Pushing the norm, expanding minds
By: Hayes Oliver, Multimedia Reporter
After moving from the University of Memphis where she earned her Doctorate, Jasmine Wallace took to the ground running with lessons in philosophy that aren't like the normal Greek philosophers.
Her class consists of voices not heard by many and not as often, voices of diversity that shed a light on diverse critical thinking.
Pushing past the boundaries of what is normal is, well, her normal, as one of the few non-white professors on staff here at Georgia Southern and of the philosophy department.
Wallace also holds another rare position, working around the recent restrictions on teaching lessons surrounding Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the classroom. All in cohesion with courses that tackle gender, race and otherwise controversial philosophical topics. She said these courses are filed under the same components of critical thinking.
“I teach philosophy so students can be made aware of their filter bubbles and have the tools to escape them, if only briefly, in order to assess the world around them,” Wallace said.
While majoring in photography in her undergraduate years, she discovered a passion for philosophy after she was placed in a feminist philosophy elective. Here, she explained, a change in both her studies and lifestyle took place.
“Philosophy is an ability to articulate beliefs and values previously held to be true, though only superficially,” said Wallace. “Philosophy forced me to critically examine who I was and who I wanted to be.”
A more recent venture, has been implementing philosophy at Bulloch County high schools, Southeast Bulloch and Statesboro High. Once a month, a group of GSU students and one faculty member visit a local high school to discuss a philosophical theme.
Programs like this are meant to expose critical thinking to younger students, something Wallace wished she had in her early years of academics. She said there are some students in her intro classes that don’t see the value of philosophy in their lives.
“I've had to adjust my teaching plan to spend more time on the front end convincing students that, no matter what career they choose, learning to be a critical thinker has its own value,” said Wallace. This theme has been something she's tried to retain since changing her major in her undergraduate program.
Not all of Wallace’s students were those at the helm of academia. She also had some students behind bars. Pre-dating her time spent teaching in universities, her mission of spreading the gospel of philosophy and other disciplines was shared in prisons.
“Prisons are significantly underfunded and currently incarcerated folks have few, if any, opportunities to advance their learning,” said Wallace. “Often, education resources are limited to GED prep. While this is important, it doesn't help those who either already have their high school diplomas, or are sentenced to life where a GED isn't seen as essential.”
Her passion for sharing philosophy and critical thinking with others has fueled her work.
“At its heart, philosophy means the love of wisdom, and the incarcerated folks I have worked with don't often need to be convinced that wisdom is valuable,” said Wallace. “Working in the context of high school and prison reminds me of my own passion for critical thought and the joy I felt when I first discovered philosophy.”
Although just passing her third year as an assistant professor, Wallace has a reputation in the university system that extends beyond just our state, said Daniel Larkin, a peer of hers from graduate school also teaching philosophy.
“Dr. Wallace and I have known each other since 2010 when we started graduate school together at the University of Memphis,” Larkin said.
Inspiring people of any race, gender, background Wallace continues to expand minds. For students like Ethan Peacock, Wallace’s work and lessons have become more than just another credit.
“As a professor, Dr. Wallace has had an indescribable impact on me as a person as well as a student,” said Peacock. “Dr. Wallace approaches each individual person with a unique level of respect, appreciation, and courtesy. I consider Dr. Wallace was more of a mentor than a professor.”
Looking forward, Wallace plans to continue pushing her students to think crucially about the world around them, all the while pushing them to find themselves on their journey. Leaving her class with new found wisdom and what she calls, “A better sense of self.”