The Collegian sat down with Professor Wendy Petersen Boring who teaches in multiple departments at Willamette including history and religious studies.
Where are you originally from?
I’m from Portland and Bend, OR.
What do you teach at Willamette?
I teach in the History Department and Religious Studies Department, [as well as] interdisciplinary studies and women and gender studies. I teach classes like Medieval Europe, Women and Gender in Medieval Europe and Medieval Intellectual History in the Crusades. One with Professor Gutterman called What is Embodiment. I’ve taught Ethics of Place—so they’re kind of ethics courses and experience-based courses. I also teach Food Justice, and I teach classes for environmental science too. I teach a class called Western Civ and Sustainability, which is an environmental history ethics class.
How long have you been a professor here?
I think I was hired in 2006 for full-time tenure track, and before that, I did teach part-time here.
Where did you go to graduate school?
I went to Yale in New Haven.
What is your favorite part about being a professor?
The students! Their amazing minds, how much they grow, how creative they are and how much wisdom they bring. And their great questions, that’s by far the best part. I never knew when I started here that what would happen is you would get to know students over years and then after they graduate they would continue to be friends … In fact, tonight I’m having dinner with four grads. I email, I talk, I mentor and become friends with all sorts of students who graduated. It’s a great way to grow your friend group after graduation.
If you could teach a new class here, what would it be about?
I’m doing it right now. I’ve dreamed of teaching [Inner Life of Activism] for years, so it’s this one. I am in the middle of cooking up a couple of other new classes. One was potentially with Professor Coddington and others called What is Love, and another one is religion, politics and ethics in the contemporary public sphere.
One of the coolest things about Willamette is that I get to make up new classes. I get to constantly evolve my classes to meet the needs and to speak into the situation of the time, even though I’m a historian. It’s awesome. A lot of my colleagues don’t get to do that at other institutions. There’s a lot of flexibility to be creative.
What is your favorite place either in Oregon or here at Willamette?
Oh, that’s really hard. I’m a big place person. I really love places. My favorite place in Oregon is the Metolius River. My favorite place at Willamette is the Botanical Gardens, for sure.
Do you have a favorite place that you’ve traveled to?
I have two favorite places, Ireland and Italy. And I would love to go back to either place.
Do you have a favorite food?
No. I really love food. We garden and farm and cook a lot. So whatever is seasonal and from the earth around me and the farms around me.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I hike, backpack, fish, farm, garden and spend time with my family. I read a lot of poetry too.
Have you been gardening a long time?
Ever since my spouse and I got a place to live and put our roots down a little bit. I come from a family of gardeners and farmers in the valley and people who really know a lot about flowers.
Who is your favorite poet?
My favorite long term poet is Hafez, the 13th century Sufi mystic. And I have always adored Mary Oliver. I also like Cheburashka a lot. I’ve also been reading a lot of Tracy K. Smith lately.
What is a fun fact about yourself?
I was born in an oasis. So there you go, that’s all you need to know.
What got you into teaching?
I had great teachers. Another fun fact: I am a Willamette graduate and so my greatest teachers were Willamette faculty members. My mentor teacher here was a man named Bill Duvall and he taught here for 35 years, and he was a great teacher. Being in his classes, what I thought I saw was someone who is fully awake and fully alive. And I thought, “I want to do that in that same way.” I was a theatre major to start with, and I love being on stage, but I fell in love with history and I really wanted to teach. I actually went to law school and then quit after a year because I knew that what I really wanted to do was teach. I wanted to teach what I loved, and that’s what I’m doing right now.