Professor Profile: Vanessa Rumble
Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Teaching as an associate professor within the philosophy department at Boston College, Vanessa Rumble may seem like your average instructor: she’s a mother of three who landscapes in her free time and enjoys the Mediterranean Hummus sandwich from Hillside for lunch. However, if given the chance to learn more about her life, one would find that she is far from your typical professor.
Rumble grew up on a farm in rural Georgia during the 1960s, a decade in which counterculture and social revolution permeated society. When she was 9 years old, the schools in her county finally integrated. "There was something gripping about seeing one’s everyday life, one’s school system, changed in basic ways by a demand from the U.S. Supreme Court for justice," she said. Rumble stressed the significance this time had on her life, noting that, "as people become older … they focus more and more on the setting of their lives, the larger historical and social movements around them."
Rumble’s parents came from contrasting backgrounds: her father was southern, born and bred, however he lived and worked far from the South, setting up radar equipment in North Africa and Europe for many years after World War II. Her mother, on the other hand, was a Danish citizen. She worked for the Danish embassy in London following the war, and eventually went on to work in Berlin and Washington, D.C. Rumble mentions how her parents "were at least in some respects far removed in their beliefs and culture from much of what [I] encountered in a regular public school setting." She stressed the eye-opening and sometimes isolating effect this had on her childhood, comparing it to "growing up in a foreign country."
Not surprisingly, Rumble revealed that the setting of her adolescent life was "a ripe occasion for a kid to become a philosopher." Putting aside the complexities of her social environment, Rumble expressed how grateful she was for having grown up on a farm. "[I’m grateful] for having the chance to see lightning bugs weaving around on summer evenings, fawns playing tag in the front yard in the spring, and whippoorwills offering up background music, night after night in August. It was something one could take for granted, the background to everything else—blessedly stable."
When asked about the most influential moments in her life, Rumble quoted a line from the poet Edwin Muir (Franz Kafka’s translator): "When I try to find out what it is that influenced me I can only think of the years of childhood which I spent on my father’s farm, and the beauty I apprehended there, before I knew what beauty was."
Later in life, Rumble studied as an undergraduate at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. It was during her graduate years at Emory University, however, that she first realized she wanted to teach. In 1989, after obtaining her degree and teaching at Emory for a while, Rumble began her career at BC, where she has remained for the past 23 years.
Over the past two decades, Rumble has taught hundreds of classes and thousands of students, which raises the question of what her most memorable classroom moments are. According to Rumble, the classroom moments that resonate with her most stem from situations where "students are really thinking and engaged." She references one specific event in which a student in her PULSE class, Justine Cintron, jumped up in the spur of the moment to defend her views (for those interested, Cintron is now a lawyer).
Rumble currently teaches a wide variety of classes within the philosophy department at BC. Her course list ranges from the well known and widely taken Arts & Science core, Philosophy of the Person, to lesser-known courses within the Psychoanalytic Studies Minor curriculum, such as Soren Kierkegaard, and Freud and Philosophy. Psychoanalytic Studies is a little-known minor at BC, but it’s also one which Rumble, as the program’s director, is extremely passionate about.
Rumble believes that all students who are fascinated by what motivates groups and individuals, "especially the underlying reasons for seemingly irrational behavior," would enjoy minoring in Psychoanalytic Studies. Among the current minor students are those who are pre-med and pre-law, as well as students in the humanities who "wish to use psychoanalytic theory as a tool for interpreting cultural or artistic phenomena." Overall, she recommends the minor to anyone who wishes to gain further knowledge on how "their minds work, how people respond to trauma, etc."
Last year the program hosted, with generous backing from the Institute for the Liberal Arts (ILA), an international conference on trauma, which garnered exceptional contributions from the program’s faculty, as well as numerous prestigious lecturers—both academics and clinicians—from the U.S. and abroad. In the future, Rumble hopes to organize "an academic course on central topics in analysis, with visiting lectures by psychoanalysts in the Boston community."