He had gone from the mean streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn to the battlefields of Iraq, before catching “fire” at Rider, but now Rance Robeson will spend his summer at the prestigious Summer Institute for Literary and Cultural Studies (SILCS) at Wheaton College in Massachusetts.
Robeson, a junior English major, as well as the creator and editor-in-chief of On Fire!! A Literary Journal of the African Diaspora, was recently accepted from a very competitive national pool to participate in the program, which runs from May 29 to June 27. There, he and 11 other highly motivated English majors at SILCS will study literary and cultural theory and learn from a number of top scholars in the field, who will serve as visiting lecturers for the institute.
The Summer Institute for Literary and Cultural Studies is a four-week, expenses-paid summer institute at Wheaton College for 12 students between their junior and senior years, especially designed for those from ethnic or racial groups that are underrepresented in the field of English studies, as well as others committed to increasing diversity in the field. SILCS is supported by generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The purpose of the Institute is to introduce students to a career as an English department faculty member and mentor them on their way to graduate school and beyond. The program supplements the undergraduate curriculum, introduces students to archival research, and works on writing and presentation skills.
Robeson said SILCS also helps guide and prepare participants for graduate school, something he says he is squarely focused upon.
“This is out of this world; I was shocked to get this news I don’t have any peers who have gone to grad school,” said Robeson, who founded On Fire!! in 2008. “We’re going to be working on writing, and hopefully be able to use what we do there as writing sample for grad school admissions.”
Each SILCS student is sponsored by a faculty member at the home institution, who pledges to guide the student through the graduate school application process in the senior year. Robeson was sponsored at Rider by Dr. Pearlie Peters, professor of English.
“I had her for class, and she helped me out when I was starting On Fire!!,” said Robeson of Peters. “She led me to Dr. (Mickey) Hess, who has been a big part of the literary journal, too.”
Dana Lopes, assistant director of Student Support Services, was also instrumental in helping him land a spot in SILCS, Robeson added.
Robeson has had an impact at Rider since his arrival in 2007, but his path to Lawrenceville was not direct. After a year of community college in Queens, N.Y., that often had him sleeping beneath a stairwell on campus, he enlisted in the U.S. Army three days after the September 11 attacks.
Two years later, Robeson was at the Military Base Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. “We were prepared enough for the experience, but when your boots hit the ground, you know you’re there,” he recalled. “I’m from Brooklyn, and I’m used to gunfire. Pap! Pap! Pap! – I know that sound – but when you hear BOOM!, that’s something different. Our base got bombed and we got into full “battle-rattle” and jumped into the concrete barriers. I was scared to death.”
After serving more than six years of his eight-year commitment, Robeson entered the Army’s Vocation Rehabilitation program, which would cover the cost of his college degree, and enrolled at Rider. He quickly acclimated to campus life, establishing a solid GPA and became a recognizable persona with the founding of On Fire!! a semester later. The journal is something the Willingboro, N.J., resident hopes will be his legacy at the University, and he is grateful for the chance to provide a new campus voice.
“I grew up in a place that was very politically charged, and I remember being in school thinking that this is where we are supposed to be shaping our minds, but instead, it’s chaos,” he said, recalling his days in Brooklyn. “So to have an institution like Rider say that there is relevance to what this person is doing – to opening up perspectives – and to be a part of it, is outstanding.”