Maximalism has a name, and it’s Dr. Kali Jo Wacker. Northwestern’s newest English professor may only be a year into her position, but she’s already standing out with her reputation as both a talented, passionate and inspiring professor, and for her immaculately styled office. With its loud colors, graphic wallpapers and ornate collages, her office may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Kali Jo has undoubtedly made her space a home.
From your first step in the door, Kali Jo’s eccentricity is unavoidable as murals, babushka dolls, old happy meal toys and that one painting of Jesus everyone seems to have in their basement all fight for your attention. A thrifting guru and curator of aesthetics, Kali Jo describes herself as, “a collector of things in general: pictures, quotes, words.” However, although a talented artist herself, one thing you might be surprised not to find in Kali Jo’s office is her own art. In home and office alike, most, if not all items, are curated and thrifted, whereas her own work gets gifted to friends and loved ones, with Kali Jo going as far as to say she sees her own work at her friends’ homes more often than her own.
Kali Jo’s themes and inspiration range far and wide, though a love for texture and color provide the lines that bring it all together. Everything you see is deep blues, royal purples and pops of pastel. Even her bookshelves are color coated, to the befuddlement of her colleagues. Everything is gilded, inlayed, silk, silver and suede. While this be can primarily traced to Kali Jo’s long love affair with all things maximal, according to Kali, this is also due to her poor eyesight, which otherwise leaves everything a beige mush. And if that’s the alternative, her desire to add color and contrast to her life wherever she can makes even more sense.
If you frequent Van Peursem Hall at all, you have probably already caught a glimpse of her office, situated just inside the southeast entrance.
Additionally, you are probably familiar with her office due to her strict “open door” policy. “I want–at all costs–to keep the door open,” Kali commented. “Both literally and metaphorically.” Kali Jo strives to transform her dismal office space into an inviting atmosphere in which students feel free to hang out, blow off some steam, get inspired to push through writer’s block or just enjoy a refreshing Capri Sun from her well-stocked mini fridge.
Though effortlessly home-y, the kindergarten art teacher vibes of Kali Jo’s office also serve as both an enforcement of her mantras as a professor and as an anarchist statement against the imposing and sterile gray walls and bookshelves of academia. The whimsy Kali Jo curates paired with her self-evident brilliance as a professor serve to challenge the idea that academia and austerity must go hand in hand. Instead, her office silently preaches that curiosity, creativity and learning are meant to be fun, meaning-making and enjoyable.
Further, the welcoming air also serves to cultivate Kali’s goal of radical hospitality. A deep introvert at heart, Kali Jo is committed to being “a welcoming part of the Kingdom, even if it’s not how I’m naturally wired,” she said. “Even though I’d rather be a hermit on a mountain with a library like ‘Beauty and the Beast.’”
Through her maximal aesthetic, eccentricity, and radical approach to hospitality and the ethos of academia, Kali Jo uses her voice, platform, and space on campus to carve out a newer, more wholistic way of doing academia. By being inviting even when it’s tiring, present for all those seeking solace and creating a space for creativity, and rejuvenation, Kali Jo brilliantly demonstrates the radical hospitality of Christ on our campus through something as simple as her office space and its wordless yet powerful ethic of aesthetics.