Firsthand experiences, insights, and understandings about the dynamics in Nigeria will offer a more balanced view
It is believed there are more than 10 million people globally in the African Diaspora who are descended from the historic movement of people from Africa to the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and other areas.
Dr. Gloria Swindler Boutte is an Africanist whose works are grounded in African studies. As a USC College of Education faculty member, her research and teaching focuses on the connections of people across the African Diaspora (pan-Africanism). Boutte has traveled to five Sub-Saharan African countries — Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa — to conduct research, teach and learn from the cultures of those countries.
Boutte has now added a sixth Sub-Saharan African country, Nigeria, to that list through the award of a Fulbright Scholar Program grant for the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters. For nearly two years, Boutte has been corresponding with the Vice Chancellor at the University of Uyo Dr. Comfort Ekpo and Dr. Ekanen, who was previously a Fulbright Scholar at USC. They invited Boutte to assist in them in internationalizing their department’s programs, particularly in Early Childhood Education.
“This experience,” Boutte says, “will allow me to gain firsthand experience, insights, and understandings about the dynamics in Nigeria in order to offer a more balanced view of Africa in general and Nigeria in particular.”
This August, Boutte traveled to the University of Uyo in Nigeria to begin that work. The University of Uyo was interested in Boutte’s expertise on culturally-relevant pedagogy and what it could mean for Nigerian educators and students. Boutte welcomed the opportunity to engage in conversations with faculty members about what could be learned from African-Nigerian ways of knowing and Diaspora literacies — understanding and interpreting the multi-layered meanings of stories, words and folk sayings in a community within the African Diaspora.
While at the University of Uyo, Boutte will be teaching early childhood education courses, presenting lectures at the graduate and undergraduate levels, leading seminars and discussions for faculty, and assisting with the supervision of theses and dissertations.
On a larger scale, the impact of her project is truly global.
For three decades, Boutte has maintained a coherent, focused, progressive scholarship, teaching, and service agendas within the larger framework of educational equity. She explains her work with African-American students is rooted in West African culture, history and language.
Through her work, she has provided counters to pervasive, negative images and stereotypes concerning African countries.
“Acknowledging that the stereotypes are bi-directional, and accepting that there are also many negative stereotypes about America, my role as an ambassador for the US is to engage in conversations about the tremendous amount of diversity within any culture,” she explains.
“As with most West African countries,” says Boutte, “there are linkages between Nigerian and African-American cultures. Because I respect and appreciate the implicit cultural aspects which undergird the overt manifestations of Nigerian culture,” Boutte continues, “I can effectively position myself as both a teacher and learner.”
Boutte’s ultimate goal is to facilitate the infusion of global perspectives about education equity into early childhood so as to contribute to the creation of a more equitable world for children and families everywhere.
At the College of Education’s Department of Instruction and Teacher Education’s Early Childhood Education program, Boutte has been instrumental in advancing the department’s programmatic and policy changes.
In 2012, she and Early Childhood Education faculty members Beth Powers-Costello, Julia Lopez-Robinson, Erin Miller, Susi Long and Saudah Collins began an urban cohort to prepare preservice teachers to address the needs of under-served students in South Carolina schools. Following the initiative, the entire Early Childhood Education (ECE) faculty made the decision to revamp the program to focus on issues of equity and culturally relevant pedagogies in all courses and fieldwork.
“Our ECE program,” says Boutte, “is the largest preservice program in South Carolina, and enrolls nearly 500 students. I was instrumental in the revision of my department’s mission, which now reflects a focus on working effectively with students who have been traditionally discriminated against, excluded or marginalized locally, nationally, and internationally,” she notes.
Since the University of Uyo is poised to consider creating its own ECE program, Boutte believes her experience with the USC College of Education’s ECE program can be used as a starting point for dialogue, while considering other unlimited possibilities.
“An important part of this lofty process is to develop global, collaborative networks with other educators obtained through collective efforts and reflective actions,” says Boutte. “I am particularly interested in learning about and documenting advocacy efforts worldwide and sharing this information in my teaching. Guided by the larger question, “Who are the children with the greatest needs (in the state, nation, and world) and who might we advocate on their behalf?”
While in Nigeria, Boutte intends to foster a continuing relationship with the University of Uyo by working with USC’s Office of International Programs and inviting Vice Chancellor Ekpo to visit the University of South Carolina. Also, Boutte plans to return to the Nigeria with a group of K-12 teachers, preservice teachers and doctoral students for a study tour.
Boutte plans to integrate her Nigerian Fulbright Scholar experience into her USC College of Education coursework and scholarship. Additionally, she and University of Uyo faculty will disseminate insights about pedagogies of hope for all children through professional conference presentations in the future.