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Research Relationships Matter

A new general agreement supporting work that links USF and Brazil grows out of one scholar’s efforts to challenge the typical researcher/subject dynamic.

By Barbara Melendez
     USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (March 1, 2016) – A new general agreement between USF World and the Instituto Cultural Steve Biko formalizes a relationship that began through the scholarship of Assistant Professor Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman (Sociology and Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean) over the past seven years. This pact is the first step in developing more sustained collaborations between USF and the Institute, and it grows out of Hordge-Freeman’s concerns about destabilizing the boundaries that separate researchers from local and global communities.

“Research, the kind that I’m doing, cannot be just about extracting material and information from global communities. With this grant, my goal has been to figure out how can I help support initiatives of the people and groups who have facilitated my research. Ultimately, research collaborations should be mutually supportive and not one-sided,” she said.

In support of reinforcing “a new model of responsibly engaging in mutually beneficial relationships, that involves collaborating and sharing knowledge,” Hordge-Freeman requested special permission to use a recent USF Faculty Travel and Mobility Grant to bring some of her Fulbright collaborators from Brazil to USF’s campus.

“Jucy Silva, the executive director of the Instituto Cultural Steve Biko, and Dr. Ivonildes da Silva Fonseca, a professor at the State University of Paraíba are black Brazilian women working to eradicate sexism and racism in Brazil,” she said. “I’m excited about this because their organizations, Biko and Bamidelê are doing the type of anti-racist community engaged work and activism that more closely aligns with my interests.”

This visit to the United States by the two women and Brazil Cultural Director Javier Escudero, Ph.D. covered a few bases. In addition to Silva signing the general agreement with USF World, the three participated in a week of events in which they served as guest speakers in four classes, participated in a panel on scholar-activism, attended USF INTO courses and met with interested departments including Sociology, Africana Studies and the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC).

Highlights of their trip were a luncheon hosted by former USF President Betty Castor who serves as chair of the Fulbright Scholarship Board and a tour of historically Black neighborhoods in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Black Lives Matter in the U.S. and Brazil

“Community research must be bi-directional. And it’s important to help my fellow scholars and collaborators in Brazil accomplish their organizational goals alongside my research goals. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find ways to make these connections with significant support at USF coming from Dr. Bernd Reiter (associate professor I Government & International Affairs), Dr. Roger Brindley (USF World) and the Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships. Dr. Reiter, with collaboration of the ISLAC Afro Descendant Working Group, is spearheading the development of the Franz Fanon Afro Descendant Training Institute for black community leaders in the Americas. The Instituto Cultural Steve Biko is now an active member in this multi-national group.”

The two-way street has provided insights.

“What’s fascinating is how much commonality there is between the racial issues impacting Black communities in the U.S. and Brazil,” Hordge-Freeman observed. “The best example of this is the way that the Black Lives Matter Movement – Vidas Negras Importam – in Portuguese, has been used to expose police brutality in Brazil.

She said Brazilians have complained bitterly about police brutality but the U.S. Black Lives Matter Movement galvanized an expansion of the movement in Brazil where young men are shot by police in far greater numbers.

“Even though far more Africans were enslaved and transported to South America than to North America, people have only recently – at least over the past couple of decades – begun to discuss racism more openly, organize around the genocide of Black youth and critique the lack of opportunity for Black Brazilians. A recent campaign, ‘não me vejo, não compro’ – ‘I don’t see myself, I won’t buy’ – illustrates how Black Brazilians are leveraging their economic power in their struggles for representation and equality,” she said.

“That’s the power of global transnational dialogues. In Brazil, the movement has expanded far beyond police brutality in order to address other issues that disproportionately impact Black women and families. The U.S. could greatly benefit from an intersectional approach that considers both race and gender.”

For her part, Hordge-Freeman has learned a lot about Brazil by spending time there.

“Brazil has the largest African population outside of Africa and as much as Brazil historically has been celebrated for being a ‘racial paradise,’ blackness continues to be stigmatized, rejected and undervalued in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.”

The research itself is rewarding, but as Hordge-Freemans states, “So often, scholarly works aren’t available in the language of the people being researched. If I’m serious about having an impact, the work needs to be accessible to Brazilians,” she said.

And that’s exactly what she’s doing with her latest book, one of the USF Tampa bookstore’s best sellers, “The Color of Love: Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families.” The book is under contract for translation into Portuguese. In addition, Hordge-Freeman believes that academics have to push for their work to be available to mainstream, non-academic audiences, as well. This was the impetus for her TEDxUSF talk (see above) on her new book.

Race Matters in Research

The sociologist is addressing “the ways Black folk from Brazil and the U.S. experience racism as they are conducting research” in a new book she co-edited with Gladys Mitchell-Walthour from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, “Race and the Politics of Knowledge Production: Diaspora and BlackTransnational Scholarship in the United States and Brazil.”

“As surprising as it may seem, the race of the researcher and the race of our research participants make a difference. One can’t assume that being Black or being an “insider” advantages us in our research involving Black communities,” she said. “The great sociologist (W.E.B.) DuBois wrote about how the ‘double-consciousness’ of Black Americans could provide them with a standpoint to better understand race in the U.S., but our book explores the extent to which this is true for black transnational researchers.”

Undaunted, Hordge-Freeman is excited about the work she’s doing.

“Social movements, including race-based movements, that advocate for equal treatment are gaining momentum throughout the world. This is an important historical moment,” she said.

Paying attention to this historical moment has earned Hordge-Freeman impressive acknowledgment.

She is being presented with the USF Outstanding Faculty Award this month along with a group of her peers. “This recognition illustrates how USF supports my community-engaged global research and rewards the work of Fulbright grantees,” she said.

The honor comes on the heels of her being the recipient of Florida Campus Compact’s inaugural Engaged Scholarship Faculty Special Award for Global Engagement, being recognized with USF's Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award and she is the inaugural recipient of the USF Outstanding Community-Engaged Teaching Award.

Hordge-Freeman's accomplishments as a junior faculty member have been recognized at the national level as well (Finalist, Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty), state level (McKnight Junior Faculty Development Fellowship recipient), and local level (USF system-wide Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Junior Faculty Research Award recipient).

Hordge-Freeman is heading to Brazil to begin her Fulbright project on modern slavery later this month. She said, “The support for my research has been overwhelming, and the types of social and political changes that have occurred in Brazil as well as the feedback from my global partners let me know I’m headed in the right direction.”


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