“I want to debunk the idea that I am the one who knows more, the only one with the power to teach,” Matthews said. “Everyone is a teacher. Everyone has something to say.”
One former student, Gabrielle Nigmond, said Matthews creates an “atmosphere of acceptance and trust” as students write about personal experiences.
“I noticed her classes were different from other experiences because the idea of mental health was addressed each time students signed on,” Nigmond said. “It started with meditation and a recognition that writing is personal, difficult and worthwhile. She quickly created an atmosphere of trust amongst the students using a variety of response techniques. Mostly, I noticed Professor Matthews came without ego and with the purpose of instruction.”
Nigmond completed the BIS program and is now pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at Virginia Commonwealth University. She said Matthews’ belief in her changed her life.
“‘You are a writer, Gabrielle.’ It’s the sentence that changed my life,” she said. “Charlotte recognizes the adult study program is full of individuals who are trying again or for the first time, and her fountain of encouragement will forever stay with me. She’s a woman I aspire to be like – open, honest and authentically herself.”
Matthews is certain she has learned just as much, if not more, than what she has taught students like Nigmond.
“Teaching adults who are going back to school is just such an honor, because you are working with people who have jobs and families and have set aside this time to gain an education,” she said. “I have learned so much from them, especially about the importance of compassion and deep listening. When they tell me something that has happened, or share what they love or find frightening, I have learned to deeply listen. I hope the same is true for them.”
Asked to offer parting advice for her students and other writers as we all continue to grapple with a protracted crisis, Matthews reflected on what we owe each other.
“Writing is a form of communication that has an intimacy and a power that speech does not,” she said. “We all have that power and we have an obligation, and also the privilege, if we can, to be able to put down what is in our hearts. Otherwise the world is a little emptier, a little more vacant.”