By: Dorien Barthelemy
It is a gray, rainy day as clouds dominate the sky. No soul is in sight. The campus is practically a wasteland. Suddenly, the sun creeps through, almost out of nowhere. College students, slowly but surely, fill up the campus and make their presence known. A jazz trio performs a few dozen feet from the dining hall. A dancer conducts a solo practice some hundred feet away. Students sit on benches as they discuss their assigned readings. Kerry Manzo describes an ideal day on the Purchase College campus: “You come out and see the creativity of the students and the campus…those are just really nice days.”
Manzo grew up in Athens, Greece, and on the island of Guam; however, he spent the rest of his childhood in El Paso, Texas starting at age 8. With a love for reading, but little to no connection with North American and heteronormative literature, he decided to pursue studies in global and queer literature. “This is my place, this is what I need because it is more true to my lived experience,” Manzo said about his preference for inclusive literature.
Manzo’s interest in African literature specifically stems from Chinua Achebe’s, “Things Fall Apart.” “I was awakened to the fact that there was a thing called African literature because nobody had introduced me to it in all my years of education up to that point,” Manzo said. He then went to New York in the summer of 2019 for graduate school. Manzo officially applied as a visiting assistant professor in his last year of graduate school. Purchase administration was quick to hire him.
Kerry Manzo, Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature. (Photo via Purchase College website)
Gaura Narayan, a colleague of Manzo’s in the literature department, had much to say about his generous character. “I believe Professor Manzo’s most positive attributes are his energy, his willingness to help, and his unconditional commitment to everyone in his life whether it be his students, his colleagues, the folks he advocates for, or his family,” said Narayan.
As he grew accustomed to campus, he began to admire students on campus for their critical mindsets and eagerness to ask hard questions. “The students here are so willing to critique the institution and make it a better place through that – and I really like that,” said Manzo.
Those students are also willing to acknowledge his compassion. “He is accepting, no matter who you are or who you may be,” said Nathaniel Matthie undeclared freshman. “He is always considerate and compassionate. He gave me an extension when things got a bit stressful for my first year,” said Matthie.
Regardless, living on campus is what makes it so easy for Manzo to see these traits in students.
Manzo lives in an apartment within the Commons and loves observing student life around him. “It is great to see students out and about on the campus between classes, and even going off to the Hub…because it feels like being a part of a community,” Manzo said. In his free time, Manzo reads books of personal interest and assigned readings for class discussions.
Manzo’s students have come to recognize his poised demeanor. “He never raises his voice at any point, nor does he ever get really irritated at the class,” said Yazmin Evans, freshman literature and global studies major. “He always is open for further discussion – never rushing the class.” Like Matthie, Evans also noted Manzo’s leniency and compassion. While she was ill, Manzo was one of the only professors who was understanding and did not rush her into handing in assignments, unlike the others.
“His most positive attributes are his tendency to allow students to create a space for dialogue, understanding for his students, and awareness of the line between fact and opinion,” said Harrison Bontecou, literature major. Bontecou has also been granted an opportunity by Manzo to lead a class discussion, and has helped give Bontecou plenty of feedback along the way.
Manzo's English sheepdog: Kizzie (Photo by: Kerry Manzo)
Manzo owns an English sheepdog that nearby students cannot resist admiring. Manzo said, “I like going out and walking my little dog around campus. My dog is very popular, she has a ponytail – everyone loves that.” Despite this, however, there are still hardships that he must deal with on and off campus.
“Semesters are a wild ride. I picture it like a roller coaster…you start running down towards the end of the semester really fast downhill, like hands in the air, here it is coming,” said Manzo. To combat this, he maintains a consistent schedule and a strong day-to-day routine, avoiding burnout.
Despite his ability to remain stable and orderly on campus, the Texas legislature has seemed to get in the way of family life back home. His 15-year-old transgender niece and the rest of the family were forced to evacuate the state and move to New York and live with him following a Texas law that said it was illegal for doctors to prescribe gender-affirming care for trans youth. Not only does he manage to keep up with life at home through friends, but he does so with a purpose.
“Now I keep track of what’s happening down in Texas a lot from my friends who are still there and engaged in the political work and political fight so either stop these bills or turn the state around,” Manzo said. “The laws against that are attacking the LGBTQ community…women’s rights…Latino and black history in books and in schools. All of that is a big battle to fight.”
Manzo understands well that much like the course of a semester, which fluctuates in ways that are hard to predict, life behaves very similarly through ups and downs that one cannot see coming. About the roller coaster analogy, “I know we are gonna get to the top and we are gonna be ok,” said Manzo.