Melanie Bush, PhD, professor of sociology and an expert in teaching methods around the globe, has been awarded a Fulbright Specialist Award. During her three-year tenure, she will develop new insights into the ways we can make education more just and equitable for all.
Philosopher and activist Cornel West, PhD, famously said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Following that maxim, sociology professor Melanie E. L. Bush, PhD, has spent decades working to build a more equitable, compassionate and socially just world.
Dr. Bush was recently named a Fulbright Specialist, a prestigious honor that connects U.S. academic professionals with institutions worldwide. During a tenure of three years, Dr. Bush will be invited to engage in two- to six-week projects across 24 disciplines and 160 participating countries.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity to apply and expand upon work that I’ve done in the past, but in a different setting,” Dr. Bush said. “To be able to contribute, share and pass on what I’ve been lucky to gain from my experiences—that’s exciting.”
A life dedicated to social justice
Growing up in New York City in the 1960s, Dr. Bush remembers going door-to-door with her father, a schoolteacher, to speak with neighbors about U.S. involvement in Vietnam. She went on to study racial inequality at McGill University, lead grassroots activism efforts and organize “tax the corporations” initiatives in San Francisco and across the United States before transitioning to education.
At Adelphi, Dr. Bush has developed a first-year seminar on Community, Love and Justice and published articles such as “What ‘American’ Dream?” about the evolution and purpose of this concept. She also works as a senior research associate for the University of Johannesburg Centre for Sociological Research and Practice.
“Though I am engaged in multiple realms, they’re all connected,” Dr. Bush said. “They all come from a devotion to ameliorating misery and systemic violence—historic and contemporary—and the belief that we can live in a world that’s caring and loving for all.”
Building bridges through the Fulbright Program
Dr. Bush looks forward to selecting her first of two Fulbright initiatives this summer. Fulbright Specialists, for example, might work with host institutions to deliver training and workshops, develop academic courses, and engage in strategic planning.
“I’m looking forward to building bridges between the U.S. and people in places around the world,” she said. “I feel that every opportunity presented is also a responsibility to give what we can.”
Dr. Bush is also eager to further expand her horizons and meet challenges she will face. “Thinking about racial and economic structures within the context of the U.S. is one thing, but what does it look like when institutions in Australia develop programs to challenge structures founded in white supremacist presumptions?” she said. “What can I offer that would be meaningful to them?”
Dr. Bush will also gain experiences that can complement and inform her other research. Next school year, she’ll be taking a sabbatical to be guest editor for a special issue of the International Journal of Critical Diversity Studies called Freedom Conversations: To Imagine and Build. This volume will focus on “decolonizing diversity” and related structures of power and will be based on discussions with scholars from South Africa, Mexico, Zimbabwe, India, the United States and elsewhere.
Fostering global connections at Adelphi
In 2018, Dr. Bush developed a course, The Reshaping of Social Relations in the Modern World, in collaboration with Associate Professor Nokuthula Hlabangane, PhD, at the University of South Africa. As part of the curriculum, Adelphi students engaged in weekly Skype conversations with South African students about social hierarchies and ways to decolonize power.
“At the end of the semester, our students developed plans to decolonize institutions of society like education, healthcare and architecture,” Dr. Bush said. “It was pretty extraordinary.”
The course culminated in presentations at the University of Pretoria by students in the class and at the International Studies Association meeting at the University of Ghana in 2019. Dr. Bush and Dr. Hlabangane also published “Reshaping Social Relations in Educational Theory and Practice: A Global Teaching and Decolonizing,” a chapter about the collaborative project that appeared in the book Psychology of Inequity: Global Issues and Perspectives (Praeger, 2022).
It’s these kinds of connections that Dr. Bush will continue to foster in her work and explore through her Fulbright Specialist experience.
“There’s an interconnectedness to all of my scholarship, my service, my teaching, my life,” Dr. Bush said. “It’s a belief that we will and we must see a better day—and that people are building it all over the world today.”