As the College prepares to send the Class of 2019 across the Cistern Yard May 10-11, The College Today will highlight how some of our graduating seniors spent their time at CofC, and what the future holds.
Aesthetics – the nature and appreciation of beauty – holds a special interest for Bethany Fincher. As a double major in art history and philosophy who is graduating summa cum laude in both, that seems entirely appropriate. But even her advanced work in this field – including presenting original research at a national conference – isn’t the most compelling aspect of her time at the College.
One of Fincher’s closest mentors, philosophy professor Jonathan Neufeld, describes her as “an original and interesting thinker.” He adds that “she brings incisive questions to bear on the texts we read and draws insightful connections between disparate readings. She has an ability to bring the most abstract readings to bear on concrete examples in order to test how philosophical arguments work in the real world.”
What’s truly impressive about Fincher is that all of this advanced scholarship and academic achievement almost didn’t happen.
Early in her college career – before she transferred to the College – Fincher withdrew from the Ivy League institution where she was enrolled due to what she describes as “mental health problems.”
She moved home to Greenville, South Carolina, she says, to focus on treatment. She wouldn’t be back in college until more than a year later.
“Taking time off that way comes with certain challenges,” she says. And, of course, it’s not difficult to understand that going back to college after such a hiatus would be daunting for anyone.
Fincher knew that she needed the right setting to reboot her academic career, and the College seemed to fit the bill. In Charleston, she saw “a laidback environment” that appealed to her. Because she’s a rigorously focused individual, she felt she’d benefit from being in less intense surroundings. And it turns out that transferring to the College was the best move she could have made.
“I came in with a very basic plan to just survive and get my degree,” she offers. “Yet from the first few weeks, I started to encounter a lot of supportive faculty – both in art history and philosophy.”
These professors, she says, presented her with opportunities that turned out to be transformational. In her short, two-year stint at the College, Fincher tackled an impressive array of academic work. She traveled to Fontainebleau, France, to conduct an independent study of the Italianate influences on portions of the famed chateau there. (Her study was titled “Emulated and Objectified: Multivalent Symbolism of Female Bodies at Fontainebleau under Francis I.”) She served as a research assistant for a professor studying performance art. She presented original philosophy research at the Southeastern Society for Ethnomusicology conference. And this summer, she’ll be presenting her senior thesis – an analysis of the efficacy of art and music regarding their roles in the public realm – at the American Society for Aesthetics conference.
She also found time to intern at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, where she helped establish a student advisory board; she wrote music critiques for CisternYard Media; and served as a symbolic logic tutor and supplemental instruction leader within the Center for Student Learning.
“When I came to the College,” she says, “I had a lot of anxiety about getting involved in extracurricular activities, but I found it important to stick with my therapist and stick with my friends so that I had people reminding me of how far I’d come. I realized that I went from sleeping all day on my parent’s couch to getting scholarships and travel grants and presenting at national conferences in the span of just two years.”
In the near term – after graduating – Fincher plans to get additional experience as an editorial intern with Charleston Magazine and as an archivist at the Charleston Museum. Then, she’ll move to Southern California to further her interest in art and philosophy. Ultimately, graduate school looms in her future.
“I’m interested in the discrepancies in art history regarding which artists are included in the canon, and which aren’t and why that is,” Fincher explains. “There’s a lot of work to be done there.”
And her studies in philosophy, she says, will be important grounding for this work, particularly regarding systems of thought and social structures.
“Whether I end up in a magazine context, a museum context or an academic context, that’s the work I want to be doing,” she says.
Other notable Class of 2019 graduates from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences include: Stella Rounsefell, Samantha McCarthy, Mills Pennebaker, Delaney Wallace and Hilary Rockett.