Feature Stories

Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman Develops Global Citizens, Not Global Tourists

Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman's star continues to rise. During the 2014-2015 academic year, she was named the inaugural recipient of the Outstanding Community Engaged Teaching Award (a new, annual award created by the Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships and awarded by the Provost's Office to honor community engaged teaching) and the Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Also, during this academic year, she received:

Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman accepted the Outstanding Engaged Teaching Award from Senior Vice Provost & Dean, Office of Graduate Studies Dwayne Smith.

          Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman accepted the Outstanding Engaged Teaching Award from Senior Vice Provost & Dean,                                                                         Office of Graduate Studies Dwayne Smith.

These grants will enable her to expand her book project "Second-Class Daughters: Informal Adoption as Neo-Slavery in Brazil," on labor exploitation in Brazilian families.

Hordge-Freeman, an Assistant Professor in Sociology with a joint appointment in the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean, has also directed the USF in Brazil program for two summers (2013 and 2014). During the second summer, she received an Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships service-learning mini-grant to support her course called Afro-Brazilian Culture and Society, which she developed in collaboration with her long-standing community partners, Instituto Cultural Steve Biko (ICSB) and Brazil Cultural.

Hordge-Freeman's goal in developing the USF in Brazil program during the first trip in 2013 was to introduce the USF students to Afro-Brazilian life and culture in Salvador, Bahia. In addition to the leisure activities of wind surfing and kayaking that may have first inspired the students to join the journey, they also visited schools and learned about the history of the island of Itaparíca, which lies across the bay from Salvador. During this visit, she said, "This is how the seeds of developing a more community-centered program got planted," referring to her decision to intentionally focus on adding a service-learning component to the course during her second summer.

USF in Brazil 2013

In 2009-2010, while working on her dissertation, which forms the basis for her forthcoming book, The Color of Love: Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families, Hordge-Freeman met the founder of Instituto Cultural Steve Biko (ICSB), Silvio Humberto, who is now a city councilman and developed relationships with ICSB members Jucy Silva and Michel Chagas. She decided to collaborate with ICSB and Brazil Cultural (USF World partner) to rework the course curriculum to align with service-learning pedagogy. "Recognizing the importance of engaging with an organization that has supported the black movement in Brazil and promoted the equality of Afro-Brazilians," Hordge-Freeman reflected, "we began thinking about ways to make a difference."

Hordge-Freeman and Silvio Humberto, councilman of the city of Salvador and Founder of the Instituto Cultural Steve Biko.

Hordge-Freeman and Silvio Humberto, councilman of the city of Salvador and Founder of the Instituto Cultural Steve Biko.

ICSB is dedicated to addressing the vast racial disparities in Brazil, which, in 1888, became one of the last countries in the world to eliminate slavery. Named for Steve Biko, an internationally renowned anti-Apartheid activist who died in police custody in 1997, ICSB helps prepare Afro-Brazilians for higher education in Brazil. Public universities in Brazil, such as another of Hordge-Freeman's partner entities, the Federal University of Bahia, are free but require rigorous entrance exams. These exams can often work as a means of excluding Afro-Brazilians, many of whom attend schools that do not properly prepare them. The philosophy of ICSB is to ensure that greater numbers of Afro-Brazilians can fulfill their dream of attaining higher education and professional careers.

During her second summer course, advanced Afro-Brazilian ICSB students served as language partners to USF students, allowing them to practice Portuguese and the ICSB students to practice their English. Hordge-Freeman stated: "By encouraging language exchange, we are contributing to the social and economic mobility of Afro-Brazilians." By creating collaborative projects, she and her students could help ICSB students gain critical access to the English language, which could lead to a chance to study in the United States or be more marketable for jobs in Salvador. "I'd love to see more of that," Hordge-Freeman said. "Many students perceive English as their gateway out. These language skills can translate into capital for those who can effectively interact with English-speaking foreigners," she continued.

Hordge-Freeman also wanted her students to gain a first-hand understanding of racial discrimination and inequality in Brazil. Her summer 2014 students were visiting during the World Cup. They observed how the local community could leverage a highly sought after international cultural event like the World Cup into an opportunity to support themselves, while at the same time, they saw how an event like this could be exploitative of the local community.

USF in Brazil students attend the World Cup Pre-Game.

                                  USF in Brazil students attend the World Cup Pre-Game.

Notably, one of the ICSB students who assisted Hordge-Freeman as a cultural ambassador with the summer course was selected to participate as a representative of Brazil in the World Cup. However, even this "honor" required critique, because the young woman was asked to straighten her hair in order to participate. This left them both disappointed, but not discouraged. They discussed what Hordge-Freeman refers to as "critical accommodation" – the decision to knowingly engage in an accommodating activity, such as hair straightening, in order to ultimately, as the young woman said, "allow me to break down barriers." Hordge-Freeman said that the "experiences [ICSB] students get also translate into intangible payoffs," which is a potentially positive collateral impact of the research, but which itself affords another opportunity for critical reflection.

During the study abroad, the students were continuously confronted by the harsh realities of a largely tourist-based economy with deep roots in colonial culture. With Hordge-Freeman's guidance and the input of representatives from ICSB and Brazil Cultural, the USF students could critically deconstruct the tourism industry. For example, a visit to a cigar factory in Cachoeira provided a teachable moment as they observed that it was designed as a "reenactment" of the slave era with largely Afro-Brazilian women workers dressed in "colonial garb."

Danneman cigar factory, Cachoeira, Bahia, Brazil (Day trip, 2014)

                                  Danneman cigar factory, Cachoeira, Bahia, Brazil (Day trip, 2014)

She said the students immediately "perceived the façade." In contrast to cultural tourists who often come home reductively describing the local Bahian people working in the tourist industry as "happy," Hordge-Freeman's students dug deeper. They observed and heard about the complexities of life for Afro-Brazilians, which resonates with the comments of one of Hordge-Freeman's interviewees who stated, "I'm smiling on the outside, but inside I'm suffering."

Danneman cigar factory.

                                                                     Danneman cigar factory.

This deeper understanding and contextualization can be empowering for the ICSB students who act as cultural ambassadors for their own reality, and at the same time this experience can be very eye-opening for the USF students. Hordge-Freeman's work is aimed at "developing an awareness of a history that is often ignored or is grossly distorted when it gets told." She said of her course, "Brazil is fascinating because of the contradictions. If you participate in this program, you are going to see and appreciate all of its sides."

Hordge-Freeman believes that continuity of partnerships is the key to ensuring that global service-learning courses are not "voluntourism," which is fraught with potential for reinforcing stereotypes and can potentially do more harm than good.

She said the other key component to successful global service-learning is to "offer what [the students] know how to do. It is often not the best use of effort to have a humanities or social science student try to build someone's house," referring to "voluntourism" projects offering unskilled labor rather than leveraging the existing talents and abilities of students. Through reciprocal learning, the USF students practiced their Portuguese and helped the Brazilian students practice their English.

Hordge-Freeman will be in Brazil from March to August 2016 to continue her research through her Fulbright, ASA, and USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy grants. The fact that she has returned to Brazil to work with the same partners on a regular basis sets her work apart.

She said, "Overseas research requires a great deal of care and frequent long-term contact. What we don't want to be doing is perpetuating problematic researcher-community dynamics characterized by superficial one-sided engagement." By exposing wider audiences to her community-centered research approach, she is providing a roadmap about how to determine what the community actually needs, not what we presume the community might need.

Hordge-Freeman with her USF in Brazil 2014 students.

                                 Hordge-Freeman with her USF in Brazil 2014 students.

She said, "more time, more effort, [yields] a higher payoff" for communities in need. The key is to "do your homework, develop the partnerships, engage, and leave something positive." She believes that study abroad, done right, can be a transformative part of a university education. She said of her own study abroad program as an undergraduate at Cornell: "It literally changed my life." She had never been out of the country until she spent a semester abroad in Spain and still talks to the close friends she made there fifteen years later.

She said, "I wanted to give that transformative experience to students and take it one step further. I wanted to replicate what worked but improve upon what was missing. The missing component is the service-learning piece and sense of global citizenship." During her Race and Gender in Contemporary Brazil course last fall, she saw the benefits of her study abroad course in action.

She said with a smile, "I could take the back seat. I could sit back and watch them debate by using both formal academic examples and anecdotal evidence. It's satisfying to see that." She continued, "I measure success by the extent to which I facilitate rather than dominate the conversation." Her goal is to create "global citizens not global tourists" and to foster sustainable global connections and partnerships.

Dr. Elizabeth Aranda, Chair of Hordge-Freeman's department said of her work, "Elizabeth is a tremendous asset to our department," she continued, "She is engaged in cutting edge research, she integrates her research into her courses exposing students to the latest scholarship, and she is active in the community and encourages her students to become involved through service learning. She is an exemplary scholar and also a pleasure to work with!"