A voracious booklover, Eden Wales Freedman, assistant professor of English, learned to read when she was two, picking up any book she could get her hands on.

Honoring Value in Every Person and Every Story

In Focus
Literature & Arts

By Leah Grout Garris


Because of her insatiable reading habits, Eden Wales Freedman learned about the Holocaust when she was just three. “Even at that age, I was consumed with how such a great injustice could happen,” she says.

As she got older, her mother took her to the library to learn about the complex ideas she struggled with. “I discovered that it wasn’t just Jewish people who were mistreated. There were other groups: people of color, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals,” she says. “I remember asking, ‘What happens if you’re a gay Jew of color?’ I wanted to understand the outcome if overlap occurs among the groups into which people are classified.”

Hoping to make the world a better place for the disenfranchised, Wales Freedman first considered becoming a lawyer when she entered college. Soon, however, she discovered that being an attorney wouldn’t bring her vision to life. After taking several English courses (because of her love for reading and writing), she instead became a high school English teacher.

When she entered grad school a few years later, Wales Freedman selected trauma theory as her area of specialty—but she wanted to do more than just read about trauma and go on with her day. So, she volunteered at a sexual assault prevention center, helping develop and teach national bystander awareness training programs.

Today, as she introduces her students to works from Toni Morrison or William Faulkner, she realizes that the literature she teaches isn’t easy. “But I am so moved by my students’ efforts to grapple with the text, speak about it intelligently and compassionately, and link it to the Sisters of Mercy Critical Concerns,” she says.

Bringing Diversity Studies to Mount Mercy

Multifaceted conversations with students encouraged Wales Freedman to build a diversity studies minor expected to start next year. She explains the minor as an inter-disciplinary program where students contemplate and cross-examine diversity components: race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, religion, age, disability, etc. By analyzing how these elements intersect to form experiences, students can link what they learn to their other courses of study.

“If they’re nursing majors, for example, diversity studies could apply when they have to describe health problems to immigrants who don’t speak English,” she explains. “If they’re business majors, it could apply when students think about how diversity factors into international business.”

At a smaller institution like Mount Mercy, Wales Freedman also emphasizes that a diversity studies minor is a way to encourage students to think globally, socially, and practically without detracting from their majors. It encourages them to serve the common good by learning empathy, collaboration, and the ability to live harmoniously among people of different races, genders, classes, and backgrounds.

Creating Value Across the Globe

Wales Freedman doesn’t just create value in the classroom: As a mentor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, she translates stories of women who have lived under Taliban rule. They speak and write English as a second language, often in poems and stories. Her work helps American readers understand the text without losing the spirit of the author.

She’s also a Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer, dedicated to seeing her little sister every other week. Recognizing this dedication to uplifting women globally and locally, the Women’s Equality Coalition of Linn County named her one of five Women of the Year in 2017.

Wales Freedman serves as the co-chair for Mount Mercy University’s Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Committee as well, organizing events such as Black History Month and Women’s History Month.

“As a teacher, I can do the social justice work I hoped to do as a lawyer,” says Wales Freedman. “I want my students to learn to think for themselves and think critically. Every story and person has value in literature. Even if everyone looks the same, that doesn’t mean their stories are the same.” ■