Associate Professors of Russian studies Sasha and Elena Prokhorov have been united in academia from the very beginning: They met each other thirty years ago at a dance party in their freshman dorm at Moscow University.
“Now that I think about it, it was probably the greatest party of my life,” Sasha Prokhorov said.
They were married during perestroika in the Soviet Union and left shortly thereafter to pursue teaching opportunities and graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. They now teach Russian, film studies classes and various other cultural studies courses at the College of William and Mary and are currently working on a book on cinema in the Soviet Union, particularly of late Socialist genres.
“The best part of working together is bouncing ideas off each other and getting honest feedback,” Elena Prokhorova said. “We can share materials that we come across for class and Sasha is especially good at archiving. His office is terrible, though.”
To the Prokhorovs, Valentine’s Day is a bit of a foreign concept. They can remember the influx of American holidays and commercial ideas — Valentine’s Day included — into the Soviet Union.
“It was interesting to see the rise of market culture and growing capitalism in the Soviet Union,” Sasha Prokhorov said. “We had celebrated International Women’s Day before this, which most students I have met here have never heard of.”
International Women’s Day, a United Nations-observed holiday which is celebrated in many other countries, is celebrated on March 8th and is similar to Valentine’s Day. Flowers and chocolates are given to women out of appreciation, especially to mothers and wives. While noting the cultural disruption of this tradition in Russia, the Prokhorovs find humor and value in its western counterpart.
“I experienced Valentine’s Days vicariously through my daughter from kindergarten onwards,” Elena Prokhorova said. “It was a much more serious problem in middle school and high school but it seems like it is less so in college where students are more mature.”
Yet she has received several Valentine’s Day cards in her time at the College, which she keeps posted on her door. One of them reads, “Leon Trotsky Thinks You’re Hotsky,” and the rest contain similar allusions to Soviet and Russian thinkers and writers. The Prokhorovs have also enjoyed witnessing the marriages of students of the Russian department, often receiving visits from these couples during Homecoming.
For Valentine’s Day this year, the Prokhorovs hope for both the time and mental sanity after a long day of teaching to sit down for a romantic dinner at a French restaurant.
Both the Prokhorovs agree that the success of their thirty years together is their foundation of friendship.
“I know it’s real,” Sasha Prokhorov said. “We’re anti-sentimentalists, but this is the best thing we have.”