From Operation Iraqi Freedom to African Diasporic literature, Dominick Rolle is charting his own course at LGS

Nov. 20, 2013 - Dominick Rolle's path to and through graduate school is shaped by a unique background that is influencing his work at Emory.

From the Bahamas to the Persian Gulf

Born in Miami, Florida, Dominick spent his childhood in Nassau, Bahamas, his family’s country of origin. After emigrating from the Bahamas to the U.S. in the tenth grade, he lived with four families in three years before graduating high school at 17 years old and joining the U.S. Navy. Approaching adulthood, Dominick's mother and teachers were the major influences in his life. His mother encouraged him to embrace new opportunities while educators challenged him to think creatively and critically. 

Dominick joined the U.S. Navy because he considered it a viable way to help offset college educational expenses while also fulfilling a desire to travel. He enlisted for six years as a radar technician and completed two six-month deployments to the Mediterranean, during peacetime, and to the Persian Gulf, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  In hindsight, Dominick says, "Serving in the military helped me become a more confident, resilient person because I learned how to work in teams, encourage myself through challenging situations, and train others." 

New Waters

After his discharge from the U.S. Navy, Dominick completed his undergraduate work at the University of Virginia, majoring in English. It was during his time as an undergraduate that Dominick decided to become an educator, but this decision would not immediately lead him to graduate school. 

Following his graduation from UVA, Dominick served as a social worker for two years, supporting inner-city youth and recently separated military veterans in Charlottesville, VA. But - like so many students at LGS - he couldn't shake the passion for literature that graduate education would allow him to further explore and pursue as a career. "Literature has always illuminated my deepest fears, concerns, and desires even as it exposes different worlds of experience that stretch the imagination. I was drawn to the Laney Graduate School doctoral program in English because although it was large enough to cater to my diverse intellectual interests, it was also small enough to provide me with substantial academic support." 

Dominick also chose Emory and the Laney Graduate School both because of its location in Atlanta, a vibrant city with a rich Civil Rights history, and also because of Emory's  Manuscript and Rare Book Library (MARBL), which serves as a world-class repository of black literary and cultural artifacts that has enriched my scholarship.

The Work

Now a fourth year student, Dominick draws on his military and social work backgrounds to further his work. His research interrogates select autobiographies written by African American and Afro-Cuban writers to consider how the intersections of the military and prison shape the prospects for black liberation from the Spanish American War through Vietnam. "Given that the military supposedly serves as an institution that affords blacks the full privileges of civic inclusion," says Dominick, "a central irony exists when considering that the social conventions of the military reflect those of the prison—the institution that has historically stripped blacks of basic citizenship rights." Thus, his dissertation, titled Shades of Heroism: The Black Soldier and Black Prisoner in African Diasporic Literature and Culture, 1898-1975, pairs various African American and Afro-Cuban authors who have served in the military or prison with others who metaphorically represent themselves as soldiers or prisoners.

Says Dominick, "My goal is to consider how discipline and other facets of both institutional cultures simultaneously empower and disempower blacks in the United States and Cuba during these historical periods. Considering that various prominent African Americans freedom fighters have historically visited or moved to Cuba to remedy racial oppression in the United States, my project considers Cuba’s social, political and economic engagements with the United States as a foundation for highlighting how African Americans were often misguided in their assessment of Cuba as a racial utopia." Furthermore, his research also sheds light on late-nineteenth century Cuban history and culture from the perspective of Afro-Cuban escaped slaves (maroons) who lived in the woods and experienced solitary confinement before serving as Cuban rebel soldiers (mambises) during the Spanish American War.  

Dominick  hopes that his project "will help academics, lawmakers, and the general public query the various narratives that are perpetuated about blacks joining the military or going to prison in both countries even as my research can help bring attention to an understudied nexus between two of the most significant institutions in African American and Afro-Cuban life." 

Becoming an Educator

"At Emory, I have enjoyed teaching courses in the English Department such as Literature of (Black) Warfare in which I helped students to consider how war shapes U.S. and trans-national cultures by providing a framework for them to study intersectional issues of race, class, ethnicity, gender, religion and disability among others," says Dominick. But Dominick's rich background of military service, social activism and social work have taken his teaching interests beyond English and into the interdisciplinary fields of African American Studies and Womens' Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  

"As a former regional veteran support specialist for the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, I assisted service members who often struggled with PTSD after serving in war and who were often sent to prison for male intimate partner violence against women partly as a result of their debilitating psychological condition." He continues, "At Emory, I decided to continue my social activism work by serving as the graduate assistant for the Emory-Men Stopping Violence Initiative, which is located at the Emory Center for Women. In this capacity, I serve as an advocate against male intimate partner violence against women by speaking out, conducting workshops, and facilitating presentations at Emory and in the broader community." Dominick also co-instructs Emory’s “Men Stopping Violence Class” and internship, a course in which undergraduates are challenged to analyze male intimate partner violence against women from theoretical and practical perspectives.  The course will be taught for a third time in spring 2014 and, together with it's internship opportunity with the non-profit Men Stopping Violence, Inc., it is ivalued as an opportunity to learn community-building skills while also earning academic credit.

For his efforts and commitment to education and social activism, Dominick was recently awarded the Dr. Herman L. Reese Community Service Award in Education by Emory’s Caucus of Black Alumni.

The Future

After completing his PhD, Dominick's goal is to become a tenure track professor in an English Department. He hopes to teach classroom-based courses in African American and Caribbean literatures as well as non-traditional courses through online platforms and community-engaged learning venues. One might guess based on his experiences that more adventures are in store for Dominick, but one thing seems almost certain: no matter the path, he will arrive at the destination of his choice.