Take a class with Professor Halford Fairchild, and he will question your unconscious set of assumptions. He might challenge the idea that Europe qualifies as a continent or that the SAT measures scholastic aptitude at all.
“He’s radical,” said Collin Blinder ’18, who took Fairchild’s Introduction to African American Psychology this spring. “He wants to tear down all your preconceived notions and make you realize that there’s a way out of what seems like an inescapable mode of thought.”
Since coming to Pitzer College in 1993, the professor of psychology and Africana studies has asked students to cross-examine the origins of their ideas and the standard sources of knowledge—including the professor standing at the front of the classroom.
“As professors, we spend too much time telling students what we think they should know and not giving them the opportunity to share their wisdom,” Fairchild said. “I really want to make students producers of knowledge, not mere consumers.”
This year, in a kind of culmination of his teaching career and philosophy, Fairchild turned students not only into authorities, but authors. In three classes, he started the semester by telling his students, “We’re going to write a book.” He asked his 5C undergraduates to tackle big topics—violence in America, the Black Lives Matter movement and world peace—and then propose possible solutions to the problems they uncovered.
Blinder calls Fairchild’s emphasis on searching for potential cures for societal ills “an antidote to cynicism.”
“That is one of the great things that Hal Fairchild gives his students—a way to view the world with hope,” Blinder said.
Fairchild’s optimism and activism have changed many minds, and Pitzer policy. His campaign to eliminate the SAT—which he calls a test of affluence, not academic ability—ultimately led to Pitzer becoming a trailblazer in SAT-optional admissions. He led a community-wide protest when an African-American teenager was shot and killed by police in Claremont. He shaped the development of both Africana studies at the 5Cs and the psychology field group at Pitzer, according to Professor Emeritus Alan Jones, who served as the College’s dean of faculty for 11 years.
Today, Fairchild looks forward to aspects of his post-Pitzer life: pursuing his passion for photography, spoken-word poetry and semi-pro poker. He plans to travel and raise funds for the Halford H. Fairchild Endowed Scholarship in Africana Studies and an endowed scholarship he established in his mother’s name. But he says he will miss mentoring students and opening their eyes to alternate realities, helping make “their lives somewhat different—and better.”
Before he graduated, Demetrius Lamar CMC ’96 gave Fairchild a pillow embroidered with the saying, “To Teach is to Touch a Life Forever.” Lamar can readily recite lessons he learned two decades ago in Fairchild’s Introduction to Psychology class: think critically, research deeply, read scrupulously, and revise your essay “until it bleeds.” Today, Lamar teaches sociology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and says Fairchild is a constant presence in his classroom 3,000 miles from Claremont.
“These things he taught me are still in me,” Lamar said. “And now I try to share them with the world.”
Did You Know?
Professor Halford Fairchild
- Served as president of the Association of Black Psychologists in Washington DC
- Is CEO of Fairchild Tax Service in Los Angeles
- Donated the par-course on campus to Pitzer in honor of his parents