MLCS Honors students spotlight

Name: Johann Christian Pitter


Honors in Spanish & Latin American Studies

If you were a superhero, who would it be?/If you had a super power, what would it be?

Honestly the ability to turn back short periods of time is highly underrated. I always thought about it whenever I had to study for a midterm or finish a paper. Imagine exactly the power that Hermione had with her time-turner locket but without the need of the locket. You need a couple more hours of sleep after a long night studying or writing… I mean editing a paper, sure no problem. You want to take two classes that have overlapping times on Beartracks? No problem. The time-turner power has excellent potential and for some reasons everyone is obsessed with traveling time between elongated periods of time; I say both have great perks!

What spurred you on to be an Honors student in the department?

My university career feels like a weird Greek comedy. After starting as an undeclared Arts student, I decided to try to get into the business program (enter generic pre-business joke here). Soon I realized that business was not necessarily a passion of mine, and although I got accepted into it I decided to accept instead the offer that I had gotten from the Faculty of Education. After this, everything went astray. I entered a period in my life in which I underwent multiple personal issues and ended up assigned into Academic probation. Twice. Thankfully, I was able to overcome this turbulent time in my life and ended up not only drastically improving my grades, but also discovering my passion.

During my grade improving years I took multiple classes in the MLCS department with different professors. Having prioritized university, my work-ethic was leagues away from my former years. This did not go unnoticed as multiple professors would ask me to consider applying for the Honors program; their argument was that this would give me an avenue to research my passions while being recognized for my efforts. This would prove to be a hard decision as I was only a mere year away from graduating from my Bachelor of Education. It did not, however, stop me as my curiosity got the best of me and forced me to subsequently apply and join the Honors program in Spanish & Latin American Studies.

What is the best thing about being an Honors student in the department of MLCS?

Like I mentioned earlier, the program provided for me an avenue to research my interests while being recognized. However, this was not the only good thing about my change in paths. I moved to Canada from Venezuela when I was 11 years old. At that tender age I had no connections with my culture, this radically changed when I started taking Spanish classes. Not only did I have a place to explore and discover my culture in an academic setting, I was given an even bigger avenue through the Honors program.

Besides the academic pursues and avenues that the Honors program has provided for me, the connections that have become available for me are even more important. Professors from the whole department are welcoming and helpful. The whole ancient professor-student dichotomy in which the student takes a subordinate position is long but gone. And this is the case not just with professors, but also with colleagues both in the undergraduate and graduate level. The whole department truly feels welcoming and understanding. The department themselves try to promote this cohort-like feeling through both events and shared-spaces. The Honors office becomes not just the best place to write your honors thesis without any interruptions, but it also becomes a place where like-minded people gather. I would say that the Honors office became a meeting place for all of the honors students, regardless of their program as long as they were part of the MLCS department.

Cause(s) you care about

Personally, the political situation in the Venezuelan experiment greatly interests and affects me. The country is not just divided in a binary system between pro-Chavismo and anti-Chavismo ideologies, but it is also now divided physically through two presidents. Which, might I add, are each both backed by multiple competing super powers. This division and its evolution is of great interest to me.

On the same token, I am also interested in the idea of researching and combatting divisive populist rhetoric. I am not just speaking of a certain right-wing fellow south of us, but also of all other populists regardless of political affiliation.

I am very interested in the creation and enforcement of more efficient and humanitarian International Human Rights. This is fueled by the Venezuelan Refugee Crisis, as seen in the immense numbers of Venezuelans seen fleeing to Colombia, Peru, among others. But it does not stop there, the situation with Palestinian refugees coming from the Middle East, the situation with North African refugees fleeing to Italy; our interconnected world is in great need of a change in perspective in regard to our International Human Rights enforcement.

Tell us about a topic you are excited to do research about (e.g., your current Honors thesis)

My Honors thesis was a literary analysis of Patria o Muerte, a book by well-known Venezuelan author Alberto Barrera Tyszka. The study of the methodology found within Tyszka’s narrative created an opposition to the divisive element of the populist discourses found in the contemporary Venezuelan ideological binary. Tyszka created a multiperspectivism that captured the different flaws in both sides of the binary, in an attempt to criticize the propagandistic and divisive characteristics found in both.

Although it was a literary analysis through the ideas of multiperspectivism found in Bakhtin, my thesis adhered to my interdisciplinary tendencies. Because of the nature of the piece, I had to define my working definition for ‘populism’ to which I used multiple sources published in the political sciences. This branch I defined as ‘Neopopulism’, meanwhile some of the political policies that were explored and expressed in the novel also had to be mentioned. To this I once again looked towards another discipline, namely history, particularly in regard to the manipulation of the past for propagandistic goals. Besides those, I decided to also explore the idea of the connection that Chavez created with his ‘people’ while isolating a great part of the population. In regard to this, I found multiple sociological papers exploring the idea of what ‘charisma’ really is. All in all, it was a truly research-intensive paper that borrowed from the disciplines of history, sociology, political sciences, and obviously literary theory.

Any (survival) tip(s) you would like to share with fresh MLCS Honors students?

Do not let yourself be limited by ingrained inhibitions. This is not just in regard to this program but in general academic life and even in a general sense. You are an honors student for a reason. You are a smart, hard-working, critical-thinking individual that should not listen to someone telling you what you can or cannot do. Obviously please do not harm anyone, but still, be assertive. Be yourself, find what you want to do and pursue it.

Another big issue I came across was self-doubt when facing adversity. I understand that after getting multiple ‘A’s an ‘A-’ will feel like the end of the world, but it is not. Some professors are different than others, but your skill and intellect is a constant that will only improve if you keep honing it. Do not doubt yourself, just keep swimming.

The first thing you plan do after graduating.

I plan on continuing my academic pursues. Luckily, I have been accepted into multiple well-regarded M.A. programs that have expressed their interests in having me as part of their communities. So, if you did not read anything else in this spotlight, please read this: If a student who was in academic probation, made it into honors, got multiple academic-based scholarships, and got into well-known M.A. programs, you can do it too. Believe in yourself.