By Samia Afsar and Alexandria Woolfe
Reporting Assistance by Michela Arlia
This fall semester, the BC Theater Department welcomed a familiar face to a more administrative position. Professor Brian Manuel Simons, who is better known by students as Manuel, will now be taking on the position of Undergraduate Deputy Chair.
Previously holding the position of Undergrad Deputy Chair was professor Laura Tesman, who has now stepped into the role of Chairperson. With Tesman in this new role, her previous title was relinquished to Simons, after they held the position of Associate Undergraduate Deputy Chair for the past year.
“Laura is a really wonderful leader and one of the qualities of a great leader is that they make everyone they work with feel heard,“ Simons told The Vanguard. “So one of the things about Laura is that even prior to me assuming my new role, she often made me feel like we were in a conversation together. She always expressed, respected, and valued my point of view.”
Simons officially found out about their new role at the very start of the semester, which they didn’t expect.
“I had no idea that I would eventually be taking on this role. What I did know was that Laura was petitioning for approval to essentially allow me to work for a greater number of hours,” Simons said.
While maintaining this new position as Deputy Chair, they still hold their position as an adjunct lecturer, both part-time. With all of the new responsibilities now in Simons’ lap, it begged the question of whether the new title would hinder their ability to teach and be as available as before to students.
“The positive thing about the structure of these two part-time jobs is that I have some flexibility in terms of how many courses I teach each semester,“ said Simons.
Admitting they had their own anxieties about a more intense workload, Simons commented on how they made the decision to only take on one course for the fall semester.
“The reason I did that was partly because I knew it would be the first semester that I was in a new role, and I was definitely concerned that by doing both things I could compromise my teaching or vice versa,” they said.
Simons reflected on the one in-person class they teach this semester as many students and faculty returned back to campus for the first time since March 2020. The return to in-person instruction was joyous for Simons, but also a lesson to be learned in being grateful.
“So yesterday [Wednesday, Sept. 22] was my very first in-person class. After two years, basically. It was wonderful. I’ll never take that for granted again,” they said. “It’s really just so great to be in a room with theater people all being creative altogether in the same room.”
Similar to everyone else returning to campus, Simons was curious as to how social distancing and mask mandates were being enforced. They got to witness these protocols with their small class of eight students.
With theater courses in particular, the masks seemed as though they could be trouble, but Simons said not necessarily.
“I had also wondered about if that would limit us, and I didn’t really feel that it was much of a limit. I didn’t really feel that it inhibited our work in a major way,“ they said. “Because I think that’s the beauty of being in-person. The acting comes through so much more than only your face. Your whole body is acting. Your whole body is expressing energy and communicating.”
That being said, as Simons steps up to a new role, their teaching will never be put on the back burner.
“Teaching will never be off the table for me. I would never take a position that required me not to teach. I love teaching,” they said. “It is one of my great joys, one of my passions, and my life is not complete unless I’m teaching.”
Simons has intentions of shining light on the marginalized students within the program as they take on their new role.
“I think one of my biggest goals in this position is to continue to ensure that undergraduates have the attention and mentorship that they deserve,“ said Simons. “In particular, to make sure as well that the voices of students of color, and other marginalized students are heard, and that their interests are being listened to, heard, and addressed.“
For Simons, these goals they set out relates with their own gender and social identities.
“It also ties in with my own identity as a non-binary person who has experienced homophobia and homophobic violence,“ Simons said.
Helping to amplify undergraduate voices will be a continued effort from when Simons was Associate Undergraduate Deputy Chair.
“Some of our students have conveyed in the past that they wanted more of a voice and role in deciding which plays would be produced in the season,“ they said. To address this, Simons will ensure that the identities of the characters in each play are relatively proportional to the identities of their students and Brooklyn College’s student body.
Simons’ piece of advice for students of the arts is something they wished another creative would have told them at an early age.
“We are in the era of the slash,” they said enthusiastically. “When it comes to theater and the arts, try to define yourself with as many slashes as possible. The more multifaceted you are, the more options, the more you will be employed.”
In continuing their work, Simons looks forward to working with Brooklyn College students on a personal and administrative level.
“I love working with our Brooklyn College students because I get to interface and work with the undergraduates,” Simons said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity. I’m so thrilled and grateful that I can make a contribution to the department in this new role.”