Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

"I think it's important to do ethnographic research on higher education. Understanding everyday student and faculty experiences can help us to be better critics of policy trends in global academia and in our own institutions."

Kimberly Lewis

Student Spotlight: Kimberly Lewis PhD Candidate

Hometown: Newport News, Virginia

Concentration: PhD Candidate in Anthropology, CLACS affiliated graduate student

What is your research about?

My research is about higher education reform in Ecuador. I am studying how state policymakers see the role of universities and academic research. I am also looking at the effects of policies on academic "quality" for students and professors. Over the past several years, I have conducted ethnographic research in public and private universities and among government officials in Quito, Ecuador’s capital.

How did you become interested in this topic?

I spent time teaching in an Ecuadorian university before graduate school. Like many of my colleagues, I became concerned with how state policies meant to monitor and improve higher education affected institutional culture. Often, reforms provided new justifications to exclude poor and indigenous students despite the state's nominal commitment to racial inclusion and free higher education. My dissertation focuses on these issues of inclusion within universities and as they relate to academic labor.

I think it's important to do ethnographic research on higher education. Understanding everyday student and faculty experiences can help us to be better critics of policy trends in global academia and in our own institutions. I also think my research can deepen our knowledge about elites and middle classes in Latin America, where anthropologists have traditionally focused on poor and indigenous populations. We need research on elites to fully understand how racial, economic, and educational inequality works in the region.