Dr. Amina Mama, an internationally renowned scholar, has accepted the new Barbara Lee Distinguished Chair in Women’s Leadership at Mills. She is the first to hold the Ethnic Studies professorship.
Mama is the chair of Gender Studies at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Mama is also the founding editor of a scholarly and activist journal, Feminist Africa, and chair of the board at the Global Fund for Women, to name just a few of her projects.
“We really feel privileged that she [Mama] accepted the position,” said Provost Mary Ann Milford. “She is a wonderful role model, an advocate for all women and an amazing and important scholar.”
Mama began her three- year Mills residency this semester as co-professor for Real Politics, Real Policy, a class she taught with her chair’s namesake, Congressional Representative and Mills alumna Barbara Lee.
Mama’s interest in transnational feminism has brought her all over the world: she was born in Nigeria, attended college in Britain and at St. Andrew’s in Scotland before completing her doctorate at the University of London in organization psychology. She has taught at Oxford and Wellesley and advises the United Nations Committee for Development Policy, the Development Policy of Sweden and the Institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana.
Mama’s future courses, including next semester’s Militarism, Gender and Ethnicity course, will be taught through the Ethnic Studies Department.
“We are incredibly pleased and very honored to have her in the Ethnic Studies Department. She is a leading feminist and probably one of the most prominent feminist scholars in Africa,” said professor Julia Sudbury.
“Her early work on black women and domestic violence was incredibly powerful and important for the black women’s movement in Britain,” Sudbury said.
“On a teaching level, [Mama] kept us up-to-date, everything was very current,” said junior Bélén Trigueros, who took Real Politics, Real Policy with Mama. “Her perspective was different. She offers information but isn’t afraid to give her opinion.”
Mama has a strong interest in interdisciplinary work and would like to work with other professors and other departments during her stay. “I hope to have other professors in my classroom and to be in the other professors’ classrooms,” she said.
Mama said she chose to apply for the position in part because of her experience with Mills students at the Global Fund for Women and her interest in women’s colleges. “There is a value in women’s education in the space it affords women,” said Mama. “The global academic culture is difficult for women.”
Though Mama called her time at Mills “a pleasure and a treat,” she said she “has every intention of maintaining connections to the continent [of Africa]. I need to be of service.”
Mama said she was drawn to Mills because of its commitment to the community outside its walls and she hopes to “enhance the understanding of its place in the world.”
Mama hopes to spotlight issues in transnational feminism next year with a series of local and international speakers from Africa and other developing regions. She said she would like to have students involved in putting it together.
Mama was one of the first female professors and first black professors at the University of Cape Town when she began teaching at what she called the “historically white and patriarchal institution.” There, she developed an interdisciplinary graduate program in Gender Studies and tried to bring the topic into mainstream academia.
But, she conceded, “there is still a great deal of work to be done.”