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Honors Tutorial College

Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Margaux Cowden

Aaron Long | Mar 2, 2017

Dr. Margaux Cowden, director of Ohio University’s Cutler Scholars Program, graduated from the Honors Tutorial College almost 16 years ago, but she still bears the program’s hallmark flexibility. A comparative literature specialist with a pension for interdisciplinary study, she knows the benefits of speaking beyond borders instead of just between them.

“You cannot underestimate how much disciplinary training shapes the kinds of questions you ask and assumptions you make,” she said. “When you bring people together from different disciplines, it’s not just that they have ideas that are different from each other, or skills that differ; they ask completely different questions and they go about answering those questions in completely different ways.”

Reverence for perspective has guided Cowden in her research, where she examines literature and poetry alongside texts from the early days of research on human sexuality. A comparative cultural studies approach allows her to examine the role of modernist authors in contesting normative definitions of human sexual behavior, providing alternative narratives to counter those of the early 20th-century scientific community.

While her technique has changed, Cowden’s fundamental questions have not. In fact, her education has provided a channel to explore the injustices of the past.

“I came out as queer when I was in high school, so my academic interests were partly motivated by observing the world around me and wanting to understand why other people’s sexuality required no explanation, but mine did,” Cowden said.

Today, Cowden uses her history – academic and otherwise – to support a new generation of students. The Cutler Scholars Program provided an opporotunity to both move forward and give back.

 “The longer I’ve spent away the more I’ve appreciated what HTC accomplishes,” she said. “I didn’t know the Cutler Scholars when I was here as a student, but when I got to know the campus as an alumna, the Cutler Scholars Program resonated with my academic values. It’s a program that’s providing that small, liberal arts feeling and creating an unusual intellectual community.”

For Cowden, serving as Director of the Cutler Scholars Program often means providing both enriching curricular experiences and a sense of community. Following a variant of the Golden Rule, she tries to be the teacher she would want.

“I really value faculty who are out,” she said. “By that I don’t just mean public about their sexuality, but who are out about their confusions and humanness. We all have moments of being perplexed and trying to figure the world out. I think professors often appear to students as these people who have always known how everything is. I try to combat that. I try to be as human and transparent as possible with my students and provide language for experiences they may have had but haven’t found their own language for yet.”

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