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Visiting religion professor: Natalie Williams

Visiting+Assistant+Professor+of+Religion+Natalie+Williams+and+students+participate+in+class.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Natalie Williams and students participate in class.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Natalie Williams and students participate in class.

Lily Kime | Chips

Lily Kime | Chips

Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Natalie Williams and students participate in class.

Lily Kime, Staff Writer

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Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Natalie Williams temporarily left her home, husband, and cats in New Jersey to teach at Luther College for the 2016-17 academic year.

The religion department hired Williams because two religion professors are off campus for the year: Co-Director of the Nottingham Program this year, James Martin-Schramm and Associate Professor of Religion Todd Green is on sabbatical.

While at Luther College, Williams has taught Christian Ethics; History of Christian Thought; Marriage, Divorce, and Family Ethics; Religion in America, and Sexual Ethics.

Two of Williams’ classes are new to both her and Luther College.  Williams supplements her classes with knowledge from past research in a way that specifically suits Luther’s learning community.

“I love having the freedom to create these classes the way I want to create them and to pursue lines of thinking that I find interesting,” Williams said.

Students responses to Williams’ teaching style and her classes has generally been positive. Several students mentioned her tendency to have students discuss potentially controversial topics in small groups, a sentiment Williams agreed with. According to Coltan Jacobson (‘17), this helps to foster a sense of trust between all members of the class.

“She began Christian Ethics by telling us that it was an open and safe space to speak, which I found to be true,” Jacobson said. “The students were really [able to] say whatever they wanted to say.”

Annie Weinberg (‘19) also found the classroom Williams created to be a relaxed place to express ideas and to learn trust one’s peers.

“[Williams] goes about [making us feel comfortable] by telling us that she wants the classroom to be a safe space, and she understands that is difficult for people that don’t really know each other,” Weinberg said. “But she wants us to feel like it’s okay to open up.”

Despite the success of these classes in her students’ eyes, it is unlikely that the classes she created will continue to be taught after Williams has left Luther, according to Associate Professor of Religion and Head of the Religion Department Sean Burke.

“In most cases, courses that are designed by visiting professors are only taught while they are here,” Burke said. “Every now and then we have someone that is interested and able to pick up a course, but these are typically geared toward the teaching and personal interests of the individual faculty member.”

Many of Williams’ students find that not only are her courses about unique topics, but she teaches them in a unique way, too. As a professor that prefers to foster dialogue with students rather than lecturing at the front of the class, Williams wants students to drive discussions.

“Students are in charge of their own learning,” Williams said. “I can present information and try to facilitate conversations, but I want students to feel like they have power to talk about difficult things.”

Students recognize Williams’ teaching philosophy.

“Our class is really structured more towards what we want to talk about, not what she has planned for us to talk about because it is our own learning experience,” Weinberg said.

Although this style is ideal for some students, it challenging for those students who prefer a more traditional lecture-based class. Sari Kroschel (‘19) enjoyed Williams’ class and how Williams applied current events to the curriculum, but was uncertain about her style.

“Something I would have liked in her class [was] a little more structure,” Kroschel said. “It was so discussion-based, which is good, but it was different because I’ve been in other religion classrooms that were a lot more structured with assignments and lectures.”

Williams has several goals in mind for her near future. One of her major goals is to publish her first book, which is about the ethics of divorce. She also hopes to continue what she has learned during her time at Luther.

“Even if I don’t teach in a college, one thing being here has solidified for me is that I love the things that are associated with teaching,” Williams said. “Facilitating discussions, empowering other people to own their voice, to do things that are difficult, and to figure out who they are and what they think.”

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