WMU News

Weinger gets Fulbright for research in Cameroon

Aug. 22, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Whether examining the lives of women in a modern, industrialized nation or in a less advanced, third-world country, motherhood is seen as a valued institution.

But what about women who have no children? Do perceptions of them change from one society to another?

A Western Michigan University associate professor of social work will try to find the answer with the help of a Fulbright Scholar Award and a trip to the west African nation of Cameroon.

Dr. Susan Weinger has been studying the perceptions in American society of women who by choice do not have children. She has conducted the research along with Dr. Linda Reeser, a WMU professor of social work.

Weinger wants to compare how these perceptions vary across cultural lines. In early September, she will embark for Cameroon, where she will conduct research on the plight and perceptions of childless women while also teaching in the women's studies department at the University of Buea through July 2004.

"It may be that over there, people don't choose to be child-free," Weinger says. "It's not a choice, because it's so far outside the role of what a woman is and does. There are no studies in Cameroon of this, but I suspect that women who do not have children may be treated as a very marginalized population. One article about childless women in Africa anecdotally suggested that they may be perceived as being possessed by spirits that would 'eat up a child.' I think that they may be ostracized by society and I want to examine what the situation is like through rigorous, scientific study."

This marks Weinger's second trip to Africa. In 2000, she traveled to Liberia as a volunteer in a program designed to rehabilitate boys forced to fight in that nation's long civil war. She also considered conducting her Fulbright research project in Zimbabwe and Uganda, but Cameroon was the first to respond to her request. Cameroon also was a good choice because it is a bilingual, multiethnic country and Weinger wanted exposure to a richly diverse African nation and needed to conduct her research in a country where English is spoken. Unlike Liberia and many other African countries, it also is a nation of relative calm.

Weinger's Fulbright Award will pay for travel expenses and a stipend, as well as books, supplies and materials unavailable in Cameroon. When not conducting research, she will be teaching a wide range of women's issues, including sex, gender and feminism, social welfare and women's health.

Teaching in Cameroon will not be easy, Weinger says. For one thing, as many as 90 students may be enrolled in a single class. She also will participate in a number of interdisciplinary committees addressing social problems exhibited by Cameroonian university students.

Weinger is one of about 800 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad to some 140 countries during the 2003-04 academic year through the Fulbright Scholar Program. Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program's purpose is to build mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries.

The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. During its 57 years in existence, thousands of U.S. faculty and professionals have studied, taught or done research abroad, and thousands of their counterparts from other countries have engaged in similar activities in the United States. They are among more than 250,000 American and foreign university students, K-12 teachers, and university faculty and professionals who have participated in one of several Fulbright exchange programs.

Recipients are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement and because they have demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential in their fields.

Weinger says she was ecstatic to find out that she had won the award.

"It's a great honor and I'm delighted and thoroughly challenged and enthused by it," she says. "It's a great program and a wonderful opportunity. I'm delighted to be able to go back to Africa in another capacity."

In addition to her work at WMU, Weinger previously was an assistant professor at Valparaiso University and a graduate teaching assistant at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she also earned her doctoral degree in 1992. Weinger earned her master's degree at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and her undergraduate degree at Brandeis University.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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