Prof. Ruiz sees “the personal as political”
Each year at Notre Dame, the students and faculty of the College of Arts & Letters give the The Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award to an outstanding teacher. The award was established in 1970 and is named after Rev. Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., who served as the dean of the College from 1951 to 1962.
Fr. Sheedy graduated from Notre Dame in 1933 before pursuing a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He researched and wrote primarily in the areas of moral theology and Christian ethics. Perhaps taking after his close friend Fr. Ted Hesburgh, who was active in public life, Fr. Sheedy testified before the Massachusetts legislature in 1964, advocating to abolish the death penalty.
The Irish Rover’s own faculty advisor, Fr. Bill Miscamble, was one of two professors to receive the award in 2001. During his acceptance speech, Fr. Miscamble said: “My good teachers have modeled for me integrity, honesty, perseverance, intellectual and moral courage, and a profound commitment to the truth. I can only hope and pray that in some ways I have modeled such virtues for my students.”
The most recent recipient of the award is Associate Professor Jason Ruiz, who was honored at a faculty reception on December 3, 2019.
Professor Ruiz graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in cultural studies and a Ph.D. in American Studies. His scholarship focuses on race and popular culture, and gender and sexuality studies. He did not respond to the Rover’s request for comment on his criticism of objectivity and his mention of a liberal arts education.
In addition to his writing and teaching, Prof. Ruiz serves on the editorial board of the Radical History Review, a journal that stands “at the point where rigorous historical scholarship and active political engagement converge.”
Ruiz struck a similar tone in his acceptance speech, stating that his recognition and promotion of “the personal as political” has made “a big difference” in his life and the success of his teaching. This view, coupled with his stated assumption that no research can ever be neutral––“it helps that I don’t believe that any research endeavor conducted by humans is ever neutral”––guides his approach in the classroom.
In terms of helping students, Professor Ruiz asserted that he could better promote learning once he was up front about his own values. He lamented treating himself as if he “were some dispassionate curator of students readings and a moderator of their conversations,” communicating that he didn’t feel “fully in the classroom” when he understood his role in a more neutral way.
Indeed, in terms of forming students, Professor Ruiz has aimed to develop a pedagogy that “casts off the pretense of neutrality and dispassionate objectivity” in order to engage more fully with his students and in the course material. He continued:
“Now, in the first session or two of all of my classes, I make it clear that I see the classroom as a place to not only explore, but also actively work against, racism, gender oppression, homophobia, and other systems of oppression. My voice might be failing me today, because of this cold, but when teaching I make a full-throated pronouncement that neutrality is not the goal of a course that is taught from an anti-racist, feminist, pro-GLBTQ-rights point of view.”
Ruiz credited this values-based approach over one that seeks neutrality and objectivity. And he credited Notre Dame, a place where in his view “tradition reigns,” with providing him the space to be a more bold and experimental teacher in the manner stated above. Integrating his personal life and his professional life led Ruiz to feel that he was teaching more fruitfully and helping students more fully, in keeping with the “value of a liberal arts education.”
Nick Marr is a senior from San Diego, CA. He studies political theory. As a 10 year old, he argued with a Supreme Court justice about who was a bigger Notre Dame fan. It was neither his first nor his last argument. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.