Africa In Our Lives: Kimberly Rooney

Kimberly Rooney is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of French and Italian, and her research focuses on representations of the School in sub-Saharan African novels written in French and the de/coloniality of this specific educational institution.

Most recently, Kimberly was appointed as the Interim Africana and Francophone Librarian for the African Studies Program. Kimberly is looking forward to using her experience in instruction, public humanities, and project coordination to serve as interim liaison librarian and prepare a smooth transition for the future full-time librarian.


What is your background?

During high school, I had an excellent French teacher who introduced me to the language and inspired me to learn more about French language use around the world. This led me to study abroad in Dakar, Senegal during my undergraduate studies, which was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I made amazing friends and kin-like ties, learned more about Senegal’s history and culture, and took classes from instructors in Dakar. This experience greatly informed my senior thesis project in undergrad, which left me with even more questions and ideas I wanted to explore. Once I got to the Department of French and Italian at UW-Madison, I knew that my research would focus on literature from sub-Saharan Africa written in French.

For the past 5 years, I have had the privilege of working closely with Emilie Songolo (former African Studies and Francophone Studies Librarian and Head of International and Area Studies for UW-Madison Libraries) on lots of different projects on campus and in the community. The time working with Emilie was one of my most formative experiences in graduate school aside from my research.

Tell us about your research

My research examines depictions of school and learning in novels from and associated with Sub-Saharan African contexts (Cameroon, Guinea, Rwanda, and Senegal). Along with these literary representations of the school, I study the political, economic, social, and cultural frameworks within which schooling has evolved. I explore affinities and distinctions in these portrayals of school in dialogue with postcolonial theory, critical pedagogies, and decolonial mindsets to better understand the formation of schooled subjects within their societies and the epistemological implications of this type of education.

This coincides with the work of a librarian as the library is a Western epistemological institution.  This raises questions on ways the coloniality of the library persists, in what ways can we decolonize libraries, and in what ways can we wield libraries for decolonial ends. I see a marriage between the work in the library and my research which is exciting.

What has influenced your research?

As a trained teacher and graduate student, I have dedicated myself to school, but I also want to push back against the school. I took formative education courses during my undergraduate studies that illustrated how oppressive school can be and how education can be used, as a tool, to mold the mind in dangerous ways. This utilization of education contributes to the marginalization and systematic oppression of certain groups of people. This notion motivates me every day which is why I continually question the idea of schooling.

Another factor that has influenced my research is the voices of non-western authors and ensuring that my work is amplifying their work. I took a graduate course at UW-Madison in the Department of African Cultural Studies about decolonial theory and attended a conference hosted by the School of Education about Decolonizing Education and Education Studies. These moments were impactful as I recognized the importance of decolonial work and the light it sheds particularly on the school with its strong epistemic influence.

What are some factors that have enriched your scholarship and practice?

Graduate school research can be isolating and daunting. My friends and community have influenced my scholarship and practice. I cherish the ability to build communities of accountability, communities of interest, communities in care, and much more. It is important to me that I refrain from completing my education in a bubble.

What should the ASP community should know about your role?

I am here to field any questions. I am uniquely positioned to be the interim liaison librarian and hold down the fort while the search for Emilie’s replacement is conducted. I am excited to be here and look forward to making the transition to a permanent librarian as smooth as possible.


Connect with Kimberly!


Produced by Elisha Ikhumhen