By Danny Merlino
Professor Gaura Narayan (Photo by Danny Merlino)
Gaura Narayan, an associate professor of literature at Purchase College, has been passionate and empowered by her job for over 20 years.
She is known for her love of teaching, as Catherine Lewis, a creative writing professor, said, “She’s well thought of by all the faculty, and I would just say, if you have one of her classes, you’re lucky!”
Narayan was born and raised in India, but not in just one place. With her father in the army, her family moved around a lot. Narayan emphasizes how important that was to her, saying “For us, it was great, we saw the country. India is multi-lingual, so we’re connected to different parts of India.”
Eventually, Narayan’s family settled in Delhi, India, which is where she went to high school and the University of Delhi. It wasn’t long until she began to teach at the college she went to, “It was scary to suddenly find that all of my professors had become my colleagues… I used to try very hard to not make eye contact with them, so it was very unsettling!”
After moving to Malaysia with her husband, she was disappointed that she couldn’t get a work visa because she wasn’t Muslim. Without question, however, her husband was willing to pick up and move, saying, “In that case, we are both going to go where we can both make a living.”
Narayan recalls how people viewed her move to America, saying “Someone said to me, ‘You’re so silly, making your husband give up this opportunity. If you lived here, you could have a beautiful white Mercedes and a driver,’ and I said, ‘When I can afford a Mercedes, I would like to drive it myself!’” Narayan then proudly talked about how for their 20th anniversary, her husband bought her a black Mercedes that she happily drives all over Westchester County.
Narayan describes how she first heard about teaching at Purchase College before the fall semester in 1996 through a Post-it Note, saying, “The department administrator had put the Post-it on the wall, it said ‘Ask your grad students if anyone is interested in [being an adjunct professor] at Purchase’... So, I gave her a call, and she invited me for an interview, and that was it!”
The theme of feminism and empowerment is important to Narayan and it’s important to her that she weaves it into the classroom. “One of my earliest professors was a Marxist feminist, and she got us all involved very early on. And of course, that carried on with me to Purchase. I teach two women’s studies courses now.” Narayan said. She also emphasizes how Purchase has allowed her to continue her path of feminism by giving her a place to teach it, as well as allowing her to balance her job and home life. “I can have a career, I can have a family, I can have everything.”
Narayan’s importance on feminism has impacted students since the beginning. She shared a story from the late 90s, stating, “There was a very intense, right-wing Christian movement on campus at Purchase, you probably can’t even imagine it now, it was pretty strong!”
“I had a very anxious student come into my office and say to me that she accidentally had gotten pregnant,” Narayan continued. The student was suspected by the Christian students of wanting an abortion, and because she didn’t have a lot of resources or a support system, she needed help. Narayan, without question, drove the student to Planned Parenthood in White Plains, saying, “I took her to where she needed to go.”
Narayan’s emphasis on feminism still runs deep to this day. Zoey Hawkins, a first-year student in Narayan’s seminar class, said, “Her emphasis on feminism in the classroom is very refreshing and important to me. That was never really talked deeply enough about in high school.”
Narayan, despite being in love with teaching, is also a sports fanatic. “I watch tennis like a fiend. Of course, my favorite is Serena Williams,” she says. She also enjoys exercising and listening to audiobooks. Her current read is “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett, but her favorite book of all time will always be “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, which she teaches an excerpt of in one of her classes. She emphasizes the importance of Austen’s writing in class and how special it was for its time.
Narayan is said to be treasured at Purchase College, especially for first-year students who are introduced to college life through her First-Year Seminar: Life, Love, and Literature.
Eris Sondej, a first-year student in her class, said, “I really enjoy how she teaches and how she involves everyone in her class and always gives them an opportunity to speak their opinion.”