Jake Carbine, gatekeeper of Garrett Promoting environmental awareness in a safe space

Jake Carbine, gatekeeper of Garrett Promoting environmental awareness in a safe space

Juan Zuniga-Mejia


Life is a chain of events and no one can ever truly know where they will end up from one decade to the next. For Whittier College’s Chair of Religious Department Jason (Jake) Carbine, his journey included earning a Bachelor’s Degree from Bowdoin College and a PhD from the University of Chicago in 2004. He then became a professor of Religious Studies here at Whittier College and concluded his second year as a Faculty House Master of Garrett House. 

Before coming to Whittier College in 2007, Carbine taught at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, when the job opening at Whittier College came to his attention. “I saw a job call was posted in various places, and it aligned with areas of my training and background as a historian in religions. I put in an application, and was accepted to come out for an interview. Eventually the process unfolded,” said Carbine.    

When students explore a new campus they hope will call home, there is a spark throughout the body as a they looked around the campus and simply know: this is the campus they belong on. Carbine described the same feeling when he visited Whittier College for his interview. “I saw what the intellectual environment was like, what the pedagogical curricular world was like — the institutional creativity, what that entailed, and [I] also had a chance to interface a range of people across the College while I was here,” said Carbine. “There’s a natural kind of synergy between the ethos of where I came from as a graduate program, and then the kind of things that seemed to be going on at Whittier,” said Carbine. He was able to relate the experiences at the University of Chicago graduate class to the environment across Whittier. Like most students who choose small liberal arts colleges for the intimate environments, that element persuaded Carbine to take his position as a professor here. 

Carbine’s fascination in religious studies began with a “series of historical accidents,” as he called it. “You experience something. You make a decision, and that leads to the next decision. The path is not so straightforward,” said Carbine. While studying at Bowdoin College, Carbine read more into Zen-inspired literature and Japanese and Chinese culture. He took a number of courses on South and East Asia that landed him in a class with Professor of the Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies John Clifford Holt. “It was one of those things where a mentor emerged out of that meeting, and then led to discussions about religion in societies, and that led to an Asian studies major with a focus on Buddhism,” said Carbine.    

The more he dove into his studies, the greater the opportunities he took became, including studying abroad in Chulanca, where he worked as a resident student associate to bridge the students and faculty. “[I was] someone closer in age to the students to act as a balancing point between students and [the] director and other people involved in the program,” said Carbine. He was able to return to Chulanca as a Fulbright Fellowship recipient to study and analyze ritual and dance healing traditions. This was the chain of effects that guided Carbine to continue his path as an academic to graduate school. 

Opportunities never cease as life perseveres. Through Carbine’s journey as a professor at Whittier College, he came across the opportunity to be the Faculty Master of Garrett House. He was aware of the system when first visiting the College, and he appreciated how the Faculty Master and campus life would interconnect. When eligible, Carbine applied for the open positions between the Houses. In time, he became Garrett House’s Faculty Master. “I had this thing of global understanding and problem solving as the general guiding vision of the House,” said Carbine about his mission with the House when accepting his position.

In his second year as Faculty Master, Carbine hosted an array of events and gatherings inside and outside of the House. This year he hired an intern, Ivie Colon, who was tasked to work with him in creating new events for campus. “That was the origins of the Garrett House competition. We had a competition. We sent out, through Student-L, a call for proposals for student events,” said Carbine. This competition allowed Garrett House to see the students’ interests in events they wanted on campus. It also allowed them to hold the first run of intersectional poetry slams at the Campus Center last year. The House holds events with guest speakers, dinners, and luncheons that welcome faculties and students alike. These open-mingles allow the parties to have discussions on research and current works.

Through Garrett House, Carbine has been able to familiarize himself with the interworkings of the campus. From the ground workers to Bon Appétit, and the faculty and student life, Carbine integrated with the body of Whittier College. “The degree of integration is quite high, and you learn a lot that you never see if you’re not in one of these positions. You learn a lot about the institution as a whole,” he said. Carbine found it beneficial to host events of different sizes from Garrett House, as he challenged himself to incorporate academic content in the House. These lessons are important to Carbine because of the joy he has in facilitating student and faculty interactions and developing the bonds between mentors and mentees. 

However, no good things in life come without their share of obstacles. When asked about the challenges of Faculty Master, Carbine said, “All of it!” Just as all college students learn, the greatest challenge for Carbine comes down to time management. “It runs from just basic stuff — making sure the house is functioning as a place — to making sure that, when you have an event, all the pieces and parts are aligned, and in some cases … not everything always runs perfectly,” said Carbine. Being a Faculty Master as well as an academic advisor can create difficulty with registrations and meetings. “[It is] also part and parcel with my teaching and my advising with my students; I think figuring out balance is the most challenging [part] of just about everything,” said Carbine. 

Fortunately, Carbine does not face his challenges alone. With the support of Administrator Coordinator Denise Wong, he can have his events and activities with the Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment (LIASE) Project run more smoothly. Wong aids Carbine in partnership and in coordinating trips abroad with international partners they make for the LIASE Project. He is also grateful for Colon in Garrett House as pilot intern. These two have helped him organize the events and keep them from clashing with other events of his busy life. Carbine emphasizes that life is a grand scale of partnerships. A person should never have to face those challenges alone.

As any house we ever live in, memories and special bonds are forged within the walls. For Carbine, he finds that the best moments are made in the smaller events that Garrett House holds. “[At] the smaller, more intimate gatherings, you have more time to talk and to engage with people,” Carbine said. On the day of this interview, Garett House had a busy day. In the morning, there was a Welcome Breakfast Mixer for the incoming College president, and for lunch, they held a history, philosophy, and sociology professor-student lunch gathering. “Both of those things exemplify house activity,” said Carbine. They represent how the House acts as a welcoming hall for the College community to connect.

In the future, Professor Carbine hopes to see more events focusing on global awareness and global problem-solving. Some events on these subjects have been hosted, but he hopes to see more to deal with these issues and the benefits and the drawbacks in the forces at play. “We’ve been piloting, for two years now, activities for incorporating first-year students into house activities,” said Carbine. Garrett House has hosted first-year dinners that continue in the Fall semester to build conversations with planned or unplanned activities to bring students closer to the House. “What are people most interested in happening elsewhere in the world, not here? How do those things relate to us here?” Carbine refers to these questions as his House’s mission. “I think the global moment, even if we aren’t aware of it, is that we’re all in this together,” said Carbine. “How far do our circles of reflections extend beyond ourselves? It’s just an important thing to be pursuing.”

Photo Courtesy of Jake Carbine

Photo Courtesy of Jake Carbine