By Laura Negus
What is it like to be a Hillsdale College Professor’s wife? This was a question posed to me recently by a former student. I’ll begin my answer after the following disclaimers: Although we’ve been married almost ten years, I’ve only been a professor’s wife for a little under two years. Also, I speak only for myself and as someone who had no prior connection with Hillsdale College, although I will include perspectives from a former student who is now a professor’s wife.
I understand that the students of Hillsdale College greatly revere their professors, particularly those in the humanities fields. This reverence, I was told by the other professor’s wives I met when I first arrived, extends to wives. This struck me as strange at first; I didn’t think the students would think of me at all, instead keeping their world within the walls of the College. But Hillsdale students are different than most late teens/early twenties in mostly all the best ways, I’ve come to appreciate. Trained to see and process the world cohesively, they honor and respect professor’s wives as extensions of their beloved professors.
Most of the time my life feels quite separate from the College and my identity is wrapped up as wife, mother, and friend. My personal interactions with students so far include the handful I see at church each Sunday, a few meals at our home with favorite students, and a dinner at a student house. These interactions have been respectful, kind, but also engaging. I’m addressed as Mrs. Negus, and my opinions are sought on the topics discussed.
This again surprised me at first because I often feel vastly inferior intellectually to Hillsdale College students, having not received any sort of classical or good liberal arts education myself. I worry they can smell the fear when I’m asked my opinion on a topic I’m unfamiliar with. They can’t, fortunately, and I can usually steer things toward more comfortable subjects.
But this brings me to one big point of what it is like to be a professor’s wife: humbling. Most of the time I appreciate the high caliber of students as one can appreciate a superb athlete or artist, but it is humbling. It can cause some insecurity, especially when I’m home with a small child during the day, which is not always as stimulating as teaching or taking classes.
Another descriptor, though, is blessed. Not only am I happy that my husband is in a job he absolutely loves, but also through it I have access to interesting ideas, art, college facilities, a plethora of babysitters, and what has had the most impact in my day to day life: friends. The smallness of the city of Hillsdale, the overall conservative family life philosophy held by many faculty, and the high academic standards of the college means that there are a lot of smart, interesting other halves, mostly not working full-time jobs, who I can be friends with. I have more friends and family support in this little town than I have ever had living in much bigger cities.
Although we often talk children, it is just as common to hear us talk about religion, literature, news, politics, and other mentally stimulating topics. I’m getting better at discussing topics that have previously made me feel under-educated.
I asked a friend who is a former student and now married to a humanities professor for her thoughts on being a professor’s wife. Although she preferred to remain anonymous, she was happy to share a couple of thoughts. First, it was refreshing and encouraging to her when she entered the world of faculty wives to see that the other women who were faculty wives when she was a student don’t actually have it all together as she previously imagined. They are real women! They work hard and sometimes struggle to parent. They have foibles and flaws.
That said, she revealed that she still has a hard time feeling a peer to some of these women, especially those more senior, even though she has seen more of their real side. There remains some of the mystique that enveloped them during her time as a student. Also, she confessed that although while she was a student she greatly enjoyed the access students have to professors, it can sometimes be hard to be on the other side of things when your husband is pouring so much time into his students. Although it is a wonderful job, it is very demanding and more than full time when terms are in session.
Being a Hillsdale College professor’s wife is a privilege and I am thankful and pleased to be part of the Hillsdale community, both within the college and within the city. I understand a little more now how professor’s wives are placed somewhat on a pedestal by students, but my time in the role as well as my outsider perspective help me to see that most professors’ wives are just real women. They are often brilliant, beautiful, inspiring real women, but real women nonetheless.