December 12, 2017

Q&A with St. Kate’s new Endowed Chair in Women’s Education

Professor Hui Wilcox, mission chair for women's education, is a founding member of Ananya Dance Theatre. Photo by Paul Virtucio.

Hui Wilcox has been an associate professor of sociology at St. Kate’s since 2004. In August 2017, Provost Alan Silva named her the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Endowed Chair in Women’s Education, taking over the mission-focused position from Professor Allison Adrian. Wilcox is also a member of Ananya Dance Theatre, a contemporary Indian American dance company comprised primarily of women artists of color. We sought her out to inquire about her new title, and learned just how much the position entails.

The following is an edited transcript.


Q: First, how did you end up teaching at St. Kate’s?

A: I was born and raised in China, and I came to Minnesota in 1996 to get my Ph.D. in sociology. After I got my degree, I found a job at St. Kate’s. It was mutual attraction, I believe. St. Kate’s was looking for someone who could teach about race/ethnicity and also gender, and those happened to be my research and teaching expertise. I was also very excited about teaching at a small liberal arts college.

Q: What do you do as the Endowed Chair in Women's Education?

Professor Hui Wilcox

A: There are many pieces to it. The Center for Mission is a place of collaboration. I, along with Kate Barrett (Endowed Chair in Catholic Identity) and Amy Hamlin (Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts), work with faculty and staff across the University, facilitating conversations and discussing what our mission means for the community and how we can best move forward.

My main charge is to promote women’s education and to help my colleagues, the different departments and the different programs think about how to infuse it into their daily work. This includes organizing programs and events that are women’s centered.

Q: What’s an event you’re working on right now?

A: On International Women’s Day, Thursday, March 8, I’m organizing a campus visit for Dr. Teguest Guerma. She will be coming from Ethiopia and speaking on women’s leadership in global health. She will also meet with our faculty and students throughout the week that she’s here.

Q: You’re a founding member of Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT). How was the group created?

A: Ananya [Chatterjea] was on my Ph.D. committee. My dissertation project was on dance ethnography, and she is a dance study scholar. When I was almost done with my dissertation, she was calling for women of color who wanted to dance, and I responded to the call. I’ve danced with ADT as long as I’ve worked at St. Kate’s — going on 14 years now.

Q: How does ADT engage in activism through dance?

A: I think a big part of activism is community building — to get people together and share stories and our vision about the world. The first project, for example, was basically an activist project and political move in itself. The title was Bandh, a Bengali word meaning “strike.” We wanted to explore the power of women working together… So our question was, “What would happen if all women go on strike for one day?”

All the dancers, including me, didn’t want to leave after this first project, so we continued and became a nonprofit organization. After a three-year project on environmental justice, we did a four-year project related to systemic violence… and then a five-year project on women and work. The topics are always closely related to topics we’re facing today and woman-centered social justice issues.

Q: And you’ve brought ADT to St. Kate’s?

A: I applied for a University grant in the fall of 2008, and we were able to perform at St. Kate's Core Convocation that year. We did workshops with students, faculty and staff members about some of the environmental justice issues we were exploring through our dance and about pedagogy, and how we can produce knowledge through movement. We’ve performed at The O’Shaughnessy every September for the past few years now.

Q: How does your involvement at ADT connect to your work at St. Kate's?

A: As a professor, I need to engage in research. The first few pieces I published were either about ADT or related to dance and performance. I try to be the bridge between these two organizations and ensure that both communities benefit from each other.

Diversity is important, and part of our activism is partnering with different indigenous community organizations and activists. We host workshops and invite people from these groups for conversations to broaden our community, and not just the dancers within ADT. At the workshops, we invite everyone to share their experiences and stories, and we share ours. It’s a lot of dialogue, which is how social movement happens these days — getting people together and engaging with each other.

Q: So it’s more so that ADT and St. Kate’s are intersecting entities?

A: Yes. What’s the purpose of teaching research if not to educate students to understand the world and its people? If we don’t learn about our bodies, whether it’s through dance or through mindfulness, I don’t think our problems will be solved.

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by Amy Mullowney '19