Professor Risley’s project calls for a holistic understanding of the way in which grassroots organizations and global consequences are intertwined. Her work uses community engagement and innovative pedagogy as framing mechanisms to educate students on real world issues that are affecting countries all across the globe.
As a Faculty Innovation Fellow, Professor Risley developed a community-engaged International Studies course on social movements. The class was offered for the first time in Spring 2016. Students were able to participate directly in various types of service, advocacy, and activism while volunteering at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Refugee Empowerment Program, Su Casa Family Ministries, and Hospitality Hub. This community engagement deepened their understanding of pressing issues such as homelessness, poverty, environmental justice, and gender violence. Because these problems affect communities both at home and overseas, students were asked to connect the local and the global.
Students applied social movement theory to real-world organizing in countries as varied as Bangladesh, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the United States, and Zimbabwe. They grappled with the challenges that activists face while seeking to influence policy and redefine politics. Emphasis was placed on urban-based movements seeking to represent communities who have been politically marginalized on the basis of class, race, ethnicity, gender and/or sexuality. The course was therefore designated as an Urban Studies elective. Engagement with community partners supported each of these learning objectives. Additionally, students gained intercultural knowledge and competence through their work with diverse communities.
A course like this one had not previously been offered at Rhodes. In fact, faculty at other institutions have rarely taught similar classes. Mellon Foundation-supported research revealed that surprisingly few international politics courses have required service learning and other forms of community-based learning. Further pedagogical innovation is greatly needed. Our globalized world demands it!
Associate Professor of International Studies
The central themes of Dr. Risley's research are activism and democratization, with a focus on advocacy efforts of civil society groups and the implications of their political influence for democratic consolidation and quality in Latin American countries.