Kang to expand UNL's African studies program


Alice Kang, Ph.D., began teaching this month at UNL.

Photo and story by Becky Gailey, NewsNetNebraska

Alice Kang has worked with women’s rights groups in the Republic of Niger and delivered medicines via dirt bike across Burkina Faso. Now, Kang has come to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to help develop new African studies courses.

The recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s doctoral program holds a joint appointment as professor in the political science department and the Institute for Ethnic Studies.

Last year, the Institute for Ethnic Studies advertised for an Africanist scholar, and Kang was the search committee’s number one pick, said Amelia Montes, director of the institute.

“The work she is doing in women and gender studies interested us . . . and her teaching is excellent,” Montes said. “She is able to work with undergraduates and really give them a good foundation on Africa, which is very important.

Kang, the child of Korean immigrants, first became interested in politics while attending high school in California during the anti-immigration movement in 1994.

“It made me aware of politics and inequality,” Kang said. “I just thought it was fascinating because America grew from repeated waves of legal and illegal immigration, and its founders invaded and destroyed a preexisting population. I just thought it was interesting that so many people would be against immigration, especially people who were immigrants themselves.”

The issue sparked Kang’s interest in political development issues, especially in Africa. After graduating from Brown University in 2000 with degrees in economics and international studies, Kang joined the Peace Corps and worked in Burkina Faso as a community health volunteer.

“They didn’t let me give people shots or anything . . . but I was skilled enough to weigh babies, so I would hook a scale over tree branches and weigh babies. That was my favorite part,” Kang said.

When she returned from the Peace Corps, Kang knew she wanted to continue studying and working in Africa, so she studied for her master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which his known for its African studies program.

“I focused on women’s rights and religious associations because I was told to pick something I wouldn’t get tired of after 10 years of intensive study, and I figured I could study those forever and not be bored,” Kang said.

Kang returned to Africa several times between 2006 and 2008, this time to the Republic of Niger on a Fulbright grant. Kang performed field studies in which she analyzed why certain women’s rights movements failed and why others succeeded. She is now working on a book based on her research and hopes to involve other people at UNL in her research.

Kang said while she was a senior she did research for her adviser, which gave her many opportunities and helped shape her as a person and scholar. She now looks forward to joining the community of professors who already perform excellent research at UNL and offering undergraduates the same research opportunities her professors gave her.

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