The Oberlin Review

Professor Brian Doan Passes Away at 44

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Brian Doan

Brian Doan

Brian Doan

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Oberlin community members, family, and friends suffered the unexpected loss of Visiting Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Brian Doan, 44. Doan died of a heart attack Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. The Oberlin community was informed of his passing in a Dec. 19 email sent by Dean of Arts and Sciences Tim Elgren.

After earning an undergraduate comparative literature and political science degree from Indiana University, Doan went on to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. in English with a concentration in film studies from the University of Florida. Over the course of nine years there, he won two prestigious awards for his teaching before accepting his first faculty job at Oberlin College in 2006.

“I know that he really valued the ways he could teach here,” Doan’s wife and Visiting Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Denise Guidry said. “He had taught in a big state school and the approaches were very different. I think the class sizes were comparable, but the kinds of teaching you could do here gave room for innovation and flexibility. You have resources that you wouldn’t have in other schools and I think that was something he really appreciated. He put so much of himself into his teaching.”

Doan brought his passion and knowledge for classic Hollywood movies and pop culture to the Oberlin classroom, where he devoted his time to teaching students in the Cinema Studies department until 2011.

Grace An, a colleague of Doan’s in cinema, spoke at the Feb. 4 campus memorial about the substantial mark he left on the department over the course of five years.

“I got to see up close how Brian was received as a teacher by the numerous students who filled his classroom for the many courses he invented for our program: 10 whole new courses in five years — that may be a program record,” An said.

After teaching in Cinema Studies, Doan went on to assume administrative roles on campus. Meanwhile, as a self-proclaimed cinephile, Doan continued critiquing films on his blog, called Bubblegum Aesthetics. He started the blog in the summer of 2007 at the now-defunct Java Zone — since replaced by Aladdin’s Eatery — and it developed from a casual pastime into a serious passion.

Doan further immersed himself in the cinematic community in 2013 by diving into the world of freelance publishing and opening his first Twitter account. In his spare time, Doan published freelance media critiques for PopMatters, Bright Wall/Dark Room, rogerebert.com, and Cinespect.

For the last year and a half, Doan worked in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, where he taught media writing and first-year seminar courses. Two students in his newly-developed first-year seminar “Imagining Hollywood” — College first-years Natalie Zoltners and Shivani Singh — reflected on their memories of Professor Doan.

“Brian was a very genuinely nice man, which is the thing that I liked most about him,” Zoltners said, “The classes were good because he wanted to get to know his students as people and he let that reflect in his teaching. He was very passionate about his subject and he wanted to share what made cinema exciting for [him.]”

Singh spoke about the impact Doan had on her life.

“He was my favorite professor,” Singh said. “When he said that he was socially anxious — I was like ‘me too.’ He was very kind and sweet, and everybody could connect with him in some way.”

Singh recounted Doan’s compassion and his ability to make students comfortable.

“I ended up missing a lot of class because of my grandmother who was very sick, and so I went to explain that to him, and he had said that he lost his grandmother a couple months ago,” she said. “He would say, ‘I know how this feels, so please take your time.’ And that was a lot more understanding than a lot of people. He’s done a lot, but he never put it in your face to make him seem better than you. He really tried to make him and his students seem equal so you wouldn’t feel afraid to talk in class.”

Guidry recounted a fond memory of her husband from the end of last semester.

“We both taught at 1:30 p.m. in the fall, and I was running late for my last class, and I was walking by his class and I stopped — and there was a window in the door — and I watched him setting up for his last day,” Guidry said. “This would have been two Fridays before he died, and he was so happy, he was just so content. He was sitting there with his laptop, probably checking email and just finalizing things for class, and his students were coming in and they were chatting and happy and everything. That’s such a wonderful moment to have, because up until pretty much the very end — he was here Friday night getting final exams from his students from that class as well — he was so happy to be working with students and excited about the work they were going to be turning in and the connections they’d made and all that. It was a real privilege to see that moment, I’m really glad that I was running late in the ways that I was, that I just happened to stand there and catch that because I had no idea … what was going to happen.”

Guidry has developed a memorial website in her husband’s honor, containing his life’s work in cinema as well as remarks from his memorial. There is also a memorial page set up in his honor by rogerebert.com, where he contributed articles on topics ranging from Joss Whedon to The Twilight Zone.

“He so wanted to do a good job,” Guidry said. “He would say, ‘I just want [my students] to feel like they’re getting something out of [the course].’ And they were, it sounds like, they really were, so all that worry [was], maybe, misplaced. He succeeded at what he wanted to do.”

He is survived by Guidry; Doan’s parents, David and Susan Doan; two siblings, six nieces and nephews, and four god-nieces and nephews.

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