Faculty Spotlight: Dustin Berna

The office of Dustin Berna, Ph.D., assistant professor of conflict analysis and political science in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, is characterized by three things: books, artwork and political posters.

The objects put his hobbies on display. He loves art, politics and reading. Besides the thousands of books on his bookshelf, he has more on his desk. The ones on his shelves he has read and the 10 or so on his desk he hasn’t read yet.

“I have to start taking them home because I’m running out of room,” he said.

He collects post-modern art. But he also likes new contemporary artists.

“I like to see people who are coming up, and if they have some-thing I like, I buy it,” he said.

Berna also loves movies and goes to the movies a couple of days a week. Some of his favorites are “Some Like It Hot” and “Auntie Mame.”

“I like old black and white movies, and I like movies that have happy endings where people meet and live happily ever after,” he said. “I don’t like movies that are full of violence and destruction because if I want to see violence and destruction, I’ll turn on CNN.”

He usually watches movies on his day off, usually a Friday — the only day his students do not contact him. However, Berna said he believes in a total open-door policy where students can reach him when they need to.

“They know they can call me from 10 a.m. until midnight,” he said. “I’m very bad at checking my office voicemail, so it’s much easier for them to simply text me, then I can text them right back, or call me. And they’re very respectful of it. I’ve never had a problem with students’ calling me at inappropriate times.”

After receiving his doctorate at the University of New Orleans, Berna started teaching at Northern Illinois University. He came to NSU in 2009 when he decided to leave NIU after his car spun around and landed in ditches four separate times.

“After the fourth time, I thought, ‘There’s no way I can live in this cold, uninhabitable weather where my freezer is warmer than it is outside,’ so I started job hunting again,” he said.

Berna is fascinated by Islamic politics and the Middle East and his passion is political science. He said this love for politics stemmed from being politically aware and watching the news. His favorite people have always been presidents, and he has a poster of President Carter and a poster of President Nixon in his office.

“I love President Carter; he’s a genius — and President Nixon,” Berna said. “I like the two that most people dislike.”

Berna’s specialization is Islamic Fundamentalism. He has been interviewed by local tele-vision stations regarding the political turmoil in Egypt, Libya and Iran. He has also been an expert witness in court and a guest lecturer at NSU’s Lifelong Learning Institute. He is writing a book titled “The Encyclopedia of Islamic Fundamentalist Movements.”

Berna said he likes to assign his students controversial books that open their eyes to something they’ve never known.

“When I have them read things, I have them read the book bin Laden wrote. I have them read what members of the Black Panther actually wrote, what members of Hamas or al-Qaida actually wrote — not what other academics have written about them because I think students need to read and hear it from the mouth of the people they’re reading about,” Berna said.

Berna’s goal in teaching is to facilitate awareness, and he does so by connecting with his students.

“You have to make sure you don’t offend people, because if you offend people, they turn you right off. You have to make that connection with them,” he said.

Berna was nominated for a Student Life Achievement Award (STUEY) for co-curricular advisor of the year. He advises three working groups, graduate student-led organizations that work with faculty to do academic and community work in its areas. He advises the Islamic Awareness working group, Asian Conflict working group and the International Diplomacy working group. He is also the chair of the curriculum committee in the Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution. He is also on the admissions committees that accept graduate and doctoral students and the faculty hiring committee.

His two undergraduate degrees and two graduate degrees show that Berna loves learning, and he also loves seeing students learn.

“I enjoy when I see that light go off in student’s heads, and they understand what I’m trying to explain to them,” Berna said. “I enjoy when I see that I’ve actually made that difference.”

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