Professor Seeta Chaganti has been teaching at UC Davis for 15 years. Chaganti is a medievalist: an expert in medieval literature and poetry (think Chaucer). I interviewed Professor Chaganti in her office and asked her a few questions about her research and pet chickens.
You talk about your pet chickens in class frequently–why chickens?
Growing up in a big city, I didn’t know anything about chickens. Owning chickens is a very normal part of the culture here, so I got a couple of very beautiful hens and I named them Odette and Odile, after the swans in Swan Lake…I really like having little non-human presences around. It’s funny because a lot of their behaviors are very feminine coded. They really like treats and presents, and they like to talk a lot, which are just funny stereotypical behaviors that we associate with femininity. I had been vegetarian for a long time before I got them, but I also stopped buying eggs and commercially-made products with eggs in them, because once I learned more about the commercial egg industry I knew I couldn’t support it anymore. The chickens changed my habits in a lot of ways, so I feel like I have a very different relationship to what I eat now.
What do you do in your free time?
I really love dance and have a lot of training as a ballet dancer. It’s a helpful alternative pastime for me because my job here is very verbally based and pretty solitary, whereas the information and cues in dance are largely non-verbal and communally oriented and I really love that about it.
Tell me about the new book that you’re writing.
I just started writing a book about chickens and I’m collaborating with an ethologist, who studies animal behavior as situated in the animal’s natural environment. So, we began talking about it, and now we’re working on this book and it’s called Chicken Lyric. It’s making the argument that over this long history of English poetry, we have a series of authors…who have helped shape our definition of what poetry is. But, what we’ve never noticed about them is that how they see the world and how they interact with the environment around them have been very much shaped by their proximity to chickens…So, it’s about how the closeness to an animal can change human sensory experience and how human beings notice things, how they see the world, and how it gets expressed through the poetry they write.
Do you have any advice for Her Campus readers and students?
Given the current context and climate, this is a moment where it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are still a lot of people who think that women can and cannot do certain things. I think it’s important, especially now, to not make superficial judgements about what women are and what they should and should not be doing based on their physical attributes and race. I’ve been really happy to see that my classes have become increasingly diverse with more young women of color than I used to see. I take really seriously that I’m a woman of color and a professor of medieval literature. I try to make myself available to students as much as I can because I think it’s important for us all to keep reinforcing each other. As an academic and a woman of color in a field that is not tremendously diverse, I certainly have had my share of people who have made assumptions about who I am and what I can and cannot do, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with for my whole career. We all really need to stick together even more than usual to make sure we can be the things we want to be and not the things people are expecting us to be.
Professor Chaganti will be teaching Chaucer: Troilus & “Minor” Poems in Spring, so make room in your schedules!