Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Sociology
Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Sociology
College of Arts and Sciences
Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC)
Director, USF in Brazil
Fulbright Scholar, 2015-2016
Author of The Color of Love: Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families, University of Texas Press, Forthcoming October 2015.
"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."~ Oliver Holmes
Knowledge is transformational and my appreciation of its power greatly inspires my approach to teaching. In the classroom, I am motivated to persuade students to challenge their worldviews and critically re-evaluate commonsense notions about the structure of society as well as relationships and interactions that they take for granted. My goals are to broaden students' substantive knowledge, encourage students to make conceptual connections, and develop their skills to effectively articulate and apply sociological knowledge. Challenging conventional approaches, I believe that students should not merely "think globally and act locally." My teaching philosophy and research trajectory are a reflection of my commitment to creating opportunities for students to think globally and act both locally and globally. I use a community-engaged approach that rejects the narrow boundaries that demarcate one's local community, and instead I seek ways to compel students to make concrete contributions to global communities. By encouraging students to situate themselves in a wider context, I rely on cross disciplinary, cross-regional, and community partnerships both at the international and domestic level to introduce opportunities and ideas that can lead to meaningful individual changes and ultimately promote societal changes.
My teaching strategy recognizes that students bring various experiences and skill sets into the classroom. On the first day of class, I distribute pre-class surveys to determine students' knowledge of substantive course themes, assess what they expect to learn in the course, and find out how they learn best. Moreover, recognizing that the "millennial" generation thrives on using technology to enhance their learning experience, I have developed a multi-modal approach to lectures and assessments integrating lectures with multimedia materials including movie clips, blogs, and photography. In undergraduate sociology courses, students are often tempted to draw upon their opinion rather than the research when completing assignments and participating in class discussions. This can be a serious challenge, particularly when discussing themes such as racial inequality. I address this challenge by insisting that only responsible class participation and contestation, which draw directly upon class readings or research be allowed. With regards to student assessment, I use weekly quizzes (based on reading guide questions) and student presentations, which require students to work collaboratively and creatively to examine and present their selected theme to the class. As a reflection of the value I place on students' ability to articulate sociologically-informed arguments, final grades are based 25% on class participation (discussion, quizzes, presentations) and 75% on written formal exams. Both my teaching and assessment strategies help create a dynamic student-centered environment that is conducive to active learning and engaged discussions. Valuing the importance of students' experiences, I also administer anonymous mid-semester evaluations. These are critical because student feedback helps me to refine my courses and adjust my approach to accommodate the culture of each unique group of students.
As a faculty member with an appointment in Sociology and the Institute of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, I have the flexibility and responsibility to incorporate international perspectives in all of my courses. I gladly draw on international examples in class because they allow students to question the beliefs, practices, and interactions that they often assume to be universal. The use of comparative and global perspectives also allow students to understand that social and racial hierarchies can and do vary tremendously. This is significant because one of the most difficult concepts for students to grasp is that race is a social construction. International examples are useful because they provide concrete examples of how the criteria used to determine membership into racial categories varies by region and nation. Even as it relates to my course on the Sociology of Families, international or comparative examples of family life do not merely expand students' knowledge of other societies, but they help them to see their own society differently.
Beyond helping students make conceptual connections, my teaching approach privileges experiencing other cultures and interacting with diverse groups of people. Advancing the notion of global connections and diversity beyond their commonplace use, my courses often require that students interact with students on campus. The embodiment of my commitment to creating opportunities for students to be exposed to other groups has been the creation of the USF in Salvador, Brazil Program. Bridging the knowledge that students develop in class with lived experience, the creation of this program provides the structure through which I can guide students through a complex, fascinating, and difficult journey to understand cultural differences and racial hierarchies. This study abroad program, paired with campus activities that I plan throughout the year foster exchanges that are sustained, rather than sporadic. In the end, global engagement not only maximizes learning outcomes but also produces more successful and civically minded students. To ensure these outcomes, I take the final course evaluations from students very seriously and I truly do use their suggestions to improve upon my courses. My own learning process as a teacher demonstrates that skilled teachers are made, and not necessarily born.
By the end of my courses, I ultimately measure success by students' ability to apply major sociological concepts, explain racial inequality from a global perspective, and initiate their own research agendas. When I see flickers of curiosity become concrete ideas about how to improve social problems, I am reminded of the transformational power of sociology and reinvigorated about its potential to change the world - one student at a time.