Get to Know Dr. Allison Fritz

For most people seeing a professor outside of class is some sort of nightmare. I actually sought out a chance to talk to my professor one on one, which only tells you how cool she is. Dr. Allison Fritz is incredibly engaging, honest and has a gift for making everyone interested in what she has to say. I first had her as my professor in Philosophy of Ethics sophomore year, but as it was 8 a.m., I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. Luckily, I now have her as my Intro to Race and Gender professor, and every week it’s the best part of my Tuesdays and Thursdays. The content is very interesting and she is so engaging that people (including me) actually CHOOSE to raise their hands and participate. Read on to learn more about this incredible professor, and if you like what you read (which you will) sign up for one of her classes next semester!

Haley: What was your childhood like? What was your experience growing up in the south?

Allison: Its hard to say what my experience was like in the south because I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I grew up in a small town in Tennessee, but it was more diverse than a traditional southern small town due to our Kodak plant that brought a decent amount of financial stability. Due to that, we had decent school systems and I got to go to a good public school. In high school I was somewhat of a floater and friends with everyone. One time, as a joke, I got nominated onto the homecoming court and because enough of the “outcast” groups knew me to be a nice person I actually got on the ballot. When the homecoming time was getting near the administrators pulled me (and only me) out of class to ask what I was going to wear. I told them a three-piece tux. They weren’t satisfied and forced me to wear a dress, and told me I had to have a male escort onto the field. I told them I wanted to go out alone, unescorted, but evidently that wasn’t an option. I then sewed my male escort a kilt but that got shot down too. He ended up going on stage with pants 3 sizes to big for him, that he borrowed minutes before we went on the field, just to stay in step with the rigid gender roles.

H: Which role models did you look up to as a kid?

A: To be honest, the role models I looked up to were the women in my church community. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself religious now, it provided me with good people, community and stability. Other than that I didn’t really have any significant role models. I knew from a very young age that nobody was perfect and everyone had flaws, which kept me from idealizing anyone or putting them on a pedestal.

H: How did you originally become interested in Philosophy?

A: I was always pretty good at the humanity classes, but nothing was particularly interesting to me until I took a philosophy class in high school. Everything seemed to click, and I realized there was an entire field of people who thought about and analyzed the world the way that I did. Even from a young age I came up with theories about things without even realizing that’s what I was doing. I thought about anti-realism and skepticism as a young girl; I even thought about the concept of infinity as a comfort to help myself fall asleep.

H: What type of situations did you encounter working in a male dominated field?

A: Mostly I faced the fact that it had been male dominated for such a long time. When a field is dominated by men for a long time, when women finally enter the field they have to adapt somewhat masculine temperaments in order to be successful and taken seriously. I also struggled because the field was so competitive and individualistic. Everyone writes their papers alone, and even when you do share your work, it's very contentious. When presenting a thesis or idea, I had to prepare to be on the defensive, and I had to expect my peers would be on the offensive. The precedent had been set towards aggressiveness and women have to adapt to that personality to survive. In graduate school every Friday we had to sit together for two hours, and someone would present an idea and have to be prepared to defend it. When we began doing this it was hostile, uncomfortable and tensions were high. There was one other women in the program with me, and we made an active effort to try to transform the environment to be more helpful and less hostile. We asked questions without aggression and we contributed without being critical. By the end of my time in grad school, what used to be a dreaded Friday tradition was now something I looked forward to, cohesively communicating and helping one another.

H:  When did you begin exploring feminism, and why?

A: When I went to graduate school for philosophy, the first thing that everyone assumed is that I was there to study feminist theory; simply because I am a woman. For distinctly feminist reasons, I went in another direction. I come from an environmentalist family, so everyone also expected me to take that route. I rebelled against both of the expectations people had for me, but here I am with a degree in environmental ethics and a special interest in feminist theory. I fought it for a long time, but when I was getting my PhD I was asked by a woman I really respected to be a part of an independent study on feminism. I originally took it because I respected my colleague and wanted to help her, and it was a very rare opportunity in the field of philosophy to have only women in the room, but it was something I quickly realized I was passionate about.

H: Do you consider Auburn to be a relatively feminist and inclusive campus? In what ways do you think we could improve?

A: I haven’t seen evidence of Auburn being a feminist campus, but I also haven’t seen evidence for it being a non feminist campus. I see pretty rigid gender distinctions and I definitely hear the terms “dyke” and “fag” thrown around a decent amount, which leads me to believe it could be more inclusive and respectful. I think there is a fair amount of heterosexism and homophobia, and I feel like when there is that level of homophobia that is socially accepted, it leads me to believe the status of women and the status for inclusion could use some improvement. Let’s put it this way, I recently chose to take a course to have my office considered a “safe zone” for people to feel welcome and come talk if they need to, and within 24 hours it was ripped down. I’m not sure who did it or why, but I think that it’s safe to say things could be better. I immediately put it back up and will help Auburn in its strides to be a more inclusive campus.