Appreciating African Studies Teaching Fellows: Vincent R. Ogoti

The African Studies Teaching Fellows program gives students the opportunity to develop and teach an online course for the International Studies major. As part of the program, fellows receive pedagogical training and support as well as the opportunity to create and revise a teaching statement.

Vincent R. Ogoti is the inaugural African Studies Teaching Fellow and he taught INTL ST 401: Nonviolence and Social Change in Africa in the summer of 2021. He is a Ph.D. candidate in African Cultural Studies with a minor in History. Vincent has worked with the African Cultural Studies Department, History Department, and the African Studies Program to teach various courses. Currently, he is teaching a course at the Oakhill Correctional Facility under the Odyssey Beyond Bars and the African Studies Program Teaching Fellowship.

 Tell us about the course you are teaching as an African Studies Teaching Fellow.

I am teaching INTL ST 401: Nonviolence and Social Change. The course acquaints students with the theory and practice of active nonviolence as a strategy for social change and a way of life. Students analyze various readings, case studies, and experiential activities. They also engage in discussions to develop knowledge and skills for practicing and promoting nonviolent action. The class seeks to sharpen students’ understanding of nonviolence as practical politics—tactics, techniques, and strategies that mobilize and channel popular protest in constructive directions. So far, we have examined the evolution of M.K. Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s political thinking in relation to political experience and practice and how scholars and practitioners transformed the theory and practice of nonviolence as it moved from one context to another. I hope that by the end of the semester, students will be able to critically analyze the politics of nonviolence and develop skills for deploying nonviolent strategies in campaigns for social change.

How has been your experience teaching the course at Oakhill Correctional Facility?

It has been an honor to teach at Oakhill. I have enjoyed interacting with nontraditional students who have different life experiences, particularly the impact of violence on individuals and society. The course model allows us to have safe and insightful conversations on issues of violence, justice, injustice, and social change. I cannot wait to see what we will accomplish by the end of the semester.

How did you learn about the prison education program?

I first taught INTL ST 401 in the summer of 2021 as the inaugural African Studies Program (ASP) Teaching Fellow. I worked with the ASP and the International Studies (IS) major to design the course, which led to a successful summer semester. I was grateful that the African Studies Program partnered with the Odyssey Beyond Bars, which offers college jumpstart programs to students incarcerated in Wisconsin state prisons, to extend my fellowship to the 2021/2022 academic year. I spent last semester volunteering as a tutor for ENG 100 with the Odyssey, and this semester I am teaching my own course. I am also pleased to announce that I will be teaching the class this summer from May 31to July 10 to students at UW-Madison under the title: INTL ST 401 Africa, Nonviolence, and Social Change.

What motivated you to propose and design such a course?

I was inspired by the protests in the USA following the death of George Floyd in 2020. I took classes on Nonviolence and Social Change during my master’s degree studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and I wanted to use my training to develop a course that would allow students to consider nonviolence as a strategy for social change in our society. I also loved the idea of designing an interdisciplinary course that employs theories and techniques emerging from Africa to the rest of the world. Although the practice of nonviolence did not begin with Gandhi, as figures such as Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy had practiced variations of nonviolent campaigns, Gandhi popularized nonviolence as a strategy for social change in South Africa in the early twentieth century.

What were some of the challenges you faced while developing and teaching this course, and how did you overcome them?

Although I have been a teaching assistant for about eight semesters at UW-Madison and Yale University, Covid-19 presented many challenges as I had to design an online-based course from scratch. I participated in monthly pedagogy talks with colleagues at ASP and enrolled in The TeachOnline@UW short course, which was excellent in enabling me to design the course and have a fantastic canvas page. I also registered for The Discussion Project course, which taught me how to develop and lead discussions online. I encourage the incoming ASP Teaching Fellows and any teaching assistant to check out those short courses.

What are your plans for next year?

In addition to writing my dissertation, I am happy to report that I will spend the 2022/2023 academic year working with MYArts (Madison Youth Arts) Center as a Mellon Public Humanities Fellow.

Published by Cecilia Kyalo