Name: Jen Cole Wright

Hometown: Laramie, Wyoming

Education: Ph.D. in psychology, M.A. in philosophy

Job title: Associate Professor (starting in August, Professor) in the Department of Psychology

How long have you worked at the College? Since fall 2008

What are your job responsibilities? I teach a variety of classes, such as Psychology of Social Change, Emerging from Violence, Psychology of Community, Optimal Development, Moral Development, Lifespan Development, and Introduction to Psychological Science. In the summers, I run study-abroad programs to Cambodia and Vietnam and, more recently, to Rwanda and Uganda. Sadly, they were cancelled this summer due to COVID.

I conduct research in the area of moral psychology, with particular interest in how people understand morality (morally infused values and practices) and how it influences their tolerance for different values, beliefs and practices. I’m interested in why some differences are OK with people and others aren’t. And how this varies across political lines.

I’m also very interested in the role of virtues – developing the capacity for courage, honesty, generosity, compassion and so on – in guiding and enriching our social lives and personal choices. I’ve spent several years studying humility in particular. It’s fascinating how it works, and how it positively changes people.

My College service involves being a frequent member of the Faculty Senate, as well as a member of several collegewide committees, most recently chairing the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston’s social justice working group and the ad hoc Carnegie Engaged Campus Application Committee and co-chairing the Climate Action Network with the Center for Sustainable Development. I also co-chair the local Charleston Climate Coalition and am a team leader with the Charleston Area Justice Ministries, working with the public transportation group.

What do you like most about your job? What’s not to like? I mean, how often are we given the opportunity to stop and reflect, to wonder, question and investigate the things that matter to us most as human beings – and to share that with others? Being a professor provides me that opportunity. I am an academic because it feeds my mind, heart and soul. It gives me the freedom to investigate, to explore and (most of all) to question. To experience wonder. To imagine – and fight for – a better world. And it allows me to help others do the same. Together, the students I work with and I discover what we individually and collectively care about and why it matters. And, in so doing, we create a lifelong community of mutual respect, engagement and concern.

What question do you get asked most in your job, and what’s your typical answer? “So … you’re a psychologist?” To which I respond, “Yes, but I’m a scientist, not a clinician. I study people; I don’t help them.”

What’s your favorite location on campus and why? There is a brick wall right outside my office with a beautiful little tree growing alongside it. I’m not sure why, but I really love that spot – the wall, the tree: It’s perfect.

I also love the walk from my office to the Cistern Yard, especially with a hot cup of coffee in hand. Something about the coffee steam rising up to meet the Spanish moss … . It makes me smile every time.

What are your hobbies? Ugh. I hate this question. I don’t have any. Which makes me feel like I must be a terribly boring person. And I imagine from the outside, I probably am. But I figure I only have so many days left on the pale blue dot, so I fill them with the things I feel called upon to do. Most recently, other than teaching and writing, that has been driving food deliveries for the COVID relief effort and taking advantage of all the free climate-related Zoom trainings that have popped up. There has been a smorgasbord of good stuff!

And, yes, sometimes I’ll binge a series (or two) on Netflix. Typically while grading (but don’t tell my students that).

I also spend a lot of time lucid dreaming ….

What personal and/or professional accomplishment are you most proud of? The other day I was on a Zoom chat with my early 20s son and daughter, and I had this realization that I was talking to the adult versions of my children. That they were, for all intents and purposes, fully grown. I’m pretty darn proud of the intelligent, thoughtful, loving and frustratingly stubborn people they have become – though I’m not sure how much I actually had to do with that.

Professionally, I’ve edited a book on humility and have a co-authored book on virtue coming out soon – both through Oxford Press. So, that’s something.

Name a creative work (book, movie, performance, etc.) you enjoyed recently and why? My all-time favorite movie is Harold and Maude, for reasons that you just have to watch it to understand. And that counts as “recently,” because I just rewatched it.

What was your favorite TV show growing up? Actually, I’m going to name my favorite TV show when my kids were growing up, because we all watched it together – Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The musical episode in season 6 is the best!

What’s next on your bucket list? I don’t really have a bucket list, I don’t think. But the top thing on my “MAKE SURE TO DO” list is surviving the pandemic. I’d really like to do that. If that works out, then, I don’t know, maybe spend a month in different public spaces with a “FREE HUGS” sign? I’ve got a lot of lost hugging to make up for.

What is something your campus colleagues would be surprised to know about you? I don’t know … that I know how to read tarot cards? That one of my favorite places to sleep is on a lounge chair in my backyard (not during the summer months, though!)?

What was your first job? Delivering newspapers in my neighborhood. I thought the black ink from the papers was going to stain my hands permanently.

What’s your favorite Lowcountry restaurant? Gnome Café. Vegan cinnamon roll. Heaven.

Describe your perfect day. The day in which humanity finally wakes up to the fact that we are only one – one! – of the many thousands of species cohabiting this planet, and – from a god’s eye view – they matter just as much as we do. They are not ours (to own, to breed, to eat, to wear, to kill, to control – even to love), they are not property; they are living beings with their own sovereignty. When the world is vegan and speciesism is one of those shameful practices from our past that we learn about.

Sorry … but you asked! 😊

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