Associate professor of philosophy, religion and Arabic Dustin Byrd, Ph.D., has shared his love for travel, world religions and other cultures with students during his 14 years of teaching at Olivet College. Some of his favorite courses to lead are travel learning trips focusing on the Holocaust, medieval Catholicism and other subjects that push students out of their comfort zones. When he isn’t teaching in the Conservatory or sharing his latest research in Burrage Library, Professor Byrd can be found traveling the globe, frequently visiting his favorite places in Germany and Italy. Whether students trek into the unknown in one of Professor Byrd’s classes or follow him to another country, Comets are sure to come away with a greater understanding of the world and their role within it.
Why do you love OC?
I love working at OC primarily because of the students, faculty, and college traditions. I never tire of telling people about Olivet’s students and its heritage in the abolitionist movement. The institution was socially and politically well ahead of its time when it started, and that is a defining characteristic that I believe must be maintained, forwarded in the future, and instilled in our students. While Olivet is a small institution, it dreams big, and always has! That’s the legacy of Father Shipherd and the other courageous men and women who founded this college.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I define my teaching style as Socratic, rooted in the funk of history and the dank of our present condition. I do not believe in shying away from those subjects that must not be talked about in polite company. Rather, I believe that as an institution it is our role to not only prepare our students for the job market, but also to prepare them to be critically engaged citizens of a powerful nation. In doing this, my role is to confront students with that which is rarely discussed, challenge their unarticulated biases and presuppositions, and to cultivate the habit of thinking beyond the parameters that have been imposed upon them by an unreflective society. This includes not only the development of philosophical analysis, but also inner-critique, such as the ability to examine oneself critically, which is often times much more agonizing than engaging the world outside of oneself.
Why do you encourage students to attend OC?
I encourage students to attend Olivet College precisely because of the intense communal bond that is created here between people of diverse backgrounds. Our fellow countrymen are too inclined to retreat into their social comfort zones, leaving those outside of their sphere of comfortability in the category of “other.” The barriers – the border walls if you may – are torn down here when we are actualizing the vision of the college. In doing so, Olivet College helps nurture the familial bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood, beyond race, gender, class, religion, etc., that is all too lacking in our broader society, thus making our graduates the standard bearers of what the nation ought to be.
What is the number one piece of advice you share with students?
Read, and take advantage of educational opportunities. When I taught in the Crimea, a peninsula in Eastern Europe surrounded by the Black Sea, students shared books between a dozen or more classmates because they didn’t have the means to each buy them. Yet, they came prepared to class, asked well-informed questions, and engaged in a robust dialogue, discourse, and debate. Their sense of urgency fueled their fire for education. I want to see that same kind of passion in our students. Thus, I encourage them to take part in any and all opportunities they have here at Olivet to cultivate their intellect, nourish their souls, and engage the world beyond their immediate limitations.
What is an interesting or little known fact about yourself?
I am actually very quiet. Most people assume I like to talk, especially after attending my philosophy lectures. Alas, it’s not true; I’m nearly a Trappist monk when I’m not in the classroom.