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New Instructors Join Graham School’s Basic Program

Both Paul Cato and Rebekah Spearman use close readings of texts to drive dialogue and discovery.

On the right: a headshot of Paul Cato. On the left: a headshot of Rebekah Spearman.

With the additions of Paul Cato and Rebekah Spearman to its instructor roster, the University of Chicago’s Graham School expands and strengthens its commitment to offer dynamic courses stimulating intellectual discovery and spurring personal growth.

Both Cato and Spearman are literature enthusiasts who leverage close readings of prominent texts to explore the human condition and society at large. They join the Basic Program, a certificate program at Graham that emphasizes deep study of core works in small groups with an eye towards rigorous joint inquiry.

Cato, who earned a B.A. in Religion from Swarthmore College in 2014 and an M.A. in Social Thought from the University of Chicago in 2019, is an emerging voice on the ways in which Black thinkers like James Baldwin explore the philosophy of love – the subject of his dissertation as a current University of Chicago Ph.D. candidate on pace to complete his degree in 2023.

At Graham, Cato will teach courses focused on close readings of texts such as Plato’s Phaedo and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man while encouraging students to find personal connections with the texts based on their lived experiences. Such study, he says, invites rich, nuanced conversations inspiring reflection, new perspectives, and learning.

“When people act as interpreters, they can have an endless number of discussions on any text given all the different life experiences we all bring to the table,” Cato says. “That’s what I’m most looking forward to at Graham.”

For Cato, who has taught courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago, such introspection and interpersonal discussion is critical in contemporary times to drive personal growth, understanding, and empathy.

“It’s important for us to enter discursive spaces about human life that move beyond the Internet. These spaces bring us into conversation with and among others,” says Cato, whose research also explores African American literature and Black feminism as well as race and religion.

Like Cato, Spearman, too, is a University of Chicago Ph.D. candidate. Slated to earn her Ph.D. this summer, Spearman has devoted significant scholarship to investigating the theme of inclusion in the work of ancient Greek poet Pindar – the topic of her doctoral thesis – as well as concepts of gender in the ancient world and Russian poets writing under oppressive regimes.

Having taught undergraduate students at the University of Chicago since 2016, Spearman welcomed the opportunity to join Graham’s instructor roster and work with a student population possessing diverse life experiences.

“As a humanist, I’m interested in studying texts alongside other people and hearing their perspectives, which will often influence my own interpretation of the text and generate lively discussion,” Spearman says. “It’s that process of collaborative discovery that’s so exciting, and the chance to create a space where people can follow what’s attractive and appealing to them is precisely what attracted me to Graham.”

Spearman, who earned her B.A. in Classical Philology from the University of Dallas in 2014 and her A.M. in Classics from the University of Chicago in 2017, will teach close readings of texts considered part of the Western canon, an endeavor she began this winter with a course on Dante’s Divine Comedy.

“It’s been an amazing experience to not only get out of my niche in the ancient world, but to see what the students are seeing themselves in the text,” Spearman says.

Daniel P. Smith

Freelance Writer

Daniel P. Smith is a freelance writer at the Graham School.

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