Inside USD

Getting to Know Your Professors: Tom Reifer

Monday, September 23, 2013

Inside USD recently asked sociology professor and accomplished writer and speaker Tom Reifer, PhD, a few questions on what motivates him both in and out of the classroom.

Q: You are an accomplished writer and speaker, and a tireless advocate in the community. Why teach, too?

A: My students are the single most precious gift in my life. And, for my 5th grade teacher Ms. Winders, who saved my life; and for all my teachers, friends and colleagues, who have been the other greatest gifts in my life and continue to inspire me. Also, for the Freedom Writers/Riders.

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.” — Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

Q: What is the greatest piece of advice you’ve been given?

It comes in the form of two quotes:

“Here’s what I’ve decided: the very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers not the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallways and touching the walls on both sides.” — Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

And to have the courage to learn/question/resist (il)legitimate authority, to trust your own voice and “to speak the truth and expose lies.” — Noam Chomsky, The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Q: Do you share it with your students?

A: Yes, every day I can and hope to always do so, until I take my last breath.

Q: In your opinion, what is the single greatest responsibility that we as humans have to each other?

“What y’all want?
Unconditional love (no doubt)
Talking ’bout the stuff that don’t wear off
It don’t fade
It’ll last for all these crazy days
These crazy nights.”

— Tupac Shakur, “Unconditional Love”

Q: What is the lesson to be learned from human suffering and oppression?

The impossibility of evil to extinguish and destroy the power of kindness, hope, forgiveness, understanding and (unconditional) love, even in the face of impossible odds and unimaginable suffering; and:

“The need to let suffering speak is the condition of all truth.” — Theodor Adorno

Q: If you had a super power, what would it be?

For all the world’s children (and people and living things) to be wanted, nourished and protected from violence and harm but most especially to ensure that all children, above all, are unconditionally loved and cared for.

“The final word is love. At times it has been, in the words of Father Zossima a harsh and dreadful love, and our very faith in love has been tried through fire. We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love each other we must know each other…the only solution is love and…love comes with community.” — Nonviolent revolutionary, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

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