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BanerjeaNiharika Banerjea

Assistant Professor of Sociology

My personal and professional traffics are embedded in multiple historical and cultural contexts, and my soul and body loves to circulate in differential modes of being and becoming. I was born in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), India, a culturally vibrant city with an incredible political history. Kolkata is my ontological home; it is also a place that continues to generate passions and solidarities, both of which inform my professional and personal life. Kolkata inspired me to move beyond my familiar surroundings, to seek difference, to travel and not get tied to homogeneity, sameness, and local relevance. So, after completing my Bachelors in Sociology from Presidency College I moved to Delhi School of Economics, New Delhi where I completed my Masters and MPhil in Sociology. New Delhi, the capital of India, encouraged me to engage with dense ethnic complexes and helped acquire valuable life skills in navigating everyday life in a globalizing world. Following that, I worked for two years as a research associate, and then moved to The University at Buffalo, State University of New York for a PhD in Sociology. Buffalo, a city with an industrial past, solidified my interest in urban issues, and indulged my ears and eyes to music and films from various parts of the world. In each of these places, I have been fortunate to be mentored by professors who have taught me the value of non-normative critical thinking and writing.  

In 2007, I moved to Evansville to begin work as an Assistant Professor in Sociology at USI. My teaching career, which had begun earlier in graduate school, formalized at USI where I teach a range of introductory and upper-level classes. When I, a middle-class woman of Indian origin enter a class, I am conscious of imparting an education that reflects and celebrates diversity in race, class, gender, language, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

My research is interdisciplinary and has its theoretical and methodological bases in urban sociology and geography, gender and sexuality studies, globalization, development and gender studies, and critical collaborative ethnography. I write about gendered institutions, collective imaginaries, notions of community, and socio-political activism in the context of ‘globalizing’ India. I have published articles in interdisciplinary journals, such as Cultural Dynamics, Contemporary South Asia, and Global Studies Journal. At present I am working on a book-length manuscript tentatively titled, Queerspace Kolkata: community and queer collaborative ethnography in an ‘ordinary city’. This book, which focuses on the spatialities of queer politics and activism, is a collaborative ethnographic work with Sappho for Equality, a non-profit collective working with lesbian, bisexual, and transmen in eastern India.

Right after graduate school when I arrived at USI in 2007 I was pleasantly surprised to find an exceptionally collegial and supportive environment. I have also had the chance to teach and engage with some of the best young minds the region has to offer. Both these factors have made it possible for me to continue to participate in non-normative thought and writing and celebrate the diversity of thought and action with my students. 

 


LaRoweNick LaRowe

Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Administration

Political scientists have found that those who are interested in politics often come from politically interested parents. This certainly applied in my case: growing up, my parents read the paper daily, subscribed to several current events periodicals, and politicians and their doings were a common topic of conversation.

Though I now focus primarily on the American legal system—public perceptions of courts, judicial elections my first intellectual love was political theory. At the University of Minnesota, I was introduced to Augustine, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau and the like by top notch professors.  I was instantly hooked; the readings were difficult but the effort was more than repaid as I grappled with the best Western Civilization had to offer on human nature, the composition of the human soul, justice, and the origins and justification for government. Off I went to graduate school at Arizona State.

There, however, I realized that my interest in political theory needed a practical supplement. Being interested in pretty much anything political, I took advantage of an offer of a summer research fellowship and began to learn about the judiciary and the legal system. I was particularly intrigued by an argument made by a leading court scholar, James Gibson, that the more people learn about courts, the less realistic their opinion of them is. That is, as people interact with or learn about courts, they begin to believe that judges base their rulings purely on legal principles, and not their own political predispositions. How could this be? I set out to find the hole in his research—to prove him wrong. After banging my head into the proverbial wall, I accepted that there was something to his counterintuitive theory. I had also finished graduate school and in July 2010 was headed back to the Midwest.

As a teaching school, USI offered me the best of both worlds. While my research focuses on public opinion and the courts, my teaching duties keep my theory chops sharp. I teach a course in my specialty—the courts—( POLS 208: Law, Courts, and Justice), but I am also able to keep up with political theory. Each semester I teach a course on American political thought (POLS 309), and this fall, for the first time I get to revisit the origins of western political theory in my course on ancient political theory (POLS 445). In the Spring 2013 semester we’ll pick up where we left off in December, moving from Greece to Europe and examining familiar ideas such as that the state and its citizens are in a contractual relationship, and that all of us possess certain inalienable rights as human beings (Modern Political Theory POLS 446).

When I’m not teaching, I keep probing public perceptions of judges and courts. Valerie Hoekstra and I recently found that how people feel about the legal system in general influences what factors they use to assess judges. Those who hold idealistic views of the legal system assess judges on their legal credentials while those who see courts as essentially political evaluate judges on their policy views—like they would any other politician. My current work, which I share with Dr. Melinda York, looks at judicial elections. In recent years, these elections have become increasingly like “normal” political campaigns—that means judges and would-be judges taking campaign donations, making campaign promises, and slinging mud at their opponents. What will this mean for public perceptions of the judicial branch? What will it mean for the quality of our state and local legal systems? After a recent Supreme Court decision loosened the rules governing campaign donations, many think these unwelcome trends will accelerate. Yet, as I learned in graduate school, the answers are not always intuitive or predictable. Stay tuned for what we discover…

When I’m not teaching, or conducting research (and not sleeping), I’m hard at work building USI’s pre-law program. Currently, I’m the faculty advisor for the campus pre-law club and the person to see if you’d like to do an internship for political science credit. This is a club for students interested in law school who would like to meet others with similar interests. The club usually visits a law school each semester, and also helps out with USI’s annual Law Day, hosted by USI each spring. Each spring Law Day, gives students, faculty, and the local community an opportunity to learn about USI’s pre law program, interact with a panel of local judges and lawyers, and to witness oral arguments from an actual case in the Indiana Court of Appeals, held on USI’s campus. Soon I hope to found a USI moot court competition team, which would be the only such undergraduate club among Indiana universities. 

If you’re interested in law school or an internship, I’d be pleased to see you. And if you just want to talk Packers, Twins, or Big Ten sports, my door is open for that as well.