People with dwarfism are often misrepresented in popular media and culture. Yet our own voices are rarely heard. That’s why we embarked upon the RGA Dwarfism Role Models project – to amplify the voices of figureheads in our communities. For this, our latest instalment, we spoke with Joe Stramondo, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at San Diego State University. Here’s what he had to say:
Please introduce yourself: who are you and where are you from?
My name is Joe Stramondo. I currently live in San Diego, California with my partner, our daughter, and our two badly behaved dogs.
And what do you do?
I am an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at San Diego State University and specialize in ethics, which means I read, talk, and write a lot about how we should treat each other.
Do you enjoy it?
I absolutely love it. Doing philosophy is rewarding in itself because, like many intellectual pursuits, it introduces you to new ideas and invites you to play with them. The kind of philosophy I teach and write specifically is especially great because it matters to people’s lives. How we answer the ethical questions I am thinking about in regard to medical practice and technology have the potential to really improve people’s well-being, or do them great harm if we get it wrong. So it’s not just a matter of enjoying the work itself, but also appreciating the chance to have an impact on how folks live.
How did you end up doing it?
I took my first philosophy class during my first semester of college because it was required as part of my minor in European Civilization. It was a course in Ancient Greek philosophy, where we covered some of what Plato and Aristotle were up to. I really enjoyed reading and writing in this way and, after taking a medical ethics course in my sophomore year, I realized that philosophy could have real impact on the world and was hooked.
If you were 21 again, would you do something different?
Sometimes, I think I might have worked harder on my course work during college and focused less on my club activities. But, when I think more about it, I realize that the time I spent on things like the student newspaper, disability activism, and singing in choir was time well spent because, while I don’t do those things professionally, they all enlarged my world and enriched my life in ways that I am still benefiting from both personally and professionally.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Having the privilege of teaching the next generation of citizens to think critically and independently.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
I worked as a telemarketer throughout most of my summers in high school and college. It taught me humility, patience, and resilience.
What are the best and worst aspects about being small?
The best part is the opportunity to be a part of a unique, enduring community of people with dwarfism who have come together in solidarity, friendship, and love. The relationships I have built over the years through the dwarf community are unlike any other. The most difficult part is the social ridicule and isolation you receive from much of the rest of the world.
If you could pass on one piece of advice to your teenage self what would that be?
Work hard, but please don’t forget to have fun and build good relationships because the work will always be there.
Which living person do you most admire and why?
My partner, Leah, because she is so attuned to how others are doing and cares so deeply for them. Being around her has made me a better person in ways that an ethics book never could.
How do you like to pass the time, outside of work?
Right now, my daughter is a toddler, so a lot of my life outside of work now focuses on caring for her and enjoying her as she grows.
What’s your favourite book?
My favorite series of fiction books in A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin. The piece of non-fiction that probably had the biggest impact on my life is either The Body Silent by Robert Murphy, The Apology by Plato, or Disability Bioethics: Moral Bodies, Moral Difference by Jackie Leach Scully.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Overall, I’d say building my relationship with my partner, Leah. It is not perfect because none of them are, but it is the achievement that I have worked hardest at developing and the one I find most rewarding. Professionally, I guess I’d say defending my dissertation and earning my PhD or maybe snagging a tenure-track job in a very competitive academic job market.
When your time comes, how would you like to be remembered?
My goal is to be someone who thinks carefully and cares thoughtfully.