In the Spotlight: Classics Professor Dustin Heinen

Classics professor Dr. Dustin Heinen. Photo: S.F. Sotillo.

At the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, we pride ourselves in supporting open discussion of ideas and perspectives. Having an inquisitive, receptive academic discourse is key to a thriving educational environment. NC State Classics and Latin professor, Dr. Dustin Heinen, credits this interactive environment as what has molded who he is in the classroom.

“Having the academy setting in which you have people from different backgrounds coming together and talking about the same thing from lots of different perspectives that want to challenge each other and convince each other,” he says, “having that around me has made it so when I walk into the classroom I sort of hear all the different voices.” Heinen claims it is important to see other’s viewpoints– even if we object– from a realistic standpoint.

Heinen’s philosophy of teaching is informed by a version of the idea that the way we speak influences the way we think and make decisions. This concept, also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, is one of the themes that inspired the 2016 film Arrival. Understanding the way people speak helps us grasp the way they think and the decisions they make. This is why Heinen believes learning another language other than your own is so crucial. “Most of mankind have known at least three languages throughout history,” he remarks. For him, the fact that “we can’t talk to each other” these days is in large part due to the misguided notion that everyone should speak only one language.

The multi-subject inclusive nature of Classics is a factor for the wide array of his students’ disciplines. Heinen states, “We get a lot of students who are bio majors who like the intricacy of Latin and the way it is logical, we get history students who like things played out in the language of the culture and through a lens of translation, and engineering students who like the systematic nature of language.” Classics is interdependent on philosophy, language, cultural studies and history, to name a few. This wide range of subject matter offers the opportunity to study literature, drama, archaeology, linguistics, and much, much more.

For students, Heinen relays the advice to not view others as exaggerated representations or, even worse, caricatures. Learning more about your own ideas and why you possess these is paramount to being a conducive citizen of the world. He feels as though foreign language gives learners a good worldview perspective. He recalls a quote a friend often says, “We all think about our worldview, but we rarely think about it.” He claims if we consider how we think, hopefully we will be able to overcome the notion that we are all caricatures of our own opinions.

The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures is proud to have faculty that inspire constructive debate in search of intellectual prosperity. Dr. Dustin Heinen, along with all our faculty, provide students with a learning environment that supports analyzing concepts from different perspectives so that we all can understand each other better and improve communication and understanding.

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