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Whether learning to hang dry wall, picking up a new instrument or just exploring new technology, Whitman faculty have been finding time to do more than research during a global pandemic.

Each fall, the Office of Communications asks newly promoted faculty to participate in a Q&A and share with our community more about their passions, expertise and what they love about Whitman students. 

Promoted to full professor

Brian DottBrian R. Dott, Professor of History

What are your areas of expertise?

I teach about East Asian cultures in the History Department and the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Program. My area of research is Chinese cultural history, especially from about 1500-1900. Cultural historians focus on how culture functions and changes over time. For example, in my recently published book about the chile pepper in China, I explore the role of the chile in Chinese cuisine, medicine, gender construction and imagery.

What should students know about this topic? 

Understanding historical change not only helps us to understand past societies, but also pushes us to reflect upon our own time and the future.

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

I am really drawn to the cross-disciplinary dialogues and engagement that faculty and students participate in. This intellectual atmosphere has allowed Heidi Dobson (Biology) and I to jointly offer the course History and Ethnobiology of the Silk Roads. I also really enjoy the experiential component of taking Whitman students to China.

What are you most passionate about?

I love to learn, think and write about how people in the past approached everyday life.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

I love the spot by the creek between Maxey and the Admissions Office. It used to be called “Narnia.” It is a wonderful combination of flowing water, rocks and shade.

Who is the person who inspires you the most?

My dissertation advisor, Evelyn Rawski. She is an excellent model of the teacher-scholar, and someone who has pushed back against discrimination in myriad forms.

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

Participated in a webinar with a global audience.

Kate JacksonKate Jackson, Professor of Biology

What are your areas of expertise?

Herpetology (the study of amphibians and reptiles) especially of central Africa, especially the Republic of Congo, snakes, vertebrate anatomy, venom delivery systems, zoology, evolution, snakebite as a neglected public health crisis. I teach courses in anatomy, herpetology, vertebrate evolution, and general zoology.

What should students know about this topic?

(At a minimum) they should be open-minded toward life forms that are different from themselves.

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

Peoples’ intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness.

What are you most passionate about?

Snakes.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

The vertebrate anatomy lab (Hall of Science, 213)

Who are the people who inspire you the most?

My research collaborators (both here and in the Congo) who are also (or once were) my students.

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

Chin-ups.

Gaurav MajumdarGaurav Majumdar, Professor of English

What are your areas of expertise?

British and Irish literature (1900 - the present), as well as postcolonial literature in English.

What should students know about this topic?

Concerning the first: A lot of what we consider radical, experimental and "cool" in the arts can be traced to modernism in the early 20th century. Postcolonial literature galvanizes many resistance movements. 

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

Curiosity

What are you most passionate about?

Literature 

What is your favorite spot on campus?

My office

Who is the person who inspires you the most?

Chetna Chopra

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

I have taught online.

Christopher WallaceChristopher S. Wallace, Dr. Robert F. Welty Professor of Biology 

What are your areas of expertise?

Using analysis of cell structure and gene expression to understand how the brain is modified by experience. My training in psychology motivates me to look at these changes in behavioral terms and my training in neurobiology makes me want to know what mechanisms are invoked to make brain circuitry modifiable on demand.  

What should students know about this topic?

That understanding brain biology will help them appreciate just how open to change the human mind is. Also, that evolution has endowed them with the capacity to do serious work in any intellectual sphere, especially when they engage in it actively and consistently.   

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

I like that Whitman gives students opportunities to discover synergistic connections across different ways of knowing. I like the positive way this crosstalk stimulates intellectual flexibility.

What are you most passionate about?

I love to figure out how a combination of parts emerges as a “living” thing. In scholarship this involves finding causal links between molecules, cells, and behavior. In teaching this involves integrating details about key parts with properties that only emerge when all the right parts are being properly orchestrated.  In my personal life I like to design and build/or fix things.  

What is your favorite spot on campus?

I live a couple of blocks from campus and I love the walk to and from work, how it changes with the seasons.

Who is the person who inspires you the most?

The person who works to keep an open imagination, who brings a fresh eye to the world each day, and who holds up their beliefs to continuing critical reflection. One of the joys of working in the liberal arts is that we see so many examples of people who strive to be the best version of themselves and make the world a better place.

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

I built a guitar. 

Ginger WithersGinger S. Withers, Dr. Robert F. Welty Professor of Biology

What are your areas of expertise?  

Most broadly, my expertise smears together neuroscience, developmental biology and psychology. I am a developmental neuroscientist.  

What should students know about this topic?

That development never ends! Your brain changes a lot not only when you are a child, but through your 20s. In fact, evidence suggests that the brain is always changing and those changes can be influenced by our lived experiences and the choices we make.

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

I love being part of a community that fosters growth, enables trying new things and encourages us to practice being good human beings.  

What are you most passionate about?

Growth of living things! From humans to cells. I also really enjoy finding patterns in the natural world. It merges my love of biology with my appreciation for art.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

Ankeny Field, when people are playing on it.

Who is the person who inspires you the most?

Well, right now, it is Dr. Anthony Fauci, because he stays grounded in data, is honest and frank, doesn’t exaggerate, and has kept his cool even when under assault by political forces that seem to be putting personal interests over the good of the public. I admire ordinary people who can face hard problems in extraordinary times. 

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

I have given “things I want to do” at least equal priority with my “things I have to do” list.

Additional faculty who earned the rank of professor are:

  • Kirsten P. Nicolaysen, Professor of Geology
  • Sarah E. Hurlburt, Professor of French and Francophone Studies 

Faculty awarded tenure and promoted to associate professor:

Jakobina ArchJakobina K. Arch, Associate Professor of History

What are your areas of expertise?

I specialize in marine environmental history, particularly focused on premodern Japan. In general, this means thinking about how the oceans have had an impact on the history of the people in the Japanese archipelago, which, despite being an island nation, tends not to have much discussion of the maritime parts of its history, particularly for the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). More specifically, I have done research on premodern and modern whaling in Japan and I’m working now on sailors of cargo ships and coastal shipping in the Tokugawa period. 

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

I really enjoy Whitman because so many people here are invested in environmental topics. In particular, the wide variety of perspectives from which students and faculty can engage with the environment, as reflected in the many environmental studies majors and the work done outside of classes and majors, makes for a great community to do my work in.

What are you most passionate about?

I am probably most passionate about working to get more attention paid to our oceans — it always surprises me how easy it can be to ignore 70% of our planet.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

I don't know that I have a favorite spot on campus, but I'm very fond of Styx.

Who is the person who inspires you the most?

A lot of people inspire me in different ways, so I don't think I can narrow it down to just one. 

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

During the pandemic, I've either not done things I would have normally been doing (no out of state travel this summer) or done a lot of the same things I normally would be doing, just adjusted to be online. 

Thomas ArmstrongThomas R. Armstrong, Associate Professor of Psychology

What are your areas of expertise?

Disgust, anxiety-related disorders 

What should students know about this topic?

If you have an anxiety-related disorder, there is effective, evidence-based treatment available. It will most likely involve approaching the object or situation or internal sensation that you fear (exposure therapy), so that you can learn new information that you miss out on by avoiding the situation. However, exposure therapy doesn't seem to work as quickly with disgust. It's harder to unlearn than fear. But you can learn to pursue things you value while experiencing disgust. Sometimes, people with disgust-related disorders are afraid to share what they are going through with their therapists, because the topic is taboo. That's completely understandable, but don't worry: therapists are trained professionals and will be eager to learn more about what you are going through so they can help.  

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

The opportunity to have interdisciplinary conversations with students and faculty from all over campus.

What are you most passionate about?

In the academic realm, I'm passionate about getting psychologists to give disgust a second look. Basic research on disgust was abandoned 15 years ago when social psychologists became interested in disgust and morality. We still don't know how to treat disgust, or why it is so hard to treat. And it plays a role in social problems beyond mental illness (social stigma, resistance to sustainable practices like eating insects). 

What is your favorite spot on campus?

My lab

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

Preserving lemons. Probably the one completely new thing I've done is to create captioned videos.

Emily JonesEmily E. Jones, Associate Professor of German Studies and Environmental Humanities 

What are your areas of expertise?

I study contemporary German-language literature and material ecocritical theory. What this means is that I study the interactions between environment and literature: how does our environment shape the things we write and how do the things we write shape our interactions with the environment? My teaching ranges from German language instruction at all levels to upper level literature and theory classes in German and environmental humanities. I am also really interested in gender in literature and gender and environment.

What should students know about this topic?

German is such an important language in the world these days. The leadership of the European Union (EU) is currently largely German, they have one of the strongest economies in the world, they are among the most advanced countries in terms of environmental protections and renewable energy technologies, and they have shown themselves to be a real leader in dealing with the COVID crisis. Also, a lot of Western philosophy, literature and science is based on German thinkers.

What's really exciting at Whitman is we're one of a few German Studies departments in the U.S. that has made decolonizing and diversifying our curriculum a priority. We do teach classic German texts, but we pay attention to their interaction with the non-Western world, the way they create and support hegemonic systems, and we feature underrepresented voices in every class, whether it's women, non-white Germans, authors from other countries who write in German and so forth.

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

I appreciate the close working relationship I have with colleagues in many different departments. I also love working closely with students, which wouldn't be possible in a larger institution. 

What are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about the open-ended questions we ask in the humanities and teaching students to cope with questions that don't have easy answers. Outside of work, I am a passionate gardener and baker.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

I love the creek by Hunter. 

Who is the person who inspires you the most?

I am really inspired by my husband, who is a gifted writer, and my son, who is so curious and is learning so quickly. My sister is also an academic and our work has some interesting connections, even though our specialties are different.

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

I learned to hang drywall while renovating our basement into a new teach-from-home space.

Lauren OsborneLauren E. Osborne, Associate Professor of Religion

What are your areas of expertise?

Most specifically, my areas are Islamic Studies and Qur'anic Studies. My main research is about the recited Qur'an, and how meaning might be understood across the sounds, feelings, and words of recited text. I'm sort of a cross between a literary scholar and an anthropologist, in that I'm interested in the incredible range of ways in which people engage with words, and I think the role of the Qur'an in Islamic tradition and practice is a really rich site for thinking about those things 

What should students know about this topic?

I'd like any student who takes a class with me to be able to recognize that religion and religious discourse show up everywhere. It infuses everything. I love when students realize that the academic study of religion touches on most every subject in the curriculum. But in relation to my interests more specifically, I'd like students to think in critical and nuanced ways about the dynamic relationships people have with texts that they love.

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

I appreciate most those moments when we've held one another, and our community as a whole, accountable.

What are you most passionate about?

Honestly, most anything I do. I love a lot of things, and tend to go overboard with that. 

What is your favorite spot on campus?

Is it cliche to say my office? It's probably my office. But if I had to pick a place outside of my office, I'd say the spot just below my office windows on the east side of Hunter, where the creek runs through Keiko Hara's Topophilia Gates, and the bench by the water there.

Who is the person who inspires you the most?

This is such a hard question because I have a million different answers. I'll go with one person who inspires me in many different ways: my good friend from growing up, Michelle Allison, AKA The Fat Nutritionist. I've learned so much from her about bodies and health. But also, I really admire the incredible clarity, directness, and patience she exhibits in how she communicates, not only with her friends of course, but the many skeptics and haters of her work. I can be a real hot-head, and Michelle is a great model at being angry and responding in ways that are productive, rather than screaming and crying, which is much more my natural inclination.

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

Slept for very long hours and suffered from varying levels of existential dread. I get that many people develop new hobbies while confined, but I think it's important to note that this has been a very stressful time. And although our need to produce and do new things feels natural and ingrained, I think it's important to be aware of the extent to which we are all shaped by existing in a capitalist society. We don't actually need to be "productive" during a global pandemic. Sure, do what you need to do to take care of yourself! But recognize that it can look like very different things for different people. For me, that has all made me more inward looking, so I've returned more to things I already knew and loved as a source of comfort. Sleep, knitting, listening to audio books, taking care of myself.

Additional faculty who earned the rank of associate professor and received tenure are:

  • Kisha L. Lewellyn Schlegel, Associate Professor of English
  • Jack E. Jackson, Associate Professor of Politics
  • Carlos A. Vargas-Salgado, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies 

Faculty promoted to senior lecturer

Stephen MichaelStephen W. Michael, Senior Lecturer of Psychology

What are your areas of expertise?

My research examines the role how cognitive and social psychology can be used to explain and inform policy and decision-making in the legal system. Specifically, I've studied the psychological processes that influence deception detection and investigative interviewing techniques, as well as facial recognition in screening contexts (e.g., TSA checks).

What should students know about this topic?

Deception detection and facial recognition in forensic contexts are more difficult than people think. Psychology can be leveraged to incrementally improve decisions in these contexts, but accuracy will always be limited.

What is your favorite aspect of the Whitman community?

I appreciate the size and environment that allows faculty and students to form personal relationships.

What are you most passionate about?

University of North Carolina basketball, winning at board games

What is your favorite spot on campus?

The main gym in Sherwood Athletic Center (for watching basketball and volleyball)

Who is the person who inspires you the most?

The first name that comes to mind is one that no one will know - Jesse Thorn. Feel free to look him up. He's made me think and laugh since 2016. 

What is one new thing you have done during the pandemic?

Cliche answer: bake bread. Non-cliche answer: learned computer programming in Python.