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Longtime ‘scholar activist’ engages students in social justice issues
Story by Meleah Maynard, with photo by Dawn Villella
UB degrees PhD ’84, MA ’75 & BA ’72; Personal heroes Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa; Books she has coedited Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray!: Feminist Visions for a Just World and Bridges of Power: Women’s Multicultural Alliances; Hobbies swimming, gardening and playing percussion in the Klezmer band, the Tsatkelahs
Lisa Albrecht was a senior in high school when she participated in her first protest, a march against the Vietnam War. But it was her experience at UB that really set her on the path to becoming the “scholar activist” she is today as an associate professor and Morse-Minnesota Alumni Association Distinguished Professor of Teaching in the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work.
“I found my way intellectually and politically by bringing together English education and women’s studies at UB,” she explains. “I began to define myself and all my work. My writing, teaching and service have been connected to social justice ever since.”
It wasn’t just the courses that transformed Albrecht. It was the way they were taught. “Women’s studies professor Liz Kennedy used [Brazilian educator] Paulo Freire’s ideas about teaching in the classroom, which created a transformative learning environment,” Albrecht says. “My classes had always been lectures, but we sat in a circle, did critical analysis and gave each other feedback on our work. It really made sense to me.”
So much sense, that for more than two decades Albrecht, who is currently on leave to work on a book, has been using Freirean teaching philosophy in her own courses. “His work is about being an educator that creates spaces for students to discover critical consciousness,” she says. “I try to set up contexts where students can discover themselves, learn to situate themselves historically and learn to change the world.”
Albrecht isn’t using a figure of speech. She means literally changing the world. After teaching writing, as well as women’s studies, in the University of Minnesota’s General College for 19 years, she was asked in 2004 to join the School of Social Work to launch a social justice minor. In addition to learning social movement theories, students become activists as they provide a minimum of 30 hours each semester with social justice organizations.
For Albrecht, a lifelong activist who continues to work for racial and economic justice while addressing sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism, it is an incredible opportunity. “I think my worldview is very much about the notion of critical consciousness,” she says. “I run a program about the theories and practices of social justice activism. I see students reading about social justice and beginning to question their lives and histories. It’s very inspiring.”
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