Meet Ph.D. Chera Kee
Professor Chera Kee joined the Department of English at Wayne State University in 2011. She is currently an assistant professor teaching Introduction to Film to undergraduates and upper-level film and media classes on topics such as horror and zombies and censorship. But a career in academia was not always on her radar.
Professor Kee grew up in the suburbs of Oklahoma City and during her undergraduate years imagined she would be a filmmaker or go into broadcasting. Her decision to enroll in a Chinese language class at Oklahoma City University, however, set her on the path to the academe. Soon she had a double major in mass communications and Asian studies with a minor in Chinese language. Harvard was her next stop, where she studied Chinese language film for her master’s degree in Regional Studies–East Asian. Her desire to understand film history and theory prompted her to enroll at the School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California, where she completed a second master’s degree and a Ph.D. in critical studies. It was at USC that her research on zombies began and became the subject of her dissertation.
Early popular movie monsters such as Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster had roots in literature. As Professor Kee explains; “Zombies derive from the Haitian zombie, which is a slave controlled by the will of another. Zombie stories from the 1930s to the 1960s in the U.S. deal with people being turned into mindless slaves, not cannibals. It wasn't until the 1960s that American zombies start eating people; that had a lot to do with George Romero combining vampire and zombie mythologies together in Night of the Living Dead (1968). But while cannibal zombies are the most popular today, there are still slave zombies lurking around in U.S. pop culture.”
Professor Kee gravitates to the subject of zombies because of the creative freedom it allows filmmakers, writers and artists; “Just go to a Zombie Walk,” she explains, “you’ll see zombie nurses, zombie nuns, zombie soldiers, and just about every other kind of zombie you could ever imagine.” Her current research interests are supernatural-themed television; comic book studies; video games; fandoms; horror and zombie media that involve zombies and Voodoo in comic books. She was awarded a 2012-2013 President’s Research Enhancement Program Arts and Humanities grant for her project, “And the Dead Shall Walk the Earth: Zombies and the Politics of the Undead.”
When Professor Kee has some spare time she enjoys knitting, reading, spending time with family, catching up with what’s on her DVR, or maybe sneaking in a game of Plants vs. Zombies. In the Department of English, she is very involved with student organizations and clubs that mirror these interests. She is the faculty advisor for the student film group Kino Club 313; one of the founding members of Knit Lit (think fiber arts plus book club), along with fellow professor Jaime Goodrich and undergraduate student Jan Blaschack; and the creator of the WSU Video Game Scholarly Interest Group (VGSIG), founded when she noticed how enthusiastic her students were in class to discuss video game theory. Each group meets once a month (for more information, see the Knit Lit wsuknitlit.wordpress.com and VGSIG wsuvideogamestudies.wordpress.com sites).
Professor Kee also enjoys teaching—in fact, she received a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Award last year. She hopes the students leave her class with a “deeper appreciation of the material and a sense of how it might be useful outside of the classroom.” Her advice to students is to take risks and get outside their comfort zones. This advice echoes her own experience: “Typically, the most memorable classes I had as a student weren't the logical choices but the ones that were different, the ones that pushed me in new directions.”
By Mary Iverson