Frances Jaeger

Perspective: The Vocabulary Of Slavery

Apr 14, 2021
British Library

As a specialist in Caribbean literature, I teach about slavery every year. When we read the Cuban novel, Sab, or watch Tomás Alea Gutierrez's film The Last Supper, we study the organization of plantations, how sugar cane is cut and processed and the vocabulary of slavery.

Perspective: This Arrangement Isn't Working

Mar 30, 2021
Francisco Solares-Larrave

"This ménage à trois is not working," I informed my husband over the breakfast table.

Of course, the current state of affairs is his fault, because he brought Mimi into the house. Moody, difficult to please and argumentative, she lets her frustrations out on him. Mornings are the worst because she complains loudly, is impatient for breakfast and resentful when her needs are not met. Naturally, he was smitten by her youth and good looks, so he fell for her damsel in distress act.

Perspective: A Silent Witness To Nature

Mar 2, 2021
Alain Audet / Pixabay

It was 3 a.m. Since I couldn't fall asleep again, I got up to check whether it was snowing. Thick flakes were drifting from the sky and a deep blanket of white had covered our front yard. As I was admiring the smooth surface of snow unmarked by tire tracks or footprints, our neighborhood fox walked by.

Perspective: A Proustian Moment In The Cereal Aisle

Jan 27, 2021

I was looking for oatmeal in the cereal aisle. When I looked up after putting my canister in the cart, I saw Farina on the top shelf. 

A few years ago, my ten-year old neighbor was excited about a recent accomplishment. "Now, Susan," her mother admonished, "Don't brag." My comeback was swift: "It's not bragging if you did it."

By now the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed from last Friday, criticizing Jill Biden for using the title Dr., has been justifiably condemned. That someone with no earned graduate degree would refer to the future first lady as “kiddo” and question the validity of her three advanced degrees is astoundingly sexist. I wonder if I am living in the nineteenth century.

Perspective: Globetrotting Around My House

Dec 8, 2020
Kyle Glenn / Unsplash

Throughout this pandemic, I have been traveling a lot without leaving my house.

When I head to the basement, an audiobook of Ian Rankin's, In the House of Lies transports me to Edinburgh. After hearing James McPherson read while I do laundry, my thoughts are refashioned into words with a Scottish lilt.

Perspective: Hold, Please

Oct 29, 2020
Arno Senoner / Unsplash

I am beginning to doubt the sincerity of your words. None of the fifteen pre-recorded options were applicable to my situation, so now I listen to music I do not enjoy. Your voice resurfaces every two minutes, insisting that I am important to you, that you will be with me shortly, that all available representatives are helping other customers.

Perspectives: Know Your Dictator

Jun 30, 2020
public domain

Juan Manuel de Rosas is someone everyone should know, not because of his role in nineteenth century Argentine history, but because he created a template for the modern autocratic ruler.

If you have ever skimmed a self-help book, you will be familiar with the current trend to plan ahead, strategize and focus.  In a world where so much seems beyond our control, they advise we channel our efforts into well-defined goals.  Unfortunately, such advice never seems to take into account the Enrique Solares approach to life.

Perspective: A Reprimand Instead Of A Reward

Mar 18, 2020
Mark Duffel / Unsplash

As a participant in a leadership seminar over twenty years ago, a campus police officer at the UW-Madison shared his incredible story.

He was doing his rounds at 2 a.m. when he noticed a young man standing on the top floor of a parking garage. Instinct told him that something was wrong, so he approached and engaged the young man in conversation. As suspected, he intended to jump. My colleague persuaded him to come to his office, had a long conversation, and lined up professional care. This dedicated officer spent four hours saving a life.

Deutsche Fotothek

We live in an age where everyone loudly proclaims their rights, even when they inspire fear or threaten another's well-being. When I witness these vociferous defenses of the individual over the collective, I think back to a story my father told me.

As a teen, he and his family arrived in Dresden on Feb. 13, 1945. That night the incendiary bombs fell from the sky. In the school cellar where they were sheltered with other refugees, my grandfather managed to get a place next to a wall for himself and my father.

Perspective: Drop Everything And Read!

Jan 9, 2020
Iam Se7en / Unsplash

My son recently scolded me for the lack of D.E.A.R. in my life. It turns out that his elementary school has a program called Drop Everything And Read, when everyone in his class stops all activities to read for a set period of time. Apparently, I need to do the same.

In an effort to increase efficiency, I was clearing the piles from my desk yesterday. While eliminating the clutter, I was reminded of Saint Teresa of Ávila.


Born in 1515, she did not devote herself to writing and founding convents until well into her forties. Until her death at the age of 67, she wrote thousands of pages of poetry, prose and letters while on the road establishing new religious communities.


Perspective: Naturalization Ceremony, Anyone?

Oct 23, 2019

Few U.S. citizens witness a naturalization ceremony, and that is a shame because it is one of the most incredibly patriotic moments I have ever witnessed. 


Perspective: The Sound Of Silence

Sep 4, 2019
Robin Worrall / Unsplash

I have been in the college classroom long enough to notice the difference. When I was a TA thirty years ago, it was obligatory to quiet everyone down before commencing the day's discussion because all the students were chatting with each other. 


Perspective: Work Hard And Be Rewarded?

Jul 10, 2019
Pexel / PIxabay

During the awards ceremony at my son's Chinese school, I was struck by how the advanced teacher praised the students who were being recognized. Instead of focusing on their achievements, she described how hard they had worked, how they had faced difficulties and overcome them, and how they had improved during the semester. This ceremony was significant for me because it showed how much U.S. culture has ceased to value work.

Perspective: Musings On A Mace

May 8, 2019
Samuraiantiqueworld, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikipedia

In an attempt to escape this past brutal winter, my son and I braved the elements to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. Besides Chinese New Year activities, we admired the armor in the Deering Family Galleries.  


"What's that?" my son asked. 

Perspective: The Ripple Effects Of Salary Compression

Mar 26, 2019
Brendan Riley / Flickr CC by-sa 2.0

Here's a riddle: which profession guarantees that the more years you work, the less you will be paid? The answer is a college professor at a public university.

Decades of budget cuts and financial crisis have left their mark, and while data from program prioritization proved how much NIU faculty was paid less than colleagues at SIU or ISU, the Board of Trustees allocated one million dollars for a scoreboard in the Convention Center and raised the football coach's and university president's salaries instead. 

Perspective: The Universal Clean-Up Crew

Feb 6, 2019

When I first learned to ride, at 40, at NIU, the golden rule was that if your horse produced a "surprise," it was your responsibility to clean up. Certain students tried to skip out on this duty, and it got me to thinking: dealing with manure is a vital life skill because being an adult means joining the universal clean-up crew.

If you follow health news, you have heard about the Mediterranean diet. Full of vegetables, fruits and fish, it promises health and longevity. Nevertheless, recent studies have challenged this golden health rule. 


Perspective: You May Be Busy, But You're Not Bach

Dec 4, 2018

How often do we hear someone say that they are really busy?  Every time I think about my daily to do list, I know that compared to Johann Sebastian Bach, I'm not busy at all. 


What Road? A Poetry Slapdown

Oct 17, 2018
Susan Stephens / WNIJ



Are We Making Good Choices?

Sep 26, 2018

Are we making good choices?

When my son was around three, the teachers at The Growing Place began addressing unwanted behavior with the question:  "Are we making good choices?"  The first time I witnessed this technique, I immediately thought that not only toddlers needed such a reminder.  Many adults, including myself, could use a similar prod to overcome bad habits and be better people.

What's Urgent Vs. What's Important

Aug 20, 2018

Lo urgente no deja tiempo para lo importante

Sometimes another language says it best. In Spanish, there is a saying that has no exact equivalent in English: Lo urgente no deja tiempo para lo importante. A possible translation would be "The urgent things leave no time for the important things". How often have I thought that as I go through my daily to-do list?

New Words For An Old Dictionary

Apr 4, 2018

The start of a new year is always accompanied by a flurry of lists touting the words that were most popular. What no one seems to mention is the need to create an updated version of Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary.

Frances Jaeger

Jan 31, 2018

Frances Jaeger is an associate professor of Spanish at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include Latin American contemporary poetry as well as Caribbean and Central American literature.

She is a director of a faculty-led summer program in Mendoza, Argentina, and has led programs in Costa Rica in the past. Before coming to NIU in 2000, she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and taught at the Universitat de Barcelona, University of Puget Sound and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

What's Your Marshmallow Moment?

Jan 31, 2018

Last February I volunteered at a winter activity at my son's school and realized that we all need a marshmallow moment.

The plan had been to have a bonfire in the school yard, roast marshmallows for s'mores and drink hot chocolate. Four volunteers were responsible for serving hot chocolate to 500 students in about an hour. I was responsible for offering the marshmallows.