Women's Center Director Puts Global Experience to Work with Fulbright Award

Oct. 10, 2006 -- Sharon Davie’s globe-hopping research on women and violence was given a boost recently when she was named a Fulbright Senior Specialist — a five-year award that will allow her to expand the network of contacts she has formed with women activists and academics around the world.

On her travels over the past few years, Davie, the director of the University of Virginia Women’s Center, witnessed centers of transformation where women were able to look at poverty and violence, and see not only those realities, but also hope and beauty and the potential for change. “But in addition to vision,” Davie said, “these women have the remarkable strength, will and creativity to turn those possibilities for change into reality.”

Davie has seen these possibilities come to life in many corners of the world. In fact, “It is possible” is the motto of a women’s collective in Kenya where Davie talked with members who had been hopeless and desperate, but found strength to work together and improve their lives.

Davie interviewed women from the Centre for Women’s Studies in Croatia, who in coordination with women in Serbia and Bosnia ran rape crisis centers in all three countries during the war in the former Yugoslavia.  The centers in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia helped rape survivors no matter what their ethnicity, religion or nationality, a dangerous prospect at the time.

Last year, Davie led a delegation of students and faculty from U.Va. to the 9th International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women, held in Seoul, South Korea. As part of a U.Va. study-abroad course that included rigorous reading and writing assignments, University students attended sessions at the Congress led by noted women scholars and activists from around the world.  They also met with South Korean women who were protesting the treatment of captured Korean women held as “comfort women” — basically sex slaves — by the Japanese military during World War II.

This past March, Davie traveled with other Women’s Center faculty to El Salvador. Out of that visit came a proposal from the Women’s Center for a study-abroad course on women in Central America; if approved, it will be held on site in San Salvador this spring.   

Davie says the Fulbright award — which she calls “an extraordinary chance to walk in different worlds” — will enable her to take one trip each year for five years to a foreign university where she will work as a faculty consultant. Although the purpose of the Fulbright Senior Specialist is not individual research, Davie said she plans on staying in the locations longer than the two to six weeks covered by the grant to conduct interviews for her book-in-progress on women working in innovative ways on issues of violence.

The Fulbright Senior Specialist program provides short-term academic opportunities designed to allow faculty the flexibility to take part in an international program in the midst of academic or professional commitments. A university abroad requests or invites a Senior Specialist to visit, and Fulbright matches the institution and the U.S. scholar. The Fulbright pays for travel and provides a stipend, but the host university arranges food and lodging.

Davie is optimistic about the offering her services as a teacher and consultant on women and development or women’s studies. She is interested in participating in activities that bridge academic and community endeavors, work that engages women and men in leadership for change.  She was recently invited by the University of Nairobi to spend some weeks there this spring as a visiting faculty member in their Institute for African Studies.

“My experiences have led me to form strong relationships with individuals in Kenya, El Salvador, Croatia and South Korea, with courageous women — and some men— who are working on gender issues, especially violence, on both the university and grassroots levels,” Davie said, noting that she hopes to visit some of those countries again through the Fulbright program, as well as others such as Israel and Ireland. She received the news about getting the Fulbright award this past spring when “sitting in a tiny Internet cafe in Nairobi getting one of my few e-mail fixes while in Kenya.”

For more than 50 years, the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, a division of the Institute of International Education, has helped administer the Fulbright Scholar Program, the U.S. government’s flagship academic exchange effort, on behalf of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Fulbright programs give grants to more than 800 U.S. scholars each year to support collaboration between experienced faculty from U.S. universities and faculty from universities in other countries. Grantees lecture and conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.

Note: Faculty who are receiving 2006-07 Fulbright grants are encouraged to submit information about their projects to Inside UVA.