Monmouth Memories Oral History Collection
Date: March 23, 2018
Interviewee: Dr. Katherine Parkin
Interviewer: Samantha Papa
Summarizer: Samantha Papa
“Love Learning for its Own Sake”
Dr. Katherine Parkin came to Monmouth University in 2001, bringing her unique ability to challenge common discourse with her broad perspectives on life. Claiming to have never stayed in the same place for more than two years as a child and young adult, Parkin was born in upstate New York and eventually moved all over the country, living in the Middle East, Nigeria, and Massachusetts to name a few. Parkin received her undergraduate degree in sociology, anthropology, and history with a concentration in women’s studies from Lake Forest, a small liberal arts college outside of Chicago. She then went on to receive her PhD in social and cultural history at Temple University. It was there that Parkin met her husband, and now fellow Monmouth University professor, Dr. DeRosa.
Parkin suggests that from a young age she knew what passions lit a fire within her and led her down the path of her future. She was first fascinated in sociology when she started higher education because she was interested in what motivated people. She had been wrangling with ideas of feminism, but never had a name for the concept until her years in college. Parkin describes her young adult years as “hyper-involved.” She was involved in an environmental group, volunteered at a soup kitchen and even tried her hand at volunteer fire fighting! Parkin “cared about and tried a lot of things,” which helped her gain new perspectives in life that she had never been exposed to before. Relating these experiences to her work at Monmouth University, Parkin feels that the Monmouth faculty is concerned largely on empathy and a desire for people to care about other’s lives.
Parkin came to interview at Monmouth when she was living in Philadelphia. She says that the reputation and location of Monmouth was ideal, being close to New York City, Philadelphia, and her husband’s family, it seemed like a perfect fit. Parkin does not describe herself as a beach person, however the areas surrounding Monmouth University allow for a blended mix of city and shore. Parkin’s first impressions of Monmouth were made during her interview here in 2001. She was pregnant with her first born at the time and, despite a long and tiring walk to the library, fell in love with the atmosphere of the campus.
Dr. Parkin has been teaching at Monmouth University for 17 years and has used that time to engage students in unique courses that are not universally offered on all college campuses. For instance, Parkin teaches Cultural History of Advertising, US Women’s History, and History of Sexuality in America, to name a few. History of Sexuality is her favorite at the moment because it is the most challenging in its ideas and concepts. Today, examples and laws regarding sexuality have become prevalent, making for lively class discussions, however Parkin advises her students to keep their “ah-ha” moments to themselves as to not personalize historical understanding within the classroom because of the political and social climate of the world today.
Dr. Parkin is a published author for her two books and numerous academic articles. She wrote her first book in 2006, Food is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America, to highlight the idea that women are seen as responsible for undertaking the job of feeding their family everyday, multiple times a day, and that this act will in turn provide them with the love and affection of their family members, propelled by the advertising industries. When asked about the ways in which to go about obtaining such information, Parkin adds that most companies are relatively private with their information because they are still trying to build their brands today. However, Parkin decided to focus her research on somewhat more attainable advertisements of on the shelf foods in grocery stores.
Parkin also wrote a book in 2017 entitled, Women at the Wheel: A Century of Buying, Driving, and Fixing Cars, which speaks to the role that women have with cars in America. Parkin explains in the interview that men associate cars with freedom, however women associate cars with the continuation of their domestic work life, since they are picking up their children from sports games or going grocery shopping. Therefore it can be related that women associate cars to a propensity of their gender inequality in culture. Many advertisement campaigns that Parkin looked at further emphasized the idea that cars were unsafe and dangerous, unless equipped with the right kind of tires. Women were then assumed the role of persuading their husbands to make the car as safe as possible, by buying new tires for instance, and protecting their family. For each of these two books, Parkin has won an Emily Toth Award for best book in feminist pop culture. Parkin appreciated the category of books recognized with this award and is enthusiastic to see what lies ahead with her books. Parkin credits Monmouth as being extremely supportive of her intellectual freedoms as well as providing the necessary funds to get into archives and see the artifacts as well as providing the much needed time to work solely on research.
Parkin believes that within the Monmouth University campus there is a belief and treatment that women are equal, as she and her colleagues have all received equal respect in their work. The University President, when Parkin first began working here in 2002, Rebecca Stafford, was a woman. She details that she has noticed examples of increased activism on campus juxtaposed to pockets of opposition to anti-traditional values and ideas. She feels, however, that more and more students are thinking critically about the subject of equality and feminism.
Overall, Parkin believes that the best part about being a professor at Monmouth University is the ability to connect with a great class. When the students have accountability and the professor is able to engage in the student’s progress, both sides of the party benefit. Parkin’s advice to Monmouth Hawks is to “keep going” and to “love learning for its own sake.” She feels that by reading books and going to class to truly learn, not just to get the “A”, students are able to have ideas and think about life from a wider lens. The big takeaway of college is to expand one’s mind and to be able to extrapolate on learning throughout post-graduation life. Dr. Parkin incorporates this ideal into all of her classes and is making Monmouth a better University for it.