Debra Schwartz, 1956-2016

Editor's Note: ASU Department of English Instructor Debra Schwartz passed away in early May 2016 while on a camping trip in Northern Arizona. The department held a memorial for her on May 20. Several dozen friends, faculty, and students attended to share their fond stories of her.

Image of program from Debra Schwartz memorial, May 2016. / Photo by Rabbi Tiechtel.

I first met Debbie Schwartz when we were both moved up from the basement to an office on the 5th floor of the LL building. The next time I saw her, she had rearranged our office. She got rid of bookcases in favor of shorter ones; she removed boxes and reorganized books; she moved desks, installed a refrigerator and microwave, and added plants. All of these changes were done in one weekend. I think most of us would have worried about getting permission and if we had the right to change the way the office looked. She just went and did it.

That ability to make a decision and act on it is at the core of much of what she did while teaching at ASU, and the impact she had on the larger communities around us. She taught creative writing workshops for the Justa Center, focusing on working with homeless veterans. She led workshops for ASU Project Humanities. She trained to teach business writing classes. She explored issues of racism and led focused workshops with her students discussing their experiences. She joined a Quaker group and considered her spirituality. She tried homeopathic remedies. She shared teaching activities. She journeyed out into Nature. She investigated stories as an environmental journalist. She wrote.

Just look at that list of verbs: taught, led, trained, explored, joined, considered, tried, shared, journeyed, investigated, wrote. And this is all from what I knew of her as my office mate. How many more could be added? I do know that there is a cumulative effect of those verbs. We see it in the changes she created around her.

Sarah Dean

Photo of program from Debra Schwartz's memorial event by Rabbi Tiechtel.