Gordon’s Not-so-secret Agent of Shalom

For a hint of which discipline Dr. Christine (Christy) Gardner teaches, look no further than her family’s annual New Year’s Eve party. It’s time for the Late Nite show! The sketch comedy and late night talk show hybrid is the decades-long tradition that has grown in size and creativity (Kylo Ren interrupted an interview with Abraham Lincoln for a lightsaber duel this year) since its inception during her high school years.

“It’s funny for us, but probably not funny to anyone else,” Gardner says, noting that the footage is strictly under wraps.

When Gardner isn’t ringing in the new year, she’s still enjoying the art of communication. The associate professor of communication arts joined Gordon’s faculty in January 2017, and serves as chair of the department. She teaches Perspectives on Communication, Media Criticism, Public Speaking and Senior Seminar—but don’t ask her to pick a favorite class because she loves them all equally, and for unique reasons. From introducing first-year students to the world of communications to watching them launch into the world, each stage in the academic journey invigorates her.

The Bell sat down with Gardner to learn what she loves about her field, glean insights on the role of communication arts in the world today and get to know her better as an influencer at Gordon College.

Where you’ve seen Dr. Gardner at Gordon: Hosting the 2017 and 2018 Homecoming Awards ceremonies, and launching the JUD Talks speech competition. (All those years of improv are paying off.)

She’s the author of the award-winning book Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns (University of California Press 2011).

Her favorite snow day activity: A movie (particularly Star Wars), fire in the fireplace, the whole family wrapped in blankets on the couch, hot chocolate and popcorn. “It’s even better if I’ve got peanut M&Ms in the mix,” she says.

How she got into communication arts: She was intuitively drawn to the field in her undergraduate years, and became involved in a variety of ways—public speaking, theater, broadcasting, writing and, of course, the New Year’s Eve talk show—and was thrilled to discover it was a field that she could actually study.

Her biggest influences: 1. Her grandmother, who introduced her to the power of story. 2. Her fifth-grade teacher, Miss Halsted, who gave her a passion and a love for the beauty of language through Shakespeare. 3. Her parents, who are both excellent communicators with different strengths.

A Christian’s role in communication arts: Serving as an agent of shalom. “Communication gives us the power to speak truth and beauty into the lives of others—to call out the potential of who they are. We have this amazing gift that we need to steward, and to use those words to build up, not tear down.”

A course she would love to bring to Gordon: The rhetorics of sex and gender, rhetorics of race and racism or social media and social movements. “How do we approach those issues? How are those issues formed in our national consciousness? And what’s the role of communication in all of that?”

So, what is the role of communication in sex, gender, race and racism? “We understand points of difference—whether it’s gender or race—through symbols, through language use and through communication . . . I think the key to unlocking a lot of those barriers that exist between diverse people and people groups today is communication—not necessarily speaking more but listening better.” 

Any projects outside of Gordon? She recently received a grant to create a devised performance based on more than 100 interviews she conducted with LGBTQ Christian college students, as well as faculty and administrators. “This is such a divisive issue that has perpetuated pain on all sides. When we talk about bridging divides, one of the best ways is to actually embody the role of the other—not more chapel speakers or panel discussions. This isn’t about policy change or even changing people’s minds, but beginning at the starting point of, ‘Can we listen to each other? Can we hear each other and better understand each other’s lived experiences?’”

Why should students study communication arts? It is consistently the skill that most employers want in a college graduate—the ability to speak well in front of others; to persuade and inspire people. Communication shapes our understanding of reality—from our personal identities to our interpersonal relationships to social problems, even to our understanding of God and his call on our lives. “With the power of communication, you truly can change the world.”