News | 3 June 2022

Sociology Doctoral Candidate Wins National Fellowship for Research on Travel Programs That Teach Youth About the African Diaspora



Theresa Hice-Fromille was a THI Public Humanities Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for the Questions That Matter course on THI’s annual theme of Imagination. She will also be a 2022 THI Summer Public Fellow.

Theresa Hice-Fromille

Theresa Hice-Fromille, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC Santa Cruz, was recently one of five top scholars selected nationwide for the American Sociological Association’s 2022-2023 Minority Fellowship program. The funding will support her dissertation research on travel abroad programs led by Black women that focus on teaching youth about the African diaspora.

Hice-Fromille has won multiple awards recognizing the importance of this research, including the American Association of University Women’s Dissertation Fellowship, and the UC President’s Dissertation Year Fellowship. She has also received support from The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She said she’s looking forward to the dedicated focus time for her research that fellowships will allow. At the moment, she’s preparing for the final phase of her field work, a trip to Costa Rica with a group of Black youth and mentors from Baltimore.

Hice-Fromille conducts community-engaged research, which means her work is designed in partnership with and in service to community organizations. She first became interested in studying travel abroad when she volunteered as a mentor with an organization in Oakland that was planning trips for local Black youth. After traveling to South Africa with the group, she was so inspired by the unique mentorship and learning she saw taking place between Black women and girls that this became the focus of her research.

She later connected with a similar organization in Baltimore and has since been working with youth and leaders of both programs to understand how meaningful travel abroad experiences are cultivated and what impacts they can have for Black youth and their communities. Hice-Fromille approaches these questions through a queer Black feminist framework that recognizes the long history of Black women’s leadership in community-building across the African diaspora. She’s also documenting how curriculum design differs from school settings by being grounded in the collaborative networks and cultural traditions of Black communities.

In particular, she says the planning process for travel programs usually starts with the leaders’ own knowledge and the particular interests of the youth participants. From there, program leaders tap their friends, family, and community elders—in the U.S. and abroad—to connect with the youth and share knowledge and skills.

“A big part of this process of building the curriculum is ‘youth work,’ which is a legacy in Black communities of sharing parenting responsibilities and sharing care for youth,” Hice-Fromille said. “Travel abroad programs show how this is a diasporic practice, because the women leading them are drawing on international networks to ‘mother’ and support these Black youth.”

Through international travel, youth see connections among Black people in their own cities and throughout the African diaspora and begin to develop a sense of global Black community, Hice-Fromille says. But the differences in lifestyles and ways of being in relationship across Black communities also teach youth to imagine new futures for themselves.

“Often, youth start out thinking that a better future means leaving the city they’re from, and the leaders on these trips work hard to show them that the problems they’re encountering in their communities are actually systemic, global issues, but there are other ways people encounter and resist them in other communities,” Hice-Fromille explained. “This expands their imagination of what it means to be Black as political and spanning the globe.”

Youth participants often return from their travels with ideas of changes they’d like to make in their lives, based on their experiences abroad, like eating more fruits and vegetables, for example. But they return to the same material conditions in their communities, including major barriers, like inequitable access to fresh, affordable healthy foods. Group leaders help youth find ways to struggle against these realities and make change by getting involved in local politics and other community service organizations. And lessons from travel can help.

“What they’re learning about survival and resistance and struggle in solidarity is the real impact when they return,” Hice-Fromille said. “And that’s important to me because it has so much to do with what diaspora is as a political project.”

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