Anthony Wexler draws energy and inspiration from his students—perhaps because he remembers what it feels like to be a college-aged student, out on his own for the first time.
“For me, it was a time of such intense exploration—a period in my life when I was becoming increasingly conscious and searching for a deeper understanding of the world,” said the full-time lecturer and SAGES teaching fellow. “Something about that time in my life has stayed with me.”
For his ability to relate to his students and engage even the most timid among them in meaningful, in-depth classroom conversations, Wexler is being honored with the 2021 Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
Wexler will receive the award at commencement convocation on Sunday, May 30.
Preserving memories in the Instagram age
Wexler, who earned his PhD at Johns Hopkins University, studies postwar American literature, specializing in Jewish literature and the Holocaust in American life. His current book project, At a Distance of Years: The Novel of Aging in the Shadow of Auschwitz, examines how a group of late-life novels challenge the ways the Holocaust has been received and represented in American life.
His scholarly research helped shape the curriculum for his spring 2021 SAGES course, The Landscape of Memory, which examines how and why we preserve the memory of collective traumas through literature, monuments, memorials, museums, new technologies and social media. The course uses the Holocaust and 9/11 as the main case studies for understanding how we preserve the meaning and memory of these significant events for future generations.
Wexler begins many of his classes with a kind of casual conversation he refers to as “schmoozing”—a tactic that seems to help Wexler, a self-described introvert, as much as some of his more reticent students. Once the class gets underway, Wexler’s enthusiasm for the subject matter and passion for learning encourage all students to join the conversation, which he describes as a “very immersive experience.”
“Dr. Wexler does a phenomenal job leading classroom discussion and engaging students with the material in an organic and meaningful way,” said one of his nominators. ”He skillfully promotes discovery of a deeper understanding of the material in each of his students by navigating personal and philosophical issues. Despite the challenges of remote learning, he managed our class wonderfully. I was always excited to come to class.”
He also makes students understand the value of their opinions, even when they differ from his own.
“My final essay was somewhat critical of the reading material he chose. Instead of dismissing my thoughts or grading me poorly, he took the time to consider my points and responded to them. It made me feel heard,” said the nominator.
About the award
Created in 1964, the Wittke Award for Undergraduate Teaching is named for Carl Frederick Wittke, who, from 1948 to 1963, was professor of history, chair of the Department of History and vice president of Western Reserve University. Faculty members who teach undergraduates are eligible for the award, which recognizes excellence in their efforts. Undergraduates nominate candidates; a committee of students interviews nominated faculty members and recommends winners. Two faculty members receive the award each year.