Name: Dr. Mark Petersen
Hometown: Tampa Bay, Fla.
BS: How are you enjoying this year’s Charity Week?
MP: This is my second Charity Week [so] I have a lot more idea of what’s going on. Last year, I was pretty much confused the entire week. But it was fun; it was exciting. And this time, I knew what to prepare for … I knew that I was going to be jailed, or likely jailed, by my students. So I prepared for that and gave them some readings to do and sang them a song. I think it’s a good time for the entire community to come together. Especially now, in the first semester of the year … We have freshmen now who have just completed their sixth or seventh week on campus, and this is really their first taste of the community as a whole. They might have gone to TGIT or different events, but this is the first time they get to see the entire university body coming together and doing something fun. It’s important for everyone to come together so we have that sense of community … We’re all connected here by various things, and one of them is being goofy during Charity Week.
BS: Tell us a little about yourself and how you arrived at the University of Dallas.
MP: I’m originally from Florida, Tampa Bay, which is luckily not being hit by Hurricane Matthew at the moment. But I do have family that’s being affected at the moment, so we’re keeping them in thought and prayer. I grew up there and went over to England for my undergraduate at the University of Oxford. I just loved it and decided to keep on studying there … I ended up doing a master’s and a doctorate there, so I spent about eight years over there total. And in that time, I somehow developed a really big interest in Latin America. Because of that, I’ve also lived in South America, in Chile and Argentina, doing research … I came [to UD] via Chicago. I moved there after I finished my doctorate, and [I] had a teaching position up there for a little bit at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but was looking for something a little more aligned with my interest in liberal arts … Then, the position at UD opened up, and it was perfect, so here I am!
BS: What is the examination process like at Oxford?
MP: First of all, for exams at Oxford you wear what’s called sub fusc, the traditional academic dress for Oxford. So, for a guy, it’s a black suit with a white bowtie, your academic gown and mortar board. For ladies, it’s a black skirt or slacks with black tights and shoes, a white blouse with a black ribbon, your academic gowns and your mortar board … There’s no rolling out of bed in your pajamas and getting to the exam hall. But in a way it’s cool, because it’s kind of like you’re putting on your suit of armor before the three-hour battle you’re about to face in your exam. So you wear that, and then on your gown you wear a carnation to let everyone know where you are in your examination process. The story goes, you wear a white one because you are innocent at the beginning, and as you go and shed your blood through the process of your examinations, your carnation turns pink and finally red, which symbolizes the blood, sweat and toil, as Churchill would say, that you put into your exams. Wearing the red carnation is an amazing feeling, because everyone knows that you’re done … Most students take their exams in one place, and they’re all done generally at the end of the year. Outside of the exam building, there’s usually a huge party atmosphere where friends come and they have balloons and confetti and champagne, sometimes rotten food items. It can get pretty gross. Eggs, flour, and one of my friends got hit by a squid. It can get pretty extreme! But it’s all in good fun.
BS: Do you have any advice for future Romers visiting Oxford?
MP: I was a tour guide, that was my student job. The thing that everyone is there to see is the university. And the university is not like UD or American universities where there’s a central campus. The University of Oxford is a collegiate university, which means that it has 36 different colleges and those colleges are like little universities in and of themselves. It’s not like the college of medicine, the college of arts, the college of business, and so on. These are ancient, sometimes descendants of religious orders or houses which have been sponsored by nobility. They’ve been developing over centuries, and they’re kind of like co-ed fraternities. You eat there, you sleep there, your sports teams are usually based there. But your academics are done by the university, so it’s regulated centrally. That said, the university is spread throughout the city, as each college has its own campus. The best thing to do when you visit Oxford is to visit some of those little colleges. The most famous is Christ Church, which is where Harry Potter was filmed. But there are some really beautiful colleges, smaller colleges, which are well worth visiting. Two of them I went to: one of them is called Lincoln College and another Corpus Christi College. If you’re interested in the humanities and renaissance humanism, Corpus Christi is the place for you. Erasmus once said its library was the last wonder of the world because it had books in English, German, Latin and Hebrew — that was a big deal back in the 16th century. So go visit the colleges. There are some other big buildings that are central to the university, one of them being the Bodleian Library, which is one of the biggest in the world — 11 million volumes and growing!
BS: Have you had any quintessential UD moments in your time here?
MP: The first thing that popped into my mind was during my first year here at UD. Last year, around Christmastime, I was at the office late, grading … It happened to be the night of the live Nativity. So I was in my office, which was in the chemistry department at that time and I had to go grab something in the history department. So I exit the Science Building and make my way over, past the live Nativity. I was kind of determined to do what I was set out to do, until I noticed in my peripheral vision that they had the very traditional Christmas llama in the Nativity scene. Llamas are my favorite animal, and I’m a Latin Americanist, so if I were to have a patronus, mine would be a llama. It’s kind of unfortunate when you think of it, because llamas are not fierce things; they probably wouldn’t defend me very well. It drove home just how rooted UD is in its traditions, in the Catholic tradition for example, but also, how goofy the university is.