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Living with the Humanities: Dr. Karen Paez
Living with the Humanities is a series inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, which began as a game popularized by the French essayist and novelist, Marcel Proust in the 19th century. In this series, PCC faculty, students, staff, board members and administrators share their personal experiences with the arts and humanities and the role that they play in their work at PCC and the broader world.
“Exposure to the arts and humanities reveals to us the complex and diverse world around us, hopefully making us more attuned to our socialization and possible transformative powers of looking at things from alternative perspectives.” – Dr. Karen Paez
Dr. Karen Paez serves at the Dean of Instruction for the Sylvania Campus at Portland Community College. She has worked for PCC since 2008 in various roles, supporting both instruction and student development. Dr. Paez has worked in higher education in community college and university settings since 2000, teaching across several disciplines, including psychology, sociology, human services, college success and career guidance. Trained as a counseling psychologist at the University of Oregon, her approach to work is strongly embedded in a developmental, holistic, and learner-centered approach.
Which book have you read the most times?
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the book that inspired me to work in the field of education. I come back to it when I need a reminder of the power of social justice education and I use it to hold myself accountable when I’m off course. It’s like medicine for my educator’s soul.
Which book have you given as a gift the most?
I find myself gifting Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart to my friends and loved ones going through difficult times. There is nothing like the healing powers of a good book!
When do you listen to music?
I listen to music in the car, when I’m working out, when I’m folding laundry, and when I am in need of a dose of good energy.
Which literary character do you admire the most?
My admiration for literary characters are connected to the time in my life when I discovered the wonders of reading. I admire characters like Nancy Drew and Margaret from Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” These are curious young girls showing courage exploring concepts, ideas, and mysteries. They inspired me to ask big questions, challenge assumptions, and explore new thought territories. These are qualities that led me to the field of education and mapped a courageous and confident approach to learning for me.
What is the last film you saw in a theater?
Star Wars! My partner is a big fan and since I’m a big fan of him, I went along.
Which work of art that you saw in a museum moved you or stopped you in your tracks?
When I saw Monet’s lilies at the Musee’ de l’Orangerie in Paris, I felt breath leave my body as if in a movie. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude for the privilege of being in that space to experience something so extraordinary and that I had only seen in books.
When you think of your high school years, what music comes to mind?
No shame – Vanilla Ice. My mom wouldn’t let me listen to him and it was one of the only times I broke the rules and bought his album without approval. Of course, she found it and it was confiscated. To this day, she reminds me about how I broke the rules buying that album.
What is the role of art in your life?
The act of appreciating art inspires me to create, challenge and expand my beliefs, feel emotions more deeply, and connect with others from different places, cultures, and experiences.
What is the social function of the arts and humanities?
Exposure to the arts and humanities reveals to us the complex and diverse world around us, hopefully making us more attuned to our socialization and possible transformative powers of looking at things from alternative perspectives. This has a direct influence on how we relate to one another and how we understand ourselves. The more exposure we have to the human experience in all of its forms, the more deeply we can engage in our lives. In addition, sharing in the arts and humanities supports community and connection building, which greatly enhances our lives as social beings.
What is the role of the arts and humanities in a college?
By exposing students to the arts and humanities, we demonstrate how to create space in our lives for the incredible growth that comes from opening your mind to new interests, ideas, experiences, and perspectives. This exposure transforms the mind, develops critical thinking, enhances cross-cultural relationships, and ignites creativity. The arts and humanities classroom is a place where relational, cognitive, and emotional connections are born.
What are your guilty pleasures in books, films, music?
I’m an eighties child, so I’ve been known to indulge in a lazy Sunday watching John Hughes movies.
Which emotions are evoked by the art you admire?
I appreciate that art has the power to evoke the full range of emotions, but find that I’m most impacted by the experience of connectedness in the art I admire. There is something incredibly spiritual in the realization that we are all represented and interconnected through art.
Are the arts and humanities today threatened or in decline? If so, why?
It is clear that we need to be mindful of possible threats or declines to the arts and humanities, given the imperative function these disciplines play in personal and social development for our students. As we work to enhance systems to better support students in attaining their career and degree/certificate goals, a holistic approach to education will also emphasize approaches that develop students into leaders and thoughtful citizens in the ways that the arts and humanities do.