English professor Mohamed Anis Ferchichi brings global perspective to students

When Tunisian native Mohamed Anis Ferchichi initially left for Rhode Island after arriving as a Fullbright scholar back in 2015 to teach Arabic at URI, he hadn’t the slightest idea he’d be here six years later.

Two years after coming to America, Ferchichi applied for his Ph.D., and has spent his time since then chipping away at his dissertation while offering students a unique and worldly perspective on the mainly classical texts that his classes cover.

Ferchichi has taught English, literature and language classes across North Africa and Europe and now in Rhode Island. 

He has been working on his dissertation and taught ENG 110: Introduction to Literature, ENG 121: OUTRAGE! Literature of Protest and Dissent, ENG/CLS 160: Literatures of the World, ENG 241: U.S. Literature I, ENG 242: U.S. Literature II, Queer Politics, FRN 102: Beginning French II and WRT 104: Writing to Inform and Explain.

Though he began at URI primarily teaching Arabic with the language department, he now mainly teaches English courses. He is also involved with the Gender & Women’s Center and the department of Africana studies.

ENG 121: OUTRAGE! Literature of Protest and Dissent is a course that covers controversy itself and the works produced by history’s coalescence with prose and poetry. 

Ferchichi said the most controversial topics his classes tow the line of are the concepts of race, queerness and their cultural and historical intersections. He emphasized the significance of teaching history and analyzing classical texts from a variety of perspectives.

“It’s very important for the students of URI to see history, their history and culture, taught from a different perspective while keeping always an essence of those texts,” Ferchichi said. “I think that’s really enriching for them. Obviously, I’m not American. And when you touch on topics like race, the idea of Islam or the idea of queerness, its not at all something [students] can imagine [sometimes].”

  Expanding the worldly outlook of students at URI, in line with the University’s “philosophy of inclusion” is a prerogative to which Ferchichi has invested a great deal of class time through student-led discussion after important prefaces.

“Today we talked about the n-word, you know 19th century texts are a landmine for the n-word, and if you don’t preface that students definitely might misunderstand that you are inclined to believe in that,” Ferchichi said. “By prefacing, you open the floor to have a discussion. I tell them [students], I really am interested in your opinion, but we need to first hear the primacy of how the text conveys meaning first.”

Ryan Trimm, an associate professor of English at URI, has known and worked with Ferchichi since 2015 and described his ability to convey his enthusiasm into his students as “special.”

“I saw again and again how committed [Ferchichi] is to the life of the mind,” Trimm said. “He truly loves connecting and tracing out ideas.”

Ferchichi’s dissertation, which he is currently working on, examines the ways that the mind is represented in contemporary literature, and how it aligns with real neuroscience.

“Per usual with [Ferchichi], this is an intellectually ambitious project,” Trimm said. “Something I admire about him.”

In his experience teaching about controversy, dissent and outrage, Ferchichi said that covering touchy subject matter can feel like “walking on eggshells” for college professors. 

“It’s generally stressful, but also helpful to learn about the world and myself,” he said.

For certain polarizing and emotionally charged topics, such as abortion, Ferchichi prefers to let students bring into conversation on their own when they appear in texts. 

Letting the students address it, according to Ferchichi, is what allows for a free flow of discussion, and what stimulates the feeling of safety needed to facilitate that in a classroom setting. 

“When here, they feel safe enough to discuss,” he said. “What matters is that the flow of information is done in safe ways.”