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Women and Gender in Global Perspectives
Chancellor Robert Jones: Celebration of Diversity Remarks

November 11, 2016

Good morning and thanks to everyone for coming out this morning to honor those who will be receiving awards for their leadership and commitment to diversity and overall, to celebrate our collective efforts to make the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and our surrounding community a national model of inclusive excellence at a world class comprehensive university.

I want to start my comments by recognizing that today’s event falls on Veteran’s Day. And as most of you know, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a campus with a very long, rich tradition of providing educational opportunities to those who have served our country, and we’re very proud to see that continues to a critical aspect of the academic experience today. And there is no other university in the country that has a program that can compare to the one we have in our Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education. It was one of the elements that really attracted me to Illinois. Honoring our veterans and making sure we in higher education are working to provide them support and opportunity is very personal issue to me, as I have a son serving in the Marine Corps and daughter who will be serving in the (Army) Medical Corps. This year, Illinois was again honored as one of the best colleges in the country for vets. We plan for that recognition to continue as an annual badge of honor. Thank you to all of those veterans in the audience today for your service and your sacrifice.

I was invited to speak this morning as the new chancellor to talk about my story, my path to Illinois and to begin to offer you some ideas about my vision and goals around diversity and inclusive excellence. Because as many of you know this work has been at the core of my academic career both as a faculty member and as an administrator.

But, that was before Tuesday’s election and before the unfolding of the reactions to the results that we’ve seen play out here and at universities around the nation and the world.

Some of you may have seen my statement on Wednesday.

I attempted to point out that for more than 200 years, every one of our presidential elections has reminded us that there is ground to cover and often to be re-plowed before we truly live up to the aspirations in the name of our nation – the United States of America. Due to the long, divisive tenor and tone of the campaign, I know that many of us are left afraid and uncertain about the future.

As a product of southwestern Georgia and the son of sharecroppers who grew up during the Civil Rights movement, I know what it is like to live with racism on a daily basis. So, to be honest, I too have concerns for our future.

But, I ask all of us to take a deep breath and to remember that election results don’t define us as individuals. We define ourselves by how we choose to act and how we decide to respond in challenging times.

I’m not here as a republican, democrat or independent. I’m not here to debate who won or lost this week. We will have a new president in 70 days, and that is a fact. An election is a single point in time – and for 2016 that day that has come and gone. We have cast our votes, and now we must start to think strategically about how we will continue to advance our collective goals around inclusive excellence and diversity here at our university.

We cannot control nor change the outcome of the election.

We can control what we as individuals and as a community choose to do tomorrow and the next day and the next and the next.

The fact that there are some deep and painful divisions in our country – deep and painful divisions in our state and even in this community – is indisputable. Whether those gaps are around race, immigration, ideology, or economic opportunity – they are real and they too often manifest in ways that do not seek to find ways to bridge differences, but instead to amplify and to exploit them.

There are those who would say events like this one today celebrating our efforts around diversity and inclusion are, in fact, contributors to these disruptions. That these events are, themselves, divisive.

As far as I’m concerned, that is a blatant hijacking of some of the fundamental principles that underlie the founding of our nation and most certainly are the bedrock principles on which our own land-grant university was established one hundred fifty years ago.

Over the past couple of years – and certainly over the very long course of this presidential campaign – the rhetoric, tone and language we’ve experienced has contributed to a polarizing of beliefs and more significantly, could lead to a to a paralyzing of our progress.

We cannot – we must not – allow this to happen. That is our individual and collective responsibility as a university and a community.

These disputes and debates that we’ve seen play out seem to have little interest in offering solutions or even in opening up rudimentary exchanges of differing viewpoints. Instead, they seem focused on distracting our attention and our energy from taking actions that help bring us together, even around difficult and uncomfortable topics. They seem to seek to replace substantive, thoughtful and empathetic discussions and disagreements with name calling and shouting.

If we cannot even talk about our differences and how they impact our society – how they impact us in our daily lives - how will we ever be able to move forward?

And now, we in this room and across this campus have some choices we can make.

We can be angry. We can be disappointed. We can even be fearful.

But, what we cannot do is give up and stop engaging. We cannot bury ourselves in our fears and disappointment nor in our books and scholarship and jobs.

In the weeks, months and years post this election, we can stand up together and demonstrate by our words and more critically, by our actions, that diversity and differences don’t divide us. But instead, they bring us together and let us accomplish things that others imagine to be impossible.

We must work harder here and commit even more resolutely to see that the University of Illinois is an institution where we don’t measure diversity, inclusion and excellence by numbers or quotas or by what color your skin may be.

We measure it by the transformative experiences our students have when they choose to join this family. We are preparing them to be leaders who will be more thoughtful and who will champion the value of diversity to our society.

We measure it in the discoveries and innovations that come from our scholars and researchers who themselves have come to Illinois from every walk of life and from around the world.

I’m not saying we all have to “get along” or that we aren’t going to have plenty of robust disagreements about significant issues along the way. If these gaps and these divides were easy to resolve, we wouldn’t be standing here having these conversations.

But that’s what great universities are supposed to be doing. We solve problems the rest of the world doesn’t even want to acknowledge exist.

And the only way we have been able to do that for 150 years and the only way we will be able to do it for the next 150 years, is if we have every single perspective and every single idea on the table.

Diversity and inclusive excellence aren’t about leaving people or viewpoints behind – they are about bringing them all together in one place and at one time.

We need to be the model for what that looks like for our state and our nation. Maybe more so today than ever before.

Today’s event is meant to be a celebration of diversity and a celebration of inclusive excellence.

And that’s what we should be doing this morning - celebrating the accomplishments of our friends, neighbors and colleagues through words and music and fellowship.

These are the days I talked about earlier.

The ones when we demonstrate our convictions and define ourselves by our actions.

We define ourselves by what we do for one another – even if there’s no spotlight or microphone or televised audience. Like our students who took the Quad Wednesday not to protest an election result or argue, but just to build solidarity and stand together in a time of fear and uncertainty.

We define ourselves by what we say and what we do. And the audience gathered right here in this room says an awful lot about this university and this community.

Look at the 300 of us gathered here. We don’t all look alike, we come from different places, we speak with different accents and we worship in different ways and venues. But right here, right now, we aren’t here to talk about what makes us different.

We’re here to talk about what we share in common.

We’re here to applaud – to applaud and speak proudly – how those differences make us a stronger community and a better university.

We don’t control what happens in our elections. But we sure as heck control how we choose to move forward together in the days, weeks, months and years that follow them.

And at Illinois, I am absolutely committed to doing everything in my power to make sure that we aren’t just a place that talks about being a community that advances inclusive excellence and the values diversity.

We will continue to be a university that believes these to be a core and fundamental truths.

And we will redouble our commitment to be a place that makes the rest of the world stand up and take notice of what can happen when you do that.

This is a day for us to celebrate. And tomorrow is our chance to get right back at the hard work it takes to keep all of us moving forward toward these critically important goals.

And as we move forward together, we will always, clearly and loudly articulate this:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will not tolerate racism.

We will not tolerate bigotry.

And we will never tolerate violence in our community.

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WGGP Alumni Spotlight Series

Bala Saho
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Alumna
GRID Minor, 2007
MA in African Studies, 2007

Current Position
Assistant Professor, Department of History
The University of Oklahoma, Norman

What is the focus of your current work and/or subject of your current research?

My forthcoming book Contours of Change: Muslim Courts, Women, and Islamic Society in Colonial Bathurst, the Gambia, 1905–1965,examines the place of women in the formation of colonial Bathurst (Banjul), to the evolution of women’s understanding of the importance of law in securing their rights, as well as the ways in which women utilized the new qadi court system to fight for growing rights within the domestic sphere. Gambian women’s increased awareness is significant because it signals changes that were already underway in the Gambia colony and protectorate during the early colonial period. The research complements uniquely works by scholars of other African societies with similar colonial experience (Stockreiter, 2015; Burrill, 2015; Stiles and Thompson, 2015, Hanretta, 2009; Roberts, 2005; Fair, 2001; Hirsch, 1998). Clearly, records from the qadi court in the Gambia speak in agreement with these works that often qadis were sympathetic to women’s claims and the court opened up ways in which women negotiated conjugal and other forms of relationships and constructed a sense of self in African colonial societies

My current research Negotiating Womanhood and the Peril of Childless (Kañeleng) Women in the Gambia, explores how voluntary associations of childless women, or Kañeleng Kafo, shape perceptions of infertility in modern Gambia and how they counter the burden of childlessness and reflect – or help redefine – the cultural construction of “womanhood” in the Gambia.

Suntukunto bambaroo,

Wuluu M’fanaŋ ye,

Doolu niŋ I la bambaroo,

Nfanaŋ so kilinŋ na.

Garbage pumpkin,

Bear me a child,

Others have children,

Also give me one.

Although both men and women live with the pain of infertility, in the Gambia it is considered the duty of the woman to find solutions to the problem. This song is a mother-in-law's plea addressing her son's wife. The elder woman urges her daughter-in-law to make an effort to bear children rather than focus excessively on her individual beauty. The song shames women, blaming young women for their childless situations, and testifying to the community's investment in each woman's fertility. Above all, the song protests childlessness and illustrates the profound efforts infertile women ought to make to end the burden of infertility.

In the Gambia, the word Kañeleng refers to a woman who cannot bear children, whom society considers infertile, or whose children die at an early age. The association Kañeleng Kafo (Childless Women’s Association) is a voluntary organization that exists only in the Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea Bissau. Any childless woman can be a member of a Kañeleng Kafo. However, her decision largely depends on the encouragement and support from elderly women from her kin group and the husband’s kin group. Men born out of Kañelengyaa (the practice of childlessness) can also become members.

To become a member, the aspirant has to undergo a ritual that sanctifies membership and creates an opportunity for the woman to develop a covenant relation or joking relation (sanawu) with the public. The core of the ritual is a bath – to cleanse the body of any “bad” spirit. My research provides the first full historical analysis of these associations, interrogating how the kañeleng reconfigure female-male relationships, reproduction, and the social worth of infertile women. My study introduces the traditional processes and mechanisms (efforts and practices that lay outside modern day hospitals and clinics) by which the kañeleng struggle to cope with and challenge the issues of childlessness in the Gambia by participating in rituals, prayers, performances, songs, thieving, and transvestite role inversions. (Weil, 1971; Vansina, 1990; Spear, 2003; Saho, 2014). I examine how these infertile women assert themselves in a social order that rejects them, highlighting the creation and meaning of ritual space. I also explore how these infertile women’s societies function, generating a sense of worth and solidarity among their members. My study analyzes the specific mechanisms by which such women are marginalized, and evaluates the efficacy of women’s societies in countering that marginalization.

How has your GRID minor helped you in your career?

The GRID served as a foundation and as an instrument to study society through a multi-dimensional perspective. While it provided with me with knowledge about gender studies, it helped me to work with women and men in different capacities.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current GRID Students?

GRID can be a surprisingly useful tool in life. I would take it more seriously even if I am not sure of what to do with it at the moment.

How can we learn more about your work through social media? (include website or social media if applicable)

WGGP Gender Relations in International Development Graduate Minor

WGGP offers a graduate minor in Gender Relations in International Development (GRID). The GRID interdisciplinary minor is designed to give students the analytical and empirical skills needed to address global human security and gender equity issues in research and policy analysis, as well as daily life. In this age of global economic transformation, it is especially necessary for researchers and practitioners to examine who gains and who loses from new policies, to assess the disparities in the impacts of reforms on women, men, and children, and to study the successful strategies and policies that appear.

To learn more about the GRID minor, please contact Anita Kaiser at or by phone at 333-6221.


Andrew W. Mellon Pre-Doctoral Fellowships in Bio-Humanities, 2017-2018

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, seeks to select two Pre-Doctoral Fellows in Bio-Humanities for the 2017-18 academic year.

Bio-humanities is an emerging field distinguished by its critical and creative appropriation of findings in the biological sciences for the purpose of reimagining and reconfiguring our sense of human being and of the meaning and significance of human undertakings.

The IPRH-Mellon Pre-Doctoral Fellows will participate in all activities of the Bio-Humanities Research Group, as led by the IPRH-Mellon Faculty Fellow in Bio-Humanities, Professor Samantha Frost. In addition to pursuing bio-humanities-related research projects of their own, the IPRH-Mellon Pre-Doctoral Fellows will participate in a seminar aimed at developing methodologies for bio-humanities research.

Advanced PhD students from all humanities disciplines, including the humanities-inflected social sciences, whose research and teaching interests lie in the area of bio-humanities, are encouraged to apply.

IPRH-Mellon Pre-Doctoral Fellows in Bio-Humanities receive a $25,000 stipend with tuition and fee waiver, and a $2500 research fund. Only Urbana campus PhD students are eligible to apply. Applicants must be "ABD" (i.e., have completed all requirements for their doctoral studies, save the dissertation) and should be ready to work on their dissertation projects during the span of the fellowship year.

Application Deadline: January 20, 2017

Read detailed eligibility requirements and application guidelines at the IPRH website.

Please address questions about these fellowships to: Dr. Nancy Castro, Associate Director of IPRH, at or (217) 244-7913.


The Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy is soliciting submissions for grants for 2016. The awards support scholars in the final stages of their PhD--that is, in their research and dissertation preparation after their proposal has been approved by their committee.

The deadline for 2016 proposals is January 31, 2017, though earlier submission is strongly encouraged. The foundation's website provides additional information on the application process. 

SPRING 2017 WGGP Courses

WGGP 581 Gender Relations & International Development (64395) credit: 4 hours.

Interdisciplinary seminar examining theoretical and empirical research on gender and the transformation of social and economic structures. Students will develop a comparative perspective on issues of women and public policy by contrasting and comparing such policies in North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Same as GWS 512 and SOCW 581.

Course will be held Thursdays 2:00-4:50pm

For more information about the GRID Course or the GRID Minor, please contact Anita Kaiser at



GLBL 340 Global Health: Policy & Governance credit: 3 hours.
Identifies central and emerging global health issues and analyzes them through the lenses of governance, policy and gender. Focuses on structural, policy, and institutional perspectives on global health, with emphasis on how decisions are influenced and made. Prerequisite: GLBL 240 or consent of instructor.

63807 Lecture-Discussion
A 11:00 AM- 12:15 PM   Tuesday/Thursday                 145 - Armory               Sugrue, N

In this course, we use a set of interdisciplinary readings and discussions to identify central and emerging issues in the study of global health and analyze them through the lenses of governance, policy and gender. We focus on structural, policy, and institutional perspectives on global health, with emphasis on how decisions are influenced and made. Pre-req: GLBL 240 or consent of instructor.

Spring Courses of Interest


Certificate in

Global Health

Joint with WGGP and LAS Global Studies

Certificate Description

LAS Global Studies, in conjunction with Women and Gender in Global Perspectives (WGGP) is offering a Certificate in Global Health. This certificate is open to all undergraduate majors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Certificate in Global Health will prepare students to engage with issues and problems in global health policy, access, and delivery.

Students will gain fundamental knowledge, critical perspectives, and skills from a range of disciplines in order to understand the complex relationships between health and economic development, local, national, and global institutions, social and cultural norms, environmental sustainability, and the needs of marginalized populations.

This course of study emphasizes:

  • Global health theory and practice
  • Interconnections of poverty, human rights, resources, disasters, migration, displacement, gender, barriers to access and other pressing worldwide issues in Global Helath
  • Interdisciplinary course content including core social science disciplines in the liberal arts such as Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History, Political Science, and Sociology among others

The Certificate in Global Health affords students a credential that demonstrates their competency in interdisciplinary approaches to contemporary global health. Such skills are valued by a range of organizations including governmental and non-governmental organizations, consulting firms, philanthropic organizations, social enterprises, private sector firms, and educational institutions. The core sequence of GLBL courses also provides a meaningful avenue for pre-health students to meet medical school application requirements of social science coursework that demonstrates competencies within a single discipline and at the advanced level.

Students must complete 15 hours of course work that includes three Global Studies courses (listed below) focused on Global Health:

GLBL 240 Global Health (3)

GLBL 340 Global Health Policy (3)** Offered Spring 2017

GLBL 440 Global Health Intervention and Evaluation (3)

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