Bridgework

Growing up in Nigeria and India helped Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies Piya Chatterjee foster a world view that informs both her academic research and her community activism.

Chatterjee worked for 18 years at UC Riverside. Now at Scripps, she is happy to share her unique perspective with Consortium students — and promote it in the process.

“We call our initiative Bridge/Action,” she says of the group formed with students shortly after arriving on campus this fall. “We promote an open and inclusive feminist vision of racial, economic, and sexuality justice issues.”

It’s no surprise students are eager to collaborate with her. Recently, two Scripps students – Poonam Daryani ’13 and Tania Bhatia ’13 – submitted a grant proposal for seed funding from the College’s Mellon Undergraduate Research Fellowships in the Humanities and Social Sciences to help build this initiative.

“What we do is not charity or rescue work,” Chatterjee says. “It’s about mutual respect and relationship building. It’s about supporting marginalized women. And we will start with the presumption we have a lot to learn from our allies elsewhere—whether it is from women in the Inland Empire or from across the globe.” The organization will be inclusive to men and gender queer communities, too.

In her free time, Chatterjee also works with NISHTHA, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in India striving to create an anti-violence literacy program in rural West Bengal called Literacies for Liberation. She’s collaborated with the program for six years to help a team of volunteer to create “village classrooms” so rural women become teachers who can lead discussions about their status in their villages.

It’s Chatterjee’s hope her work with Bridge/Action will compel students to develop a relationship with NISHTHA or organizations like it – or build an NGO of their own.

Chatterjee, who calls herself a “third-culture kid,” grew up in Nigeria before attending an international school in India. She went to Wellesley before earning a doctorate degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

“I grew up on three continents so being ‘global’ is in my flesh and bones,” she says. “I have always had to ‘bridge’ all these cultural spaces and differences, whether I liked it or not, so Bridge/Action was easy to conceive.”

 

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