It may seem unusual that a man who grew up in rural Iowa and attended a one-room country school would open hundreds of students’ eyes to Africa. But John Yoder has been doing just that since he joined the Whitworth faculty in 1980. As a political scientist, Yoder specializes in African politics, conflict resolution and political philosophy, and he has taught courses at Whitworth on Africa, developing countries, peace studies and political philosophy.
Yoder and his wife, Janet, came to Spokane to raise their young family, but it was the freedom John felt in pursuing his interests in Africa while teaching – and in thinking about how faith and political life intersect – that compelled them to stay for more than three decades. In 1987-88, he taught African studies at the University of Liberia and Cuttington University, in Liberia, and at Daystar University in Kenya in 1998.
In 2001 he received a Fulbright Alumni Initiative Award to expand a conflict-resolution program that he had helped establish at Daystar University, and he organized a peace-building conference in a rural Rift Valley region that had experienced significant ethnic violence. Yoder also was selected to serve as an election monitor in Liberia and Sierra Leone with the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute, respectively. During his tenure as Whitworth’s Fulbright advisor, the university was a three-time top national producer of students who received Fulbright awards.
Yoder co-founded Whitworth’s South Africa Jan Term study program, and he developed and led the Tanzania semester-long study program, which launched in 2012. Countless students have pointed to the influence of these overseas experiences in shaping their worldview, as well as to his classes at Whitworth, and to Yoder himself.
“One of the reasons I selected Whitworth was its strong connection between the faculty and students,” said Molly (Griffith) Burger, ’92. “Dr. Yoder exemplified this for me. He was always willing to listen first and then come up with a solution. He was encouraging, and he was able to get me, and other students, to achieve more without us even realizing he was doing it. He knew me well and suggested programs and extra activities and opportunities that would fit my plans and challenge me to think outside the box.”
When asked what his favorite courses have been, Yoder, who retired in May 2014, first thinks of classes like Marxism and the Socialist World, History and Politics of Nonviolence, and Contemporary Africa, for the ways they introduced new points of view and information to his students. In an interview with Whitworth Today, he admitted, “Actually, any course is my favorite if, years later, students tell me it changed the way they see the world.”