Professor Spotlight: Dr. Carl Albert Bardi

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By Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Executive Staff

Dr. Carl Albert Bardi grew up Catholic and read all of C.S. Lewis’s works in high school. With this upbringing, most of young Bardi’s problems were framed as problems of morality. One day, he read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, a pop psychology book with a psychoanalytic angle and a little bit of Christian morality thrown into the mix.

“I remember thinking I really like the idea of working with people in a therapeutic way,” he recalled. “I think that was a real important switch from my mind from a purely Christian moral understanding of good and bad in life to a more scientific [way]. [It] provided that bridge to thinking about problems in life as something other than moral problems.”

Later, after taking many upper-level psychology classes as well as conducting Braille and cognitive psychology research, Bardi’s career as a psychologist and as a professor of psychology seemed inevitable.

But it didn’t start that way. Bardi completed his undergraduate studies at North Carolina State University, where he was initially going to major in computer science, which would have been fine and well had he not detested coding.  After “one of those dark nights of the soul,” he decided instead to major in philosophy, adding on a psychology major soon thereafter.

Believing that he wanted to become a full-time clinician, he applied to go to graduate school in clinical psychology in Chapel Hill.

“Again, it’s kind of the story of the things that you think you want and then when you have access to them, you’re like, ‘huh, maybe not,’” he said.

When his colleagues settled down to do post-doctorate studies at specialties in clinical psychology, Bardi decided to work on Native American reservations. He spent two and a half years with the San Carlos Apache tribe, and then another two and a half years with the Passamaquoddy tribe of Maine.

Especially working with the Apache, Bardi lived on the center of the reservation, “learning about whiteness.” He recalled reading a book by anthropologist Keith Basso about the imitations of white people that the Apache people do for entertainment.

“That, I think, really altered my perception of myself and my culture,” he stated. “I think I carried it through. One way I put it is, if I had started a job at Sewanee straight out of graduate school, I would have looked around at all the buildings, and the well-cut grass, and the nicely dressed people and the nice offices, and I would think, pretty much, ‘Wow, I have arrived.’”

He continued, “But I think with my experiences that I’ve had [with] that environment, I recognize [Sewanee] as beautiful, but at the same time, I recognize that it kind of makes me uncomfortable. Because I think, who’s not participating in this? Who has access to this? It’s not as enchanting as it would have been had I entered from graduate school with my lack of awareness.”

Bardi arrived in Sewanee 11 years ago. He had lived in small towns before; in fact, he had lived in a town of 500 people in northeastern Maine, so Sewanee was not a complete shock. Now the chair of the psychology department, he remembers being constantly asked how he liked Sewanee.

“It’s a big and fraught kind of question,” he said. “There’s that Sewanee fit question, which I think we’re getting away from; I think we’ve gotten away from that in the 11 years that I’ve been here. And I like to think that we think that all kinds of people could fit here at Sewanee. We definitely made huge strides in moving towards that feeling, but it didn’t quite feel that way 11 years ago.”

To that end goal, he worked with Alec Hill (C’16) to change the name of the Order of the Gownsmen to the Order of the Gown. As a result, Hill attempted to change the name in 2016, which did not meet the ⅔ requirement of the organization’s constitution but was voted for by a majority. However, the next OG president, Sarah Tillman Reeves (C’17), took up the rallying call, and in the spring of 2017, the Order of the Gownsmen officially became the Order of the Gown.

“I like to think that I was behind the scenes keeping the heat up,” said Bardi. “I don’t know how much I helped, but I’m really glad that that happened while I was here. Everytime I hear people say Order of the Gown now, I’m like, yeah, awesome. I think that goes to that whole idea of Sewanee being an inclusive place.”