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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Suchitra Samanta


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Suchitra Samanta, assistant professor of Sociology, for teaching courses that centrally address issues of social justice and cultural and global understanding, to expand students' experience of learning beyond "facts" and statistics to what these mean, to increase their critical awareness of their own place in a larger world.

Dr. Sumanta teaches Asian American Experience (AAE), Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS), and Feminist Activism (FA), all at the undergraduate level. AAE, which she has developed at the Asian American Student Union’s request, addresses Asian cultural and historical diversity for Virginia Tech’s largest minority student population. The class is centrally about what Dr. Samanta calls “meaningful citizenship.” In assignments that include reflective, personal essays and research-based presentations, and through readings and documentary films her intention is to have students relate to, for e.g., the humanity and suffering of the refugee who escaped the Vietnam War to come to the U.S.; or the Japanese American interned in an American concentration camp during World War II. Students learn about discriminatory laws and policies targeting Asians over their history in the U.S., Asian activism and achievement, and the complexity involved in straddling their hyphenated identity, as Asians, and Americans.

WGS is an introductory course on gender, with a focus on women’s experiences. Centrally, Dr. Samanta's lectures, documentaries, readings, and assignments require students to relate gender oppression and discrimination to the complex ways in which these cut across diversity, by sexual orientation and identity, race, ethnicity, class, culture, disability, age, and more. While this course focuses on problems and issues, students also write a short paper on two organizations, one in the U.S. and one working internationally (which they select from a list she provides, or research for themselves), to learn about people making a change. At the end of the semester the class donates to the efforts of the U.N. agency working on reproductive health in developing countries (on which many students have chosen to write their paper). In fall 2016, the class contributed to the UNFPA’s relief efforts after the hurricane in Haiti, which the agency recognized in a personal, hand-written card addressed to the class.

FA focuses on activism on gender-related issues both in the U.S. and in the world. Readings and class discussion address, for e.g., histories of women’s movements, and the politics that hinder, or facilitate such activism: so, the centrality of democratic systems for effective action; but also a women’s organization confronting the Taliban at risk to their lives to provide healthcare and education for women in Afghanistan. The assignment carrying the most weight requires students to sign on with a campus activist organization (United Feminist Movement), attend meetings, learn to organize events, and then participate in the events in March (Take Back the Night, and the Clothesline Project, both protesting violence against women, children, LGBTQ and transgender people). Students keep journals and logs, discuss their experiences in a class session, and write a reflection paper on what they have learned. Many students continue their involvement with the UFM after the course has ended or seek internships over summers, or even after they graduate, with other activist organizations.

To sum up, Dr. Samanta teaches so that students learn to think through the complexity of politically divisive issues, in the U.S. and globally, wherever they ultimately choose to stand on these, to question their assumptions about the U.S. in comparison with other nations. In personal reflections, and their choice of research topics, she aims towards a learning experience that is meaningful to students.

Dr. Samanta's teaching awards include the SPORN, for teaching introductory subjects (2012); a Favorite Faculty award (2010); three Thank a Teacher Notes (2010, 2013, 2016). In 2016, she published a paper on inclusive pedagogy, and the need to incorporate material on Asian America in introductory WGS courses (Feminist Teacher, 25. 2/3:94-110). Dr. Samanta's impact on her students is evident in this note: “I was your student 5 years ago in VT….Today is Teacher’s Day in Vietnam (November 20th) and I think about you. Thank you very much for being such a wonderful teacher. You are always my favorite professor.” [FA student, sent 2016, and every year on November 20th since she took my course in 2011 spring]


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