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A little empathy goes a long way
Every morning after breakfast, Chielezona Eze, associate professor of English at Northeastern Illinois University, spends three hours reading and writing. “Those are holy hours,” Eze said.
Over the course of his career, Eze’s holy hours have paid off. Since he began teaching at Northeastern in 2005, Eze has published two books of literary criticism, The Dilemma of Ethnic Identity: Alain Locke’s Vision of Transcultural Societies in 2005 and Postcolonial Imagination and Moral Representations in African Culture in 2011. In 2009, he published a novel titled The Trial of Robert Mugabe, which was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, one of the most prestigious awards presented to published writers of African descent by the national community of Black writers.
Eze’s current scholarly focus is on narrative empathy: the sharing of feeling and perspective-taking induced by reading, viewing, hearing or imagining narratives of another’s situation and condition. “I think the world needs a bit more empathy,” Eze said. He’s currently at work on a book-length manuscript tentatively titled Postcolonial Narratives and the Politics of Empathy.
Eze’s interest in empathy informs his teaching, as well. “In my class, everyone is equal,” Eze said. “I let students know that we all, including myself, are there in search of knowledge. I let them know that, though I might be their teacher, I am not necessarily in possession of all knowledge—that they, too, can produce knowledge. I let them know that where they are, I used to be, and where I am, many of them can be someday.”
And, much to Eze’s delight, many of his students have followed his example. “I have received several emails from former students who have gone on to graduate study at other universities,” Eze said. “They expressed surprise at the quality of the teaching at Northeastern. We give them Ivy League stuff. We challenge them to reach for excellence.”