The Stevenson Center provides students with a foundation to explore the areas that interest them most while also providing service to communities that need it. For Dani Park, a 2020 Stevenson Center Fellow, that foundation helped him explore something outside the typical scope of the organization: philosophy.
“I’ve always been interested in abstract thinking,” Park said. “I’ve always gravitated toward abstract ideas like ontology, epistemology and metaphysics. I’m very interested in theoretical applications of these ideas, but not so much so with the more practical side of things. Within my department, I’m sort of known as the theory person.”
Some might see Park’s educational path as unusual. He earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo before transferring to California State University Long Beach to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy, which he earned in 2020.
“Looking at it from the outside in, you might see my educational pedigree and say that it doesn’t make much sense, right?” Park said. “Most people who go into journalism go on to do great things in journalism, so why chase a degree in philosophy? Personally, I think the two are more intimately related than most people realize, because both journalists and philosophers want to uncover the truth. For journalists, it’s the truth of everyday life, ‘what X politician is doing and why it’s wrong,’ and other stuff like that, but for me, philosophers do the same thing, but they dig more under the surface in terms of our cultural or societal inconsistencies.”
This journey led him to Costa Rica, where he worked as an English teacher through Peace Corps. From there, he eventually enrolled in one of the Stevenson Center’s graduate programs. Both experiences he holds close to his heart, and both inform the academic writing that he does now.
“I remember finishing my master’s degree in philosophy, and I felt utterly disillusioned,” Park said. “We’re always told that ideas can change the world, but I felt that the things my philosophy department was arguing about were inconsequential, almost too minute to really bother with if you weren’t in a philosophy department. I initially went into Peace Corps because I wanted to connect ideas to genuine practical experience, and it gave me the opportunity to question the ‘why’ of everything. Doing that work helped me connect those practical experiences with that general theoretical framework.”
Park has maintained a passion for research and the philosophical examination of cultural phenomena. One such piece of Park’s research was published in Illinois State’s own peer-reviewed academic journal Critique, and is titled “Fragmented Ontology and the Production of Unity.” In it, Park explored the effects of capitalist ideologies on our ability to be our true selves, as opposed to the idealized self that society pushes upon us. Park has written articles about numerous other topics with the same level of complexity, such as the structures that help perpetuate a culture of consumerism, and how the structures through which we tell stories help perpetuate ideologies. While his chosen topics often vary from paper to paper, Park said there elements that tie all of them together.
“If there is one thing that lies under the surface of everything I write about, it’s the idea of contradiction. We’re always told that contradictions are bad, that they show a flaw in logic, that there are some things that cannot be two different things at the same time, but I disagree with that view,” Park said. “Life is full of contradictions, and I love exploring how those contradictions emerge in even the smartest of ideas, because those ideas often give us a means of understanding ourselves, or even just for me to understand myself. Every time I write I hope, in a very small tangentially related manner, to understand myself in a new way.”
Park’s work includes a paper he is currently writing applying psychoanalytic theory to social and philosophical phenomena. The process requires hours of thinking, writing, researching, and planning to complete, and amid all this work, he’s most thankful for the support he has from the people in his cohort and at the Stevenson Center.
“The Stevenson Center helped me a lot because it provided me with professors who were incredibly supportive,” Park said. “I had professors who were willing to take time out of their incredibly busy schedules to listen to my ideas and provide critique instead of treating them as if they were crazy. If you have a group of people who are just constantly telling you you’re ridiculous, you’re not going to accomplish very much. You need a solid support system to help you succeed, and I found that in the Stevenson Center and my cohort, all of whom I consider to be very good friends, and the various faculty and staff that helped me get to where I am now.”
Park will complete his master’s thesis by May 2022. He is currently applying to interdisciplinary graduate programs, allowing him to further explore a psychoanalytic sociology.
The Stevenson Center has more information about its academic programs.