Get to Know: Dr. Erin Tarver

Hey Oxford! Can you believe that our semester has finally come to an end?! I really can't, probably because I'm still working my butt off even though it's over! It's time that we head home to visit our families and enjoy a bit of rest before the Spring semester, but on your way home, why don't you get to know one of Oxford's professors, Dr. Erin Tarver, in our last profile of the semester?! I'm very excited to get to know her myself because I will be taking a class with her next semester, but it never hurts to get to know another of Oxford's professors a little more! 

HC: Can you introduce yourself a bit?

ET: Hi! My name is Erin Tarver, and I teach Philosophy at Emory's Oxford College.  I'm originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but I have lived and worked in seven states and three countries.  I have two cats and a dog, Otis, who is basically my child.

HC: How did you find yourself coming to Oxford College?

ET: Before coming to Oxford, I taught at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  JMU was a great place to teach, but I was looking for a permanent position at a small liberal arts college.  I wanted to be able to get to know my students, and I believe that the most important work in Philosophy happens when we take ideas outside of the classroom—which is what being at a liberal arts college is all about.  I also wanted to move further south to be closer to my family and (let's be honest) to get away from cold weather, which I hate, despite having lived in Canada for two years.  So Oxford was a perfect fit for me, both in terms of campus culture, and in terms of location.

HC: You were chosen to be one of the professors teaching an Honors Seminar next semester, but what can you tell us about the course?  

ET: The course is entitled "Racial Justice in the 21st Century."  I decided to apply to offer this course during this past summer, when my hometown, Baton Rouge, was suddenly in the national headlines because of the police shooting of Alton Sterling—and then the subsequent killing of three police officers following weeks of protests in the city.  It has been clear to many of us that, despite the headlines when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, this country is anything but post-racial.  The question of what racial justice requires—and whether it is even possible—remains both open and pressing.  I wanted to teach this class to give students (and myself) time and space to systematically address the question of racial justice, to pick tangible pieces of policy, legislation, theoretical or activist work to investigate and to try to come up with our own answers, criticisms, or plans of action.  Students will choose their own topic related to racial justice, and after we read some foundational philosophical, historical, and political literature, the course will be entirely devoted to those student investigations.  I'll add that I imagine the tone of the course will be rather different than I originally thought it might be before the results of the U.S. election this November.

HC: Do you have 1 memory of your time at Oxford that is the most memorable?

ET: It's hard to pick just one, but I think one of the times that I was most amazed by my students was last spring, during my Feminist Philosophy class.  For their final project, three of my students created an interactive display on the quad to illustrate the theory of oppression articulated by Marilyn Frye.  Basically, Frye says that oppression is like a birdcage in the sense that the individual acts that make it up can look minuscule or insignificant when you focus on them one at a time, but when they are put all together, they form a cage-like structure that prevents the person who experiences them from moving freely in the world.  My students would ask volunteers who walked by about whether they'd ever had certain kinds of experiences or not (I.e. if they did badly in a class, had they feared that someone would think that they were confirming a stereotype about their race or gender?).  When those volunteers said yes, my students would add a pole to that student's "cage."  After several questions, some volunteers were completely encircled, whereas others had none at all.  It was a powerful illustration of the reality of oppression (and privilege!) in our everyday lives—and how very different our experiences can be from others on our campus.  I was so proud of my students (Ananya Gorrai, Casey Frew, and Kako Yamada) for coming up with it.

HC: What do you think is the biggest challenge that Oxford students face?

ET: Oxford students are the best students I have ever taught because they are so driven, accomplished, and earnest.  I think the challenge that comes with that is knowing your limits, learning to say no to some opportunities, and taking the time to just enjoy your college experience.  I see some of my students doing so much on campus that they are physically exhausted and either unable to devote enough energy to each individual thing or missing the simple joys of college life—like getting lost in a great book or record, laying in the grass on the quad, goofing off with friends, or discovering something new, just out of curiosity.  My hope for Oxford students is that they can make enough space in their lives to be curious, to be adventurous, to be moved...just to be.

HC: Are there any exciting projects coming up that you’re involved in and can give us some info on?

ET: The most exciting thing is that I'm co-teaching a new travel course, "Greece and the Rise of Modernity," with Dr. Joshua Mousie!  We will be taking our first-ever group of twelve students to Athens, Rome, and Florence this summer to study the development of the idea of "western philosophy," and how it—along with the idea of a single "European" identity—did not just happen organically, but was deliberately cultivated for specific historical and political reasons.  I am super excited for the course, and to be able to have this incredible learning experience with my students.

More personally, around the same time, my first book is being published!  It's called The I In Team: Sports Fandom and the Reproduction of Identity.  I've been working on it for 5 years now, so I am really looking forward to seeing it finally come to life.

HC: What are some of the ways that you think students can become more involved in Humanities classes?

ET: Sign up for them!  More seriously, I would strongly recommend just perusing the schedule of courses every semester—the PDF version, not OPUS—and seeing what looks interesting to you. When I went to college, registration was still on paper (I know, I actually AM that old!).  It was slow, but it had the benefit of forcing you to look at the list of everything available, rather than just entering a search term with a specific prefix.  It gave me the opportunity to be surprised by something.  The second semester of my freshman year, I'd never taken a Philosophy course (I planned to be a Theatre major, if you can believe it) and I just happened to enroll in logic because it sounded interesting to me.  I fell in love with it, and the rest is history.  Maybe logic isn't your thing, and that's fine!  But have you ever taken classes in film, ancient Egyptian art, Latin American literature, or classical mythology?  Human beings are fascinating, complex creatures capable of producing works of such staggering brilliance and beauty.  College is made for exploring that beauty, and for imagining how you might contribute to it—perhaps in ways you hadn't thought possible.