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Department: Women’s and Gender Studies and Political Science
Title: Director, Women’s and Gender Studies Program; Assistant Professor of Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies
Best Office Artifact: Reed and bark map of Africa
Ellen Hauser has worked all over the world. For the last 20 years she has been at Carthage, bringing her real-life experiences to her students as an assistant professor of political science and women’s and gender studies.
Professor Hauser is also the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program and has taught courses on global poverty, women and politics, Africa, and gender theory, Professor Hauser teaches about the world around us.
Her teaching is influenced by her international and government experience. She spent 18 months teaching at Nanjing University in Nanjing, China; conducted research with high-level government officials in Uganda; and assisted the U.S. in monitoring the 1996 Ugandan elections. In addition, she spent one year working for the Center for Democracy and Governance at the United States Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C. Her work has advised U.S. presidents and helped shape government programs in Rwanda, Africa, and China.
We talked with Prof. Hauser about the influence of her international experiences on her work, and the growth of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Carthage.
How did you get into political science and women’s and gender studies?
I started political science for my master’s degree. My undergraduate degree was actually in piano performance. While I was living in Madison and working, I took some classes and I decided I liked political science. My Ph.D. is not in political science; it is in international development, an interdisciplinary program.
How does your international experience and working with the government influence your teaching?
It helps me give real-life examples to my students. When we’re talking about an issue, I can talk about my experience making policy and what I saw in Washington, D.C., in terms of how the government makes some decisions. A lot of the classes I teach are on Africa, or at least Africa is relevant to what we’re talking about. My overseas experience helps me better understand the culture so that I can share examples with my students. It also fills out the book learning on Africa and gives me a depth of understanding on the culture since I’ve lived there.
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“My overseas experience helps me better understand the culture so that I can share examples with my students.”
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How have you tried to push political awareness onto students in your classes?
I don’t try to push anything on the students. I help them become aware of issues, and it is up to them what they do with the information. In the classroom, I work very hard to make a safe learning environment because a lot of the issues we’re talking about are not easy issues. They deal with race, gender, and the not-so-pleasant things the U.S. and Western European countries have done to African countries. They’re not always easy things for students to discuss and talk about. I work to make a classroom that feels safe to talk about these topics.
How have you seen the Political Science Department and Women’s and Gender Studies Program evolve over your time at Carthage?
I haven’t been in political science the whole time. I was actually in sociology for quite a while. I have only been in political science for about five years, so I haven’t really seen the department change that much. I’ve seen the Women’s and Gender Studies program grow a lot, especially in the past couple of years. The number of classes we offer is really wonderful. I’m proud not only of the number of classes we’re offering but the diversity of topics. We’re not just teaching about white women; we’re teaching about women from different cultures, ethnic groups, and races. The number of Women’s and Gender Studies minors has also grown. Overall the Women’s and Gender Studies program has grown a lot recently.
What are some unexpected paths throughout your career?
My entire career has been unexpected. I actually never intended to teach at a college. I intended to be working overseas, in D.C, or in New York on international issues, but a family situation brought me here and made those options not possible. I didn’t expect to enjoy working with students as much as I do, so that has been a pleasant surprise. Most of my career has been unplanned and just kind of happened. That might be a positive message for undergraduate students at Carthage — that your life doesn’t have to take a direct path. Sometimes it meanders and it still works out.
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“Your life doesn’t have to take a direct path. Sometimes it meanders and it still works out.”
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How do you push students to go beyond their comfort zones?
Again, I don’t like to push students. The classes I teach challenge students’ world views and that itself is kind of a push. I don’t intentionally push them, but it is the nature of the topics that challenges students’ viewpoints. I find that making students feel comfortable in the classroom is a better way for them to open up and engage with the material, especially if it is challenging. It allows them to not have a backlash since I am not pushing them to do something they’re not comfortable doing. If there is a push, it is because of the material. I don’t confront students or push them to believe something.
What has been your favorite class to teach?
I don’t have a favorite class. I like all of my classes for different reasons. I feel it’s important to bring this knowledge to young people. Probably the most unusual class I teach is the Pursuit of Happiness in J-Term. I try to help students look at different theories of happiness and how to be happy in their lives. We do some unconventional, innovative things in the class.
What are some hobbies or talents that students may not think you have?
I’m part of a group of women in Racine who meet once a month and make jewelry. I try to be physically active, so I swim, walk, and do yoga.
What advice do you have for students going into political science and women’s and gender studies?
Go in with an open mind and don’t be afraid to have your viewpoints challenged. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas on for size. You may like them or may not like them, but try them on and see how they fit. If you try an idea and it doesn’t resonate with you, try something else, but keep an open mind.
— Interview by William Dowell ’22; Photography by Jenna Link ’22