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women’s studies

Allegra Itsoga with the children of the village of Koar, to whom Le Korsa provides school supplies

Like most college students after graduation, women’s studies graduate student Allegra Itsoga wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for a career. Her inspiration came from one of her economics professors, who was from Ghana and talked positively about being taught by Peace Corps volunteers. With a B.A. in French and development economics from the University of San Francisco, as well as an interest in Francophone countries, Itsoga’s transition to Peace Corps volunteer made sense. The Peace Corps is a service opportunity for driven innovators to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side-by-side with locals to address challenges of today.

In 2003, Itsoga, a native of Watertown, Conn., joined the Corps and was sent to Gabon, located in Central Africa, where she spent 27 months living with a host family. During those months she developed and implemented English as a Second Language curriculum for children, ages 11 to 19, and organized and implemented an AIDS Awareness March with 5,000 students, as well as increasing levels of AIDS education and awareness. “Because of my fluency in French, I was able to immerse myself in the culture really well,” Itsoga says. She loved the experience so much, she decided to stay an additional 14 months.

Living abroad for Itsoga was easy; the harder part was coming back to the States. Her time in the Peace Corps ignited her passion for social justice and made her realize that interacting with communities and individuals was a must for her future employment. “After an experience like the Peace Corps, I knew I couldn’t work for a for-profit company,” she says. She found her next opportunity at the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, where she started as a customer service representative and worked her way up to events management. Itsoga believed in the mission of public broadcasting, which is dedicated to providing diverse communities with a mix of entertainment programs and services.

After CPBN, Itsoga worked at Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which is focused on funding Type I diabetes research. Itsoga’s focus at JDRF was event fundraising with families who had a member with Type I diabetes and were passionate about funding research. Both at CPBN and JDRF, Itsoga enjoyed the development more than the fundraising, but was skilled at both. “It’s all people skills, “ she says. “It’s all identifying the right people and working with them to make them feel passionate about the cause that you’re working for.”

Currently, Itsoga is director of Le Korsa, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving human lives in Senegal, Africa. Korsa translated from Pulaar, a Fula language spoken mainly by the Fula and Toucouleur peoples in the Senegal River valley area, to English means, “love from respect,” and it shows in the work Le Korsa does. Le Korsa is unique because it works directly with the population to determine what the people want, and then designs projects around those wants.

“Most NGOs do a cookie-cutter project and keep repeating it over and over in other areas,” Itsoga says. These fly-by-night organizations might build a hospital and be gone the next day, leaving the population with no knowledge or funding to run such an operation. “Community-centered development is the only development that is sustainable,” she says.

One such project Itsoga led was the Women’s Health Initiative, which resulted in the Keur
Djiguene Yi Women’s Health Center in Dakar, the first free, government-sanctioned women’s health care facility in Senegal. Itsoga thinks of herself as a facilitator; the real heroes, as far as she’s concerned, are the people she’s working with: The doctors that choose to stay in Senegal and work for practically nothing, the teachers that go into these tiny villages and live without power to help children, the farmers who are growing food and then giving it to the community, and the women who are getting together to do outreach.

Itsoga with Dr. Juliette Faye, the director of the Keur Djiguene Yi Women’s Health Center in Dakar

With the creation of the women’s center, Itsoga realized she needed to further her education to learn more about why, precisely, projects like the women’s center are so vital. “I knew I wanted to get my master’s, I just wasn’t sure in what,” she explains. Knowing that Itsoga wanted to pursue women’s studies, a friend of hers recommended Southern’s master’s program, where one of the most highly regarded professors in the field, Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, teaches.

Itsoga joined Southern’s women’s studies graduate program in fall 2017. While it’s challenging balancing work with her master’s program, Itsoga says, “the unique thing about the women’s studies department is that they get what it’s like for working women.” Her work at Le Korsa and the curriculum of her master’s program don’t always intersect, although her most recent thesis, on how the patriarchal funding structure of NGO’s disenfranchises small, women-led organizations, is inspired by her nonprofit work.

Her advice to students considering nonprofit work? Do an internship. “You will get so much more as an intern at a nonprofit than doing an internship at a for-profit because nonprofits need interns to breathe,” she says. “We cannot survive without interns/volunteers. So much more responsibility, more interesting projects.” Itsoga also wants to fight negative stereotypes about nonprofits, explaining, “The stigma about no money in nonprofits isn’t true. You won’t be a millionaire, but you can live comfortably. “Plus,” she adds, “you go to bed feeling like you’ve made a difference. Can’t put a price tag on that.”

Allegra Itsoga

Women's Studies Conference 2016

The M.A. in women’s studies degree program turns 20 this year, and in celebration of this milestone, the Women’s Studies Program will hold an alumnae/i summit, “Transforming the World With a Feminist Degree and Vision,” on April 21. Co-sponsored by Women’s Studies and the SCSU School of Graduate Studies, Research, and Innovation, the summit will draw graduates of the program back to campus to discuss their experiences in the program and beyond.

The summit program is as follows:

2-3:15 p.m. – Kick-off Welcoming Roundtable: “Looking Back, Moving Forward”

3:30-4:45 p.m. – “Transforming the Community with a Feminist Cornucopia”

5-6:15 p.m. – “Transforming the World with a Feminist Cornucopia”

6:30-8 p.m. – Dinner/Music/Spoken Word
20th anniversary Women's Studies Program

With the first course in women’s studies offered at Southern in 1971, it was among the first universities in the United States to offer courses in this discipline. The master’s degree program, conceived more than 20 years ago by a small group of colleagues — Director of Women’s Programs Rosalyn Amenta, History Professor Virginia Metaxas, and English Professor Vara Neverow, who continue to teach women’s studies today — was the first free-standing M.A. program in women’s studies offered by any university in the Northeast. Two decades later, it remains the only M.A. program in women’s studies offered by a public university in New England. Ms. Magazine, in its April 2012 issue, reviewed all of the women’s studies M.A. programs in the country and recognized the SCSU women’s studies master’s degree program as a “vibrant” regional program.

Amenta recalls that at the time the program was first being developed, “there were no interdisciplinary degree programs that offered a rigorous, thorough and focused history of women’s experiences, accomplishments, intellectual and creative works, and women’s ongoing challenge, from ancient times to the present, to the repressive patriarchal restrictions on their lives, activities and independent personhood.” She adds that there were no advanced courses at that time that offered a sustained interdisciplinary critique of the economic, social, and cultural oppressions not only of women and girls but also persons of racial, ethnic, age, size,  gender, sexual and ability diversities, locally and globally. Amenta says, “The Master of Arts in Women’s Studies was conceived in response to these academic deficiencies by an active community of SCSU faculty, administrators, staff and students who shared a common vision for a unique feminist graduate education. The program’s goal is to empower students to understand and critique the power structures that give voice, privilege and advantage to a few at the expense and detrimental exploitation of all others, and to empower students to apply what they are learning  in challenge to the existing status quos.”

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“For this momentous occasion” of the program’s 20th anniversary, says Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, professor and chair of women’s studies, “we plan to celebrate our alums and the extraordinary work and service they do in the community and in the world. We will do it with tremendous feminist energy, interspersed with art, music, and powerful narratives.”

This summit is a reunion, an honoring, and a networking opportunity, says Lin. In this gathering, by sharing the women’s studies graduates’ talents and passions, event organizers aim to showcase the activist, advocacy, policy, and scholarly work that alumnae/i have taken on in different corners of the world and the nation for the past 20 years.

To register for the summit, click here. Lin explains that the registration fee is to offset the cost of the dinner program. She adds, “We look forward to welcoming you each back home on April 21 and hearing all about the glorious work you are doing, engaging the world and making a difference!”  For more information, call (203) 392-6133 or email WomenStudies@Southernct.edu.

Women's Studies Program, 20th anniversary