University of Michigan
News for Faculty and Staff

December 18, 2017

LSA lecturer examines intersection of race, Jewish identity

October 2, 2017

LSA lecturer examines intersection of race, Jewish identity

Faculty/Staff Spotlight

Topic: Campus News

Jamie Moshin's work focuses on rhetorical analysis of a variety of media, from humorous memorializations of the Holocaust, to Jewish Americans performing hip-hop and reggae.

These create a racial double-discourse. On the one hand, Jews are seen as white, said Moshin, lecturer I in communication studies at LSA. But many anti-Semites don't perceive Jews as fully white.

Moshin's training as a critical rhetorician helps him tease apart how this racial liminality is exploited by both anti-Semites trying to portray Jews as "others," and Jews themselves reclaiming a racial, ethnic and religious pride apart from whiteness.

"My whole life of scholarship has been, 'Jews are not really what we're talking about.' There's always been this kind of non-space when we're talking about Jews and race and whiteness and identity. It's really kind of fluid and flexible," he said.

Jamie Moshin is a lecturer I in communication studies at LSA. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg)

Moshin first experienced conflict with his Jewish identity as a teen. One time, he attended a play and encountered members of the Aryan Nation white supremacy group.

"I had to walk through a phalanx of them giving the Hitler salute, where they formed rows and we had to walk through them," Moshin said. "I think that era was one of my first real experiences of closeting."

Moshin grew up in a happy household. Both of his parents were public school teachers and, as an only child, he was an avid reader. Until the age of 13, he lived in a diverse neighborhood in New Jersey. However, it wasn't until after his family moved to Spokane, Washington, that he had his first run-in with anti-Semitism. Being forced to confront his identity started him on his path to academia.

He majored in sociology and rhetoric at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and was inspired by a rhetorician mentor to continue studying discourse. He earned a master's degree in communication arts and sciences at Penn State, and a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Washington.

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"Language is seen as air or water, that it's just natural and neutral, that it's a tool. We don't think about the power of it, about the ideologies that are hidden in it, that we can construct and destroy with it," he said.

Moshin's other passion is teaching. He originally came to the University of Michigan as the Diversity and Discourse Scholar of the National Center for Institutional Diversity before transitioning to a lecturer I role. He teaches courses in traditional communications fields like public speaking and argumentation and debate, and multiple courses on representations of difference in discourse.

He didn't realize his love of teaching until his first course as a graduate student instructor. "I stepped in on Day One and went, 'Oh my God,' I love this!" At Marietta College in Ohio, he was named Professor of the Year.

His philosophy on teaching is simple. "I love the material I teach about and I love my students, and I think they feel that. I really believe that students will learn if they enjoy learning, if they feel comfortable and included and valued in the classroom."

Q & A

What moment in the classroom stands out as the most memorable?

There is the occasional class you teach where you just get that rush of "Wow … nailed it," where you and the students are on the same page, the energy is high. I love those moments.

What can't you live without?

My family. Including the dog, obviously.

Where is your favorite spot on campus?

I enjoy a concert at Hill or a game at the Big House or Crisler.

What inspires you?

People who have the courage to say, "I've always wanted to do X, or learn Y," and actually go do it rather than find reasons not to.

What are you currently reading?

I'm a sucker for fantasy or (youth adult) … anything that is an escape from the real world. Right now, I'm reading a cool book about a girl who's part zombie.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

My mentor/rhetoric professor at Willamette University, David Douglass. He inspired my love of language and encouraged me to pursue what intrigued and captivated me.