On Feb. 26 and 27, Haley (Liz) Williams took part in the 2021 Human Development Conference organized by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The theme of this year’s conference, held entirely online, was innovative responses to global adversity. Williams’ presentation emerged directly from a unique study abroad experience in the West African nation of Senegal.
Originally from a ranch near Hominy, Oklahoma, Williams is today a junior double-majoring in political science and sociology. In addition to her studies, Williams is the president of the Student Alliance for Violence Education, the co-chair for the Student Outreach Committee for University Ambassadors and serves as the diversity and inclusion chair for TU’s Tri Delta chapter. In 2020, she received the William Vernon Holloway Award as the Department of Political Science’s top rising junior.
“Liz exemplifies the qualities of a great student,” said Political Science Chairperson Ryan Saylor. “She’s intellectually curious and eager to challenge herself, which led her first to Senegal and now to this great opportunity at Notre Dame.”
Cuisine and community
During the Human Development Conference, Williams was on a panel entitled Beyond Food as Fuel: Nutrition, Community and Human Dignity. For her presentation, she spoke about Thiéboudienne, which is often referred to as Senegal’s national dish.
Focusing on this rice and fish dish, Williams explored the intersection of cuisine and community in the former French colony. “Regardless of their ethnic background or economic status, Thiéboudienne is at the center of many Senegalese people’s diets,” Williams explained. “Most people eat this dish — and their meals in general — sitting together around the same bowl. In my creative research project, I specifically wanted to uncover the cultural significance of Thiéboudienne to the concepts of community and hospitality – or teranga – in Senegal.”
From America to Africa and back
The inspiration and initial research for her study of Thiéboudienne arose during spring 2020, when Williams was living in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. “I always knew I wanted to study abroad,” Williams remarked. “Initially, I planned to go to France so that I could work on developing my French. But then, Professor Saylor suggested to me that I consider studying somewhere in francophone Africa.”
The more she looked into the possibility, the more Williams was drawn to the idea: “In particular, I saw the great potential such an experience would provide for me to broaden my intellectual pursuits outside Eurocentric cultures and norms.”
So, in January 2020, Williams packed her bags and headed across the Atlantic to participate in the Global Security and Religious Pluralism study abroad program run by the School for International Training.
While in Dakar, Williams lived in the home of a local family. “This homestay was the most influential part of the program,” said Williams. “I was truly immersed in Senegalese culture and ate around the bowl with them daily. Participating in a homestay made isolation impossible! I was also incredibly lucky to have such a kind family and roommate.”
TU’s Center for Global Engagement (CGE) helped Williams find this ideal study abroad opportunity and then, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they worked hard to ensure she made it home safely. “The CGE staff are truly one of the best parts of TU,” said Wiliams.
Outside the Western gaze
Despite the fact that the eruption of COVID-19 meant she had to return to the United States in mid-March, Williams’ time in Senegal had a profound impact on her knowledge development and career ambitions. “My experience entirely changed my perception of academia and, honestly, the world,” Williams remarked. “Political science and sociology are taught so differently by people outside the Western gaze, as I’m sure all disciplines are. It’s similar to how history is told so much differently by those who are oppressed and colonized than by those who do the oppressing and colonizing.”
In Senegal, said Williams, “I was taught about positionality and privilege within a global context and discovered the importance and necessity of decolonial work. My presentation at the Human Development Conference emerged directly from this experience.” But that is just the start of Williams’ ambitious plans: “My longer-term aim is to take this new knowledge and awareness with me to law school and, ultimately, to a career focused on combating systemic forms of oppression here in America.”
Whether you are a TU student or a faculty or staff member, the Center for Global Engagement offers rich opportunities to engage with the global community. Start exploring today!