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Campus Celebrity: Professor Anré Venter

You may know him by his long grey hair, unmistakable South African accent, or refusal to mince words. In an interview-turned-life-chat with HCND, Professor of Psychology and Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Anré Venter provided honest insight into his own life plus invaluable advice for all students. 

Tell us a bit about your time in South Africa…

I’m a product of the apartheid system. If I had been born black then, I probably wouldn’t be alive right now. Every time I go back, I have tried to understand how white people could live in South Africa blind or in denial, of apartheid. Every day you saw people suffering so you could live the way you live. And I asked myself, what is it about humans psychologically that can allow that to happen? Many people of my generation, we protested and did what we thought we could to work against the system. But we never did enough. I’m spending my life in some ways trying to deal with my guilt about apartheid.

How has South Africa changed after apartheid?  

In some ways a lot of things have changed dramatically. In some ways nothing has changed. People are free, and there are democratic elections. There have been three peaceful transitions of political power, a remarkable feat for a country in its position. But the people who had no access to economic wealth and power in the times of apartheid, still don’t have it. There are people still living in sight of Cape Town with no electricity or running water. There is racism and extraordinary injustice that lives on there today. If I were to go back and be given the choice between political power and economic power, I would choose economic power. Maybe then something would have really changed.  

 

How has your experience there shaped you as a person?

The story of South Africa for me is that I was born and raised in an Africaans-speaking family, but sent to an English-speaking school. People don’t even understand that there were, and still are, deep divisions among white people in South Africa. At school I was an Africaans kid, but when I went home my family saw me as English. In some ways that is why I am the way I am. There is tremendous value in being an outsider. You reflect critically on yourself and on your world. That’s how I try to live, and that’s what I want to teach my students at Notre Dame.

What do you think of Notre Dame?

The American education system engenders a sense of obedience and conformity. I saw it South Africa, and I see it here now. Most students at Notre Dame don’t question, don’t think critically, and simply want to know what’s on the test. I asked students once at the end of the semester to give me a piece of work that would provide me insight into how their thinking had unfolded during this class. One student raised his hand and asked me, “What if I give you the wrong thing?” They see Notre Dame as a credential, a box to get checked off. They get swept away in the job search and interviews, and don’t see that college is actually about learning to be human.

What do you think of your fame/notoriety on campus?

I did an experiment on the first day of an Intro to Psych class. I told my students that they must turn off their phones, or if they go off I will answer them. I gave one upperclassmen student an old phone of mine before class and had her set an alarm to go off in class. When it did, I took the phone, snapped it in half, and gave it back to her. One of the things I want my students to learn is not to take things at first blush, and that things are very seldom what they seem.  Be critical, evaluate, ask questions.

That’s where my notoriety comes from. You made a judgment about me on that first day of class, and most draw an inference that Anré is an ass. This is where you’re not being critical. The whole thing is a teaching device. I talk to them over the semester, and teach them why that first impression is wrong.

What advice would you give to us as students?

Take a gap year. Go abroad. Take the challenging courses that won’t necessarily boost your GPA. Don’t worry so much about the outcome or the grade; take control of your own process of learning. Study what you’re most passionate about, not what’s going to get you into grad school or a great career. If you study what you love, you will be well-educated. You will learn self-discipline and how to think critically, articulate your thoughts, and how to learn. You may learn that everything you thought about the world is not true. If you’re disciplined and know how to think, you can do anything.

“Conformity leads to Mediocrity.” –Jiddu Krishnamurti

Any closing thoughts?

Live in the present. If today you live well, tomorrow is taken care of. Don’t fall into the conformity and mindlessness of a judgmental, competitive and miserable environment. Don’t try to numb yourself in order to have fun. The habits you live your life by for four years here are the habits that will form your life in the future. So be fully present every day, and stop waiting for a future that’s never going to happen.

 

Thank you Professor Venter for sharing your time and advice with us! 

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MJ Jackson

Notre Dame

Meadow Jackson is a senior at the University of Notre Dame studying Political Science, Japanese, and the Art of Procrastination. Her goals in life are to work toward world peace, run a marathon, and somehow earn a lifetime supply of coffee (not necessarily in that order). She loves learning languages, traveling, eating copious amounts of vegetarian food, and finding hole-in-the-wall cafés in all corners of the world (where she can do all of these things at once). Feel free to email her at any time at mjacks12@nd.edu (especially if you have any information on how to win a lifetime supply of coffee ).
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