There are certain professors you have in college, especially in grad school, that forever alter the way you approach learning. They are the ones you tell stories about, the ones who weren’t just in the classroom to lecture, but to teach you about education itself and what it means to be a student. Bob Coleman-Senghor was one of those professors.

I believe it is a remarkable thing to be able to combine a fierce passion and a high standard of education with kindness – often I’ve found there are nice teachers who are easy, and strict teachers who are less than friendly. But Bob had a unique way of combining intellect and experience with humor and approachability.

Yet this is not to say that he was not a hard teacher to have; I’ve seen students break down under his questioning as he refused to accept anything other than what he considered best and most-clear answer the student could give. In my third semester as a grad student I took his Magical Realism class, and I recall asking him how I should approach one of the assigned papers. As soon as I finished asking the question he replied with something like “You’re a grad student, why are you asking me this?” – or in other words, figure it out yourself. While at the time I felt a little confused and annoyed by this, I realize now what he was telling me; that at a certain point you have to do your own legwork, otherwise you will never develop your own methods and ways of thinking.

In this manner Bob was controversial at times; there are students who loved him and others who were upset by his teaching style. Having only taken one graduate course from him I can’t give any all-encompassing review of his teaching style, but I can say that I’ve always had a soft spot for those teachers that students find difficult, because they often force me to confront my own intellect and bias. It was clear when Bob liked something you said, and clear when he didn’t, but there was always opportunity to change his opinion. As there is with the best educators.

Bob always took the time to greet me in the hallways, to ask me about how my thesis was going, or just to give a friendly smile. As time passes I will miss seeing this kind and unpretentious man on campus, and  my heart goes out to his family, especially his young children. He has been active in my community from his time as a 60s equal rights advocate to today as the mayor of Cotati, and has been an educator for 35 years. I can only hope there will be more people like him in the future.


A liberal education is at the heart of a civil society, and at the heart of a liberal education is the act of teaching.
A. Bartlett Giamatti