Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Professor fosters education of Latino and immigrant issues

By Courtney Westlake

Before Dr. Hinda Seif returned to grad school, she spent a number of years doing social justice work, and much of this work involved working with immigrant families. She was so interested in their stories, she became motivated to record those stories and learn more about “the context for how immigrants ended up coming to the United States,” she said.

That experience led Seif to pursue a doctorate from the University of California-Davis in anthropology with a focus on immigration issues. After receiving her Ph.D., she spent a year at the U.S.-Mexico border thinking through international migration issues with scholars from many other countries as a fellow at the University of California San Diego’s Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, and she also worked on immigrant students and college access at University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research.

Now going into her second year teaching at UIS, Seif believes the university is an ideal fit.

“When I interviewed here, I was so impressed by the camaraderie. I loved the fact that we are a public university with small classes where I really get to know students that I’m working with,” Seif said. “A big draw was the location in the state capital because I’m interested in learning about and researching Latino and immigrant politics. Illinois is a state where Latinos and immigrants are having more and more impact on state politics, so it seemed perfect for me to be at UIS.”

This fall semester, Seif will be teaching courses in the sociology and anthropology curriculum and also the women’s studies curriculum. She teaches courses on cultural diversity in the U.S. as well as Women, Gender and Society, which is a core course for the Women’s Studies minor.

And a new course, which she first developed during the spring semester, fulfills the Comparative Societies requirement and is called “Women and Gender in Mexico and the U.S.”

“I think it is a unique course because this comparative societies requirement challenges us as professors to think about some of our favorite topics in this comparative fashion,” Seif said. “Usually when people teach about gender and women in this country, we focus on the United States or an entirely different country. Actually comparing the lives of women and gender roles in the two countries is a really interesting challenge.”

“I think it helps students think through not only what their lives are like as gendered individuals, but how they might have been different if they grew up in another country like Mexico,” she added.

The Latino population, which is the largest minority group in the United States, makes up about 14 percent of the population in Illinois and about 25 percent of the population in Chicago, Seif said. She is excited about diversity issues and is looking forward to continuing to help students think about different communities across the state, the country, and the world and broaden their horizons.

Seif is also joining with other campus faculty to welcome Latino students to our campus. Starting fall 2008, she is the faculty adviser for the campus student organization OLAS, or the Organization of Latin American Students.

“In fields that range from business to education to social work, employers are looking for students who are sensitive to diversity and can operate in a global economy,” she said. “I'm looking forward to learning with my students about diverse Latino communities in Illinois, like the one in Beardstown.”