Editor’s Note (02/12/24): Ezra Tawil, Professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of English, passed away Jan. 23. The Campus Times invited Professor Tawil’s students and colleagues to share reflections in remembrance of him. More memories, anecdotes, and tributes can be submitted here.
Yash Chitraker, Ph.D. Student, Department of English:
I have always associated Ezra with warmth. As I remember him now, his smile and kind eyes appear first, followed by his laughter. Here is a small testament to his kindness: I had once mentioned—in passing—loving a particular brand of tea, and much to my delightful surprise, he got me a huge box of tea, of which I still have a pack left. Chats with him on the grass, Misha on the side, classes with him, Misha (again) sitting sphinxlike, all of it, I think, glows softly in memory, and holding on to that glow is comforting. Thank you, Ezra.
Jeffrey Q. McCune, Jr., Ph.D. Chair, Faculty Programs and Departmental Initiatives, Department of Black Studies:
There are those, whose warm light shines wherever they are. From the moment we met in the halls of Morey, Ezra’s most genuine welcome, told me he was someone who made genuine, authentic connections. Ezra Tawil was a colleague’s colleague; each time I saw him he was a bright light. Like most academics he was a curious gent—though, his asking about my work and my life never felt casual. He truly made me feel seen…every time. Something tells me that this was just his spirit. And truly, that type of beautiful spirit never dies. Grateful.
Kate Soules, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English:
I’m a PhD student in the English department and had the incredible luck of being his TA one semester. In addition to his incredible warmth, kindness, and curiosity, one thing that stood out to me was how he treated me as a capable colleague. As his TA, he often made it feel like we were co-teaching—he routinely asked for my advice on how class went, how students were succeeding or where they might need more support, and would simply hand me the reins and have me lead class whenever I asked or if he couldn’t be in town. Having this rapport with Ezra changed the way I saw myself and infused me with an incredible boost of confidence in my abilities as an instructor, researcher, and writer. As I continued in the program, he made sure to keep tabs on me. When we all emerged after the pandemic and I now had a spirited toddler in tow, Ezra was positively delighted—he let my son pet his dog, Misha, and entertained him for a few minutes so I could chat with others. Ezra was incredibly gifted at bestowing these small acts of kindness each time you saw him, even if it was a brief passing in the hallway. The light and love that Ezra had for his students, the zeal he had for life and his work, was remarkably infectious—he changed everything around him for the better and he will be so incredibly missed.
Lisa Vandenbossche, Ph.D. Lecturer, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Michigan:
There are people who model the kind of academic you hope to be, and there are people who model the kind of person you hope to be – Ezra did both for me.
I would have never finished my dissertation without Ezra. The truth is, I likely would not have started it. I remember telling him, “I want to write a dissertation on texts about eighteenth-century sailors, but not use Melville.” His response was “why would anyone (but specifically you) want to do that? The best part is Melville!” He was right; and Ezra was usually right. He had a knack for helping you see things in your writing you couldn’t see yourself, and pushing you to be a better writer (and thinker) along the way.
Ezra was one of the smartest people I know, but more than that, he was just a wonderful person, and I feel lucky to have been at Rochester at the right time to work with him. He has been there for advice every step of my graduate career and for every twist and turn of my professional career after graduation. He has forever shaped the way I read texts, the way I make arguments, and the way I teach and mentor my own students. I am the person I am today because of Ezra, and I will always grateful to him for that.
Keegan Matthews, ’23:
When describing Professor Tawil, where do I begin? He was, without a doubt, one of the kindest people that I got the opportunity to learn under as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester; I remember during the Spring of 2020, his class was something of a refuge from the stress and turbulence of the times, his optimism and his compassion towards the students being endless. When things were difficult for me throughout my time as an undergrad, I knew that I could always reach out and talk to the professor, regardless of whether the issues were with my anxiety about coursework or about outside pressures. Professor Tawil was always willing to lend an ear, to crack a joke, and to offer advice. He would listen, regardless of how trivial the situation was, and he would always go that extra mile to make sure that the students that he taught knew that he was in their corner, that they were not alone. I feel like that gets to the core of who exactly Professor Tawil was: an excellent professor and an even better person, one who left his mark on the lives of those who got the chance to work with him. I am utterly heartbroken to hear about the passing of Professor Tawil, may he rest in peace.
Mahnoor Raza, ’24:
I am so devastated to hear about Professor Tawil’s passing, and I am thinking of his family during this painful time. Professor Tawil was my mentor for the Meliora Scholars program, and I will remember him for his kindness, humor, and unwavering support. Although I did not have the chance to spend much time with him, we had a few extremely influential conversations about my Meliora Scholars project, and he pointed me toward texts and ideas that have fundamentally shaped my academic interests since. I had always hoped to take a class with him but could not due to scheduling conflicts, and his teaching the Honors seminar last semester was a driving force behind my decision to participate in the Honors program. He had a profound and lasting impact on every student who knew him, and he will be missed deeply.
Angelica Aranda, ’23:
This man was so infectiously joyous. Not in the overt kind of happy go lucky way, but in the way that made you want to go to class and have a conversation with him. Always down to listen and discuss anything you had to say. I am truly heartbroken learning this news and I hope his family will find their peace with his loss. He was one of the only professors outside of the art department that made me feel heard and welcomed. Great man.