Dr. Tess: An out-of-this-world professor

Linda Tessier lectures to her “Women in the Bible” class in DeBartolo Hall on Monday. Tessier has been at Youngstown State University for 25 years.  Photo by Frank George/The Jambar.
Linda Tessier lectures to her “Women in the Bible” class in DeBartolo Hall on Monday. Tessier has been at Youngstown State University for 25 years. Photo by Frank George/The Jambar.

Linda Tessier, commonly known as “Dr. Tess,” has been a faculty member at Youngstown State University since 1988. During her time at the university, Tessier wrote the text for the “Myth, Symbol, and Ritual” course, and teaches several upper divisions in both philosophy and religious studies.

Tessier said that one of her favorite courses to teach is “Women in the Bible,” or, as she affectionately calls it, “The Harlots Course: Biblical Bad Girls.”

“It’s a really vigorous biblical interpretation course, but I make it more fun by really focusing on the stories of the bad girls of the Bible,” Tessier said. “The material just fascinates me. The more I learn about it, the more fascinating I find it to work in this area.”

Tessier’s father was in the Air Force, so she lived in several different places such as England, Guam and Southern California before coming to Youngstown. Tessier admitted to feeling like she didn’t belong when she first moved to the area and said that for her the first several years, she felt that she was from Mars.

“It took me about 10 years to realize that my job here was to represent Martian culture, and ever since then, I’ve sort of settled in,” she said.

Right after high school, Tessier began her advanced education at Whittier College, majoring in theater and literature. Afterward, she sort of “drifted off” into the world and did a variety of things that included working at a plastic parts factory, working for attorneys and stage-managing a dance company.

In 1979 she completed her Bachelor of Arts in religious studies at Chapman College and in 1982 she attended Claremont Graduate University. Tessier gained a Master of Arts and a doctorate in religion with a concentration in the philosophy of religion and theology.

Her dissertation was titled “Boundary Crossing: A Feminist Psychoanalysis of the Chaos and Cosmos and Dynamic in Cosmogonic Myth.” Tessier defines ‘cosmogonic’ as ‘of creation stories.’

“I love creation myths. That’s a love that has been a part of my work as long as I have studied the stuff, ” she said.

Tessier said she came to Youngstown because it’s where she got a job.

“The only contact I had had with this area is that I hitchhiked through it when I hitchhiked across the country when I was twenty,” she said.

Tessier said that she never planned to fall in love with teaching.

“I knew coming out of grad school that I would teach, because that’s what you do. You teach. But I didn’t realize that teaching would be the center of my professional life,” she said. “I didn’t think that it would be what I’m all about.”

Tessier said that she expected to be a lot more research-based. She has done research and has written books, but says that teaching is really the center of her professional life.

“I didn’t expect [teaching] would have such an impact on me — and it really has,” she said. “I expected to like some of my students and to dislike some of my students … I was not prepared for the love. I did not know that I would love every last one of them, even the ones I didn’t like very much, and that teaching would be such a profound passion and that I would so enjoy teaching these students here.”

Tessier said that she loves teaching the students here because “their lives are huge” — meaning that not only are they going to school but are also working full-time jobs, taking care of children and having lives outside of the classroom.

“They are interesting people with incredible courage,” she said.

She said that she loves the curiosity that students have and that her favorite phrase to hear is, “I never thought about it that way before.”

It was her own curiosity that led her to study philosophy and religion.

Tessier had been “living in paradise” in a studio apartment in Laguna Beach that rested on a cliff near the ocean. She was a legal secretary at the time, something she said she didn’t mind but had never chosen. So she asked herself, “What would I choose?”

She said that she considered her skills, which she said are “think, write, talk.” She then asked herself what she would like to think, write and talk about. The conclusion she came to was, “Why do people really do what they do?”

Outside of teaching, Tessier’s interests include a love of animals and a love of the theater. She is on the board for the Bummer Fund, which raises money to help people who have a good track record of caring for their animals but have fallen on hard times financially, typically due to medical emergencies.

She served for some time as the President of the Board of the Oakland Center for the Arts, and has acted and stage-managed before. She still works with the Youngstown Area Community Theater Alliance and sees as much theater as she can.

Tessier and her partner Tara McKibben have been together since October of 1989; they have three dogs, two cats and a turtle. McKibben had a son, David Andrew, when they met, and Tessier said she was so happy that he got to be a part of her life. He is now married and is in the Navy.

Tessier is set to retire in June. She would like to move to the Durhman, North Carolina area — where her father grew up — and dreams of owning a horse.

She will continue to teach through the extended teaching program, but plans to spend her days “reading, listening to music and playing jigsaw puzzles.”