Michaela Woodward – Staff Writer
Since 1996, Associate Professor in Political Science, Environmental Studies, Japanese Studies and Peace Studies Richard Leitch has been widely recognized at Gustavus for his interesting classes and enthusiasm for teaching.
Gustavus proved to be the ideal place for him to showcase these qualities and utilize a student-focused outlook on education.
“I knew I wanted to do the teaching instead of the research. For me, the teaching came first,” Leitch said.
The most rewarding aspect of teaching is the relationships he forms with students.
Leitch expanded on why he enjoys being a Gustavus Adolphus professor.
“It is an incredible privilege. I’m so blessed to be able to teach here. The interactions with students are just wonderful. Some of my lifetime friends are my former students. I have been so lucky in that way, that I can watch the development of their career, not only while they are students at Gustavus, but especially afterwards.”
“Just being with a bunch of students who are still trying to figure things out about their majors, their life course, and trying to help them… so directly as we’re able to do at Gustavus is really meaningful for me. I’m not sure I would have been able to do that had I been at a different type of institution that would primarily focus on research,” Leitch said.
Leitch’s classes are known for being filled with humor, deep questions and unique experiences. His FTS, Homelessness, is known for the “sleep-out” component, a tradition that started with student organizations on campus before he came to Gustavus. This class and area of study has been a curiosity of his for nearly his whole life.
“I’ve always been concerned about homelessness in our country. Even as a young kid, I remember very impressionable moments of seeing homeless people for the first time at various stages of my life. So of course, the first time I saw a homeless person at four years old, you see someone who looks different from everybody else. But then at a different time I saw somebody else who was homeless and I started kind of asking questions about why these people were living the way that they were,” Leitch said.
As a professor of political science, he focuses mainly on Asian countries, and his Analyzing Japan class is a popular J-term course.
Junior Anna Stutz had the opportunity to take that class this year.
“[Leitch] wasn’t the typical professor who just lectured and assigned us homework. He made the big class size feel small and brought such a positive learning environment. He kept everyone engaged and respected students’ answers without judging them and had such a growth mindset for everyone. I enjoyed every minute of his class as well as his marvelous sense of humor. I was very thankful for such a passionate and caring professor, because he brought so much light to the dark time we are currently living in,” Stutz said.
The unique learning experience that the past year has been, Leitch remains positive by looking for opportunities.
“You always have to look at every crisis as an opportunity‒as cliche as that is. You can sit in a corner for the rest of your life and be fearful about things or you can think about it as an opportunity to help people, or to create something new that is needed at that time. You have to get on with life, but also you may have to think that there are opportunities here that you didn’t imagine before this crisis. Is that overly optimistic? Is that turning your back on people who are suffering? No, not at all. But you’ve got to be positive in life,” Leitch said.
“You can go through life trying to be better or you can go through life being bitter. And there are some people who are just going to go through life bitter, and that’s their freedom of choice. If they want to go through life thinking people are hostile toward them, that’s fine. But I don’t want to spend my life being bitter towards other people…That just seems like such a waste of energy and a waste of the limited amount of time we have to do positive things on this planet,” Leitch said.
Students look to Leitch as a positive mentor both during their time at Gustavus and after.
“No job, no career is 100 percent perfect, but mine is pretty darn close.”
“I always try my best to help students in whatever ways they need help. They ask me about my career choices and I always tell them that it was never linear. I would like to think I’ve helped students – certainly in academic ways‒but I’ve always tried to help students in whatever ways they’ve thought that I could help them,” Leitch said.