This Q&A is part of an ongoing series with Arts and Letters graduate students. Read more Q&As with graduate students and faculty members here.
Dominique Vargas is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English, as well as a University Presidential Fellow, a teaching apprentice in the Gender Studies Program, and a graduate fellow in the Institute for Latino Studies and the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. She specializes in 20th- and 21st-century American literature with a focus on race, gender, linguistics, and literary theory. Vargas received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from St. Mary’s University, and an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.
Talk about your research interests. What are you working on right now?
I work on contemporary literature of the Americas with a focus on women’s writing, gender, identity, linguistics, and literary theory. In my dissertation, I read U.S. multiethnic literature by women in conversation with women’s texts from Canada, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean in order to understand how hemispheric literary and linguistic performances responded to the political and economic conditions of the North American Free Trade Agreement. I want to understand how these specific conditions, and free trade agreements more generally, come to bear on the body as both material reality and metaphor in literature.
What inspired you to do this research?
My research has always centered on questions of identity and belonging. I entered my Ph.D. program with general questions about the way the body works as a metaphor in contemporary American literature. Through coursework, research, and conversations with peers in interdisciplinary working groups in the Gender Studies Program and the Institute for Latino Studies, I was able to ask more specific questions. I am inspired by and continually fascinated with the way that contemporary multiethnic women writers are not just responding to their own realities, but also reimagining and remaking the world.
“I am inspired by and continually fascinated with the way that contemporary multiethnic women writers are not just responding to their own realities, but also reimagining and remaking the world.”
Why are these questions of identity and belonging particularly relevant today?
Living in a post-NAFTA, post-Operation Gatekeeper world, our reality is absolutely shaped and defined by domestic and foreign policy. In doing this research, I began to question the global politics and economic institutions that dominate, regulate, and sometimes criminalize the body as commodity, labor, and threat. The longer lineage of this contemporary moment shows that North, Central, and South America have always been linked by ancient pathways of migration, shifting borders, imperialism, interventionist policies, and now, free trade agreements.
To understand the world we live in, I think it is imperative to address the lived realities of these institutions and structures. Furthermore, these texts provide an aesthetic and ethical framework for us to discuss and address contemporary crises at home and around the world.
How did you choose Notre Dame?
I received my undergraduate education at a Catholic Marianist institution, and it was important to me to continue my education at a Catholic University. The Catholic intellectual tradition assumes a love of learning and intellectual curiosity that fosters open-minded, sustained engagement with diverse ideas and experiences — and this is incredibly important to my research, teaching, and personal life. This tradition, combined with an imperative to walk with others, allows me to meditate on the fundamental possibility of an ethical aesthetics.
At Notre Dame, particularly in gender studies, ILS, the Center for Social Concerns, and the English department, I knew I would have a rigorous community of peers and mentors who would support and encourage my work.
“The Catholic intellectual tradition assumes a love of learning and intellectual curiosity that fosters open-minded, sustained engagement with diverse ideas and experiences — and this is incredibly important to my research, teaching, and personal life.”
What makes the Ph.D. in English program distinctive?
The English Ph.D. program is intellectually rigorous and engaging, but it also encourages me to think beyond course material and exams to envision myself within the field. I have found support in a community of peers, and I have found mentors and colleagues among the world-class faculty who are invested in my success. Essentially, this program has allowed me to cultivate and maintain my passion for this work, while mentoring me into the wider field of literary studies.
What do you hope to do after Notre Dame? And how do you feel the program is preparing you for the job market?
I plan to continue researching, writing, and teaching in some capacity. My vocation as a teacher-scholar began before I came to Notre Dame, but my time here has allowed me to cultivate it. The department facilitates a variety of practicums and workshops to prepare graduate students for the future of literary studies, but we are also invited into that conversation. I feel empowered to navigate and ultimately contribute to the changing landscape and economies of higher education.