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Meet Carolette Norwood

She is gracious, contemplative, serious and outgoing – all in the course of a short, introductory e-mail and a quick phone conversation.

Date: 10/16/2006
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
She is gracious, contemplative, serious and outgoing – all in the course of a short, introductory e-mail and a quick phone conversation.

Meet Assistant Professor Carolette Norwood of the African and African American Studies department – a Southerner and sociologist with great pride in her roots and great heart for people.

Norwood grew up in Baton Rouge and chose to go to Louisiana State University. That was, she said, “a very political choice.”

“You see, LSU, up until the mid-1970s, was a legally segregated, state-funded university. Until then, only about 35-40 years ago, African Americans who wanted to go to a four-year college in Louisiana had to go to a segregated, historically black college,” she said.

“For instance, both my mother and father earned their degrees from Southern University, as well as my older sister, even though she had a full academic scholarship offer from LSU in 1984. I guess I was a rebel of sorts, by choosing to go LSU.”

Norwood knew in college, she said, that she wanted to be a professor.

“Originally, I was planning to be a French teacher, so I began college with a major in French,” she said. “Being from Louisiana and having familial background in French, I had always a keen interest in learning the formal structures of the language. However, one semester I needed two extra courses, so I enrolled simultaneously in an introduction to sociology and a social problems course. I fell in love immediately.

Carolette Norwood

Assistant Professor Carolette Norwood joined the African and African American Studies department this fall. She bought the 3-D, mask-embedded painting behind her in Cameroon.

“I ended up earning two bachelor's degrees, in French and Sociology. At the time, I thought it would be so cool to be a professor – work a couple of days a week and dress how you please. What I didn’t fully realize as an undergraduate was the research and publishing demands of an academic career. I found that out in graduate school.”

After earning a PhD in Sociology with concentrations in Demography and Comparative International Development, she did her graduate work at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Université de Montrèal, as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in African Demography.

“My research focus is both international and domestic. Internationally, my research centers on women and development issues in Africa. I specifically research the effects of Microcredit participation on women’s empowerment, reproductive health/rights and recently, its links to HIV prevention strategies,” Norwood said.

“I have done this research in west and central Africa in both Anglophone and Francophone countries. Domestically, my research examines the influence of spatial factors on interracial fertility in the United States,” she said.

When the time came to make a career decision, Norwood was lured to UC, in no small part, through her respect for Patricia Hill Collins. The former African and African American Studies department head, Collins was named Charles Phelps Taft Professor of Sociology in 1996 and was the first woman in UC history to earn a Taft professorship.

“I was so disappointed to learn of her retirement. I was so looking forward to working with her and learning from her," Norwood said. “In addition to Dr. Collins, this department has plenty of accomplished faculty in the areas of history and literature. For me, as sociologist with interest in Africa as well in the U.S., this seems to be a perfect fit and a good place to nurture my scholarship ambitions.”

She wasn’t, however, familiar with Cincinnati's pluses and problems until moving to the area.

“Let me just say that my first impression of Cincinnati was really terrific, especially in regards to the physical nature of the city. There are lots of green trees and rolling hills,” she said.

“My second impression, however, after watching the local news, was not so good; in fact, it was bit concerning and a lot overwhelming. As a social scientist my biggest concern about Cincinnati is the extreme and intense concentrations of poverty. According to U.S. Census estimates, the national average of individuals living below the poverty line was 13% in 2005 compared to 12.4% in 2000.

“In the same years, Cincinnati had about 25% living below poverty in 2005, up from 21.9% in 2000. Compared to other U.S. cities, Cincinnati ranks eighth on the nation’s list of the poorest big cities (Cincinnati Enquirer, Boyer and McNair, 8/30/2006).”

On a more positive note, Norwood said, “my overall impression of Cincinnati is good. I especially like all the entertainment options that the city offers. Every Friday, I look forward to getting the Cincinnati Enquirer to see what great things are going on in the city.”

She and her husband, Shogo, also enjoy cycling on interesting bike trails and traveling, from country roads to her favorite places to visit, Montreal, New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle, DC and Atlanta. Music, too, is a love.

“While I can appreciate just about every kind of musical expression, as a native of south Louisiana my favorite kinds of music are jazz (namely the classical or mainstream) and as I get older, smooth jazz and the blues,” she said. “On that note, why isn’t there a smooth jazz radio station in all of Cincinnati? And how can we get one?”

On the job, Norwood looks forward to her role as educator, scholar and researcher.

“As an educator, I am strict but I am also flexible. I have very high expectations, which is good for students, but it often means a lot work for me – but that’s my job,” she said.

“My strength, in this regard would be – I guess – balancing being nice and yet, being firm. I like to challenge students and encourage them at the same time. As a scholar (and educator), I think my greatest strength is being humble enough to say ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t always have the answers, but I know ways to find them out. As researcher, my greatest strength is perhaps persistence. I just keep going, going and going.”

She hopes to be part of a department-wide effort to forge a stronger bond with the local African American community.

"I think it is important and necessary. It is hard to ignore the obvious poverty that encircles the University of Cincinnati," she said. “The roadblocks are only what we make them to be. I think we all have a responsibility to do what we can.”

For Norwood, that will include local volunteer work – she's already working with International Family Resource Center in downtown Cincinnati.

“The center provides services to recent immigrants and refugees from Africa, Asia, Latin and South America, and Europe,” she said.

Her own support system ran deep and remains abiding – her mother and godmother were both “terrific role models for me as woman,” Norwood said.

“By their action, they taught me that there was nothing a woman couldn’t do. I deeply appreciate them both for that; perhaps this is why my research focuses so heavily on women status and empowerment. Another, huge inspiration for me in these last 15 years has been Dr. Cindy Courville; she is the youngest sister of my stepmother.

“When I was in the very early stages of my undergraduate career, Cindy was then a professor in international politics. She, too, focused on Africa and women in politics. Cindy, currently Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, African Affairs, this fall was nominated and confirmed the first Ambassador to the African Union.

"We are very proud of her accomplishments. My stepmother and father were likewise a great inspiration. They were always very encouraging and supportive.”

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