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'Academic activist' lauded as UIC Woman of the Year

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Beth Richie
Beth Richie’s research focuses on class, race and violence against women.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Beth Richie describes herself as an academic activist.

It’s a good description of Richie, whose work focuses on the women and girls who have been marginalized by society because of race and class.

Richie, professor of African-American studies, gender and women’s studies and criminal justice, has been working toward better treatment of women since her graduate school days 30 years ago.

For her efforts, she was named UIC Woman of the Year, an award given by the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women to a UIC woman who has consistently worked on women’s issues and serves as an exemplary role model. She’ll be honored at a reception next semester.

It’s Richie’s second UIC honor this year; she was also named a 2006 University Scholar, an award for superior research, teaching and promise for greater achievement.

As an academic, Richie believes her research should ultimately affect her community and society as a whole.

“We’re obligated to do work that matters,” she said.

“At the hard moments, it’s been important to me to say there’s a group of people who need me to do this.”

Richie’s work focuses on the relationships between race, class and violence against women.

“There was a group of us who were frustrated our perspectives were falling outside the view of the more dominant class,” she said. “White feminists did not really address race and class issues.”

That frustration led Richie and colleagues to form INCITE!, a group dedicated to ending violence against women of color through research and activism.

The group started out small, with an annual conference planned to bring about 20 scholars together to discuss ideas. Word spread, however, and when the conference was held in 2002 at UIC, it attracted about 2,000 people.

“It was astounding,” Richie said. “Of the things I’ve done in my life, this is the one where I had a good idea at the right time.”

The group just published an anthology of critical writings, Color of Violence: the INCITE! Anthology.

Richie was born just outside Cleveland, Ohio, where her parents — Beatrice, a librarian, and Winston, a dentist, now both retired — were involved in civil rights and fair housing issues.

She has a photo of them at the 1963 March on Washington.

“These were very personal issues for my parents,” she said. “There is a strong streak in our family of working for social justice.”

She has a new addition to her family, a little girl named Ella, adopted by Richie and her partner, Cathy Cohen, a University of Chicago political science professor.

Although she’s new to parenting, Richie is a dedicated mentor to graduate students and junior faculty.

“Mentoring is important to me because I’ve been mentored,” she said. “There are people throughout my life who have taught me important lessons.”

Perhaps one of the most important: do research on subjects you care about, Richie said.

“The juice from an intellectual project itself can be fulfilling, but people should pick their work carefully,” she said. “It needs to excite you.”

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