Series Note: This year, three Rutgers graduate students have been awarded the prestigious Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for 2016-2017. Read on to learn more about Rosemary Ndubuizu’s research, her thoughts on diversity, as well as her thoughts on community.
Hi! My name is Rosemary Ndubuizu. I am a sixth year PhD candidate in Women’s and Gender Studies. Recently, I was selected to be a 2016-2017 Ford Dissertation Fellow. I must say that I am still shocked but very humbled that Ford’s selection committee believed in the value of my scholarship and saw my potential to become an outstanding teacher and researcher in higher education. I am also honored that I get to share the privilege of being a Ford fellow with two other outstanding women of color scholars, Dara Walker and Carolyn Ureña.
In my dissertation, “Where Shall the Monsters Live?”Understanding the Urban Politics of Black Women’s Disposability,” I examine how negative narratives about low-income black women informed and transformed the work of affordable housing agencies, public officials, non-profit developers, and even housing activists. More specifically, I demonstrate how Congress and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretaries used racialized and gendered narratives about low-income black women to implement pro-market housing reforms. These reforms had a range of carceral effects on nonwhite women in particular, including leaving them vulnerable to eviction, displacement, and homelessness. To elucidate how these policies harmed black women, I conducted an ethnographic study of Washington, D.C.’s housing politics through a primarily black women-led organization called Organizing Neighborhood Equity. By interviewing and organizing alongside black women who championed affordable housing for all, I illuminate how black women theorize and fight for social and economic justice in their everyday lives.
What Diversity Means to Me
Diversity is more than token inclusion. Diversity means the thorough respect, embrace, and understanding of difference. For far too long, we have been taught that inclusion is only for those who look, talk, or act in normative ways. If you acted differently, you were derided, exploited, or excluded. My role as a scholar is to help students realize that difference is an opportunity for deep learning. I encourage my students to produce knowledge that pushes them to question and unpack how the normative assumptions they may have accepted as “truth” have hurt their ability to embrace difference. My hope is that my teaching and research helps students understand that if we are committed to creating a better world–and ideally, a more inclusive and materially equitable one–then we must embrace the concept of difference differently. And we must work to create a world where we truly value people’s different abilities, life stories, and ingenuities.
While it is my name on the award on the letter, I recognize my honor is reflective of a community effort. Institutional resources, academic advisors, and supportive friends were the key factors in my recent success. With regard to institutional support, GradFund provided invaluable support. I applied to Ford a couple of times before my application was successful. But I always turned my disappointments into learning opportunities. And each year, I would take my application back to GradFund and I would ask, “How can I improve? How can I make sure my research is clear, concise, and compelling ?” Luckily I heeded GradFund’s advice to reapply because every year my application—and my dissertation—get stronger and more focused. Although this point may be obvious to many, I can confidently say GradFund is a principal reason why Rutgers is becoming a powerhouse when it comes to securing competitive fellowships.
In addition to GradFund, I know my recent selection as a Ford Fellow would not have been possible without my academic advisors. My dissertation committee and other academic mentors were incredibly supportive. They were there to tell me to keep trying when my previous fellowship applications were unsuccessful. They were there to listen anytime I struggled with concisely capturing my dissertation’s key ideas in my applications.
And lastly, my caring friends were invaluable too. Some read draft after draft. They never tired of telling me how I can improve and clarify my ideas. And they provided some much needed respite from the daily grind that is academia. FUN is necessary and I’m glad to say that my closest friends were always there to make sure I had fun and practiced wellness through life-work balance! For me, institutional resources, academic mentors, and caring friends were the key to my recent success. But to be sure, these resources are vital to academic success in general.
As a Ford Fellow, one of the resources I look forward to gaining access to is the community of Ford mentors, who support fellows as we complete our dissertations and seek to make a name for ourselves as future scholars. The annual Ford Fellow conference will be a great opportunity for me to meet like-minded scholars who want to use their scholarship to inform positive social change. And it is there I hope to learn more strategies on how to become a better teacher who nurtures students’ evolution as social justice advocates and critical thinkers.