Making a Case for the Multi-Major

by Austin Shepard Woodruff
contributor to the Underground

Pick a major, follow the path set out ahead, and slowly tick off the requirements class by class. For most students, one major is more than enough to fill up the weeks of the quarter, and especially for programs that demand a student’s presence, attention, energy, and time outside the classroom, this single-major style of learning becomes a central focus in a student’s life. This style is often layered with repetition of a certain skill set. Upon graduation, students may have tendencies to categorize knowledge in particular ways rooted in place for the rest of their learning processes. ‘One major, one minor’ becomes a degree whose specificity marks its limitations. But this is only one way to approach an education. I believe that learning in formal educational settings is altogether more effective, more productive, and more powerful when students pursue more than one field of study.

I study literature and philosophy here at DePaul University and can vouch for the success of applying skills learned in literature classes to demands in philosophy classes. In the Humanities, especially, the skills one develops in a certain field are applicable to other fields. As a literature major, I learn to critically analyze literary texts and the construction of cultural identities; as a philosophy major I learn to engage with philosophical texts to grasp the frameworks of cultural foundations. Language and truth are as intertwined as literature and philosophy. One is the organ that functions; the other is the expression, the representation, of that function. Philosophy and literature affect one another—indeed they perpetuate one another, and frequently their respective grammars overlap.

The literature major develops a skill set that prepares a student for critical analysis; applying this faculty to other areas of learning becomes immediate and instinctual. The literature program, and other programs in the English Department, offers space for students to navigate their thought processes and explain themselves clearly in relation to specific cultural contexts. These are necessary talents for further studies and for success beyond the undergraduate degree. To study “literature” without “philosophy” may thwart the realization of potentially harmonious paths to knowledge. This is true of not only the pairing of philosophy and literature, but of all multi-majors. The multi-major shapes meaning and understanding in ways that create opportunity for further learning. Intersecting majors create a dynamic learning experience that goes beyond the usual narrow vision for opportunity in education.

Real learning happens in surpassing boundaries and overcoming limits, be they at the edge of epistemological frameworks or embedded in the very structure of belief. Ask of your discipline: what holds you? What do you hold? Ask yourself: how should we learn? How should I learn? While it is valuable to appreciate institutional strategies for organization of knowledge, so too is the questioning and reinvention of those strategies for every student.  Does ‘one major, one minor’ leave room for growth? Does it instill a sense of wonder for the multiplicity of the world? Does it inspire a thirst for meaning that defies enclosure? Readers should meditate on their choice of study carefully, especially at the beginning of every quarter and every school year. We should make a point to consider how we are learning and what we can do differently to appreciate the many changing modes of discovery in our world. Pursuing more than one major may be the first step.

Write for the Underground!

hands-coffee-cup-appleCalling all DePaul English majors! Are you looking for more ways to get your writing out there? Do you enjoy attending literary events?

The Underground is looking for student contributors to write short, informal articles for the website. Gain writing experience, build your resume, and get involved in the literary community at DePaul and beyond.

The pieces would be 1,200 words or less. We are open to interviews, event recaps, and any noteworthy topics in keeping with the Underground’s mission statement.

If you are interested in writing for the Underground, email Underground editor Anne Terashima at Anne will then email you each Monday with a list of possible article topics. If you see one that interests you, let her know by 10 a.m. Tuesday. Turnaround time is 1-3 days, depending on the topic.

Here is a sample of what next Monday’s topics email will include:

If you have an idea that is not listed, please pitch it to

We look forward to working with you!

Call for papers: 25th Annual ELL Conference

Have you written a paper you’re especially excited about? Whether it’s a research paper or creative writing, be sure to submit it to the University of St. Francis’ 25th annual English Language and Literatures Conference no later than September 15 (that’s this Thursday!).

The ELL Conference is an opportunity for students across the country to present papers, field questions, and further hone their argumentative thinking skills in a challenging but supportive environment. A special bonus for participating students is that a conference presentation looks especially good on resumes and graduate school applications.

Recent grads, current undergrads, and high school students taking Advanced Placement courses are invited to submit completed papers (approx. 2,000-3,000 words or 1,500-2,000 words for AP and introductory students) to no later than Sept. 15, 2016, in any of the following categories:

  • English literatures
  • Literatures in translation
  • Comparative literature
  • Critical theory
  • Film
  • Creative writing
  • Teaching English
  • Special sessions for introductory and AP English students


DePaul Professor Mark Turcotte Presents a Poetry Reading with Students at DPAM March 1st

DPU Prof and poet Mark Turcotte presents a poetry reading featuring a group of his students at the DePaul Art Museum on Tuesday, March 1st at 7pm. Come out and hear what your fellow students have been working on and support the creative community here at DePaul!

DPAM poetry reading, 1603a-page-001.jpg

DePaul English Undergrad Alex Nates-Perez Featured in DePaul Magazine

Today in the DePaul Magazine, Junior Alex Nates-Perez, an English major and environmental science minor, shares five easy steps you can take to help keep our planet healthy in the years to come.

It’s a great article, and we’re proud to have Alex represent our department so well!

Check out the article, and comment with your thoughts!


STUDENT NEWS: English Major Emily Parenti Reading at 16th Annual Citywide Undergraduate Poetry Festival, Thursday April 2

Hello Undergrounders!  We have exciting news! English major Emily Parenti has been selected to read at the 16th Annual Citywide Undergraduate Poetry Festival. Be sure to congratulate Emily, and see her read Thursday April 2 at 5:30 at Columbia College. More info here.


DePaul Undergraduate Student Reading Series Fiction Reading this Thursday, March 5th


Please join the Department of English and the John T. Richardson Library for the first in an annual series of Undergraduate Readings.

The Fiction Reading will feature readings by Brian Burke, Isabelle Johnson, Michael Light, and Hannah Puckorious on Thursday, March 5th, 2015 at 6pm in Richardson 115.

We hope to see you there!

“A Life to Spare”: AQ14 Short Fiction from Andra Roventa

“A Life to Spare” by Andra Roventa

Berthold Pfeiffer bit savagely against the inside of his cheek to keep from grimacing at the sight before him. Dozens of corpses lay strewn in the filthy, rat-infested gutters of Dresden, many of them fresh and still saturated with blood and smeared guts. Pairs of glassy, vacant eyes watched him with accusing looks, silently screaming at him to divulge why they had been thrown into the street like used garbage. Try as he might, Berthold was unable to tear his gaze away from the pile of once-breathing, once-walking Jews that were now no more than slabs of bullet-filled meat.

Some of them were alive merely ten minutes ago, he thought in bewilderment, eyeing a bearded rabbi whose mouth was still agape, rigid and distorted. He must have died screaming. The 21-year-old S.S. officer shuddered, finally averting his eyes from that haunting, empty stare the deceased rabbi managed to give him.

A portly, bald commander cleared his throat as he watched two remaining officers drag what seemed to be the last body from the demolished apartment complex the S.S. men were loitering against. The German duo dumped the lifeless body of a teenage boy onto the rest before turning to salute their commanding officer.

“Is that all of them, then?” the rotund, elderly commander known as Jorgen Fitzgerald, inquired in a voice laden with irritation. It looked like he had other business elsewhere, and this “menial” task was not one of them.

One of the Germans who had discarded the final Jew gave a half-assed shrug. “You know these Jews, Herr Fitzgerald. Sneaky little devils. There might be a couple here and there hiding about—under the floorboards, behind a secret stairwell. You can never be too sure with them.”

The fat commander gave a snort, nodding in agreement. “Disgusting vermin, the lot of them.” He bent his rhino-like head to rest on his decorated breast, pondering for a moment. “Right, then. I’m late for a dinner party as it is. Someone needs to run through the perimeters to make sure we’ve taken care of every last one of them. I don’t want any runaways or it’s going to look messy on my part.”

He clasped his hands against his bulging belly, scrutinizing the ten-or-so soldiers that encircled him. Fitzgerald scanned each of them before narrowing his beady eyes on Berthold. The latter bristled but kept his surprise in check.

“Pfeiffer. You’ve been quiet today, boy. I don’t recall you doing much when we stormed the complex,” Fitzgerald barked at the blond man, furrowing his brow in contemplation. “Give me your rifle.” His fingers, which looked more like fat sausages than digits, impatiently wiggled as he reached out for the weapon his subordinate had strapped to his shoulder.

Continue reading ““A Life to Spare”: AQ14 Short Fiction from Andra Roventa”

AQ 2014 Featured Student Writing: “Burnt Toast”, nonfiction by Rachel Plotkin

Flour danced around the kitchen, painting it white, as scents swam around my five-year-old pigtails strategically maneuvered into a mustache against my top lip. The house creaked each time the wind carried over from the Volga, sending the gooseberry bushes whistling against the wooden shed. My grandmother was meticulous, each fist precisely kneading the dough before pinching at the goop and flopping it onto a pan. Her eyes would never leave mine; her hands worked on their own as she told stories I wouldn’t remember, my mind too focused on the masterwork occurring before me.

Что ты готовишь?”
“Подожди, маленькая. Подожди.”
“Но бабушка…”
“Перестань. Еда будет готовa скоро.”

When she was done, she would throw the dought into the oven and shoo me away to the garden while she cleaned. My greedy hands picked at berries, bare feet running me through each aisle of fruit as I all but forgot about the pies inside. Cherries stained my dress, hiked up to my belly into a cloth bowl to carry them indoors. The kitchen, warm from the oven’s flames, always full of baked goods, greeted me with new smells as I dropped the cherries into a bowl. Hopping onto a counter, white flour residue still hiding its surface, I’d grab hold of a pie and my grandmother would laugh and clap her hands. “моя маленькая! Ешьте много,” she’d say. My little one! There’s plenty.

Watching my mother cook was like watching a general prep for war. She matched her mother’s love of cooking with a duteous need for perfection. As I watched her, I was careful not to make any unnecessary noise. It was a more serious occasion than baking with my grandmother. On those days, the sun crept in from between the shades and cast golden stripes on the counter where she worked, the bustle of New York outside drowned out by the sounds of her knife against the cutting board. I was motionless, my knees tucked against my chest as I watched her efficient transformation of simple ingredients, the kitchen filling with their aroma. The apartment, always sterile and uncomfortably cold, felt like home with a quick lift of a pot cover. When the oven door opened up, smells flooded the rooms: lasagna, matzo ball soup, fish (which made my nose crinkle, every time) and cakes, plus endless desserts that were nipped and picked at before they had a chance to cool down. Every night, no matter how tired or angry she was, she’d whisk away at something and I’d curl up to watch, trying to keep as much of that version of her with me as I could.

“Welcome to Casie’s cooking show!”

My sister claps her hands together and flails her arms toward an imaginary camera, giggling and grinning as she pulls fallen strands of hair behind her ear. Her tiny fingers point to each ingredient, describing it in the most matter of fact way, as if cooking an omelet is revolutionary. Egg splashes onto the granite and she goes on mixing, dropping sliced baby tomatoes into a yellow milky goo and then sprinkling cheese and basil on top of it all. Her approach is neither meticulous nor precise. She doesn’t measure or think about the end product; she mixes with gusto and looks constantly at me as I roll a fist in the air as if holding an old Super 8 in my hands, capturing each moment of her Food Network debut.

“And now my assistant, Tata, will help me use the stove.” She waves frantically for me to come over and with an exhausted motion I slowly put down the heavy imaginary camera and bow to the applauding audience. She manages to go to commercial only seconds after I start.

When he cooks I find myself in the doorway, bottle of beer in hand, picking at the paper label. The fan sprays my hair against my shoulders. I’d put it up in a ponytail if he didn’t like it so much when it was down. He’ll stop mixing to kiss me and I’ll feign annoyance, complain that the food will burn, smirk when he finally pulls away. He cooks to make me smile, when I’m stressed from a bad day or just because he knows I like watching him. Bites of food sizzle in the pit of my stomach, making my toes curl when I steal mouthfuls too hot for my tongue. He laughs, shaking his head while I pout; distracting him becomes my goal. I rest my chin on his back, my lips at the nape of his neck, and wrap my arms around him. Suddenly, it’s no longer about the food.

A glass of merlot in hand, I relax into my kitchen. Spices shake with each opening of a cabinet door, like the sound of maracas echoing through the bare walls. Little attention is given to the rest of the space but the kitchen is painstakingly organized. I am careful to place complementary scents together—rich lavenders and vanillas, sweet enough to make your teeth sting—wishing for the kitchen to always hold the smell of home. Sprawled onto my countertop, head dipped back to finish off the last drop of wine I mix the melting chocolate with my free hand, leg warmed by the stove’s heat. No one watches. No one sits in anticipation. There is no one there trying to capture the secret to culinary success. There is no show. It’s just me and my store-bought cherries, dripping with bittersweet dark chocolate as they cool on waxed paper and my memories float through the warm, sweet air.

Rachel Plotkin, originally from New York City, is a Senior English: Creative Writing major at DePaul University. Her favorite book, at the moment, is Gabriel García Márquez’s ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’. In her free time, when not writing, Rachel enjoys visiting Chicago’s theater scene and dancing like no one is watching.

Make Way for Crook & Folly!

1781986_258806777613870_1160874302_nAfter more than three decades as Threshold, DePaul’s art and literary magazine has a new name, and they want you to submit your best creative work for consideration in their upcoming issue!

DePaul’s newly christened Crook & Folly is soliciting your original works of Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, and Dramatic Literature.

Pieces of Fiction and Creative Nonfiction should be 5000 words or less. Submitters to the poetry genre should include 1 to 3 original poems in a single document, and works of Dramatic Literature can include screenplays or short plays of up to 15 pages.

And finally, please keep in mind the following submission guidelines:

  • Your name should NOT appear on the submission.
  • Only one submission per genre is permitted, with the exception of poetry.
  • Pieces may be excerpts from a longer work as long as they stand on their own.
  • Include a SEPARATE contact page that includes your name (first and last), intended genre of your submission, title(s) of your submission, and your email address and phone number.

Send your submissions to by Monday, February 24th at 11:59 PM. The subject line should indicate the genre of your submission. Crook & Folly’s talented group of editors cannot wait to read what you have to offer!

Are you hankering for more Crook & Folly? Head over to their new Facebook page and spread the word!