Christia Mercer

Christia Mercer

We’re officially in the last business week of finals. To remind you why you all came here/get you back to your roots, our Actual Wisdom storyteller tonight is Christia Mercer, a modern day Homer. 

Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer:

Why do you think I exist?

Claim to fame:

Fame is a relative notion. My local claim to recognition for this generation of students is that, as the chair of Lit Hum for three years, I’ve suggested to the first year class of Columbia College to be excellent. How’s that going for ya?

Oh, and I played a starring role in Pat Blute’s video Hardcore, which is the best film about the Core ever.

What’s your most valuable or unexpected college experience?

I could never have foreseen how utterly moving it is to witness students being transformed in my classes. It happens in Lit Hum, sometimes in other classes, and especially in Philosophy and Feminism. It’s also unexpected and incredibly moving to hear from students years later who write to say that certain ideas still resonate with them. Go profound ideas!

Back in my day…

I’ve been lucky enough to win some teaching awards recently. I’m convinced that students put up with my silly jokes, tough grading, and hard-hitting questions more readily these days because I have a lot more grey hair. Recommendations to young profs: dye your hair grey. Seriously.

What’s the craziest student excuse/extension story you’ve heard?

There were two guys who were best friends and would commute together from New Jersey to attend one of my lecture courses. They’d always sit on the front row and had the good taste to laugh at my jokes. They were sort of wise guys, always joking around with each other and with me. I liked them a lot. But they definitely didn’t seem like the dutiful-citizen type. They let slip they were taking the course pass/fall and weren’t too concerned with their grade. All fine with me. So, I didn’t believe a word of their excuse for missing the midterm: they explained that, as volunteer firefighters, they had been “called to duty”? Yeah, right. I was sure they were messing around. The joke was on me: it was all true. There had been a huge fire in their township.

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese?

Is that an inclusive or exclusive disjunction?

Three things you learned at Columbia:

  • Students let their parents/guardians direct their goals so much that they often miss chances to explore and “become wise.”
  • There are a lot of pompous twits around (and I don’t mean you students!).
  • When students and faculty join together to make change happen (and don’t count on deans and administrators to do it), then it happens. Examples: the Honor Code, diversity in the core. Organize, organize.

What’s your advice to students/academics/the human race in general?

Take the advice of Montaigne: constantly reconsider your assumptions and stop taking yourself so seriously. Then, organize organize organize.

To remind you how Montaigne summarizes the point: “The man who knows how to enjoy his existence as he ought has attained to an absolute perfection, like the gods. We seek other conditions because we do no understand the proper use of our own, and go out of ourselves because we do not know what is within us. So it is no good our mounting on stilts, for even on stilts we have to walk with our own legs; and upon the most exalted throne in the world it is still our own bottom that we sit on” (406).

Or see Pat Blute’s Hardcore, especially the end.