Associate professor of history, blogger, mother and yoga instructor are just a few of the hats worn by Dr. Denise Lynn. She has also served as a longtime advocate for equity. Lynn has been fighting for what she believes in since the age of 19, and Lynn considers education and teaching students about the world they live in a new form of activism. Let’s get to know more about this spirited professor.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered as a professor?
Evolving my teaching style to accommodate new generations of students.
Also, when I explain my job, even to family members, I don’t think they realize the amount of work that is involved in being faculty. We don’t just show up in the classroom and spout our brilliance. It’s more than class. We have numerous meetings, serve on multiple committees, do all kinds of service work and have to stay on top of our research. When I was in graduate school, I thought “I can never be as busy as I am at graduate school,” and then I get my faculty job and I’m like “Oh my God.”
What are three interesting facts about you?
Along with being a history professor, I’m also a yoga teacher on campus.
I have a 20-year-old daughter who’s a junior at USI. She’s an economics major.
I’m a blogger for the African American Intellectual History Society. I do original, primary source research every month for a 1,500 word blog. It’s very cool. They have all these young, dynamic scholars from a variety of disciplines. The research is scholarly but palatable to the reading audience.
When did you become interested in yoga and how have you benefited from it?
I took it as a class in college in 1997 shortly after my daughter was born, and loved it. Back then, I had to buy a VHS tape that the teacher put together so we could practice at home. I didn’t do it consistently a long time afterwards. I started a regular practice about 14 years ago in graduate school. Somewhere along the way I thought “Well, I might as well teach it,” and I went to teaching training.
One of the biggest benefits of yoga is being connected to my body. It’s like having a direct communication line, so when something goes wrong, I know right away. Also, having training in yoga, I know how to take care of those problems. It helps mobility and being active in other ways. I love using weights and doing cardio exercise, but when I was doing all that before yoga, I was in constant pain. I ran for 10 years and would always be in pain, but once I started doing yoga, I realized I didn’t have to be in pain all the time. It also has helped heal some old injuries that I had.
People think you can’t take a yoga class unless you’re flexible, and that’s total garbage. You go to yoga to be flexible, but it’s not just about flexibility, it’s about moving your body. Anybody can do yoga. You just have to find the class that’s right for you. Someone who wants a slow introduction into yoga could do restorative yoga. It’s like a guided nap with endless pillows and blankets.
What has been one of your favorite research projects?
When I was on sabbatical last spring, I wrote a book manuscript on a topic I’ve been researching since my dissertation. My specialization is women in the American Communist party during the Great Depression. I found this story of an American woman, Juliet Stuart Poyntz, who was a Soviet spy who went missing in 1937 and was never heard from again.
I’ve been researching her for nearly 14 years. I’m looking at how her disappearance fed into American Cold War ideas and the evolution of thought on anti-communism through the 1930s. It’s kind of like a murder mystery.
If you could witness any event past, present or future, what would it be?
I would love to see what happened to Juliet Stuart Poyntz. There’s all these stories, and she was a Soviet spy so there’s all these questions, like “Did she make it look like she was taken? Did she just disappear into the ether or was she actually taken?” People suspect that she was killed by Soviet agents because it was during the Great Purges. Others say Nazis killed her because she was an anti-Nazi spy. My goal with my book project is not to answer those questions. The more I researched her, the more questions I had. I think that’s what surprises people about historical research; the more you learn, the more questions you have.
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
Possibly Claudia Jones, another American Communist I have researched. While I don’t subscribe to those beliefs, what I like about her is that, while many American Communists were very rigid in their beliefs, she really chipped away at that. She had an intellectual flexibility that I really appreciated. She helped to set up a theoretical foundation for what people today refer to as black left feminism. She took Marxism and said “Guess what? There’s some holes in it. Guess who you’re leaving out? You’re ignoring race and gender. Socialism is not going to solve all these problems because people are still going to be bigoted.” She was intellectually flexible and experimented where other people were not willing, and was kind of controversial for her time.
What was the last movie, TV show or book that made you cry or tear up?
I’m not a big crier, so this was a while back when my daughter was a teenager. It was The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene. My daughter loves reading, and she read it and gave it to me and said “You have to read this so we can talk about it.” I don’t want to read about teenagers dying when I’m the parent of a teenager. It touches your heartstrings when you’re a parent. It was an easy read but the context made it a hard book for me to read. I kept saying “Why are you making me read this? This is so hard.”
If you could join any past or current music group which would you want to join and what would your role be?
I have no musical skills, but I have very eclectic taste and I love music. The one constant has been The Cranberries. I would take a backup role, maybe a guitarist, because no one can replace Delores O’Riordan (lead vocalist). I was really upset when she died because their music defined so much of my life. I can think of a Cranberries song for so many moments in my life.
What is the most annoying question people ask you?
As a historian, one I get a lot is “What time period would you go to if you could?” I wouldn’t call it annoying, just ridiculous, because as a woman I’d go nowhere. Why would I go to the past? I can get a credit card and a mortgage without getting my “husband” to file the permissions.
The most annoying questions as a teacher is “what did I miss or did you guys do anything?”
What goal do you think humanity is not focused enough on achieving?
Equity is probably the biggest one. When we just boil it down to something as simple as equity – treating people as people – we’re so bad at it. I was watching a video the other day for a non-profit that deals with water. We have people in this country who don’t have running or clean water. And it’s not just access to resources, it’s how much of a “me” culture we have. We’re so wrapped up in ourselves and forget that we live in a community and our actions have consequences.
It’s seems like a base moral standard to treat people as people, but a lot of the global issues come down to equity.
Photo Credit: Provided
Dr. Denise Lynn (in foreground, on the left)