning space to critically examine love at the personal, interpersonal, and societal level. Additionally, I wanted to make a call to the students and anyone interested in the topic to see love as a revolutionary force for change and something they are able to practice every day for themselves and others. Of course, I wanted to do this with Nayun, with whom I’ve had countless conversations about love!

NE: I first started thinking about how society shapes my ideas of love through a course I took my first year called the Sociology of Emotions. It was odd to think of an emotion that felt so deeply personal and intense as being animated by larger structures we live in, such as capitalism. But recognizing that has also returned agency to me, by leading me to actively think about how to love more intentionally. It’s helped me to better navigate all sorts of love during college—including romantic, platonic, familial, and community love. When Jiamin invited me to build this course with her, I was thrilled!

What has the experience of teaching and designing this course taught you?

JL: Co-teaching this class is one of the best experiences I have had in college! The most important lesson I learned is to let go. The format of ExCollege creates a lot of freedom in constructing the curriculum and classroom space according to our vision. However, with that freedom comes responsibilities to make decisions on the values and ethics I hope to model in class. At the same time, I try to adapt our activities, materials, and assignments to students’ interests and needs as the semester continues. Despite how much I love a good structure, I’m learning to go with the flow and in this way allow the students to take the front seat in guiding their learning process.

NE: I’ve always liked the phrase “Meet people where they’re at.” Co-teaching this course has taught me how to do that in practice, which requires that I listen attentively to the diversity of people’s lived experiences and reflect deeper on my own biases and expectations of the world. I don’t think of myself as a “teacher” in the traditional sense, but rather, as someone who walks with others in their journey. We are all lifelong students of love, after all.

What does love mean to you?

NE: My favorite thinker, Erich Fromm, said it best: “Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one ‘object’ of love.” In short, loving is a way of life. In my native language, Korean, the words for loving (사랑), human (사람), and living (삶) are built by the same characters. Call it coincidence, but there’s also some poetic wisdom there.

JL: I think this is one of the most difficult questions to answer. For me, love is the active choice to care for one another and support each other’s growth. It exists in relationships, such as one’s relationship to the self, to other beings (human or non-human), to the environment, to an object, etc. Love is a commitment and a responsibility to tend to our wounds and show up even in the hardest times. It also means fighting alongside our communities against oppressive structures designed to uplift a few people over many others. Love brings so much creativity, wonder, mutual growth, and joy.

Through social media, and media more broadly, we are inundated with depictions of both healthy and unhealthy ways of loving and being in relationships. How does your class grapple with love and justice in the 21st century, in a media driven culture?

NE: In our class, Jiamin and I try to bring into practice the classic Sociology 101 phrase, which is to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. We talk about topics like the historical feminization of love, the cultural effects of neoliberalism on the self-love movement, and origins of the nuclear family, all in order to denaturalize our ideas of what love should look like. But we also incorporate ways to reflect on a more personal level, because unlearning takes place by not only speaking to the head, but also to the heart. Even as a Sociology student always critical of media tropes, it still took me a long time to truly unlearn ideas reinforced by the media, particularly on romantic love.

JL: In my personal experience, the way I’ve encountered love in the media is usually through the romantic lens. This depiction limited my definition of love to the romantic, and often to unrealistic expectations. Love is portrayed as very gendered and private. In class, we draw upon examples and figures in contemporary media to unpack its influences on how we understand love, who performs the role of love, and what love looks like in action.

What do you hope students will take away from this class?

JL: I hope they will feel empowered to explore topics they are interested in, start conversations with people in their communities, and take actions towards making the change they’d like to see knowing that they are supported and valued. Also, importantly, the many snacks and yawns we have shared on Monday nights!

NE: I agree with Jiamin :) I also hope that our class can be a starting point to think about how to build their lives at Tufts and beyond. A lot of stress and joy during college seems to revolve around deciding who/what to love and how to love—a friend, a crush, a subject matter, a place, and on and on. I hope they take away from the class that loving is a beautiful and complex effort, and they can form their own art of loving here.

Jiamin Li (She/Her/Hers) is a senior majoring in International Relations. She has many hometowns, including Fuzhou, China; Hong Kong SAR; Bradenton, Florida; and Monterey, California. She works with the University Chaplaincy on various projects, such as the Humanist Hub: Meaning-Making for Liberation dinner series.

Nayun Eom (She/Her/Hers) is a senior with majors in Sociology and Economics and a minor in Science, Technology, and Society. She calls a few different places her home, including Seoul, South Korea; Fukuoka, Japan; and Belmont, Massachusetts. She loves to cook Korean food and read books about fixing capitalism, including a recent read titled, The Communism of Love.