2020-21 Faculty

janis-bergman-cartonJanis Bergman-Carton (Art History): I moved to Austin from Boston in 1978 to start graduate school in art history at the University of Texas. At first it felt like I’d been transported to another planet. That was partly because Texas is quite different than Massachusetts, but it had more to do with the commitment I’d made to enter a Ph.D. program. I was the first one in my family to go to college, let alone graduate school and I wasn’t sure I belonged. But that feeling disappeared once I allowed myself to just enjoy being with people who loved to read, think, and look at art as much as I did. After graduation, I took a job teaching art history at SMU in Dallas where I have taught classes on modern European painting, modern art and media culture, and representations of the Holocaust in art for twenty-five years. I am also a photographer and mosaic artist. And I love to read novels and practice yoga.


Matthew Daude LaurentsDr. Matthew Daude Laurents (Philosophy): I live and breathe philosophy, and I have a teen daughter who will readily testify on my behalf. I’ve loved philosophy since I learned what philosophy is. I asked far too many questions as a child, which I’m sure is why I spent so much of my school years in the hall or the principal’s office. In college, I tried for a while to escape philosophy by getting degrees in music theory and European history, but philosophy was never far away, calling to me. After college, I tried to escape from philosophy by getting a master’s degree in comparative religion, but even there, I was mainly interested in philosophical problems. My last attempt to escape came in the form of training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and a clinical practice. Through the “psychoanalytic years,” as I fondly call them, it seemed to me that many—maybe most—of the problems people were dealing with turned out to be philosophical problems. You know, problems like whether existence has any meaning, and “Why doesn’t everyone see things the way I do?” and “What should I be when I grow up?” So, in the end, I gave in and became a philosopher, full-time. I was Chair of the Philosophy Department at ACC for more than 20 years and am currently interim dean of Arts and Humanities. This will be my seventh year teaching in Free Minds.


Samuel Echevarria-Cruz (U.S. History): I am a sociologist who is interested in understanding how social ideas and history are related. I am curious to learn how something so arbitrary, relative and subjective, such as U.S. ideas around race become real and powerful ways of seeing the world! I love that sociology allows us to take a step back and analyze why and how we believe the things we do and live the way we do as a society. I am excited to be a part of Free Minds and know this will be a highlight of my semester. I am currently the dean of Liberal Arts: Social and Behavioral Sciences at ACC and before that was a professor and chair of the Sociology and Social Work department. I’ve had fun teaching and doing research at ACC, UT Austin, Concordia University and The Ohio State University. It’s been a long journey from my hometown of Brownsville, Texas and now in Austin, I most love to spend time with my wife and five sons.


Pat GarciaDr. Patricia García (Literature): I am a lecturer in University of Texas’ Department of English and an affiliate of the Center for Mexican American Studies. My research is on Renaissance writers such as Shakespeare. My current research project is a study of Catholic writers during the English Renaissance, a time when England became Protestant and living and writing as a Catholic was very dangerous. I also research and teach the work of Latino/a writers and teach a course on Mexican American Literature and Culture. How did I come to study these two different areas? My first literary love was Shakespeare, and I had wonderful professors in this area in college. As a Mexican American, I came to my study of Latino/a writers on my own, but I’ve been lucky enough to develop these interests in the academic culture of UT. In both areas, I am especially interested in the roles of women as both subjects and writers. When I’m not teaching, I’m busy with my family including an eleven-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son.


vive at graduationVivé Griffith (Creative Writing): I am a poet, essayist, and teacher and a longtime member of the Free Minds community. I served as academic director from 2007 to 2016, and I am delighted to continue on as creative writing instructor. You might say writing brought me to Austin. I moved here in 1999, when I was awarded a three-year poetry fellowship at UT’s Michener Center for Writers. I’ve since taught writing at ACC and back at the Michener Center, as well as in the community to everyone from kindergarteners to retirees. I believe that writing can be a powerful force for personal expression and social change, and my best evenings are the ones I spend writing and sharing in our classroom. I now serve as Director of Outreach and Engagement for the Clemente Course in the Humanities, the national coalition of adult humanities programs of which Free Minds is an affiliate. My own writing has appeared in The Sun, Oxford American, Edible Austin, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. When I’m not working, I love long (long!) walks and cooking, and I’m on a lifelong quest to become fluent in Spanish.