NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Portrait of a professor: The philosophies of Meredith Gunning

Meredith Gunning, Professor of Philosophy at Northern Essex Community College, opens up about where she came from and gives insight on her motivations and philosophies both in and out of the classroom.

In the suburbs of Scarborough, Toronto, young, zany and candid Meredith Gunning grew up in a very exciting, diverse and progressive environment. In high school, her ardor for philosophy and answering life’s big questions often landed her in some kind of trouble.

She says “I used to get in more trouble than I liked for asking questions which were thought disrespectful. For instance, I once got kicked out of an English Lit class, studying Genesis as literature, for asking why God allowed there to be a snake in what was meant to be a utopian place; why would God let Adam and Eve be tempted in the first place, who then punishes all of humanity for their mistakes? How is this fair? The teacher thought I was being a troublemaker.” Even given this, Gunning recalls having some of the best times of her life in high school, including the one summer where she traveled to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival to act in one of her drama teacher’s own plays. Being thoroughly influenced by her culture has made her more accepting of any and all ideas and people from all walks of life. Additionally, because of the environment in which she was raised, Gunning was also brought up with a broad perspective on multiculturalism and developed a sensibility for the LGBTQ+ community. “I think growing up in a diverse, multicultural city enabled me to become friends with people of many different backgrounds…” she says. “One of my closest friends in high school taught me much about political persecution since he had to flee Uganda during the dictatorship of Idi Amin. And I also vividly recall being in a Gay Pride Parade as an ally for my LGBTQ+ friends in the late 1980s.”

When Gunning moved to New England she was most certainly impressed by the trees. She was most certainly not impressed by the lack of health-care coverage. She says “I grew up believing that healthcare is a universal right – it was a shocking adjustment for me to deal with a for-profit medical care industry in the U.S.” For five years Gunning pursued her degree at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y. It was the summer of 2005 when Gunning finished her studies and received a Ph.D in philosophy. While working full time with six children, this was, and to this day still is, her greatest accomplishment. With a chuckle, she says to all students like her, “It’s possible ,you just need to learn to be sleep deprived!”

Like most, Gunning’s training in philosophy has been quite frankly narrow, focusing on mostly Western philosophy and the words and ideas of century old men. She desires to branch out and learn more about her study, acknowledging other cultural philosophies like African and Spanish philosophy as well as women in philosophy. “My life long quest is to be aware of my bias and be diverse in what I teach,” she says.

Gunning relishes being compelled to think and rethink her philosophies. She has always loved exploring ideas and thinking about life’s big questions. In her career she has developed more empathy and admiration for her students than ever before.

Teaching open discussions is something she considerably enjoys and the classroom she says is a “space for learning for me, not just my students.” Gunning also teaches a philosophy film class where she and her students analyze films which relate to different philosophical questions and ideas such as how the movie “The Matrix” unsheathes the dilemmas surrounding the difference between reality and illusion.

Gunning is quirky and a straight shooter. Those close to her will tell you she can be blunt and sometimes undiplomatic, especially out of the classroom. However, these very personality traits have gotten her to where she is today. She is extremely passionate about not only philosophy and her teachings but about community service as well. She’s involved in the NECC Community Outreach Program – a group of NECC students who help the local community.

In her free time, Gunning enjoys reading and watching films, a favorite pastime for her and her father. “When I was really young, we would watch “The Wizard of Oz” every year which taught me the value of friendship and facing your fears. As I got older, we would go to see some films together, and he would love to discuss them afterwards,” she says.
She’s passionate about music and recalls many awe-inspiring moments she’s had the from live shows such as the one night Jack White (who became known through the White Stripes but now mostly has a solo career) gave her the stink eye when he spotted her taking pictures while he was performing at the Newport Folk Festival.

Identifying her strengths and weaknesses, Gunning prides herself on being present in class as well as knowing the material but also recognizes her interest in the content often causes her to run off course. She says “I do believe that I owe it to my students to try and know the material I am teaching inside out. Sometimes I try new material which I am still learning about myself – risk taking is good. But I should never just do it half-baked or on the fly.”

Something she is currently working on is expanding her comfort zone by attempting to incorporate non-white, female thinkers into her teachings rather than just the usual Western principles. Gunning also says “Anyone can engage in philosophizing and it is important to show my students a more diverse array of people who philosophize so that a variety of perspectives are heard.”