Q&A with Fulbright Scholar Saliou Dione

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Rutgers Global - Image of Fulbright Scholar Dr. Saliou Dione (Senegal)
Wednesday, June 8th

Dr. Saliou Dione, an associate professor of African and postcolonial studies in the Department of Anglophone Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, at Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar in Senegal, came to Rutgers as part of a nine-month Fulbright Scholar grant. Dr. Dione holds a doctorate in African and postcolonial studies, a postgraduate diploma in American literature and civilization, and a bachelor’s degree in British literature and civilization.

Dr. Dione’s research interests include society, politics, culture, Pan-Africanism, postcolonialism, African oral and written literatures, comparative literature, gender, sex, sexuality(ies), migration, developmental issues, language, and globalization—among others. He has published articles covering these issues. In addition to being a researcher and a lecturer, Dr. Dione is a bilingual translator who has worked with many international and national organizations. The scholar is scheduled to return to his home university with new research, new perspectives, and new collaborations at Rutgers.

How did you hear about the Fulbright Scholar Program opportunity and why did you decide to pursue it?
The Fulbright program is very well known among the scholars in my country—and of the most known around the world. I have always been interested in gender issues because when I teach postcolonial studies; I am also interested in everything that includes Africa and the issue of gender, sex and sexuality being a very topical issue, I thought to myself, “Why not really write on issue of gender, sex, sexuality, sexual orientations and identity(ies) in postcolonial Africa?” 

What are some of the topical aspects of this research, and how does it relate to West Africa?
The issue of gender is a very topical issue. Gender is defined as a socially determined difference based upon the biological differences between man and woman. It is the amount of masculinity and femininity found in the individual. Take Senegal. For me, there is a misunderstanding of what gender means. In my country, whenever you focus on gender and men and women, the perception of most of them is that it’s a way of trying to pit women against men—and in most African sites that’s how they understand it. That’s when I told myself we should really review the concepts of gender so that people can learn about the term and bring about the changes that are needed—meaning the way men look at women and [vice versa]. So I told myself that maybe research (on a Fulbright scholarship grant) will enable me to look at gender from an African perspective and postcolonial perspective, and relate it to the different historical experiences that Africa has gone through —and not only be concerned with women being the centrality, but men and women together as the subject, with gender solidarity, equity and complementarity as the main foci, rather than gender equality alone (which I find to be a conflicting term).

This should help to determine what was—or what was being assumed as—the “norm?" Man or woman? What kind of man or woman? Whose man or woman is it? Were or are equal space and opportunities given to each sex or was or is one tagged on, and…If so, which one was or is the “add” on, the one added to and how to bring the needed developmental gender changes.

Another topical aspect of my research is sex, sexuality, sexual orientations, and sexual identity(ies). This is an opportunity to relate gender and these different elements to how postcolonialism rereads, reanalyzes, reinterprets sex, sexuality, sexual orientations and sexual identity(ies) with respect to indigenous Africa, the colonial politics of sex, capitalism, globalization, and cultural global perspectives and human rights. This will be an opportunity to revisit the colonial politics of sex and sexuality that turned indigenous sex(ual) socialization processes upside down; the ones that permitted to constitute an African sexual self through initiation, practices, rites and rituals, thus depriving Africans of their prevention and protection tool and knowledge of the matter and turning them into prey in the face of the widespread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Therefore, it argues for a postcolonial reading, understanding, reassessment, reinterpretation, and reanalysis of sexuality to see how coloniality has redefined a hegemony of sex and sexuality from the private sphere to the public one. This yields new ideologies, sexual identity claims, cross-cultural influences, standards of sexual morality, and capitalism politics based on eroticism. It also brings about the demystification and detabooization of such subjects.

However, postcolonial should not be read as a time after colonialism, but rather as an engagement with colonialism’s discourses, power structures, and social hierarchies that will lead us to question, understand, and reinvent the modes of cultural perception.  It permits us to decipher and analyze the politics of sex and sexuality knowledge production, It also allows us to manage the creation, control, and distribution of the knowledge hegemony. 

imageThe Fulbright Scholar Program offers many opportunities to many different universities. Why Rutgers?
In terms of African study and women and gender studies, Rutgers is very strong. But, I decided to come to Rutgers because before coming here, I had the opportunity to welcome the students of Rutgers in my country through the [Youth Artists and Activism in Senegal] summer study abroad program organized by Dr. Alidou—and then I received the Rutgers students at my home. I mingled them with my own students… local students as people belonging to the same generation with some shared perspectives and aspirations in knowledge acquisition. My decision to come to Rutgers was what they represent in terms of scholarship, knowledge production, and the outstanding picture that I have of here—especially the people from African studies. What really impressed me especially at the beginning was the huge activities Rutgers has, such as lectures and conferences. Rutgers is also the host of the African Studies Association headquarters. I could not go anywhere else but come to Rutgers.

Have you been to Rutgers before?
No, this is my first time.

How was your experience with the Center for Global Services at the GAIA Centers upon your arrival?
The GAIA Centers was the first center I visited, I was there before I even had been to my office. It was on my second day that I met with vice president for global and international affairs Dr. Rick Garfunkel. He has been very wonderful… I remembered on the first day I came we even had a short meeting between me, Dr. Garfunkel, and Dr. Osseina Alidou… to see how Rutgers and my university could collaborate together. I hope we’ll have the time to sit down and further the discussion.

Editor’s note: The Center for Global Services is the arm of the GAIA Centers that provides immigration processing and advising to thousands of international students and scholars like Dr. Dione.

How are you conducting your research while at Rutgers?
African and postcolonial studies is an area that incorporates several multidisciplinary and disciplinary subjects, and the method that I use is focused on research. Meaning book reading, reading online, using the library online, exchanging with other scholars. I read and attend conferences. I can do field work when I go back to Senegal, because I need to talk to people to have a better understanding of the point of view about the issue of gender sex, sexual orientations, and sexual identity(ies) in postcolonial Africa. Here, also I had the opportunity to discuss with scholars interested in the topic such as anthropology professor and African Studies Association president Dr. Dorothy Hodgson. I also had really different kinds of discussions with African studies professor Dr. Ousseina Alidou, Dr. Alamin Mazui and with many of the scholars and professors from the Rutgers’ Center for African Studies.

Is there anything you’ve read so far that has altered your way of thinking about these subjects?
One thing that I have noticed when reading—especially when I have focused on the issue of sexuality—is that most of the literature focuses on the negative aspects of African sexuality and on the issue of AIDS. There was no relationship whatsoever between what I call the colonial politics of sex and sexuality. The agenda of colonization was not only about milking African countries or taking their natural resources under the pretext of colonizing them—destroying African sexual practices and rights was also part of the colonial agenda, and it wasn’t really well dealt with in much of the literature that I explored. Referring to gender, I have noticed that the issue is mostly approached while occulting colonization which has disrupting the relationships between men and women in Africa through the institution of colonial patriarchal and capitalism. Now it’s just sort of rereading, reanalyzing, and reinterpreting all the different kinds of issues.

The same can also be said when referring to sexual orientations and sexual identity(ies). For this issue, my opinion is to understand people’s stand about the issue—because homosexuality is not new to Africa since some communities particularly in Southern Africa included it in their cultural performances, one has to see what they have become now and not what they used to be. For me, human rights should be local before being universal because each society has its own realities, priorities and positions about different issues that are topics of discussions around the world. It is because sexuality has gone from the private to the public with focus on eroticism and capitalism that it has now become a problem.

You’ve also taught classes here at Rutgers. Tell me about that experience.
In my first semester (at Rutgers), I contributed to a course, “the Cross-Road Class” in which I lectured on “Senegalese classical literature.” I have also been co-teaching with Dr. Alidou in all of her classes. The idea behind that was to see how to teach Africa in different environments. Teaching Africa in the United States is different from teaching Africa in Africa. It was very helpful to have a new perception, to engage in a new way of thinking.

When I teach in Africa, I only have African people who know about slavery, colonization, localization, neo-exploitation, and who also know about globalization—meaning they are the one experiencing and feeling the side effects of all these different issues. But when you come to the United States, apart from the African-Americans who have known slavery, and the few African students attending the classes—the perception of studying Africa is different.

Here, you want to have someone who is aware of what history means. In terms of training the students in acquiring knowledge, I’m not saying it’s more important to teach Africa in Africa; the way they are going to acquire the knowledge here versus in in Africa is quite different because lifetime experiences are different. That’s why whenever you’re teaching, the objective may be different in terms of knowledge acquisition it’s not different.

I was really touched by the interests of the students in African studies, because when you’re co-teaching you don’t only learn from the one you’re teaching with but also from the students in the course. The most important thing for me was that they had a new perception of Africa… not based on what they see in the media, where Africa is depicted negatively as the area of poverty and AIDS. 

Have you been to the United States before?
No, I have never been to another country to study. That’s why I say I am a real product of my country. I have never studied at any other country. From my primary school to my doctorate level—I have always studied in my country.

I had a chance to have a postgraduate diploma in American literature and civilization… I had a perception of the United States. In terms of culture, I didn’t expect to find the same culture here, but I did expect to find commonalities not just differences. That’s how the world is, uniformity cannot exist; what I do believe in is that I come here with my culture and meet people from other cultures, but this difference should not bring conflict. The most important thing is to find what we have in common and then see how to negotiate what differentiates us.

My coming here has enabled me to learn a lot, but it has also enabled me to better value what I have at home in terms of education, and in terms of culture, human relationships, and sociability. It means that my country and Africa as a continent have a lot to learn from the United States, but the United States has also a lot to learn from us. 

You’ve been outside New Jersey since you arrived. What other states have you visited?
I went to San Diego, California, for an African studies conference. I went to Washington, DC, and presented a paper there (on “Roots and Routes of Pan-Africanism: Cross-influences and New Challenges”), and I also went to New York many times and presented a paper at another African association conference – NYASA (New York African Studies Association).  [I also went to South Carolina and Ohio and presented papers,] and I also gave a public lecture here at Rutgers at the end of my Fulbright session… on “Gender, Sex, and Sexuality in Postcolonial Africa.” I tried to really look at gender from a postcolonial perspective… I talk about what I call reconstructing the African sexual self and reanalyzing gender.

Editor’s note: Other papers and presentations delivered by Dr. Dione include: 1. “Female Migritude as a Challenge to Masculinit(ies) in Postcolonial Africa” 2. “Cultural Global Perspective: Senegal from the Inside and from the Outside.” 3. “(Post)coloniality, Sex and Sexuality in Africa.

We’re welcoming 50 young African leaders for the Mandela Washington Fellowship in June 2016, a flagship program of President Obama’s Young Africa Leaders Initiative. What are your views on the program?
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, is the most important program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), is a very good initiative, especially with the name of one of the most loved African icon it bears. Rutgers hosting a group of fellows for the third time consecutively is not surprising to me, in view of the experience I just had here as a senior Fulbright visiting scholar. This is a testament to Rutgers’ global open-mindedness, its role of leadership in academic African issues, and its ability to contribute to the empowerment of young African leaders in many ways, such as: upgrading their leadership spirit, and providing them with the academic coursework, leadership training, and networking they need to develop and impact their home communities. 

Your Fulbright scholarship ends in June 2016. What are your plans after it ends?
I think that the collaboration is already here. After I go home I can share my experience with my colleagues and with my students. But the collaboration will continue with the colleagues that I have known here at Rutgers and have met in the different conferences that I have attended.

The priorities for now though are going back home… and I’m really interested in making use of what I have acquired here so that the faculty and students can benefit from it. I want to go back and work for my country. I have a debt to pay to the taxpayers of my country that have provided me with a good education—because in my country the education is free if you go to public school, which is what makes it different from public school here. The government pays for everything, but it also means that you have a debt to pay; you can’t spend all your time around with scholarships. You need some time to stay at home to write about your research lecture and share your experiences with the students and colleagues.

Anything or anyone you’ll miss about Rutgers after you return home?
I will really miss Dr. Alidou and Dr. Alamin Mazrui (of AMESALL), and all the teachers and staff at the Center for African Studies. It is also important for me to thank the U.S. government for instituting the Fulbright program, Dr. Alidou and Dr. Alamin Mazrui, without whom my Fulbright program wouldn’t have been successful, the Center for African Studies director Stephane Robolin, Dr. Carolyn Brown, Dr. Renee Larrier, Dr. Barbara Cooper, Dr. Dorothy Hodgson, Dr. Abena Busia, Dr. Rick Garfunkel, Renee Delancey, IT computing manager Wade Olsson, all the colleagues of AMESALL, all of the people that contributed to the success of my Fulbright—and also you, for interviewing me!