Philosophy and pancakes usually don’t mix, but for Humanities Chair Dr. Maire Mullins it’s just another day in the office. Well, offices. As a full-time mother of two and full-time professor of hundreds—Mullins’s life serves as anything but dull.
The Ms. Congeniality of her department, with her smile and kind words, had quite a journey before getting to this point in her life.
Mullins went to graduate school at the University of Notre Dame and eventually worked at St. Xavier University. She stayed for 10 years and started the Women’s Studies program.
She taught in a very diverse section of Chicago. “You could cross the street and be in a different ethnic neighborhood,” she said. At St. Xavier she interacted with the different cultures around her.
Mullins also witnessed the Muslim stigmatism first hand: “There on 9/11 it was very dramatic because of the Muslim population. To see how they were being treated was disconcerting.”
With words such as these, it becomes clear that Mullins has a sincere passion for all who make up the beautiful tapestry of humanity.
She felt especially attached to that school but in 2002, the beckoning of the West eventually won her and her husband, Dr. Paul Contino, over. So they began their California saga. “We feel very blessed to be here,” she said.
Though she did not have a job when they moved, she later was named Disabilities Service director—a position she enjoyed but, “I’m an English teacher” she candidly said. After a year Pepperdine offered her a full-time teaching position.
Now she serves as the chair of the entire Humanities Division and she continues to teach Humanities and the Social Action and Justice Colloquium (SAAJ).
“Dr. Mullins is really my favorite teacher,” said freshman SAAJ student Mason Jordan. “She [has] had a really good impact on my life.”
Mullins places true emphases on dialogue. She evokes the sense of teamwork and collaboration with every word she says. Why? “It has to be rooted in faith in God, a sense of gratitude for everything that has been,” she said.
This mentality has even rubbed off on some of her students, “Dr. Mullins really taught me that there is place for Christianity in the realm of social justice,” said freshman Elyse Burden.
The thesaurus citing for Mullins would include words such as: sweet, genial, brilliant, faithful and leader. With getting breakfast ready, chauffeuring her children to school or ballet classes, attending chair meetings, and showing the latest philosophy professor around campus, “multi-tasker” would be another fitting addition.
And she’s a feminist.
She holds a label that seems to send shutters down some in society. Automatically, the word conjures images of man-hating, bra-burning women who tout around the Gloria Steinem-ism that “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”
“But that’s not Dr. Mullins,” said freshman Miriam McSpadden. “She’s normal.”
In this time women have the mounting pressure to choose either a career or life in, as renowned feminist Betty Freidan put it, a “comfortable concentration camp,” keeping the house and the family in line.
In the true nature of having her cake and eating it too Mullins chose both, and enjoys every moment of it.
“Because my husband and I met at grad school it was understood that I would work,” she said. “If I had a vocation to stay at home I would have.”
Feminism has become the new “F” word in society yet Mullins handles it the way the Freidans and the Steinems of the time intended, with equal partnership.
“This afternoon my husband needs to be home. He’ll be reading Dante while Mai Rose has Mandarin and Teresa has piano lessons. We really work together.”
The couple has two daughters. They adopted Mai Rose, 9, in 1998 from China. Her birth parents left her to die on the side of the road until a stranger picked her up and turned her in. Though malnourished when the couple met her but, “She’s a fighter,” Mullins said. A life with her loving parents has truly allowed her to thrive “Girls [from her particular region] are known to be spicy and beautiful. That pretty much describes Mai Rose”.
Their second daughter Teresa, 6, completes the family. “She was named after very strong women,” Mullins said noting St. Teresa of Avila and Mother Teresa.
Mullins and her husband Dr. Paul Contino, a Great Books professor at Pepperdine and rock music enthusiast, love to take their children on road trips.
They hop into their own version of a deuce coupe, a green mini-van, and cruise the coast listening to rock legends and others such as the Beach Boys, passing by Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields along the way.
The two work together on more aspects than in their family life. They also co-edit the scholarly journal “Christianity and Literature”.
C&L, a nationally distributed journal, includes contributions from Pepperdine faculty and administration such as Provost Darryl Tippens.
Along with co-editor, Mullins serves as the Poetry editor where she gets to sift thought thousands of poignant and pitiful poetry until she finds the nuggets that C&L will feature.
Maire Mullins continues to break the mode of the conventional housewife and serves as a model of a woman in this day and age.
Putting Mullins in a neat categorical box would prove as a mistake as she never ceases to surprise: “I like football,” she admitted, “People would be surprised to know that because I’m a feminist and feminists abhor football.”
Her favorite team: none other than the Fighting Irish.
Name: Maire Mullins
Position: Humanities Chair
Passions: gender equality, social justice, Walt Whitman, Literature, and Football
Family: husband Dr. Paul Contino, Daughters Mai Rose,9, Teresa, 6,
In response to feminist Maureen Dowd’s book “Are Men Necessary?” Mullins says: “Yes, they truly are.”