Monday, December 04, 2006

Professor's Background Helps Point Out Different World Perspectives

By Christine Magbanua

On the door of Adriana Crocker’s office hangs an upside-down map of the world, where the South Pole is on the top and the North Pole is on the bottom.

The political studies professor wants to make a point—that there is no one way to look at the world.

“There are always different perspectives, and all perspectives of the world of politics are valid,” she says.

Crocker is originally from Argentina, and her research interests are rooted in her own background and perspective. She studies the diffusion of gender quota legislation from Argentina to other Latin American countries.

Gender quotas in politics are used to increase the number of women holding public office, an area where they have been historically underrepresented.

In 1991, Argentina became the first country in the world to adopt mandatory gender quotas for its legislators.

Crocker says at the time women made up only 4 percent of Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies in Congress and even less than that in the Senate. Many women pushed for the legislation to be adopted.

Since 1991, the proportion of Argentinean women in Congress has increased very rapidly. Today women make up about 36 percent of the Chamber and more than 40 percent of the Senate.

“There has been more of a cultural transformation of the Argentine electorate in the sense that it believes that women can do as good a job, if not better, than men in politics, which would have been unthinkable fifteen years ago,” Crocker says. “You’re talking about a region that has been characterized by machismo. Today, I don’t see that anymore.”

To date, eleven other Latin American countries have adopted similar legislation, though one of those countries, Venezuela, has since abandoned its quota system. The latest to adopt the legislation was Honduras in 2000.

Gender quotas have spread outside Latin America as well, and Crocker points to countries like Rwanda and Iraq, which have made giant strides in the representation of women in government. Rwanda presently has more women in its legislature than any other country in the world. Its new constitution mandates that women hold at least 30 percent of all positions; however after the 2003 elections women made up approximately 48 percent of the new legislature.

Crocker says she believes this will increase the country’s chances for peace.

“I think the reason these countries are adopting this legislation is because they think women can help to make politics less conflict-laden,” Crocker says.

Crocker holds a law degree from a university in Argentina. She practiced labor law for about four years but decided to change her profession when she came to the United States.

“When I went to law school, I thought I was going to be this very idealistic lawyer who was going to save everybody,” Crocker says. “What I found was a very mechanistic procedure where there isn’t as much creativity as I thought. I realized I would prefer to do research and teach and do other things that require more creativity.”

Crocker earned her master’s degree and Ph.D in political science at Northern Illinois University and taught at Wheaton College and Benedictine University before joining the faculty at UIS this fall. She now teaches comparative politics, showing students how to look at politics from other countries’ perspectives.

“The profession of teaching is teaching and learning at the same time,” she says. “I am learning with them, and that’s what I like about it. It’s not a one-way street.”

Crocker believes the best way for students to learn is by participating in the process.

“When you tell someone who’s not majoring in politics that you’re going to be talking about globalization or political parties, you can see them rolling their eyes saying ‘oh this going to be so boring,’” she says. “But I try to make it interesting, and when I see some of them become interested and learn from it, it’s such a rewarding feeling.”

Crocker says she finds UIS very interesting because the people are much more diverse than at the two schools where she previously taught.

“Here, I see a lot more diversity of students in the way they think, in their backgrounds,” Crocker says. “I have a lot of older students who can bring their own experiences to class.”

As a Hispanic woman, Crocker has brought her own diversity to the UIS campus.

“This university has been very welcoming to my background and to who I am,” Crocker says. “So I have had no problems integrating myself with my peers, in the department and in the university in general. They’re wonderful.”

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