“Wherever you go, really go.” Tamara Jeffries, professor of journalism and media studies, took her philosophy to heart on a recent faculty development trip to India. While many people, including those she traveled with, tend to focus on the differences of a new environment, Jeffries believes that being “present” allows for complete absorption of new cultural experiences.
Jeffries was one of 16 faculty members from minority-serving and community colleges to be selected for the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) and the Institute of Indian Studies’ highly competitive program. Over the course of two weeks she visited the Indian cities Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow, and Agra. Her group spent several days in each city, studying the various economic, cultural, social and environmental pressures confronting some of India’s major cities.
Her trip focused broadly on urban sustainability: “We heard a lot about water and sanitation issues, but also spent time at dynamic women’s organizations advocating for an increased value of women’s work.” She also spent time at co-ops and labor unions learning about women’s pursuits including specialized crafts, hair and beauty, and information technology.
Each city Jeffries visited had a textile culture – work created through highly skilled techniques that often gets produced more cheaply offshore, leading to the skill dying out and a loss of income. She explained that this is an element of sustainability: “…it includes culture and family. Organizations in India are working to preserve cultural practices, like block printing, by having women create the product, ensuring the practice is continued and women’s work is made significant in a culture where their work is largely undervalued.”
Despite the struggles women face, their strength is evident: “The women in India are very instrumental in lobbying for their rights, along with access to resources, be it water or education. I was struck by the sense of empowerment, self-efficacy and pride of these women, despite living in what appeared to be tragic circumstances. People are resilient and it’s given them the space to advocate for themselves.”
The powerful lessons Jeffries took with her from India are ones she hopes to share with her students. Beyond recounting her own experiences, she hopes to find a way to give students international experiences of their own: “Being in another country—especially if you really stay open to the full experience—can be eye opening and life changing. I want my students to experience the world.”