BY MIA ARCINIEGAS / STAFF WRITER
Dr. Janet Wesselius, Professor, Fine Arts and Humanities. Photo Submitted.
When I was first thinking about which class to feature for this issue of the Dag, I had a bit of a hard time deciding which one, as there are so many exciting classes taking place this semester. I happened to be reflecting on my past courses, specifically the ones I took while courses were online. One of the first classes I took in the Fall 2020 semester, and my first experience with philosophy at the university level, was feminist philosophy. Taking that class introduced me to a new set of concepts that I was applying to all areas of my degree. I was inspired to take as many philosophy classes as I could after that online semester. Fast forward to 2023, and with several philosophy courses under my belt, I thought it would be a lot of fun to revisit this class and share it with you all. I had the opportunity to sit in on the in-person iteration of this class just over a week ago, and it reminded me of how exciting it is to hear discussions about feminist writers such as bell hooks in the classroom.
Before I get carried away, here is my interview with Dr. Janet Wesselius, readers!
–What initially drew you to Philosophy?
“From the time I was little, my father would lend me books; he was really philosophically minded, and we would have wide-ranging conversations. When I first went to university, I started off in the sciences, but looking back, I can see that I was more drawn to topics such as philosophy and English partly because of my upbringing. When I began studying philosophy, I was really interested in the big questions. I wanted to know how the world worked. I wanted to know more about what justice was—what the right thing to do was.”
–When did you start teaching at Augustana and what do you feel has changed the most about how you approach philosophy in general or this course in particular? How has the way students engage with the class changed since then?
“I started teaching at Augustana in 2006. Back then, part of my approach to the discipline—philosophy in general—was different because I was also teaching philosophy majors. Now, I teach more students from various disciplines, focusing more on how philosophy can contribute to various degrees or (academic) backgrounds and play a part in a well-rounded education. In terms of the feminist philosophy class, one of the things that changed since 2006 is that I had to spend a certain amount of time at the beginning of the course explaining feminism to people who were skeptical and unsure whether it was worthwhile; I almost never have to do that now.”
–What do you think is a common misconception about philosophy in general, or feminist philosophy?
“I think the common misconception is the same for both philosophy and feminist philosophy: that it is idealistic or unrealistic and that there is no practical application. However, people who take a lot of philosophy learn skills they can apply in all kinds of ways. Similarly, students who really take in what feminist theory is trying to tell them, ideally, will become aware of not just sexist oppression or domination but its connection to other structures of oppression such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, or classism, for example.”
–What is your favourite part about teaching this course?
“My favourite part is that in Thursday’s class, we have these “fishbowl” (class conversation) sessions. On Tuesdays, I lecture and do most of the talking, but on Thursdays, either students will have questions, or I will have some for them, and I love the class discussions that come out of them. Seeing people develop—or consider—their own ideas about particular issues through these discussions is one of my favourite aspects of teaching in this course as well as others.”
–Is there anything you’d like to add that I might have missed?
“The thing that I like most (as a professor) is teaching; I really enjoy it. In grad school, I didn’t know if I would like teaching, and I was very nervous in the beginning. But I can say now that I’ve been teaching for a while that it’s the favourite part of my job, hands down.”
Fourth-year Biology major, Jacqueline Kublik, shares her thoughts about the class:
–So far, what is something you have enjoyed the most about the course?
“So far, I’ve really enjoyed the discussions on our readings. It’s interesting to hear how others consider the same piece of writing.”
–What do you hope to take away from this class?
“I hope that I can improve the way I analyze a text, and I’m also interested to learn more about the different kinds of feminism in general!”
Overall, revisiting this class was a pleasure. Sitting in on a lecture and hearing the fruitful discussion happening between the students and Janet felt familiar, and it was wonderful seeing how everyone engaged with the material. Philosophy requires lots of critical thinking and asking the right questions; sometimes, stepping back and reevaluating ideas through a new lens — in this case, feminist theory. A lot of the time, we take the information we gather from our upbringing, culture, and social circles as true because it’s what we’ve grown accustomed to. We are socialized into a gendered society: one that is permeated by age-old gender norms, stereotypes, and sexist ideologies. Philosophy asks why these arbitrary ideas about gender exist, how they manifest in our lives, and what critical strategies we can implement to unpack—and sometimes unlearn—culturally embedded concepts. Ultimately, philosophy encourages us to ask ourselves why we feel a certain way about certain issues, such as gender. No matter what our opinion might be on any given subject, being able to confront our own ideas, engage in introspection, and gain the skills to articulate to others why we think the way we do is something I feel philosophy can help guide us through.
Janet teaches feminist philosophy every other year. She also teaches several other philosophy courses at Augustana that navigate topics such as science, sex and gender, and the environment, for example. I would like to thank Janet for taking the time to talk about the class and Jacqueline for her commentary. If you are curious about philosophy, this class is a great way to get involved!