The Social Justice League

The Social Justice League

Rollins faculty devote their lives to making a difference in the classroom—and the world.

By Kristen Manieri
Photos by Judy Watson Tracy

Associate Professor of Critical Media and Cultural Studies

CAUSE Native American cultural representation in media

HER AIM “I’m looking for a more inclusive cinema, one that includes more voices and perspectives,” Denise Cummings says. “Hollywood is very narrow. I am responding to misrepresentations and drawing attention to the artists and scholars whose works and ideas create new spaces for Native Americans to claim themselves.”

SPOTLIGHTING NATIVE FILM In 2000, Cummings introduced a film program to the annual Native American Literature Symposium, a Native-run international conference held annually at a U.S. tribal venue. Each year, she and a colleague from Yale University—who joined her efforts in 2008—curate a selection of Native American films, sometimes before theatrical release. “There is a huge body of Native film right now. This film program brings film enthusiasts but also Native scholars from all sorts of disciplines, as well as filmmakers, to come together to talk about Native film. There is so much interest that it’s hard to decide which films to choose.”

BRINGING THE CAUSE TO CAMPUS “In my Native American Media and Cultural Studies course—a special topics course I devised for critical media and cultural studies—students examine the impact of invasion and colonization on Indian America, and the intersection of Indian and European histories and systems of knowledge,” says Cummings, who is currently developing a course that centers on global indigenous cinema. “In my teaching, I strive to devise opportunities for students to explore critical issues that concern contemporary American Indians, and I do this through analyses of a variety of Native-produced cultural texts: literature, film, other forms of media expression, and popular culture. Through examination and exploration of these Native textual productions, I aim to raise awareness about indigenous ways of living and understandings of the world.”

HER PUBLISHED WORK Her edited collection, Visualities: Perspectives on Contemporary American Indian Film and Art, examines indigenous self-representation in film, photography, painting, and other visual media.

HER MOTIVATION “I am deeply interested in the ways I can have conversations that open up the possibilities for people to understand things from different perspectives, including how race is constructed in the U.S.,” Cummings says. “Every time we see a film that in some way supports a negative stereotype about race, we have an opportunity to bring the conversation into the mainstream. I see myself fitting into this bigger picture of contributing to a lot of different types of work that gets us talking about these issues.”

Tonia Warneke. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Assistant Professor of
International Business

CAUSE Economic development and gender equity

THE ISSUE Women are arguably the largest untapped resource in the world. Many policymakers ignore gender inequality, but even when they try to address it, they often fail to implement effective policies. As Tonia Warnecke explains, “Most emerging economies—such as India, China, and Brazil—have programs trying to support female entrepreneurship, and they can help to an extent. But a lot of programs just give money to people, instead of pairing financial support with training. This limits the effectiveness of the program.”

HOW SHE GOT STARTED “About a decade ago, I noticed that a lot of research assumed an unambiguously positive relationship between economic growth and the quality of women’s lives, and more recently, I noticed the same perspective with regard to entrepreneurship,” Warnecke says. “While I think that entrepreneurship is good, I suspected that the story was a bit more complex than that, especially for women.” In many cases, Warnecke has found that women tend not just to benefit less from economic progress, but also to be hurt more by economic downturns and financial crises.

HER IMPACT “You can underestimate the role of academia in making social shifts. Policymakers in individual countries and multinational organizations rely on research from think tanks and academia to make policy decisions,” Warnecke says. “If no one is doing this research, the status quo continues to be repeated. Academia pushes the boundaries and gets people to think outside the box.” Warnecke has found that the best way to start the process of having her research ultimately impact policy change is by networking and attending relevant conferences. “It certainly takes time for the information to reach the people who make the decisions, but sharing the research is the key to bringing the information to these decision-makers.” To that end, Warnecke is part of the International Labor Organization’s study group on regulating for decent work, which has had two conferences so far specifically about global labor issues.

HER TRAVELS KEEP HER INSPIRED In conjunction with the Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship program, Warnecke visited female street vendors last year in China. “It was a humbling experience. Even though gender and development is my area of expertise, I am coming at it from a privileged perspective, being a highly educated female in a very wealthy country,” says Warnecke, who has also traveled to India and South Africa for similar research. “No matter how much I study and read about it, there is only so much I can understand. But going there helps to ground my research and reminds me not to project my own values on others.”

BRINGING THE CAUSE TO CAMPUS This fall, Warnecke is teaching a class called Globalization and Gender. “As part of that class, students are going to design a program that could be a potential solution to a problem facing women in the country of their choice,” explains Warnecke, who is the faculty adviser for the Microfinance Fund club, a group of students who raise funds to support primarily female entrepreneurs in the developing world.

CURRENT PROJECTS Warnecke is co-editing The Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life, which encapsulates the gender dimension of everything from health, education, and finance, to labor discrimination and poverty.

WHY SHE CARES “I’m a big believer in everyone having a real chance to achieve his or her goals and ambitions. There are so many barriers, not just for women, but for other groups as well,” Warnecke says. “My research is one way for me to try, at least in a small way, to level the playing field a little bit and give them the chance to lead a more fulfilling life.”

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