Dr. Cheryl Rodriguez represented a new breed of cultural anthropologists who combined research with community activism. An assistant professor at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, Rodriguez also served as interim director of USF's Institute on Black Life and president of the Association of Black Anthropologists. She described herself as a "womanist," a feminist concerned with issues of race and class as well as gender. Her wide-ranging interests encompassed urban, African-American, and feminist anthropology, the history and culture of the African Diaspora, oral narrative research, and community activism, particularly regarding youth and low-income housing issues. She was also an expert on the history of Tampa's black communities. Rodriguez incorporated undergraduate fieldwork into her teaching, encouraging her students to become anthropologists and community activists.
Raised in an Activist Family
Born in 1952, Cheryl Rodriguez grew up in a politically active family in Tampa, Florida. Her father, Francisco Aristedes Rodriguez, whose family had emigrated from Cuba, was a prominent civil-rights lawyer with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a leader in the fight to integrate Tampa. In 1955 he became the first black to run for the Tampa City Board. He came in last, but subsequently ran for numerous local offices and judgeships. As a child Cheryl was confused as to why he never won an election, receiving regular threats on his life instead. She told the Tampa Tribune, "I felt very dejected walking up the steps of my segregated school after those elections."
Rodriguez earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree in communications sciences from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, studying on a Rhoten A. Smith Graduate Fellowship in 1980 and 1981. She spent the next six years as a communicative-disorders specialist for the Marquardt School District in Glendale Heights, Illinois.
In 1988 Rodriguez returned to Tampa as minority programs coordinator for the USF graduate school and subsequently became program coordinator of the Multicultural Mental Health Training Program, all the while working toward her doctorate in anthropology on a Patricia Roberts Harris Doctoral Fellowship. Her dissertation was entitled Microenterprise: Fighting Women's Poverty Through Economic Development Policy.
Developed Her Womanist Prospective
In her 1996 essay, "Anthropology and Womanist Theory," Rodriguez discussed her graduate school experiences: "my womanist perspective was subsumed by the discipline itself. Recognizing the centrality and the authority of whiteness and maleness in the discipline, I struggled with my own questions about the roles of people of color as creators of knowledge in anthropology. Further, Black women's presence in anthropology (as the focus of research or as researchers) was virtually unrecognized in my program of study. Consequently, my development as a potential contributor to anthropological scholarship involved a conscious process of independently seeking out radical and alternative knowledge."
After one year as a visiting professor in USF's Department of Africana Studies, Rodriguez became an assistant professor of anthropology and Africana studies. She was promoted to associate professor in 1998. During the 1990s Rodriguez's research focused on how state politics had contributed to the disruption of Florida's oldest black communities. In 1994 she initiated an oral history project on Tampa's black women activists and leaders.
In her 1996 essay Rodriguez explained her research goals: "In the tradition of those womanist scholars who have sought to broaden the meaning of feminism and of those anthropologists whose work examines the interlocking hierarchies of gender, race, and class as well as the subjugated knowledges and alternative methodologies of anthropology…I began exploring the implications and challenges of identifying and articulating a womanist voice in anthropology…I define womanist ideas as those informed by the interaction of Afrocentric, multicultural, and feminist theoretical interpretations of political, economic, historical, social, and cultural phenomena."
Engaged in Action-Oriented Research
Beginning in 2000 Rodriguez was a co-investigator on a National Science Foundation-funded project examining the impact of HOPE VI, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that provided grants to local housing authorities to replace rundown housing projects. Rodriguez examined how changes in social connections among Tampa's relocated families affected their economic and emotional well-being.
To further her goals of blending anthropological research and community activism, Rodriguez co-founded an educational outlet, the Fannie Lou Hamer Center, in a Tampa housing project. Overcoming resistance from local officials and power brokers, Rodriguez helped organize a community forum in to address a redevelopment plan that would affect a low-income neighborhood. True to her principles, she recounted the experience in a 2005 talk before the Watson Institute for International Studies entitled "Stumbling Over Boundaries: Race and Class Politics in the Work of the Scholar-Activist."
Rodriguez was a principal investigator on a variety of other research projects, including a study of different approaches to sex education for at-risk black youth and a study of after-school programs in faith-based settings for the Florida Department of Education.
At a Glance …
Born Cheryl Rene Rodriguez in 1952, in Tampa, FL; children: four daughters. Education: Northern Illinois University, BA, communications sciences, 1979, MA, communications sciences, 1981; University of South Florida, PhD, anthropology, 1992.
Career: Marquardt School District, Glendale Heights, IL, communicative-disorders specialist, 1981-87; University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, The Graduate School, minority programs coordinator, 1988-89, Multicultural Mental Health Training Program, program coordinator, 1990-91, Department of Africana Studies, visiting professor, 1992-93, assistant professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies, 1993-98, associate professor, 1998-, Institute on Black Life, interim director, 2006-; Operation Crossroads Africa, Lesotho, Southern Africa, project leader, 1989.
Selected memberships: American Anthropological Association, Committee on the Status of Women in Anthropology, chair, Executive Program Committee, Minority Affairs Committee, Nominations Committee; Association for Feminist Anthropology, contributing editor for Anthropology Newsletter, Sylvia Forman Prize Committee, chair, president-elect; Association of Black Anthropologists, secretary-treasurer, president-elect, president; Society for Urban Anthropology; Womanist Studies Consortium.
Selected awards: University of South Florida, Black Graduate and Professional Student Organization, Outstanding Faculty Award for Community Service, 1995, Department of Anthropology, Distinguished Alumni Award, 1996, Teaching Incentive Program, Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, 1996, Department of Women's Studies, Faculty Star Award, 2005; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Award for Service and Dedication to Students, 1996; Kente Award for Community Leadership, 2002.
Addresses: Office—Department of Africana Studies and Institute on Black Life, College of Arts & Sciences, FA0270 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL 33620.
Involved Her Students in Fieldwork
Rodriguez developed an undergraduate course in which her students, primarily black Africana Studies majors, undertook "action-oriented" ethnographic research in black communities. In addition to studying the history of black anthropology since the nineteenth century, students were encouraged to apply their research to problems within the communities they were studying. She also developed a course on the Harlem Renaissance that was linked to events in the local community and organized an internship program in the Department of Africana Studies.
Over the years Rodriguez developed and taught a wide range of courses in women's and Africana studies and history, including "Major Black Thinkers," "Women of Color: Activism and Social Change," and "African American Community Research: A Field Studies Course." Rodriguez was quoted in News at USF: "The interweaving of Women's Studies with Africana Studies and anthropology has always provided a fascinating challenge for me."
Rodriguez told the Tampa Tribune in May of 2005, as she was preparing to deliver Tampa's Florida Emancipation Day address, "Learning history is so important. I teach my students how to use research to create social change."
Women, Microenterprise, and the Politics of Self-Help, Garland Press, 1995.
"A Homegirl Goes Home: Black Feminism and the Lure of Native Anthropology," in Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Praxis, Poetics and Politics, I. McClaurin, ed., Rutgers University Press, 2001, pp. 233-257.
(With Yvette Barber) "Reconstructing a Community Through Archival Research," in Doing Cultural Anthropology, Michael Angrosino, ed., Waveland Press, 2002, pp. 63-70.
"We Came With Truth: Black Women's Struggles Against Public Housing Policy," in Homing Devices: Poor People and Public Housing Policies, Marilyn Thomas-Houston and Mark Schuller, eds., Lexington Press, 2006, pp. 81-98.
"African-American Anthropology and the Pedagogy of Activist Community Research," Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 3, September 1996, pp. 414-431.
"Anthropology and Womanist Theory: Claiming the Discourse on Gender, Race, and Culture,"Womanist Theory and Research, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1996, pp. 3-11.
"Love Dust and Minor Miracles," Calyx Journal of Art and Literature by Women, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1997.
"Activist Stories: Culture and Continuity in Black Women's Narratives of Grassroots Community Work," Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1998, pp. 94-112.
(With Susan Greenbaum, guest eds.) "Central Avenue Legacies: African American Heritage in Tampa, Florida," Practicing Anthropology, Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter 1998.
"Recapturing Lost Images: Narratives of a Black Business Enclave," Practicing Anthropology, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1998, pp. 6-11.
(With Susan Greenbaum) "Ethnography and Public Housing: HOPE VI in Tampa," Anthropology News, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2001 p. 31.
"Invoking Fannie Lou Hamer: Research Ethnography and Activism in Low-Income Communities," Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2003, pp. 231-251.
"ABA and Black Leadership in the 21st Century," Anthropology News, Vol. 47, No. 5, May 2006, p. 46.
"Opening the Doors Again for Black Faculty," Tampa Tribune, March 25, 2007, p. 1.
Tampa Tribune (FL), May 20, 2005, p. 1.
"The Bridge," Institute on Black Life,http://isis.fastmail.usf.edu/ibl/Newsletter%202007.pdf (August 9, 2007).
"Curriculum Vitae: Cheryl Rodriguez," University of South Florida,http://isis.fastmail.usf.edu/fair/save/displayvita.asp?emplid=00000018029 (August 17, 2007).
"Curriculum Vitae: Cheryl R. Rodriguez," College of Arts & Sciences, University of South Florida,http://www.cas.usf.edu/african_studies/rodriguez.pdf (August 9, 2007).
"Faculty News," Newsletter—Fall 2004,http://www.cas.usf.edu/african_studies/newsletter_fall04.pdf (August 17, 2007).
"HOPE VI," University of South Florida,http://usfcollab.fmhi.usf.edu/researchdetails.cfm?researchID=74 (August 17, 2007).
"Stumbling Over Boundaries: Race and Class Politics in the Work of the Scholar-Activist," The Watson Institute for International Studies,http://www.watsoninstitute.org/events_detail.cfm?id=642 (August 17, 2007).
"USF Faculty Member Receives Award from Peers," News at USF, http://usfnews.usf.edu/page.cfm?link=article&aid=942 (August 17, 2007).
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