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Robert Fanuzzi, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of English

Humanities Creates a “New Generation of Doers,” Declares Staten Island Professor

Throughout his 20 years at St. John's University, Robert Fanuzzi, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English, has dedicated himself to teaching and conducting research that “solves problems” while broadening knowledge.

Those “problems,” Dr. Fanuzzi explained, involve social concerns beyond the campus gates. For the last three years, he has been developing an interdisciplinary curriculum on the Staten Island, NY, campus that engages the humanities with issues and resources in surrounding communities. For these efforts, Dr. Fanuzzi received the Academic Service-Learning Award from Rev. Donald Harrington, C.M., President of St. John’s, at last year's Faculty Convocation.

Dr. Fanuzzi’s research focuses on the American and trans-Atlantic antislavery movements of the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition to his book, Abolition’s Public Sphere, he is the author of numerous essays and scholarly articles on race relations in the Americas.

A question posed by one of his students convinced Dr. Fanuzzi to take a new approach to scholarship — one that has reaped rewards for Staten Island students and the local community. “Very simply, the student asked, ‘Why am I studying the humanities if I don't want to teach?’” Dr. Fanuzzi recalled.

The question made an impact on him. “As an English professor,” Dr. Fanuzzi said, “I feel morally obligated to give my students an outcome that benefits them. The humanities are central to the way we live, and I have dedicated all my time to opening my students up to that world — showing them that they have a social, vocational and institutional purpose.”

Illustrating that purpose, Dr. Fanuzzi noted, are the literary figures who have championed social change “You can only do this work for so long,” he said, “before you feel called on to do something miniscule in relation to what great people such as Henry David Thoreau or Frederic Douglass have done. I ask myself and my students, ‘Now that you know, what will you do?’”

Dr. Fanuzzi has found a perfect synergy with his academic scholarship and the Vincentian mission of St. John's. “I'm in an incredibly lucky position. I don't have to import the Vincentian mission into my research. It's already there,” he said. “Harriet Beecher Stowe and Thoreau aren't Catholics, but they speak the same language.”

Inspired by their example, Dr. Fanuzzi has developed course-related Academic Service-Learning projects that engage Vincentian values by encouraging his students to serve in the local Staten Island community. They pursue internships with partnering organizations Project Hospitality, City Harvest and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. At times, these projects have suggested career paths for his students.

Most recently, Dr. Fanuzzi’s students have joined the Staten Island “Grow to Give” initiative, which promotes community farms and gardens to provide food pantries with fresh produce. His classes have partnered with City Harvest and Project Hospitality to help bring healthy food to local neighborhoods deprived of healthy, fresh affordable food. 

“When students do this kind of engaged learning they are career ready,” Dr. Fanuzzi said. “My job is to maximize the impact of the humanities and give our students tangible strategies for bringing what they've learned into their careers.”

Moreover, Dr. Fanuzzi added, “everyone I meet doing significant work in their communities has a humanities background. I’m convinced of the value of a liberal arts degree because I see visionaries inspiring others and effecting change. Our humanities training is creating a new generation of doers in the world.”