Bridging The Gap With Professor Betty Wambui

Maggie Ryan, Contributing Writer

   A woman of integrity, intelligence, community and compassion, Professor Wambui encourages her students to push themselves outside of their comfort zones and into the arena of truth, awareness and justice. Professor Wambui is a valued member of the African Latino Studies Department as well as the Women and Genders Studies Department. She is also the president of the New York African Studies Association and a mentor to her many students. Professor Wambui has positively impacted the lives of many students here at SUNY Oneonta and has undoubtedly changed the course of mine.

   Professor Wambui believes that her interest in the question of justice developed out of her material reality. Wambui is originally from the country of Kenya, where memory of the country’s prior colonization by Great Britain was still fresh. She was very conscious of the world’s view of Kenya as a “Third World” country and resented the level of exclusion and oppression that this term connotated. Wambui found herself puzzled by questions of injustice: Why do women not have particular rights? Why is it that people from Europe and the U.S. are considered better than those from Africa? What makes certain voices more powerful than others?

   When Professor Wambui attended the University of Nairobi in Kenya, she thought that engaging in studies of philosophy and political science would answer these questions. What she did not realize was that these questions would only multiply as her education continued. She attended university at a time when women and gender’s studies and critical race studies were up-and-coming and took these new opportunities for education.

   Professor Wambui ended up traveling to the United States to attend SUNY Binghamton’s Philosophy Interpretation and Culture graduate’s program. As she was finishing her doctoral program, SUNY Oneonta contacted her program at Binghamton in search of an impending graduate to teach part time in the college’s Philosophy Department.

   Though Professor Wambui is no longer a member of the school’s Philosophy Department, that does not mean her work as a philosopher has ceased. She believes that all academic disciplines are interconnected. Wambui states: “[Department] demarcations are just administrative, all disciplines impact one another… Women and gender’s studies and African Latino studies permeate all other disciplines. There is no way of approaching other disciplines with integrity without paying attention to women’s experience, the experiences of people of color and the of the impact of class and culture on our understandings of politics and theory.”

   Professor Wambui believes that a truly good education forces the student to recognize their complicity in the world and its systems of injustice and inequality, and to recognize that we are all guilty in reinforcing these systems in some way. Thus, a good education requires a certain a level of self-reflection and empathy. The systems we operate in are complex, but teaching students how to unravel and analyze these systems will force them to think critically about the experiences they encounter in their everyday lives.

   According to Dr. Wambui: “Education gives us the confidence to know that we can intervene. Whatever issue you are passionate about, pick up as your own. Not all of us will change the world in magnificent ways, we can’t all do that, but we can make real differences within our own personal spaces. First, you must begin in your classroom, in your life, in your college, your community and in your family to make these sorts of changes. The degree to which you want to participate in the transformation of yourself and your world is up to you, but you have the opportunity to make the world a better place.”

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