Archived Voice Articles

Faculty Profile: Sherri Lantinga is appointed interim dean of the social sciences division

By Sally Jongsma

President Carl Zylstra’s call to Dr. Sherri Lantinga last spring to tell her that she had been selected as the recipient of the annual John Calvin Award came as a complete surprise.

Dr. Sherri Lantinga

Dr. Sherri Lantinga

“It never occurred to me,” she says, commenting that the previous awards had been given to “intellectual giants” on the faculty, people with many years of service to Dordt College.

Lantinga’s selection is evidence that she plays a valuable role in shaping Dordt College students and in transmitting the kind of biblical insight that the Dordt curriculum promises its students.

To Lantinga, teaching from a Christian perspective means making sure students see that God is involved in everything: how he designed the brain, how we relate to others, how sin distorts the way we do that, and how things could work.

But setting that framework for students is not enough. “There are many tensions within the field of psychology,” she says. It is generally not open to faith perspectives.” So she teaches her students to ask “what are the assumptions” behind the views they study and “are they consistent with how we view people from our biblical perspective?”

Lantinga says the psychology department previously used an introductory textbook written by a Christian author, but they have switched to another top text in the field even though the author subscribes to an evolutionary point of view. Faculty not only want to teach students a Christian approach to psychology and the issues it presents but they want students to understand and engage other perspectives.

“[Using this text] helps our students see more clearly how the structure of creation is different for an evolutionist than for a Christian,” she says, adding that it serves as a springboard for the instructor to help students understand and sort through what is useful from the work of influential psychologists like Skinner and Freud without adopting their views of people.

Lantinga credits her experience teaching at Dordt College with a great deal of professional growth over the past nine years. It began already in her interview when she was asked how faith impacted psychology, and she saw that more than a simplistic answer was expected.

“I had taught as I’d been taught—what was in the book.” Thinking about the role of faith, discussing and writing as part of faculty expectations, and being challenged by students have helped her better understand and become more articulate in describing how faith has an impact on the study of psychology. “I want students to leave my classes realizing that people are really, really complicated,” she says. “God didn’t make simplistic people.”

During the past nine years Lantinga has become a good and appreciated classroom teacher. “I’ve learned to be myself in the classroom, not stuck behind the podium, but showing students how exciting this stuff is,” she says, noting that it was a high school teacher who loved what she was doing that inspired her to go into the field. She simply loves teaching.

That’s what’s made the transition to her new position, interim dean of the social sciences division, bittersweet. She now teaches only one course a semester, spending the rest of her time assisting and listening to faculty, reading faculty papers, reviewing teaching evaluations, arbitrating departmental disagreements, and attending meetings.

“I focus on caring for people in my division,” she says, “listening and giving them the assistance they need to do their jobs well.” She has two overarching goals as dean: fostering excellent teaching and promoting open communication so that people can support one another and feel good about their work.

Asked if she’s learned anything already after only four months in the position, she says, “I’ve already learned to listen better. There are always many sides to an issue. I need to get the big picture.” And there are things she likes a great deal—like being able to go home feeling that she’s fixed some things that needed fixing that day—even if it’s something small like getting a classroom changed for someone or checking on someone else’s overload pay.