Korrie Wojack – Staff Writer
This week’s Gustie of the Week is none other than Professor Philip Bryant, or as we all know him, “Professor B.” Specializing in English and African Studies, Professor Bryant is not only current Gustavus faculty, but a Gustavus Alumnus as well, graduating with the class of 1973. When asked about his life story that led him to where he is now, Professor Bryant responded with sincerity, humor, and the air of a great storyteller.
Bryant grew up in the fifties and sixties on the black southside of Chicago, and is still proud of his roots in the Windy City. He ended up heading off to Gustavus after he graduated, after being inspired by a high school teacher. “I had a teacher at the high school I was attending who was a Gustie herself (Annie Sullivan 68’) and she suggested that Gustavus might be a safer place for me to land after graduation from high school than the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam, where I was probably headed to.”
While attending Gustavus as a student, Bryant majored in English and was one credit away from a history minor, having had a love for the subject both then and now. When asked how he spent his free time on campus, Bryant responded with that genuine humor so many of his students have come to love. “I was writing bad poetry, playing my guitar badly and trying to get girls to pay attention to me, which most of them didn’t. Alas.”
Bryant came back to Gustavus in 1989, this time with the moniker “Professor” in front of his name. He has been teaching here for 32 years and is still going strong. During his time on campus nowadays, he spends his time still writing good poetry (none of us believe his poetry in college could have been that bad as he said), and is still trying to teach the best he can and manage writing, reading, and hoping on the side. “In this time of COVID and political upheaval. I worry about my students, my family, the country, the world et al. That said I still try to keep my chin up and believe what my black elders always believed that ‘God ain’t always there when you call on him, but he’s always on time!,’” Bryant said.
In 32 years of teaching brilliant bright eyed Gusties, one can only imagine the amount of lives and careers Professor Bryant has had a part in shaping. He was asked what surprises him anymore, if anything, about teaching. “The older I get, the more I’m in complete awe and wonder of how smart and talented my students really are!” Professor Bryant brings laughter and life to his classrooms, and in his own words, “I bring another, possibly new (and different?) set of eyes to look upon our world and life up here on the hill.”
From his own excerpt on his page on the Gustavus website, Professor Bryant introduces himself as follows: “I’m interested in poetry and American culture, jazz and blues, regional (midwest Minnesota writers) literature, African-American, Native American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American poetry literature. I have published three books of poetry.”
Professor Bryant is not just interested in those subjects, but he excels in them, in both understanding them himself and helping his students to understand them. This past year, Professor Bryant was awarded the 2021 Edgar M. Carlson Award for Distinguished Teaching.
This is the highest honor a Gustavus faculty member can receive. Nominations come from students, faculty, and staff, who document disciplinary excellence, enthusiasm for teaching and advising, and innovation.
Summarized from a blog post about the award on Gustavus’s website written by Shanon Nowell, the following is a perfect capture of why Professor Bryant is so deserving of the award: “Today’s winner is known equally for “encyclopedic knowledge” and ‘passion.’ A brilliant storyteller, one of the GREATS, he uses narrative to ‘connect with students on their level,’ while always challenging them. One student writes, ‘Through his stories, anecdotes, and history lessons he not only makes the core elements of the content clear to his students, but also frames them within larger historical and cultural narratives and contexts,’ often documenting historically how some voices have always silenced others. In a moving nomination letter, one student wrote, ‘He asks us good questions…even when a student doesn’t know the correct answer to his question, he uses their answer as a way to develop the conversation, finding connections between concepts…any answer can be used as a learning opportunity. Wrong answers are never looked down upon or laughed at’.”
Talking to current and former students of his around campus, there was nothing but praise and joy when they learned Professor Bryant was the recipient of Gustie of the Week. Many agreed that if anyone deserved it, he did, and that his classes made Gustavus feel welcoming. One anonymous student grinned when she found out, reflecting on the memories of the class, “With Prof B? There’s never a class without learning and laughter.”