deb kaplan, assistant professor of communication, former community journalist, and all around lovable human being, died the night before last in her sleep. i met deb about three years ago when she became a professor at university of washington in the department of communication. she was engaged: engaged about teaching, engaged with the world, engaged about suffering. she was also a bundle of fun to be around.
before going to grad school, deb worked as a journalist for nearly twenty years. she was a reporter for the detroit free press and an editor of the metro times (an alternative weekly in detroit). at some point, she went to grad school at the university of north carolina and studied mass communication and cultural studies. i know that she was heavily influenced by larry grossberg, one of key scholars of cultural studies.
in general, deb studied social inequalities and social change; in particular, she studied homelessness. for deb, studying something and making that something better were inseparable. as a journalist, a researcher, and a teacher, deb presented inequalities not as something to merely recognize and assess but also to fight and eradicate.
deb was one of the few UW professors i kept up with. the last time we spoke, she was excited about her books - the book that was almost finished and the book that she was currently researching. and she was excited about her graduate class; deb loved working with and learning from graduate students.
over the years, over coffees, over dinners, and over cigarettes, we complained about the fools who stood in our way and the fools who didn't believe in themselves. but most of all, we talked about making a difference, we talked about affecting change, we talked about believing in what you do, and we talked about teaching.
and then we would end our conversations the same way we'd begin them: with a huge bear hug. i miss you deb kaplan.