Shushan Karapetian, Ph.D, a celebrated scholar in the field of Armenian Studies, begins her tenure as the director of USC Dornsife Institute of Armenian Studies with a strong mandate for academic expansion and integration. 

“The global disruptions of the past decade have deeply impacted how institutions and communities engage with and challenge Armenian heritage, witnessing soaring demand for content on the Armenian experience,” says Dr. Karapetian. “I am eager to build on the Institute of Armenian Studies’ culture of world-class programming that has made scholarship accessible.” 

Having joined the Institute as deputy director in 2019, Dr. Karapetian has brought her interdisciplinary expertise in Armenian Studies, applied linguistics, and linguistic anthropology to nearly every facet of her work. In addition to actively publishing and presenting her work on Armenian as a heritage language in numerous academic forums, she has launched a ground breaking research project that investigates how the Armenian language is mobilized to perform masculinity in diasporic contexts. Since coming to USC, Dr. Karapetian has taught courses every semester on Armenian heritage, highlighting the multipolarity and diversity of the Armenian experience. As the producer and host of the popular Language Therapy with Dr. K podcast, she has created an intellectual space for scholars, educators, artists, and practitioners to critically debate the intensely relevant role of language in all social contexts – from the burdens of diasporic mother guilt, to myths about bilingualism, to comedy in times of war, to post-colonial hybrid identities, to artificial intelligence, and so much more.

Prior to USC, Dr. Karapetian spent nearly two decades researching, writing, and teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles. She earned her doctoral degree in Armenian Studies from the UCLA Department of Near East Languages and Cultures. Her doctoral dissertation, which is the foundation of her forthcoming book, tackled the intersection of language and diasporic identity and the challenges of transmitting the Armenian language from one generation to the next. In addition to receiving the Society for Armenian Studies Distinguished Dissertation Award, she was also the recipient of the Russ Campbell Young Scholar Award in recognition of outstanding scholarship in heritage language research. 

The major thrust behind Dr. Karapetian’s vision for the future of the Institute is the generation, expansion, and integration of academic work on contemporary Armenian Studies both within and outside the USC campus. At a time where major universities throughout the United States are looking inward and assessing the critical role of the humanities, the Institute leader is looking bright-eyed toward the possibilities in the coming decades. “The Institute is the pioneering intellectual hub for the examination of the contemporary Armenian experience, in the Republic, in Artsakh, and in the global diaspora. Through targeted academic collaborations with world-class scholars and resources at USC and symbiotic partnerships with peer institutions across the world, the Institute is primed to be at the forefront of defining and steering the direction of the field.” As for the Institute’s visibility and presence on its home campus, “there are no limits to where the Institute can go on a campus like USC,” said Dr. Karapetian. “Academic integration  — making the presence of Armenian Studies a part of all aspects of USC life through intellectually stimulating classes, conferences, workshops, scholarships, and events — is a top priority.” 

Laser-focused on the Institute’s mission to produce and promote cutting edge scholarship in the field of Armenian Studies, Dr. Karapetian places a heavy bet on what she feels is the university’s greatest resource: its students. Indicative of the tide change in Armenian Studies at USC, Dr. Karapetian’s spring course on Armenian heritage has the highest number of students in the history of the course, from a wide array of disciplines, and more than half with no Armenian connection by heritage. “They are drawn to the class for a variety of reasons, but they come out of it with an understanding that the Armenian experience is relevant to the human experience, not siloed or marginalized in an insular bubble. They often surprise themselves with how much they relate to the narratives we cover in class.”

The undergraduate class is one of many student-focused initiatives led by Dr. Karapetian. In fall 2022, she guest edited USC Dornsife’s multilingual journal, Trojan Bloom, which featured five Armenian poems, four of which reflected on the 2020 Artsakh War. Carving out space for Armenian Studies within existing university platforms is just one of the ways Dr. Karapetian sees the Institute’s reach growing in the coming years. “The level of collaboration between students and the Institute team is truly what makes this place of scholarship exemplary,” said Dr. Karapetian when reviewing the breadth of work created by undergraduate and graduate students during her last four years at USC. Dr. Karapetian does not hesitate to invite promising students to initiate, collaborate, and take ownership of projects. A strong example is a student-led project on trauma and resilience post 2020 Artsakh war, that with Dr. Karapetian’s support evolved into a large-scale study involving two USC psychology professors and a UCLA clinical psychologist. 

“The students on this campus bring with them passion and curiosity; it’s on us to engage them in a manner that is intellectually rigorous and stimulating, demonstrating the potential for impact in a field that is growing exponentially.” The new director’s ambition with student engagement is crystal clear. “I want student engagement with the Institute, whether it’s through classes, student work or research, to be the defining highlight of their USC experience. I’ve already achieved that in the last four years. Now I want to amplify both the platform and the results. There is no better place than USC for this type of exciting work.”