College mourns loss of anthropology lecturer

Visiting lecturer of anthropology Denice Szafran died on March 16 after battling cancer since January. She was on leave this semester to undergo treatment.

The anthropology department held a memorial for Szafran on Wednesday March 26, when students gathered to offer condolences to her daughters.

A linguist specializing in digital connectivity, Szafran began teaching at Geneseo in 2010, first as an adjunct lecturer of anthropology. She was promoted to a full-time two-year visiting lecturer position soon after and was on her second visiting lecturer term starting in fall 2013.

“We were in a bit of a spot when we hired her,” associate professor of anthropology James Aimers said. “There aren’t that many linguists around, and to find one that is nearby who does interesting stuff and is also a very nice person – we hit a home run.”

Stanford University Press approached Szafran in December 2013 with a proposal to publish the dissertation she completed at University of Buffalo last year titled “Scenes of Chaos and Joy: Playing and Performing Selves in Digitally Virtu/Real Places,” which analyzes flash mobs.

Szafran worked on editing the dissertation for publication while in the hospital but didn’t complete it. According to anthropology assistant Beverly Rex-Burley, her daughters Jamie and Christine Szafran plan to continue editing the paper to ensure that it will be published.

Szafran also collaborated with associate professor of computer science Doug Baldwin to create a massive open online course in spring 2013 titled “Identity in the Third Space.” The class engaged over 100 current students, alumni and faculty in an open-format online discussion of the digital world.

Professor and Chair of Anthropology Rose-Marie Chierici said that, as an anthropologist, Szafran “used modern technology as her field site,” adding that her work extended far beyond typical scholarly boundaries. Alongside her academic work, Szafran was engaged in the Geneseo community, hosting flash mobs, attending student events and participating in Humans vs. Zombies.

“She was a person of the moment. She lived her life fully,” Chierici said. “She was looking for different ways of looking at the world.”

In working with students, Szafran engaged a series of teaching assistants and independent research projects. Although the linguistics minor was eliminated early in her Geneseo career, she worked with students to pursue language studies regardless.

Szafran assisted senior Ayelet Harel in completing the courses necessary to graduate with the minor.

“That was something that you wouldn’t really expect from a lot of professors, to go the extra mile and help you create a program. That’s what she did for me,” Harel said. “But you didn’t have to be an anthropology major to appreciate her and her love of life.”