Published: July 1, 2015

Boulder native Karen Ramirez developed a passion for the American West during a teaching assignment in the Far East.

While teaching high school English in Japan and being immersed in Japanese culture for a year, Ramirez became intrigued with the difference between the ideal of the Western American culture of individualism, self reliance and mobility in contrast to Japanese culture’s strong ideal of communalism and interdependence.

“I was intrigued with how Japanese literature influenced my understanding of Japanese culture and ideals,” said Ramirez, senior instructor at the Sewall Residential Academic Program at CU-Boulder. “That led me to think about how people understand themselves through a particular place. Going halfway around the world brought me back to thinking about the American West.”

Ramirez teaches courses at CU-Boulder on the American West, women’s literature, Native American literature and American literature. She teaches courses for the Center of the American West, the Women and Gender Studies Department and the English Department.  

Her emphasis is on teaching undergraduate students and developing enrichment programs for first-year students. She believes that students enrich their academic experiences when they meet in smaller settings and get to know each other and their faculty. In all the different ways that she works, by teaching in a Residential Academic Program, by co-directing the CU Dialogues Program, and by acting as assistant director and teaching for the Miramontes Arts and Sciences Program–an undergraduate enrichment program for underrepresented and first-generation students at CU-Boulder–Ramirez is committed to providing opportunities for students to do just that. 

“I believe it’s important to create a strong academic community for students because academic success is intimately linked with student community,” she said. “The focus of all my work at CU-Boulder is to bring people together and to offer a chance for undergraduate students in particular to form close communities.”

An achievement of which she is particularly proud is co-founding the CU Dialogues Program with colleague Ellen Aiken. Launched in 2007, the program facilitates conversations that enable students to explore a variety of issues related to ethnic, cultural and socio-economic differences. These facilitated conversations or dialogues create an opportunity for students to gain a greater understanding of other students’ and community members’ perspectives and experiences.

“A dialogue is really a process of sharing, listening and coming to a better understanding through multiple perspectives or multiple narratives,” said Ramirez. “Dialogue is not about trying to come to consensus. It’s not a debate. There isn’t a solution to a problem.

“Dialogue also doesn’t ask the speakers or participants to change their perspective or their experience, but to understand it, to speak it and to come to know it in a deeper way,” she said. “Students leave dialogues empowered and excited, because they realize they had more to learn about themselves and about other people here at CU-Boulder.”

When not at CU, one of her favorite outlets for enjoyment is singing with Ars Nova, a local semiprofessional a cappella choir.

“Singing fills my soul and gives me so much joy,” said Ramirez. “What I love about singing with a high-quality choir like Ars Nova is what happens when we come together to make music, to create that musical experience for ourselves and the audience.

“Music is another form of dialogue,” she said. “You can do it on your own and it will sound a certain way and when we go into a performance it’s a completely different experience.”