“Teaching with Grit and Whim”

Professor of Communication Studies Leta Frazier reflects on 36+ years teaching in the communication studies department.

By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08 GS’16, new media strategist

December 18, 2018 | 3 p.m.

Professor of Communication Studies Leta Frazier was given a tiara to wear during her goodbye celebration on campus on December 12.

Professor of Communication Studies Leta Frazier was given a tiara to wear during her goodbye celebration on campus on December 12.

When Professor of Communication Studies Leta Frazier joined the department in 1982, she was the first woman to do so. She’s since taught nearly every communication course offered at Bethel, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. She and her husband, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Philip Frazier, have become a fixture among the academic community at Bethel and a favorite among students and alumni.

As Leta hangs up her regalia for good this week after teaching over half a century at several colleges and universities, we sat down with her to get her perspective on all that’s changed—and what hasn’t—in that time.

What led you to Bethel 30+ years ago, and why have you stayed?

When we moved to Minnesota in 1972, Phil had been in the pastorate 25 years. We wanted to start a youth ministry, which we did, I guess, when we became foster parents. I also found a position teaching at a local Bible college. After that I taught at Normandale for a time, and then a position opened at Bethel and I applied. The department was all men and although I was well-qualified, but they didn’t want me. It took the president and provost getting involved to get me hired.

A short time later, after some changes in the department faculty, I was asked to be acting department chair. I  thought, “Oh, this should be a challenge!” But I knew what needed to be done, and I worked hard and did it. Pretty soon the provost took the “acting” out of the title, and I was chair for over 25 years. I launched a master’s program in 1997, which was a marvelous ride. I’ve gotten to be involved in things I never dreamed of. I love this place. I like what Bethel stands for. I like what it is becoming. There’s a uniqueness about it that I appreciate. I’ve never had trouble introducing and having people give validity to my ideas.

What have been some of your best memories in your years at Bethel

First, to see the attitude of men at Bethel change toward women. I remember sitting in a committee meeting early on, and just being ignored. Second, my parents were marvelous in bringing us up to understand—to appreciate—the diversity of the world. We had some racial issues at Bethel years ago, but a grant helped increase the diversity on our faculty; we knew that would make a difference over time.  

I have some beautiful memories of the changes. I remember in one faculty chapel, John Herzog—the head of the Bible department—and one of our new faculty of color gave a devotional together. I remember so vividly that John took off his suit coat and tie and went over and knelt before Nick, took off his shoes and socks and washed his feet. And then Nick did the same for John. It was such a powerful symbol of service to each other—and to Bethel—and I’ll never forget that scene.

As a community we were very white and very male when I started, and I’m just so appreciative to see that aspect changing. Sometimes when I walk down the hall and see all these amazing women leaders and students of color, my colleagues Dmitri from Russia and Samuel from Nigeria...I want to tell them how happy I am to see them. I want to hug them! What a blessing they and all the many others are!

How have you—and how has your work—changed in the past 30+ years?

When I started college in 1955 at Northern Illinois-DeKalb, I majored in speech and they assigned me a speech coach, a woman by the name of Dr. Wood. Twice a week she worked with me as a public speaker, and it definitely, completely influences my work and my teaching, even today. When I speak, I still stand with my right foot a little bit ahead so that when I move—and I will move—I’m stable and steady. She taught me not to shake my fist at people, but to use an open-handed, welcoming gesture. I learned early on the impact a professor can have on students, and I’ve strived for that all along.

When I came to Bethel, I taught 8 a.m. classes five days a week because, quite frankly, the men in my department didn’t want to teach them. When I was able to choose my own schedule, I opted for the night classes because I get a better cross-section of all the majors, and that makes for a rich discussion.

In the field of communication, absolutely everything has changed. We stare at phones all day; they’re outlawed in my class. We don’t connect with each other anymore. I’m concerned for our students and the world they’re growing up in. To be a follower of Jesus is going to take a lot of guts for them. There’s #MeToo and all the rest of the change going on in the world. But some things are so remarkably constant. And that’s a comfort.

What have been some more challenging times in the last few decades?

One of the textbooks I use is by Julia Wood, called Gendered Lives. I’ve used all editions of it in my Gender Communications course. I like the text because Wood doesn’t have an axe to grind, and she doesn’t have a political view she’s preaching. The history in it is marvelous, and students sometimes do not know history.

I often tell my students I teach with grit and whim. They learn “grit” pretty quickly, but the “whim” they get scared of. In that class we talk about gender issues, and I always try to incorporate new ways of teaching into my classes. I decided one day (there’s the whim) we would do a presentation of the book of Ruth, and all students had to play a role from that story. Then, after acting out all parts of the story we talked about the contrasts between then and now. So many of the issues we’re working through as a culture—as fallen people where gender and power complicate things—are beautifully presented in Scripture and the book of Ruth. It is a timeless example that illustrates how I would not want to live as a woman for that time or place. All this talk of #MeToo is hard, especially as someone who’s keenly aware of gender and the role it plays in communication, in society. We have some serious areas we need to work through as a culture.

What comes next?

I will do some serious writing. We live on 14 acres, and I suppose I will garden more. I’d like to read some history, starting with Ruth Bader Ginsburg on women through the cases she’s been a part of. I want to read some theology alongside Phil. We have traveled so much already, but we’ll visit our son Peter in China. But after my last lecture, I can’t imagine not teaching. It’s what I truly love to do, and I’ll miss my students. There’s something uniquely profound about standing before a classroom of young people who are seeking to learn, and I count it a privilege to have been able to do that for so many years.

Alumni create scholarship to honor favorite communication studies professors.

Alumni create scholarship to honor favorite communication studies professors.

The Dr. Leta and Dr. Philip Frazier Scholarship

In 2017, Gus Broman ’92 and Dana Ripley ’92 endowed a scholarship fund in honor of the Fraziers. Donors can support the scholarship fund at any level, with scholarships awarded annually to deserving communication studies students.

Learn more