Women’s History Month Speaker Discusses Evolving Identity
March 09, 2010
Dr. Joanne Kilgour Dowdy, professor of adolescent and adult literacy at Kent State University presented the Women’s History Month keynote address at Mount Union on March 4.
Before beginning her address, “One Woman: Two Countries and a Career,” Dowdy explained to the audience that she wanted her story to be heard as the story of thousands of other “Joannes,” not just hers.
A native of Trinidad, Dowdy arrived in the United States with the intention of getting a single degree in theatre. Twenty-eight years later, she continues to discover and reflect on the many identities she represents.
As Dowdy went through the “chapters” of her life, she recognized that her dream plan was actually holding her back from the path that was meant for her.
“The theme of listening to those who went out of their way to help me and keeping a positive attitude is a recurring motif in my life,” explained Dowdy.
While she was studying at The Julliard School, a mentor told her that her life needed to be rounded out. After becoming a member of the Vedanta Society just down the street from Julliard, she learned to make time for spiritual growth.
“I went from the culture of theater to the land of the spiritual,” said Dowdy. “My life was following a series of evolutions.”
Dowdy spent the next couple of decades moving from North Carolina to Georgia to Ohio, identifying with categories including wife, community mother, artist, teacher, assistant professor and later divorcee.
“I learned that it is not up to the individual to see the positives when integrating as an international person,” noted Dowdy. “It is also up to the community to embrace the person who may differ in physical features.”
Focusing on language next, Dowdy expressed her belief that the language we speak when we are angry is our true language.
“When we get angry, it shows that we care,” said Dowdy. “If we didn’t care, why would we waste the energy on expressing those emotions?”
To Dowdy, caring and forming relationships are important components to a person’s true identity.
“Find experienced elders in your community, make good relationships and dare to follow their advice,” Dowdy ended. “And keep serving others as the center of your decisions.”
Dowdy’s major research interests include documenting the experiences of Black women involved in education from adult basic literacy to higher education. She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater from The Julliard School, a master of arts in teaching English from Columbia University and a doctoral degree in literacy studies from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dowdy is the author and editor of five books including In the Public Eye, which was released in October of 2009.