Philosophy professor steps into permanent role as honors director


Shadera Moore

Philosophy professor Dr. Jonathan Peterson shares his vision for Loyola’s future on Jan. 10, 2020. Peterson reflected on his journey to his position as the new University Honors Program director.

Erin Snodgrass

When philosophy professor Jonathan Peterson isn’t reading Immanuel Kant, teaching Loyola students or chairing the University Senate, he can be found listening to music — specifically 70s and 80s funk, rhythm and blues, and the “Frozen” soundtrack.

The prevalence of oldies emanates from his passion for collecting vinyl records. The “Frozen” soundtrack is thanks to his four-year-old daughter.

“She takes a lot of my time, and that’s been an amazing experience just hanging out with her,” he said. “We spend a lot of time singing ‘Frozen.’”

But there may be less Elsa and Anna in Peterson’s future, as he’s about to become much busier. Last week marked his first full week as the new director for Loyola’s honors program after Interim Provost Maria Calzada announced Peterson would be replacing Joseph Berendzen, the interim honors director, in December.

Peterson also stepped down from his role in the senate in order to focus on honors.

While his position in honors is new, Peterson himself is an ingrained member of the campus community.

Peterson came to Loyola from the University of Toronto in 2011, a large research university where he received his Ph.D. in philosophy and first taught students. Before coming to Loyola, Peterson had only visited the city once before.

“I had been to New Orleans once for a spring break trip in college, but beyond that, I had no connection,” he said. “It’s my first time living in the South. I love it.”

But it wasn’t just the region that beckoned Peterson. He attended Calvin College in Michigan for his undergrad and recognized favorable similarities between his former university and Loyola.

“I always saw the small liberal arts experience as kind of the ideal education experience,” Peterson said. “In terms of the teaching experience I had, it was the most rewarding both as a student and a professor.”

And those students are an essential factor for Peterson.

“In particular, the students I have interacted with in the honors program have been really inspiring,” he said.

As Peterson gets comfortable in his new position, he said he’ll be relying heavily on student input and opinion, something University Honors Association President Ariel Hall already appreciates.

In an honors Town Hall hosted before a final decision was made, students were able to ask candidates questions about their plans for the program. Even when Peterson was unfamiliar with a concept or didn’t have an easy answer, Hall said the students gravitated toward him.

“He responded with an eagerness to learn and a willingness to engage with us, to ask questions to us and make sure we felt a part of this experience,” Hall said.

Hall admitted it could be a demanding position to walk into, saying the honors director can often feel like a parent to students.

Though it’s a challenge, it’s one Peterson is ready to face.

“I am both nervous and excited, although I think I’m more excited than I am nervous,” he said. “I love doing academic research but at least in my field, that’s a fairly solitary pursuit, and actually I think a lot of my strengths and interests are a lot more social.”

And though honors is a place for serious academic pursuits, Hall said it’s also home to fun, friendship and comedy—entertainment she hopes Peterson is ready for.

“He’s also really young, which is honestly, very helpful in relating to the students and knowing what kind of jokes we make,” Hall said.