I caught Professor Kerry Cronin at a bad time last Monday. When I walked through the doors of her expansive office on the second floor of Bapst Library, she was “in between two projects”—her words, not mine. I quickly offered to reschedule. She waved off that idea and told me to sit. I thought I might be able to get a 10-minute interview with the busy, well-credentialed academic in front of me. I was there for an hour, much of which was spent talking about myself instead of her.
Cronin has a reputation for pulling personal stories out of students. Her “dating talk,” held once every semester, is one of the most well-attended events on campus every year. And even in those packed lecture halls, she’ll question individuals on their love lives. “When was the last time you hooked up?” she’ll casually ask former Perspectives students—a freshman course she teaches every year.
For a professor as busy as she is—serving as associate director of the philosophy research center, The Lonergan Institute, and being a well-sought-after speaker at universities across the country—she’ll always emphasize the importance of slowing down.
Molly Rafferty, a former student of Cronin’s and MCAS ’18, doesn’t go to her office hours as much as she used to. But when something pressing is on her mind, Rafferty knows where to find advice.
“You can tell that she just knows how to validate your feelings,” Rafferty said. “She’s just so empathetic and always understands exactly what you can’t put into words.”
“She’ll set up appointments for 10 minutes, but they go for an hour,” said Rosie Walsh, one of Cronin’s former students and MCAS ’18.
Cronin grew up in Hartford, Conn., and became a double Eagle with a B.A. and master’s in philosophy from Boston College. She taught junior high for five years at a Catholic school in South Boston—the place, she claims, taught her how to teach.
When she came to work for the Lonergan Institute, Cronin was supposed to be at BC for two years. Twenty years later, she has become a long-standing pillar of BC’s philosophy department and an instrumental part of Perspectives’ Living and Learning Program.
She refers to her freshmen as having the perfect combination of enthusiasm and desperation.
“They’re desperate to figure out how to get an A, how to find out who they are, and how to fit in,” she said of the 18- to 20-year-olds that frequent her office hours. “They’re really eager to find out what life has to offer them.”
It’s that transition period into college, Cronin thinks, that is essential to the success of the Living and Learning Program, which assigns students in one Perspectives class the same residential building. Forming intellectual friendships early, she said, makes students who have yet to experience those relationships think, “Wow, I really want that in my life. I’m going to search for that purposefully in my life.”
And Cronin is all about meaningful relationships. She is single-handedly trying to break down the “hook-up culture” plaguing college campuses across America with her dating assignment—a list of requirements tasking students with asking a peer on a proper, daytime, level-one date.
The assignment is not about romance—though Cronin mistakenly thought it would be at first. She quickly learned, however, that it’s about social courage. It required so much courage, it turned out, that the first year she assigned it, only one of the 15 students in her class completed it.
“I thought, ‘Oh, students aren’t dating, but dating still exists,’” she said. “I didn’t realize that dating didn’t exist, and that the social script was lost.”
So, she wrote the script.
You have to ask in person. They must know that this is a date. It has to be daytime. It has to be in a public space—White Mountain Creamery is a popular choice. It has to last between 45 and 90 minutes. If you ask, you pay—”Girls, get over it.” It can only end in a hug.
Rafferty described the assignment as a chance to get to know and acknowledge another person outside of the context of a party and without the mask of alcohol.
The reason this project is so nerve-racking for BC students, Cronin said, is the uncertainty. “There is not an obvious correlation between the effort you put in and the success,” she said. “And [BC students] are the kind of people for whom that is just scary because you are the ‘Effort’ kids.”
While the dating assignment is what Cronin is known for around campus, and what has given her national attention, it’s not what her Perspectives students admire her most for.
“She does get famous for the dating assignment,” Walsh said. “But, what we saw of her is an incredibly smart and caring and dedicated person who gives of herself so generously to students. I think that’s also what she’s doing with the dating assignment.”
“That is the least of her,” Rafferty added. “Her lessons on theology, and philosophy, and justice in life. Those are why I love her. Just the way she got me to think about life. She just is so smart, and so wise, and so compassionate.”
The most notable impact on students, Walsh said, is made in the classroom. Walsh wished all of her classes could be as impactful as Cronin’s.
An interesting phenomenon has developed since implementing the Living and Learning Program five years ago, Cronin said. Students always came to her thinking about transferring from BC. The Living and Learning Program, however, has given more of her students an almost unified reason as to why they are not happy at this school.
“It is almost entirely, ‘I love this school—from Monday to Thursday,’” she said. “‘And from Thursday to Sunday, it’s the most shallow place ever. And I don’t understand that, because I’m having these great experiences, and these great conversations, and wouldn’t it be fun to have a beer and have those great conversations.’”
Cronin ended our interview in the fashion I excepted—asking me about my love life. While I reflexively dodged the questions as best I could, her ability to get answers from reluctant students was too well-practiced.
And while I was too close-minded to delve into the conversation she was looking for, I walked away understanding something about the professor that Walsh put to words later on: “She’s a person who has a meaningful impact on people’s lives in the smallest of ways. It isn’t anything dramatic that she did, but it’s more her style of teaching—how she treats every person.”
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor