TCU women discuss adapting to U.S. culture in academic settings

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    Rosangela Boyd came to the United States from Brazil to start graduate school and was met with labels she didn’t expect.

    “I was immediately classified as Hispanic, something that today I am proud of, but I had no idea because I lived 20 something years of my life not thinking of myself as Hispanic,” Boyd said. “I thought of myself as Brazilian.”

    It went beyond labels for Boyd, who is the director of community involvement and service-learning at TCU.

    Boyd said she had one instance in graduate school in her computer lab where she faced serious stereotyping. In 1984, a computer lab supervisor implied that Boyd had stolen a computer disc because she was the first foreign student at what is now Clemson University’s College of Education.

    Boyd was also not allowed to assist in the classroom during her graduate school years.

    “I was not allowed to do a teaching graduate assistantship during my masters because the administration didn’t feel that someone who spoke a different language could teach a class,” Boyd said.

    In response, Boyd wrote Bridging Cultures: International Women Faculty Transforming the U.S. Academy, which details her journey as an international woman in the U.S. university system.

    “I call my piece Still Becoming because even today I continue to learn about other cultures and how I fit in this culture,” Boyd said.

    Sarah Robbins, the Lorraine Sherley professor of Literature, said that she asked Boyd to write a response after visiting TCU and hearing a little bit about her story.

    “She brought a whole different perspective because we didn’t have a single voice from South America,” Robbins said.

    Robbins said she started the project when she was at her previous institution, Kennesaw State University. She said she was working as the faculty liaison to the university president’s office and one of her jobs was to work with faculty on various projects. One of her initiatives at the time was to work on diversity and inclusiveness in all its forms.

    Robbins said she and the KSU faculty began to notice that they were getting more international faculty and they had a round table of about five or six international women faculty members telling about their experiences and the challenges they faced.

    Sabine Smith, a German professor at KSU who co-edited the book with Robbins, wrote in an email that she facilitated a panel discussion at a university event and their contributions were so well received that they took the one-day event further.

    “They started thinking about the possibility of writing something more extended and formal than just these little talks that they had given at the luncheon and thinking that maybe they could help other faculty around the country who were facing what they were describing as a kind of double jeopardy,” Robbins said.

    Robbins said the “double jeopardy” came from being both women faculty and being from different countries.

    “They were having to adapt to multiple kinds of challenges and finding ways to succeed in the academy,” Robbins said.

    Robbins said the group decided early on to write the book in first person stories so the writers could tell their personal stories. “They could bring a kind of memoir approach into an academic publication,” Robbins said.

    Robbins said the overall experience was really special because she learned a lot about university training in different countries around the world, immigrant experience and how institutional culture is different at universities.

    Smith wrote that Robbins has been a role model for her on many levels.

    “I knew I would learn from her academic expertise as well as her leadership style, and I did,” Smith said.

    Robbins is using her work on the book to implement a new course this spring.

    Robbins said she received a grant from the Honors college and is developing a new course that will focus on difference in culture awareness. Robbins said the new course will be called Exploring Context Zones.

    “We’re going to be offering it for the first time next semester, and a number of the readings in the course come from the work that we did on the book,” Robbins said.

    Robbins said she learned a lot while working on the book.

    “Sometimes when you finish a book, the books done and you move on,” Robbins said. “But this one is really sticking with me. I’m still using it a lot in my teaching and in my scholarship and that’s been really gratifying.”

    Boyd said that she thinks for students the more that they open up their horizons and the more they understand that it is a day to day learning process, the more adjusted they will be.

    “I used to say that people who go live their lives in a different country are citizens of nowhere because they are not quite here nor there,” Boyd said. “But with time I sort of changed it into that maybe we are citizens of everywhere.”