By Molly K. McCarthy, Writer-Editor, Office of Communications at Le Moyne College
For Tabor Fisher, Ph.D., the world changed one beautiful sunny afternoon, as she sat in a college courtyard, enjoying her lunch and studying Plato’s Phaedo. Fisher found herself increasingly drawn to the ancient text’s central theme – that the human soul is immortal – and to the author’s dramatic way of writing. Before she knew it, she was in tears. Something inside of her changed, and she has not looked back since.
Today, Fisher is an associate professor of philosophy at Le Moyne College. She teaches her students to think critically, examine their beliefs carefully, and engage respectfully with those who disagree with them. She encourages them to enter into discussion rather than debate, and invites them to ask: What can we learn from one other? How can we interact politely with those who hold differing opinions? Fisher’s classroom is a place where her undergraduates can “think out loud, try on ideas and work through problems” – and potentially even change their minds about an important issue after a thoughtful conversation.
To that end, she regularly puts her students in small groups during their classes, where they can chew on a problem in confidence, without worrying that a confrontation will erupt. “I love teaching young people who are at the age where they are beginning to develop their own ideas, launching off from what they learned from their parents or guardians, but moving in new directions,” Fisher says. “It’s an exciting time.”
A key component of Jesuit higher education, philosophy continues to play a central role at colleges and universities like Le Moyne. It is both an art and a science, nurturing and inspiring the higher-level critical thinking that is required for dealing with 21st century problems and challenges. Philosophy is centered on close reading, clear writing and logical analysis. It urges students to consider how their thoughts affect their actions, and invites them to take part in the hard work of not just uncovering their assumptions, but also challenging them. What’s more, core courses in philosophy, such as the ones that Fisher teaches, build the foundation for the study of related disciplines, including theology, religious studies and political science. They provide students with critical context, as well as content. Put simply, these classes prepare students for the rest of their lives – as individuals, as professionals, and as members of their communities.
“Le Moyne graduates often stand out among others because of their integrity and the ethical ways in which they comport themselves,” says Rev. Joseph Marina, S.J., provost and vice president for academic affairs at Le Moyne. “A lot of that comes from their families and upbringing. But Le Moyne provides the context for understanding oneself. When our students study ethics and moral theology on the Heights, they are empowered with that self-knowledge and the knowledge of ethics to go out into the world and be fine examples for their colleagues in the workplace.”
That knowledge is precisely what Fisher hopes to impart to her students. She is aware that, when it comes to philosophy, people tend to think of ancient figures like Plato or Aristotle or 18th century thinkers like Immanuel Kant. But philosophy is relevant to every age, especially today, in the work of peace and social justice. Fisher teaches her students to see the vital role that philosophers can play in expanding our view of the world. She is particularly drawn to the work of modern feminists of color, including Maria Lugones, Gloria Anzaldúa and Kimberlé Crenshaw, who tackle a range of issues, including knowledge, language, identity, social relations and oppression.
“Every time period provokes new philosophy as humanity grapples with new challenges,” Fisher says. “Living in a period of intense globalization after the spread of democracy in the modern era raises questions of how people relate to others who are different from themselves in new ways. We cannot retreat to ‘imagined’ homogeneous communities. Note that I say ‘imagined’ because there aren’t any homogenous communities. So, we have to think about the issues of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism and all other “isms” that divide us.”
Fisher is keenly aware of the impact her work is making on the larger community at Le Moyne. In addition to her responsibilities in the classroom, she researches the philosophy of space in relation to social justice, focusing on questions of race, gender, sexuality and class. She writes about space, oppression and resistance, and teaches courses on space, masculinity and education. Fisher is also the director of Le Moyne’s Literacy Empowers All People program, which encourages local children who live in poverty to get their words out into the world, and the organizer of Le Moyne’s new Diversity Central series, which explores difference in all of its forms through the lens of social justice.
Fisher says, “It’s important to me to be involved in some kind of social justice work and to transform my understanding of the world from one of the ‘great war against all’ that [English philosopher] Thomas Hobbes described, to an understanding of interdependence that makes human life possible. Everyone has something they care about deeply. For me, that is bridging the artificial barriers that have been created through race, gender and class.”