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May 30, 2023

Christian Matheis: Building a Better World by Empowering Students

Christian Matheis says as soon as he read the job listing forwarded to him by a friend for a faculty position in Community and Justice Studies at Guilford College, part of the Department of Justice and Policy Studies, he knew it’s where he wanted to be.

Christian said the opening at Guilford “blew my mind” - noting it is one of the few places where students can learn about justice, liberation and social change by applying theory and engaging in research.  “I had never seen a job description for a faculty member written quite like that, and I had never seen a program like it,” he says.

“My off-campus and on-campus worlds are difficult to merge in higher education. There are few opportunities to put community organizing, public policy and philosophy together. … And here was a job that spoke to those three things,” he says. He arrived on campus as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Justice and Policy Studies in 2018.

As part of the Community and Justice Studies program, faculty and students work together to try and untangle big issues affecting society at large. But what they find out many times is that there are no easy answers, Christian states.

“It’s a very special group of students who are willing to work in that place,” he says. “You have constant unanswered questions. Your intentions don’t match your actions. You’re constantly in the world of imagination, trying to create or think of new ways of doing things, because the old ways have been corrupted or problematized.”

It is a space that Christian knows well. After all, it is one he grew up in. Raised in San Antonio, Texas, he was surrounded by people who could be loving and kind yet had their own biases that had real consequences. Making sense of that can be complex and difficult, but was something he devoted himself to digging deeper to understand.

At Guilford, he has the opportunity to delve into these matters with students. “I feel like the parts of my scholarship and teaching that are uncommon and unfamiliar are welcome,” Christian says.

His aim and that of the department, he says, is to get students to imagine and think so they can come up with strategies and a plan that will fit the moment they are facing. They can learn to bring people together for a given cause. But most importantly, they need to believe in themselves.

“I think that across the board students who take our classes find their sense of dignity and self-esteem,” Christian says. “They find this deep internal sense that they matter, they deserve respect. I think students find their voice in our classes.”

And with that voice, they can do so much. They join with faculty and staff to give back to the community by volunteering through Every Campus a Refuge, The Bonner Center for Community Service, and with many other local communities and organizations. Guilford’s ties to the local area cannot be understated, he says.

“I was drawn to Guilford because of the connections in the community,” he says. “I’m very proud of the work that students and faculty and staff and alumni do to try and maintain those connections.”