Please give a brief background on yourself and your career.
Currently, I am an Assistant Professor of Sociology at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. As a Wellesley alumna I thoroughly enjoy being an active part of a liberal arts college. I teach the major requirement Social Theory course, Sex and Gender, Women and Nonviolence, International Organizations, and Globalization and Inequality. I am also currently writing a book tentatively titled Marginalization, Mobilization and Power: Women’s Resistance to State Violence in Argentina, Serbia, and Liberia.
One of the greatest contributions of Wellesley’s Davis Scholars is the richness of life experience we bring to our studies and to the classroom. I was among the younger of the program’s scholars, having started Wellesley just a couple years after the traditional age of graduation. I brought with me 6 years of activist and nonprofit work, including service to the Interfaith Council of Greater New York, 3 years of living full time in monastic communities, a stint at Americorps, an internship on a draft-horse run organic farm, international delegation work with women in Cuba, and several years of active involvement in global justice organizing. It was this latter experience that formed my interest in formal study on activism and political change and eventually in becoming an academic.
Before Wellesley, I spent a great deal of time thinking critically about some of the problematic ways in which activists organize, how they choose which issues are most important and what solutions should be pursued, how those of us with the privilege to organize represent those with less privilege, and the in-group politics of who has more power in organizing, and which types of organizers get greater visibility and greater credit for their work. Today, my research as a professional sociologist centers on questions of the dynamics of transnational activism, gender and power in resistance, and the role of beliefs, values, and worldviews in shaping different trajectories for political and social global change.
How has your career changed since you originally envisioned it at Wellesley? What other careers did you consider as a student?
My time spent at Wellesley was a period of gaining an intellectual language and an academic toolkit to make sense of some of the problems I had observed in my activist life. That said, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my studies when I arrived at Wellesley. I recall being in an Introduction to Human Rights course taught by Tom Cushman and Sally Merry and one of our first assignments was to write our own eulogies. What an intimidating task! Now that I am a college professor, I can see the great utility of being able to asses students’ personal and professional goals as well as their writing abilities. At the time, though, I was wholly focused on putting my newly gained responsibility of becoming a “woman that would” into an impressive but practical life plan that would make a meaningful mark on my relationship with my professors. I remember my essay entailed quite a lot about some kind of development organization in the area of Mexico from where my then-husband came. That is one significant thing that has changed. Development work is no longer a focus for me. Also, my overall understanding of how I can best contribute to social justice initiatives has changed in some subtle and some significant ways.
My studies at Wellesley helped me to understand the importance of theoretical work for building reflexivity about the best ways to pursue social change. Most activist academics tend to focus on critically analyzing the social problems and institutions they want to change. I still do a bit of this work, but my research largely focuses on understanding some of the problems that develop in activism. Through some of my more meaningful course work, a delegation visit to CEDAW with the Centers for Women, organizing a college-wide lecture by women from Chiapas, and my honors thesis study of anarchist organizing in Boston, I came to embrace my tendency to think on a deeply theoretical level. One of my favorite courses to teach at Holy Cross is Social Theory. I love to teach it because I love the challenge of training my students to use abstract reasoning and analysis in the practical application of social problems work.
How has Wellesley contributed to your career?
Somewhere along the way, I would hear Professors liken Wellesley coursework to graduate school training. In fact, when I entered graduate school after Wellesley I found the workload quite light compared with that at Wellesley. I was also praised by my graduate advisors for being so independently driven in developing my own research agenda- that is also from great scholarly training and independent study opportunities that I took advantage of at Wellesley. Finally, one of the greatest gifts Wellesley has given me is the experience of entirely erasing gender as something that could diminish my power, potential, or ability- for the few years I was there. While I can’t stop people from assuming or expecting less from me in the wider world, I carry within a Wellesley-formed knowledge that I have the potential for greatness in whatever I endeavor and it is my responsibility to do as much as I possibly can to realize it. I am better able to tune out the surrounding gender bias in the process.
What is a typical work day or work week like for you?
One of my best friends in grad school had a really corny intellectual joke about sociologists. She used to ask, “ How many sociologists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” And the answer is, “It depends.” The punchline is that in Sociology context is everything. That is also true for describing the everyday work week for academics. Our weeks, months and years change quite a bit. Right now I am on a writing year. I spend many days just writing, which means I have to sit and work for hours on end to keep my flow of ideas fresh and productive. But I have the flexibility to work around kids schedules and fit in some gym and fun time. I also meet with other scholars at the universities that have been hosting me and this is helpful to keep the exchange of ideas alive and get expert feedback. I give talks on my work, this year about once a month. I maintain an active advising role with many of my Holy Cross students and some graduate students as well, so I also do a lot of student advising, which, because I am away, involves a lot of emailing, Skype, and phone calls. And I continue to do service to professional associations, the college, and for research journals, which also involves a lot of reading, writing, and tele-commuting meetings. During the school year, I have days that are completely dedicated to preparing my class lectures, grading, and meeting with students and other faculty and administrators, and I have days wholly dedicated to teaching. The year is punctuated by conference and research trips and the summer is dedicated to research and rejuvenation.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is the close teaching and mentoring I do with my students, and I believed Wellesley instilled my great value for close mentorship. I have worked with a number of students on theses, independent research projects, publications, networking and professionalization, and in supporting students through their activist and social justice work at the college and beyond. Also quite important to me is my with Sister to Sister, a faculty-student women of color mentorship program.
What piece of advice would you offer students looking to get into your area of interest and expertise?
One of the most helpful things for me while at Wellesley was to work as a research assistant for three of the professors in the Sociology department. I got an insider’s view of how they construct research projects to answer the questions they are passionate about, from the early literature review and research design stages to the final proof revisions on their articles and books. I could see myself doing what they were doing and I was developing my own burning intellectual questions and envisioning my own research projects. I couldn’t wait to take charge of my own research agenda.
It was also quite helpful for me to initiate a project with one of my professors from an independent study I conducted while at Wellesley. I had joined the American Sociological Association and through the Association’s Medical Sociology section listserve, I gained an insider’s view of the profession and I was exposed to publishing opportunities. One call for an edited volume was so closely aligned with my independent study that my professor and I began turning the study into a series of publications and conference talks. This was all excellent professionalization experience.
What do you wish you had known as a student?
I wish I had known how to be more strategic about improving my writing. I went to a poorly resourced high school and as an ALANA scholar I have struggled- especially at Wellesley- to write in a conventionally effective style. I wish I had used the writing center more often and put in extra hours to improve my writing. This is something I continue to work on. I also wish I had taken more time to explore different social clubs and cultural activities.
If you could come back and take one class at Wellesley what would it be?
Astronomy. Defintely astronomy. I took it at a small college I attended prior to Wellesley so I already had the credit on my transcript. Nowadays, as a professional social scientist, I enjoy reading up on the latest books in the natural sciences for my “fun reading” and I am fascinated by galactic archaeology. But it would have been cool to jumpstart that knowledge while at Wellesley. I also wanted to sign up for rock-climbing when that became available but didn’t have the space in my scheduled requirements.