Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Michele Leiby. I am a professor of political science. I am the department chair for the next couple of years!
And what does that position entail?
The primary role that students would be familiar with is that I meet with students that are interested in exploring majoring or minoring in political science. We talk about what that would look like, what the structure of the major is, what kind of resources we have available for our major. That is the main student-facing role. The other main role that is probably less interesting to students is intradepartmental management. So I run our meetings and I make sure we get our information to the registrar’s office on time, things of that nature.
Where are you from? Where did you go to college?
Oh, I love this question. I am originally from southeastern Pennsylvania. I am from a very small, rural farming community not terribly unlike Wooster. So my family are almost all farmers, some went into the military, but those are the two main tracks of livelihood that are available to folks where I am from. I went to college probably an hour away from where I grew up, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The college is a liberal arts college quite similar to Wooster. It is called Moravian College. Actually, it is probably a bit smaller than Wooster if you can believe that. There was a very small political science department, nothing like this at all, but I loved it. I double majored in Spanish and political science. My courses in political science woke me up to class politics in the United States and then studying Latin American politics and culture through my Spanish major. That is how I came to my area of interest.
Do you want to tell us about George?
Oh my goodness, of course I do. George is my new dog. We got him days before the shutdown in Ohio. We had lost our previous dog that fall before the pandemic really exploded in 2020 and we were waiting to get a new dog. We had a big vacation planned to the International Studies Association Conference in 2020. It was hosted in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was going to present my research, then we were going to spend two weeks hiking and kayaking and having this great fun in Hawaii. So we were waiting to get another pet until we got back from that. As soon as the trip was canceled because of the pandemic, we were like “that’s it! Let’s go!” So George has been with us for a little over a year now. He’s a total goofball, but I love him. He’s a sweet boy.
What other activities are you involved with on campus?
Let’s see… so because I am chairing, I have curtailed quite a bit of what I typically would do in a given year. But, some of the things that I have been involved with in the past and really would like to come back to when I am no longer the chair of political science would be having a strong active role in the Organization of Latin American Students on campus and the First-Generation and Low Income Students organization on campus. Those are constituencies and issues that I care about very much. Right now one of the things that I’ve still been maintaining is that I do a lot of social justice work in the immigrant community, which I then bring to and connect explicitly to things that are going on on campus. For example, during Black and Gold Weekend, we hosted a fundraiser for the Centro San Jose Scholarship, which is a scholarship that is designated for undocumented immigrants that are wanting to apply for and attend college in the United States but because of their immigration status don’t have the access to the kinds of federal state funding that many students would. We just hosted one of our fundraiser events for the scholarship in Westminster over Black and Gold Weekend and we raised over $6,000. We are pretty excited about that and we will have a few more events like that, that either will be hosted alongside things happening at the college and plugged with groups on campus who would be interested. That is where I try to keep my time and focus right now.
What projects are you currently working on in terms of your research? Editors: content warning for this paragraph, there is the mention of gender based violence/SA.
So I have had some really outstanding Research Assistants over the last couple of years, Blakely included, who really helped me. I am just coming off of one semester of sabbatical, spring last year, which really helped me to make some progress on a couple of big projects. So one which is hopefully going to be submitted for peer review in a matter of weeks is a project that I am working on with Inger Skjelsbæk from the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway and Kim Thuy Seelinger who is at Washington University. The three of us are woking on this piece that focuses on research related trauma among scholars and practitioners who work on conflict-related sexual violence. So, we kind of turn the lens inward a little bit and take a step back from the work that we have been doing with survivors and then in some cases a number of researchers have worked with perpetrators of these kinds of crimes. But we step back from that and actually interviewed and surveyed a number of scholars and practitioners about how that work has been affecting them both physically and emotionally. We will be presenting the results of this survey project and trying to urge academia to provide more holistic support for researchers who are working on these kinds of sensitive topics. That is one project that will be coming out soon.
The other is actually a big blank manuscript that I am working on with a number of scholars, including Dr. Corral, who is also in the political science department. That project is looking at the lived experiences of Latinx immigrants here in Ohio. My particular contribution to that, as someone who studies Latin American politics, is looking from the perspective of domestic politics in Latin America, in countries where a lot of asylum seekers and immigrants are originating from and trying to understand what the conditions, whether they be economic, social, cultural or political are pushing many—in particular Guatemalans, Mexicans, Hondurans and Salvadorans—to leave their countries of origin and seek resettlement here in the US, specifically here in Ohio. Dr. Corral has the very challenging task of looking at how folks who are living here, immigrants who are living here in Ohio, have survived through, and how they are trying to survive through, this period of enhanced immigration enforcement. So you know, how communities are heavily surveilled, some of the largest workplace raids in history took place in Ohio over the summer of 2018. So again, this work draws from a very large survey that we did with over 350 immigrants from Latin America who are here in Ohio. I’m thinking of publication next year for this project.
What are you most passionate about?
Oh my goodness. Okay, well the silly answer is animals. I love dogs, I love cats, I love beavers, I love otters, I mean just animals full stop… and nature in general. If I am not here, I am outdoors somewhere. I love kayaking, I love hiking, I love being outside as much as possible. The more serious answer, although nature and animals are not unserious… that is serious stuff. But the other thing that I am very passionate about is political issues that I would define as social justice issues, so human rights. So if I am not outdoors, if I am not enjoying my personal time and I am not working here, I would probably be working on social justice issues. Particularly right now immigration justice and trying to advocate for asylum seekers, trying to organize protests downtown or contribute to protests downtown. I try to attend meetings of our city council and try to encourage them to be more responsive and transparent in their governing of Wooster city government. So those are areas where I put my time.
What is your favorite Wooster memory?
Goodness. Wow, that’s a tough one. Well, a couple come to mind. A few years ago, I think it was post 2016, maybe 2016 or 2017, a student group on campus that was really interested in immigration justice and questions around policing the US-Mexico border came to me and was interested in putting on a big event on campus. And so through our contacts with the Immigrant Worker Project, we contracted with a local artist, who is from Guatemala based in Cleveland now. Hector Castellanos, who is just outstanding, came to campus and designed, with students and me, a carpeta, which is a traditional art form in Guatemala, though you can find it in other countries too, where the artist will dye sawdust with various colors then they use the sawdust to essentially make a mural. So it is ephemeral, as soon as a hearty wind comes through, the art piece is gone in its physical form. So we actually used the pit in Lowry and made this big mural, this big carpeta, to call for an end to deportations and it was great.
What are your goals for this year?
Rest and reconnecting with students, that is the big one. Being able to see students in person and feel that connection was much harder last year and that is the biggest thing that I am looking forward to this year.