Gatepost Interview: Elizabeth Banks, English professor

(Photo by Danielle Vecchione)

Can you briefly describe your resume and educational background?

I have a bachelor’s in education. I was a high school teacher. I taught English as a second language. I decided my real love in life was journalism, so I returned to school and got a master’s in journalism from Northeastern.  I’ve been in the newspaper business for more than 30 years. I started as a reporter, then I edited a couple small newspapers. I was an executive editor for a group of weekly newspapers that was sold to a larger company, and that company also owned the MetroWest Daily News. I started at MetroWest as a regional editor, then as a bureau chief, and then as a managing editor.

Can you tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments?

I have two daughters who are grown up and successful, so although that’s their accomplishment, I’m very proud of them.

In the newspaper business, I started as a reporter working for a newspaper owned by the San Francisco Chronicle. It was in the early days of the AIDs epidemic, and a reporter at the Chronicle named Randy Schilts, who went on to write the book “And The Band Played On,” formed a team of reporters covering the AIDs epidemic. I was one of those reporters on the east coast, and I heard some amazing stories and met some pretty amazing people. Back then an AIDs diagnosis was a death sentence, so I was talking to people who knew they didn’t have long to live. I think we got a lot of good information out about AIDs, and we cleared up some misinformation, got accurate information out there. As I said, I really did meet some amazing people. Our group won some awards for our reporting, which was gratifying. But it was also tough, emotionally. I did this for maybe two years and I found – I think we all found – that we had to stop. It was emotionally draining.

Also, I’m proud of the work I’ve done at Framingham State. I’ve taught the Feature Writing class. I’ve taken many students as interns over the years. I watched them really grow and become successful. We hired – the MetroWest Daily News hired – a good number of those students, so that was very gratifying, to see them progress as journalists. Many of them are still in the business.

What would students be surprised to know about you?

I was a classmate of Bill Clinton’s. He was a good friend. There was a group of us that would hangout.

Do you have any hobbies?

I like to read. I like to knit. I love to travel. I was in Italy in October, which was a wonderful experience.

Where else have you traveled?

I’m kind of mentally planning my next trip. I’ve been all over Europe. I’ve been to Alaska. I’d say my favorite place is Italy. I keep planning my next trip to go back.

What was your best undergraduate experience?

I went to school in New York, and back then you could get tickets very inexpensive for theater. We saw a lot of Broadway shows, concerts, and the opera. So I think probably the best experience was being in New York City itself. Also the year I spent studying abroad in England was probably the best experience, just experiencing different cultures. The university system in England is very different from the United States. The pace was much slower. The system was that students would attend lectures in the morning, and meet with a tutor in the afternoon. That’s when your subject of concentration, you would discuss in depth, you would do your research, the tutor would answer your questions, read your papers. People would then, if they played a sport, do that later in the day. It was just a more leisurely way of learning, although not necessarily easier. In the lectures there wasn’t the give and take that we have in American classrooms. A professor just stood up and lectured. Nobody asked questions, nobody spoke. It’s a different way of learning. It took some adjusting.

What was your favorite course in college and why?

Literature courses. I love literature. Writing courses. I’d still say that’s my favorite, reading and writing, because that’s clearly what I’ve done for a living. In England I took a lot of British history classes, and British literature classes. I took them, particularly British history classes, to take it in a country where it happened. We got a different perspective than you’d get in the United States.

What class do you think every student should take before they graduate?

I’d encourage students to take some chances. I’d encourage students to take a course that really catches their imagination. Not to worry so much if this class will help me get a job, but to take it to see if it interests them. I have a sense that one course that really catches your imagination could change your life. And to pursue that interest – if it doesn’t work, try something else – but not to be afraid to take that chance. Study abroad if you have the chance because that opens a lot of doors. A student can be exposed to a lifestyle or a culture that takes them in another direction.

What advice would you give to students?

Follow what you really love. I started as a high school teacher, and I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the students. I probably could have continued doing that but I went to Manhatten for a conference with a friend, and we got snowed in.  We were sitting in the hotel, and the hotel was right across the street from Madison Square Garden. All these people were there for the NCAA basketball tournament. Because it was snowing, everybody came into the hotel, and into the restaurant. Because there was so many young people, basketball players and their families, for whatever reason we started talking about what we always wanted to do. I said I always wanted to go into journalism. That in high school I wrote for the paper, and in college, and I always wanted to do that. My friend said, “Why didn’t you?” and my answer was when I was in college women usually went into teaching or nursing. Those were considered women’s professions. Times, of course, had changed, and she kind of dared me to look into journalism. So I called Northeastern and I talked to a professor there and he really encouraged me to apply, and I did, and I got in. … I would say the thrill about being in journalism wasn’t the actual writing, it was working with people who think the way I do. We would bounce ideas off, and we’d see a story from the same viewpoints.

I think we worry too much about earning a good salary, not that you don’t have to be practical, you do, but you also have to want to go to work in the morning.

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