Getting to know...Trina Jones
Trina Jones is a rarity among the Wofford faculty -- someone who grew up in Spartanburg yet didn’t attend Wofford as a student. She still chose the liberal arts route, though, attending Davidson College before going to grad school in Chicago.
She and her husband, Jeremy (a lecturer at Wofford), moved from Chicago to Lexington, Ky., and lived in the Bluegrass for 10 years. Then serendipity brought her back to Spartanburg.
“I was working at Transylvania University in Lexington when a job as assistant professor in the religion department at Wofford came open,” she recalls. “I was happy where I was, but my parents still live here in Spartanburg, so I couldn’t ‘not apply’ for the Wofford job. I decided to apply, and a couple of days later my dad, who was a dean at Converse for 25 years and director of the Spartanburg Symphony, called and said, ‘I hear you might be coming to Wofford.’ This reminded me how small a town this still is.
“I knew Wofford, of course, but didn’t know a lot about it, even though my mother once taught here as a sabbatical replacement for Professor Vic Bilanchone. The last time I had been on the campus was probably in the 80s. When I interviewed, I was completely blown away. I was stunned by the campus, by the programs that were so innovative, and by the way the faculty got along with each other.
“The whole feel of the place was so great. I really surprised myself when I suddenly realized how much I actually wanted to take the position -- which would involve moving back to my hometown ... with all the pluses and minuses of doing so. I had a liberal arts education myself, though, and it was so transformative. To be teaching in that atmosphere was ideally what I wanted to do.
That was 2006, and the Joneses have been here since.
Trina considers herself very fortunate in that her job is one of her passions.
“I love teaching,” she says. “And I really love the topic I’m teaching. You know how when you see a really good movie and you just want to tell all of your friends about it? That’s what it’s like for me. I get to take some of my favorite books that have changed the way I think and say, ‘This is really cool,’ to someone else.”
Jones tries to challenge students, but given the nature of her topic, she tries to do so in as non-threatening a way as possible.
“Teaching about religion is one of those things that isn’t for everybody,” she says. “It’s an honor and a privilege, but it’s also tricky. No one comes to this topic without some sort of baggage. The challenge in many ways is to help people think not only in terms of what it means to study religion academically, but also to figure out ways to get them to feel safe when they start questioning ideas, and not feel like their beliefs are being attacked. Talking about stuff that’s close to your gut in a room full of people during the most formative years of your life is heavy stuff. In a way it’s like taking off your clothes in front of everybody.”
Students think they know what they’re getting into when they take a religion class, but that assumption is often proven wrong.
“I really like when I hear students say, “This class is not what I expected at all,” and I hear that a lot,” says Jones. “When they realize how much it ties into other courses that they are taking, they’re really surprised. They see what the whole liberal arts thing is about.”
Outside of the classroom, Jones’ main passion, the only one she and her husband have time for right now, really, is her five year old daughter. Rehearsing and performing music and theater (she spent many years studying voice, and was in her first opera when she was three years old) have been replaced by time watching Spongebob Squarepants. Reading detective fiction and mystery novels has been temporarily shelved for real life with mom as the hero.
“I love doing arts and crafts with my daughter,” she says. “The other day she grabbed my hand and said, ‘Do you want to color, mommy? I KNOW you like to color.’”
Some day she knows that her daughter won’t have time for her any more, or not as much time. A lifelong cinema fan, Jones is prepared for that day.
“Think of all the movies I’ll be able to catch up on,” she laughs.