Julia Knoerr ‘21
While Russian Studies professor Roman Utkin’s departure saddened many students last year, the department has responded with another vibrant force. Dr. Daria Ezerova is already starting to gain a student following with interdisciplinary course offerings on 20th century and contemporary Russian culture, literature, and film.
Ezerova grew up in Russia after the Soviet Union’s collapse and identifies her interests in Russian culture and society as key motivators for joining academia. However, the moment she realized she wanted to pursue her Ph.D. came while working at another small liberal arts college as a year-long language instructor. Going on to a Ph.D. program at Yale University, Ezerova joined a nurturing department, developed a strong value for mentorship, and wrote her dissertation, “Derelict Features: The Spaces of Socialism in Contemporary Russian Literature and Film.”
Last spring, Ezerova visited Davidson to interview and found a welcoming community that drew her in. Commenting on students’ questions after her talk, she noted, “…they sort of blew me away with how amazing and perceptive they were, and I think in many ways this was the deal breaker. Also, there were a lot of faculty who I met, and they were very encouraging, very supportive, and genuinely interested in what I do.”
Her classes work to include diverse students and spark intellectual curiosity. “Putin’s Russia,” a Russian culture class taught in English, draws on Ezerova’s own research to examine Russia between 2000 and the present with an interdisciplinary, discussion-based approach.
Emma Wilbur ‘19, a Russian Studies major, remarked, “[Ezerova is] definitely incorporating film and digital media and music and pop culture into our discussion of Putin’s Russia, which I think is really cool.” She added that their discussions are also theoretical, as Ezerova introduces key theory and literature for each topic.
However, Wilbur’s favorite aspect of the class is Ezerova’s ability to facilitate discussion. She reflected, “I think she encourages us….to challenge the point of view of the authors that we read, [to] challenge the point of view of our classmates in…a very civil and respectful way, that I think we get into disagreements in that class in a really constructive way.”
Furthermore, as a contemporary scholar, Ezerova’s expertise balances existing course offerings on classical literature and earlier eras. Russian Studies Department Chair Dr. Amanda Ewington explained that “whereas [her] own research is in the 18th century…[Ezerova] compliments that well with her work in contemporary Russia, 20th century, and contemporary post-Soviet Russia.” Ezerova’s contemporary knowledge will also prove essential for students completing senior theses in related areas.
Russian Studies major Leah Mell ‘19 believes having a native Russian professor is particularly valuable because of Ezerova’s ability “to offer a fresh and honest perspective of what Russia is actually like, especially in a time of such heightened conflict between the States and Russia.” Ezerova’s background also directly influences her teaching goals.
Ezerova stated, “my main goal is to challenge preconceived ideas about Russia because…we cannot really learn about the country only from the news, so my challenge…is to really give the students a broad, comprehensive perspective of what is Russia nowadays and the forms of dissent that exist there and the different voices that now define Russian culture.” In addition to dispelling stereotypes, Ezerova also strives to incorporate students’ varied backgrounds to make course content relevant to each individual.
Even for those not interested in Russian language, the department offers pertinent subject matter. Wilbur encourages students from any methodological training to explore Russian Studies. She observed that “unfortunately a lot of departments…have in the last few years lost their Russia specialist… but I think it’s important for students who don’t study Russian Studies to take advantage of these courses that touch on politics, touch on history, and…I think at Davidson it’s a pretty understudied field.”
Stephen Mostek ‘21, currently enrolled in both “Putin’s Russia” and Ezerova’s Russian 201 class, confirmed that “[classes like] Putin’s Russia [are] a really great way to get into another culture that isn’t yours and to try and learn about other people…in a way that you’re not going to get if you don’t go into the Russian Studies Department.”
Moving forward, Ezerova shared that she hopes to continue “build[ing] bridges with other departments, because as scholar[s] of the humanities, we really all strive towards maximum interdisciplinarity [sic].”
In the spring, Ezerova plans to teach a course entitled “Cinema After Communism” looking at Russian, Ukranian, Polish, and East German cinema. Drawing on her film background, the course will examine former Eastern Bloc countries’ reactions to political and social change following 1989 or 1991.
Beyond teaching, Ezerova is also planning some upcoming speaker events. She is currently organizing a seminar and lecture series called “Understanding Contemporary Russia” that will bring scholars of Russia in the 2000s to campus. Next semester, the department has the rare opportunity to host Julia Ioffe, a prominent journalist covering Russia, who can provide a unique perspective outside academia.
Students disappointed at losing a beloved Russian Studies professor can be assured that Ezerova is a powerful addition to the tight knit department. Ewington expressed that “she just brings a lot of enthusiasm, she is incredibly knowledgeable, [and] you can see there is a great sense of community in her classroom…so I think she’s a great fit for Davidson.”