The two campuses of St. John’s College have always enjoyed a rich interchange of ideas, students, and tutors, despite the distance between Maryland and New Mexico. In 2020, now that classes have gone online, that gap has been atomized, and a number of students and staff have started taking advantage of this new way of being. Since distance now constrains us all equally, cross-campus seminars and lectures are more proliferous than ever, and new clubs and groups seem to be popping up daily. Chief among them, in my own humble opinion, is the burgeoning Radio Club, a collaborative exploration into the medium of radio, spearheaded by tutors Christopher Cohoon and Erika Martinez. Although early in its infancy, the club shows a great deal of promise, and so it seemed best to get out in front of the developing excitement and talk to Erika Martinez herself.
So, where did you go to school before you came to St. John’s?
“Well, I grew up in Oregon, and then for college I went to Colby College in Maine, where I was an English major. It’s a little bit different than the senior essay here, but I did get to write a senior essay of my own, on Camus. I’m a little bit jealous of the seniors here, when they get to do their senior essay, because it’s kind of a luxury that I remember. Then, for graduate school I studied Linguistics at CUNY, the City University of New York.”
What did you write your dissertation on?
“I did it on middle voice, or at least, the so-called ‘middle voice.’ It’s not exactly the kind of ‘true’ middle voice we learn about here in Freshman Language. In part, it was on reflexive morphology (think se in French or Spanish or si in Italian), and how nouns and pronouns more generally fit into that kind of construction.”
So what drew you to St. John’s College after you graduated?
“I had heard a tiny bit about St. John’s College in high school while I was still trying to figure out where to go to college and I didn’t know anything, but I didn’t come. I actually had a friend whose younger brother had gone, so I met a few of his friends from the College, and eventually I got to talk with one of them and she explained to me what it was like to be here, at the College, in a really amazing way. I remember I was really impressed with how well she could convey what it’s like at St. John’s to someone like me, who just had no idea what she might be getting herself into. But I was really excited, because I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I can keep learning, and I can learn a lot,’ that I could get to have years of real learning ahead of me. I had done some teaching already, of course, and I thought that there might be some really exciting students who really wanted to learn stuff, and who’d be excited when I don’t know something, so that we might be able to learn something new together. So that was all very exciting to me.”
Is there anything in particular that really stands out to you as something new you’ve learned from St. John’s?
“I’ll give you an example from Junior Lab, which I love. And I’m someone who, in high school, hated math and science, and I dreaded those classes so much. But I’ve loved Junior Lab, and it’s given me a way to think about things, a way that I couldn’t have thought about things before. Like when we read Faraday, and when we read Maxwell, I get to learn about the phenomena and these ways of formalizing Faraday’s experimental genius, but I get to do it in an embodied way, which I love. And I get to think about them as people. Because really, they’re just people working hard in their own peculiar ways, and I feel like I never got to encounter a scientist like that before, as a person, a driven person who reveals what they’re thinking about and reviews what he can’t handle in the moment. And that’s a way of learning that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t come to St. John’s.”
So is Junior Lab your favorite part of the program?
“I don’t think I have a favorite, because I love Junior Lab, but I feel that a lot of the learning we do is very personal. It depends on the people in the room, who are learning with you. So all of the program can be great, but I think that there’s no such thing, really, as a ‘part of the program,’ because it only exists for a particular period of time with those people, and then you disperse. With luck you get to come back, and talk to those people again, but it’s not really about the program.”
What projects do you have going on right now? I know you just did a lecture on the Grammar of Genesis last week, and of course the Radio Club, but what’s been occupying you lately?
“Well, I am working on Genesis, and thinking about it, and for me I guess the lecture is kind of a beginning of the project, so that I can see more clearly what it is I need to learn in order to do the kind of work I want to do. But that’s more of an ongoing project right now. We have the Radio Club, which is great because I think we really need something that’s embodied, because right now we’re in this terribly disembodied way of living. And that kind of embodiment, that’s how it fits in with the other projects I’ve been thinking about lately. I think that there are some things that are going to grow out of this big Genesis project, but I’m going to let them show themselves.”
Have you read any good books recently?
“I just read Adam’s Diary and Eve’s Diary by Mark Twain, and I’m halfway through Little Women with my daughter.”